The Duoro River Valley in Winter

Portugal in December is cool and crisp and less-crowded. In one word, it was perfect! We saw the glistening beaches of Lagos, the twinkling Christmas lights in Lisbon and sipped Port in Porto. So, when we made the uneducated and un-researched decision to go inland to see where this famous Port wine, the travel spirits revealed just how naïve we could be when it came to what the Douro River Wine Region would actually offer in the middle of December.

The drive from Porto to Barrios is gorgeous. The highways are well paved and twist and turn through mountains and valleys. The sun shines and reflects off of the river below as you wind your way out of the city and through small map dots. One specific turn took us over a ridge, down into a valley and out of the sunshine. We’d arrived in foggy, cold and desolate, Barrios, Portugal.

Our well-maintained hotel was a home built in 1492. It’s historic charm faded a bit as we walked the drafty (Ok, no. Who am I kidding? COLD) hallways. We checked in and the owner told us we were the only guests. We thrilled at the idea of having the entire “house” to ourselves, even if it was “drafty.” However, it was not as romantic as we originally thought it would be. While a sold-out resort is not our ideal venue, cabin fever set in faster than we’d expected.

“Cabin fever”, you might ask? Diane, you were in wine country, how could you get cabin fever? Oh, that’s right. I haven’t told you yet….

You see, as we soon found out, the Port we so excitedly tasted in a tasting room overlooking the river in downtown Porto is, indeed, grown in this region. However, unlike every single other wine region we’ve ever visited, the wine made here is shipped to the tasting rooms in the city and stored there, in the caves. In fact, very few wineries have tasting rooms on site. Hmmm, oopsie!

Secondly, winter in wine country typically means that harvest is complete and the vintner and farmers work shorter days. But, in the Douro Valley, the work days are not shorter, they are non-existent. OK, that might be in correct. A more accurate account would be that any of the very limited tasting rooms in this area are closed. Not opened. Well crud!

Enter, cabin fever.

Let me clear. The leafless vines of a winter vineyard that hug wires with knobbly arms that look like an old witches slender fingers offer an eerie beauty that is unrivaled. But! Do you want to know what makes these views even better? A glass of wine in my hand!

We spent one of the two planned nights, in Barrios. We forfeited our second night and returned to Porto in search of a busy metropolitan café, honking car horns and tasting rooms. We ate an amazing dinner in Porto and laughed at our poor planning. Travel “oopsies” are just that, an oopsie. The Douro River Wine region did not live up to our hopes and expectations, but that is a wonderful life lesson that we pondered that night …. while drinking a bottle of wine!

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