It's a Brigadoon-kind of visual experience: small villages that hug the hillsides look much as they did 100 years ago.
The essential aspect of the Douro is the Douro River, this stunning meandering river that runs from the Spanish border in the East through spectacular scenery, finally emptying into the sea at Porto (Oporto) on the west coast.
But what really distinguishes the Douro, and makes its landscape so spectacular are the vines on steeply terraced hills and mountains that rise 1,000 feet on both sides of the river between Barqueiros and Barca d'Alva.
The Douro was the first specifically demarcated wine region, created by the visionary Sebastiao Jose de Carvallho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal whose progressive ideas of economics and politics rescued the Portugal after the devastating earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon in 1755. He established boundaries and regulations for the production of authentic Port from the Douro in 1756. The region has been designated as a World Heritage site.
You look at the neat rows of vines and realize that men would carry woven baskets up and down these terraces at impossible angles. The woven baskets, weighing about 70 pounds when they are full, were carried with leather straps that went around their head. Today, we learn, they use a lighter plastic basket that does not cause damage to the grapes, and there we see small motorized vehicles that work their way up the terrace, but it is still back-breaking work.
You can visit Douro Valley to learn more about the art of wine making, experience authentic harvest festivities (which take place roughly mid-September to mid-October), relax on a boat as it cruises up the Douro, watch the breathtaking scenery go by from a historic steam train and taste the various wines at a degustation dinner.
Our visit takes us onto the Douro Wine Trail - something that is especially popular to do during the harvest season, roughly mid-September to mid-October (the dates vary and the decision can be made almost instantly, when the grapes appear to be the best for picking).