Get out of the hustle and bustle of Porto from the famous São Bento train station, along the sleepy Pinhão road, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped back in time. The rather old-fashioned trains add to that feeling of calm that engulfs you on this gentle road that winds endlessly along the north bank of the Douro River. You can almost lean over and touch the calm waters of the wide river, so close to the trains. For those inclined, it’s a 90-minute drive from the airport along a winding road.
Not much happens in Pinhão; it’s the joy of coming here. A few restaurants are set up on the shore and a few others on the steep hills that roll gently from the river; there are tour boats that sail up and down the wide waters for a unique view of the surroundings.
You can walk along the banks or in the hills – delightfully quiet, if you want to get away from it all. And of course you can visit vineyards – the port is the name of the game in these regions.
About the hotel
The Vintage House is just a minute’s walk from the 19th century Pinhão train station. Wait for your train to pull out and feel that little childish tickle as you cross the quiet train tracks to the little door leading to the hotel.
The heritage property has been converted from an 18th-century wine lodge and, with period features, has a collection of traditional wine-related items to interest even the most discerning oenophile. The 39 rooms and 11 suites face south across the river. Recently, the hotel underwent a series of renovations to restore it to its former glory.
Eat and drink
Start your evening with a drink in the fabulous Library Bar with its magnificent beamed ceiling. The lighting and music need a bit of a spruce up, but grab one of the sofas by the huge fireplace and settle in with a game or a good book and a heady glass of Port.
Breakfast is a real treat here – something the Fladgate Partnership also does exceptionally well at The Yeatman hotel in Porto. During the warmer months, you can have breakfast on the Vintage House’s terrace. The usual characteristic of suspects, but the quality is definitely higher.
The idea of a hotel restaurant that takes Portuguese classics and reinvents them will strike fear into the hardest of hearts. Yet here in the hotel’s Rabelo restaurant, local dishes are tweaked and pushed in the right direction.
The cuisine is elegant but robust – a crispy slice of suckling pig with parsnip mash and a big slice of cod with potatoes and peppers have been carefully executed; the som’ also has a generous hand with wines by the glass.
Up a steep track in the hills is Casa dos Ecos; we walked it but it is a strenuous and pitch black climb at night so a car or taxi would be easier. The food is just about the best in town – cured sardines cured in local olive oil with herbs and lemon made the perfect starter before the main event, a traditional staple dish of arroz of pato (rice with duck) cooked in their wood-fired oven.
What to do
The pace of life is very relaxed here and activities follow: the hotel has a lovely swimming pool set in beautiful palm-lined gardens that sway for dozing or reading – unheated so only in the warmer months. It is much colder at night in winter here than in Porto, so pack accordingly.
A number of different operators of varying sizes run tour boats on the river – a unique way to see the vineyards, grand houses and wineries that line the banks.
The Vintage House is nestled among some of the best wineries in the region; it is an excellent starting point for guided tours and tastings in the region. Of particular note is the Quinta De Roeda de Croft with a fabulous viewpoint on top of a hill. Two friendly, lazy dogs are waiting to greet you upon arrival to snuggle you up as you make your way to the visitor center built in the former stables of the Quinta.
Time it right and you can visit during the harvest and get involved in the crushing of the grapes in the lagares, beautiful old granite vats in which the wine is made. They will organize a picnic for you if you contact them in advance, which you can admire in the old stone watchtower, gazing out towards the steady flow of the Douro River drifting below.
The Vintage House, Rua António, Manuel Saraiva, 5085-034, Pinhão, Douro, Portugal. Rooms from £150; vintagehousehotel.com