Senses Revived In Portugal's Douro Valley
This blog originally appeared on Flight Centre Australia.
To say that the Douro is the new Tuscany is no exaggeration. The charms of Tuscany 30 or more years ago are still here – evident, unsullied and spectacular.
Rural, agricultural and with the sun beating down on the undulating hills for much of the year, this river valley makes an obvious setting for the “remote yet accessible” location Six Senses required – that mantra is one of the company’s guiding principles – for its first resort and spa in Europe
Six Senses Douro Valley opened this summer to rapturous applause, and this month the finishing touches have been made to its 2,200-square-metre spa. It’s a temple to relaxation and pampering, naturally, with indoor and outdoor pools, sunbathing terrace and bar, and secluded outdoor dining, but there’s more besides.
Spa guests can also try a range of fun activities that explore the hotel’s extensive woodland, such as tree climbing, and there are acres of space in the guest areas. In total there are just 50 rooms and six garden villas, all in a rustic-chic meets streamlined-modern style, softly swathed in natural tones of sage, slate grey and putty.
LOCATION, CULTURE, CUISINE … AND WINE
People fall in love with the Douro. The undulating hillsides are criss-crossed with rows of vines that create a painterly patchwork of vineyards dotted with whitewashed quintas (country estates).
It’s an ancient landscape, too – the port house Croft has been here since 1588 – and the current vineyard owners and Portuguese winemakers have worked the land for generations, some with tiny parcels, some owning sweeping hillsides of grapes.
From the hotel, these magnificent vistas are laid out before you at every opportunity – from the lookout in reception, to the lounge terrace with its evening firepits, to the floor-to-ceiling windows in the river-view rooms and suites, to four of the spa’s 10 treatment rooms that overlook the lush gardens.
The view is enchanting, changing its cloak of verdant colours to morning pinks, or becoming infused with dawn mist, when you might even be reminded of the terraces of southeast Asia, so steeply chiselled are the vineyards.
Which brings us to wine. Six Senses calls itself as a wine hotel. The brand looked at the location and the culture of the Douro and decided not only to fit in with it, but also to open it up to visitors. They employ local staff, so are well-connected to the movers and shakers of the region; as a result, guests can benefit from access to important vineyards and to the key players in the winemaking business.
ARRIVE AT LUNCH ON A RIVER RAFT
Francisca van Zeller, for example, the hotel’s co-director of wine, is from an influential Douro winemaking family herself, and leads some of the nightly complimentary wine-tasting sessions in the wine library.
Come with little knowledge about wine and you will find the Douro’s unstuffy enthusiasm for the grape is infectious; come with a lot and you will find that quintadoors open so you can indulge your passion all day long, tasting crisp aromatic whites, round and juicy reds and all the depths of flavour of silky aged ports.
Taking a cruise up-river is another way to enjoy the valley, and a super-cool way to arrive at your lunchspot.
Raft up outside one of Portugal's finest restaurants, DOC, for your reservation on the riverside terrace. Dishes such as shrimps, mushroom and black truffle purée, grilled octopus and crème brûlée crepe are the work of chef Rui Paula and his wife.
And, if you want to experience the harvest, go in September when historic working quintas, such as Quinta da Roeda, invite visitors to foot-tread the grapes.
The steepness of the terraces mean the harvest has to be picked by hand and the quality ports still invest in foot-treading. It’s a harvest alive with tradition – if you like Tuscany, you will love the Douro.
Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 6692 9778 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Portugal.
This article was written by Laura Ivill from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.