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5 things you probably didn't know about the Douro Valley

( 10 August 2018 )

The Douro is a favourite for river cruisers - and for good reason. But here are five things you probably didn't know about Portugal's famous wine region.

The Douro Valley
A favourite for river cruises, The Douro Valley has an interesting history.

Discover more about Portugal's 'River of Gold', the Douro. Find out more here

It’s older than the Bordeaux wine regions

Though the Douro Valley and Bordeaux wine regions were both cultivated for grapes by the Romans in 1st century AD, it seems the Douro may be older!

Carbonised grape pips have been discovered in the Douro Valley that are thousands of years older than this - which means it out-pips the famous French region.

This suggests that the prehistoric Portuguese had already perfected the wine-growing process – and used the results to get merry and dance around their campfires.

The Douro used to be dangerous

This now calm and scenic river used to be filled with treacherous rapids and rocky shallows, and claimed the lives of many intrepid sailors. In the 1800s, British Baron Forrester made it his quest to survey the river with the intent of improving navigation. 

His exhaustive map was officially recognised by the local authorities and prompted a geological survey.

He met his end not long after, when rapids engulfed his boat.

Port wine was partly invented by chance

When the British declared war on France in the 1600s, they realised that their source of wine had dried up. 

So they looked to long-time allies, the Portuguese, to solve their wine woes.

To help preserve the wine during its journey to England, it was fortified with brandy, and so port came into existence.

Having hit the sweet wine jackpot, the port industry blossomed and the British and Portuguese set about producing port for commercial use.

This is why you’ll see familiar British names like Cockburn on Oporto’s old port warehouses.

Discover more about Portugal's 'River of Gold', the Douro. Find out more here

Chelsea players love Portuguese wine

A Douro Valley quinta sent a case of its wine to Chelsea FC manager José Mourinho, and the club quickly became one their best clients.

Please note, being a football manager is not a prerequisite to enjoying Portuguese wine.

Grape treaders had it rough

In old wineries you may find oddly positioned holes in the walls where the vats are – there’s a good reason for this.

Peasants were often hired to tread the grapes through the night, and they weren’t allowed to stop until morning – not even to answer the call of nature.

So holes were made in the walls through which they could relieve themselves.

That’s something to think about over your next glass of tawny port…


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.