The Vintage House review: heritage wine hotel in the heart of the Douro Valley
This elegant riverside hotel is nestled among some of the region’s finest vineyards
Head out of the bustle of Porto from the famous tile-decked São Bento station along the sleepy route to Pinhão and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time. The rather antiquated trains add to this sense of calm that washes over you on this mellow route that endlessly snakes along the north bank of the Douro river. You can almost lean out and touch the still waters of the broad river, so close the train runs. For those inclined, it’s a 90-minute drive from the airport along a meandering road.
Nothing much happens in Pinhão; that’s the joy of coming here. A few restaurants sit right on the shore and a few more on the steep hills that roll gently up from the river; there are tour boats that pootle up and down the wide waters for a unique view of the surroundings.
You can stroll along the banks or up into the hills – delightfully quiet, if escaping it all is your thing. And of course, you can visit wineries – port is the name of the game in these parts.
About the hotel
The Vintage House is only a minute’s walk from the 19th century Pinhão station – wait for your train to pull out and feel that bit of childish titillation when walking across the quiet train tracks to the small gate leading down to the hotel.
The heritage property was converted from an 18th century wine lodge and along with period features has a collection of traditional wine-related items to interest even the most informed oenophile. All 39 rooms and 11 suites face south out across the river. Recently, the hotel has undergone a series of renovations to restore it to its former glory.
Eating and drinking
Kick your evening off with a drink in the fabulous Library Bar with its stunning log beam ceiling. The lighting and music need a little updating but grab one of the sofas by the huge fireplace and settle in with a game or a good book and a glass of heady Port.
Breakfast is a real treat here – something the Fladgate Partnership also does exceptionally well at The Yeatman hotel in Porto. In the warmer months, you can take breakfast on the terrace at the Vintage House. The usual suspects feature, but the quality is a distinct cut above.
The idea of a hotel restaurant that takes Portuguese classics and re-imagines them will cast fear in the steeliest of hearts. Yet here, in the hotel’s Rabelo restaurant, local dishes are tweaked and nudged in just the right direction.
The cooking is elegant yet robust – a crispy tranche of suckling pig with parsnip puree and a hefty slice of cod with potatoes and peppers were carefully executed; the som’ has a generous hand with wines by the glass, too.
Up a steep track into the hills sits Casa dos Ecos; we walked it but it’s a tiring climb and pitch black at night so a car or taxi would be easier. The food is about the best in town – cured briny sardines in local olive oil with herbs and lemon made the perfect starter before the main event, a must-try traditional dish of arroz de pato (duck rice) baked in their wood oven.
What to do
The pace of life is very relaxed here and activities follow suit: the hotel has a beautiful pool set in wonderful gardens lined by swaying palms to snooze or read by – unheated, though, so warmer months only. It gets much colder at night in the winter here than in Porto so pack accordingly.
A number of different operators of various sizes run tour boats up the river – a unique way to see the vineyards, large houses and wineries lining the banks.
The Vintage House is nestled among some of the region’s finest vineyards; it provides a great jumping off point for guided tours and tastings around the area. Of particular note is Croft’s Quinta De Roeda with a fabulous vantage point atop a hill. Two friendly, lazy dogs wait to greet you on arrival for a nuzzle as you head up to the visitor’s centre built in the former stables for the Quinta.
Time it right and you can visit during the harvest and get involved in the treading of the grapes in the lagares, handsome old granite tanks in which the wine is made. They’ll organise a picnic for you if you contact them in advance which you can take in the old stone watchtower, gazing out towards the steady flow of the Douro river drifting by below.
The Vintage House, Rua António, Manuel Saraiva, 5085-034, Pinhão, Douro, Portugal. Rooms from £150; vintagehousehotel.com