The final and toughest part of my group's
journey to Quinta da Ervamoira, a wine-producing estate in
Portugal's Coa Valley, started about five miles away at a village
called Muxagata. The ride to the vineyard was short, but it was a
bumpy, dusty one in a Jeep that navigated a winding road up and
down mountains and across a shallow stream. The reward: We arrived
at a stunning site surrounded by vines heavy with grapes ripe for
This was our
introduction to the Douro wine region, which follows northern
Portugal's east-to-west Douro River for about 60 miles starting
from the Spanish border. The area is characterized by steep river
banks tempered, and beautified, by the hand of man during 2,000
years of winemaking.
The region has been
known for producing high-quality port wines since the 18th century.
More recently, vintners are focusing anew on red table
Regardless of how
the grape is used, winemaking -- with its terraces, quintas
(estates) and communities -- has molded the landscape.
the Alto Douro region a World Heritage cultural site. As a result,
more than 600,000 acres on either side of the river are protected,
and the hand of man will remain gentle.
Tourism is part of
the equation, and we see the evidence: Besides staging wine
tastings, vintners are adding a few rooms to their quintas to house
tourists. Examples are Quinta da Pacheca and Quinta do Vallado,
both in Peso da Regua.
But this kind of
environment begs for a luxury component. Developers respond to that
call in a variety of ways, as the following three hotels
illustrate. Two were new this year but built around or inside
existing structures. A third was an 18th century private estate,
with the family manse converted to a hotel in 1998.
All are in
UNESCO-protected territory and so close together we saw them in the
Aquapura Douro Valley, set amid vine-covered hills outside
Peso da Regua, is a 50-room property that is a member of
Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The soft opening was last summer,
and the official opening will occur by June, said Lionel Alvarez,
The property also
includes 21 villas that will be sold but are available to
Part of the hotel's
exterior is what remains of a 19th century manor house that was
almost destroyed by fire.
The inside is all
new. The color palette is dark browns and blacks with some woods
but lots of industrial-looking elements, too. The lobby is a near
blackout, except at the reception desk; the decor includes a
gas-fueled fireplace at eye level along the length of the wall
behind the desk. Hallways also are dark -- too dark for some
Rooms are much
brighter. Mine featured white couches and an all-white bed. The
bathroom mirrors were tinted; designers may love that, but women
who apply makeup don't. Alvarez said the hotel will install
As the first
property in a new hotel group, Aquapura Hotels & Spa, the spa
at the Aquapura Douro Valley is a defining component. Measuring
more than 23,600 square feet, it encompasses a gym and a thermal
spa and offers a wide range of treatments. The gym is open 24 hours
a day. Guests staying in the 16 spa rooms can arrange for
treatments in their rooms.
Fine dining in the
Alma Lusa restaurant is another defining feature. The chef,
Emmanuel Soares, spent 14 years working with two- and three-star
Michelin chefs in France, including Alain Ducasse. The hotel
schedules tastings in its wine cellar.
The hotel also
offers excursions that include tastings and, in season, grape
stomping at Quinta da Pacheca. Tastings with lunch are offered at
Quinta da Ervamoira.
abound for Douro River cruises on various types of boats plus
scenic train journeys out of Peso da Regua, including the Saturday
steam train, mid-May to mid-October. Cruises depart from Peso da
Regua or Folgosa. Aquapura is adding a private dock on
& Spa plans to open 10 properties within 10 years. The next
three will be in Brazil in 2008 and the Czech Republic and Hungary
Agents can book in
the GDSs. Rates, varying by season and unit size, are about $307 to
$570 per room, $511 to $2,263 per suite and $745 to $3,022 for a
To make or follow
up on special requests, the contact person is Tania Garcia at [email protected].
House in Pinhao is a Relais & Chateaux property, sited
right on the Douro with 43 rooms, all with verandas overlooking the
river and the rising, vine-laden hills on the opposite
Dating from the
18th century, the days when the English market for port blossomed,
the property was re-created for today's guests with the charms of
an English country house plus the comforts and features for modern
Vintage House is
very much a resort. From the ground-level Library Bar, guests exit
onto a terrace and into the property's sunny riverside
Services include a
fine-dining restaurant and tastings at the property's Wine Academy.
Besides basic tastings, options include port with chocolate, port
with other foods or blind tastings.
Vintage House has
its own dock for river cruises and access just behind the buildings
to trains for scenic journeys.
CS Hotels, a
privately held company in Portugal, purchased Vintage House in late
2006. The group owns four properties but plans to add 16 in the
next three years, according to Paulo Carvalho, manager.
Agents can book in
the GDSs. Rates, which include breakfast, range seasonally from
about $114 to $183, single; $128 to $200, double; and $164 to $364
for a suite.
requests, contact the manager at [email protected]. For groups, contact
the assistant manager, Gilberto Rodrigues, at [email protected]. For individual
bookings, contact the front office manager, Beatriz Garcia, at [email protected].
" Quinta da
Romaneira, which opened last summer, is an exclusive and
upscale hideaway in Pedroso, six miles east of Pinhao. It is both a
21-unit resort and a 988-acre farm with vineyards and olive
Set on a
mountainside abutting the Douro, the quinta makes port, red and
white wines as well as olive oil. It serves only its own wines to
The hotel was
created from seven historical quinta buildings. Maria Brignoli,
house mistress, said that under the terms of UNESCO protection, no
new buildings will be constructed but that the owners can refit
While exteriors of
stone or white stucco have a classic look, interiors are a
combination of coziness and stark modern features, leaning toward
No two units (seven
are apartments) are alike, but none has a telephone, TV or Internet
connection. There is a Web connection on site and one
The spa, which is
housed in an old railroad station, and a dock for Douro cruises on
Romaneira's boat will be available in 2008. To take a ride on the
area's historical steam train or for other rail excursions, guests
go to Pinhao.
Romaneira's buildings is via a steep, four-mile ride down the
mountain on hairpin roads.
owners have intentionally kept signage at a minimum because "we
need to ensure guests are not disturbed."
restaurant, Redondo, which is located well away from guest rooms
and other public spaces, is open to the general public.
include wine tastings and cooking classes. Facilities include two
pools and a hammam.
Prices include all
food, alcohol and activities except specific spa treatments. The
inclusive pricing is a first for Portugal, said
Rates start at
about $1,460 a day per couple, per unit and range from $1,900 to
$2,190 for apartments. Agents book at [email protected] and
earn 10% commission.
The property was
purchased about four years ago and developed by Paris-based Maisons
des Reves. It aims for Relais & Chateaux membership in 2008.
Maisons des Reves also owns the Dar Ahlam tented camp in Morocco, a
Relais & Chateaux member.
For assistance with
special client requests, contact Xavier Debaisieux, general
manager, at (011) 351-254-732-432 or e-mail [email protected]. Or call the reservations
office at (011) 351-153-634-230.
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine
Godwin at [email protected].