Alto Douro Wine Region

Vineyards in the Portuguese wine region of the Douro (Mat’s eye/Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0).

Douro Region, Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro
N41 6 6 W7 47 56
Date of Inscription: 2001
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(v)
Property : 24,600 ha
Buffer zone: 225,400 ha
Ref: 1046

Wine has been produced by traditional landholders in the Alto Douro region for some 2,000 years. Since the 18th century, its main product, port wine, has been world famous for its quality. This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that reflects its technological, social and economic evolution.

Douro Valley (Marco Varisco/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0).

The river Douro and its principal tributaries, the Varosa, Corgo, Távora, Torto, and Pinhão, form the backbone of the mountain landscape, which is protected from the harsh Atlantic winds by the Marão and Montemuro mountains, has been transformed by steeply sloping terraced vineyards that cover some 24,600 ha.

Wine has been produced by traditional landholders in the Alto Douro Region for some 2,000 years. A world commodity, Port wine, a wine of a quality defined and regulated since 1756 is produced here.

Throughout the centuries, row upon row of terraces have been built according to different techniques. The earliest, employed during the pre-phylloxera era (pre-1860), was that of the socalcos, narrow and irregular terraces buttressed by walls of schistous stone, which require continuous maintenance on which only one or two rows of vines could be planted. The long lines of continuous, regularly shaped terraces date from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when the Douro vineyards were rebuilt, following the phylloxera attack. The new terraces altered the landscape, not only because of the monumental walls that were built but also owing to the fact that they were wider and slightly sloping to ensure that the vines would be better exposed to the sun.

Along the lower banks of the Douro or on the edges of watercourses on the hillsides are groves of orange trees, sometimes walled. The landscape is covered with brushwood and scrub and, here and there, a coppice of trees alternating with vineyards. Water used to be collected in catchments along stone channels. Characteristically white-walled villages and casais are usually located midway up the valley sides. Around an often imposing 18th century parish church, rows of houses opening directly on to the street to form a web of narrow, twisty roads with some notable examples of vernacular architecture. The Douro quintas are major landmarks, easily identified by the groups of farm buildings and wineries that around the main house particularly in the Upper Corgo and the Upper Douro. The landscape is dotted with small chapels located high on the hills or next to manor houses.

The long tradition has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that is at the same time a reflection of its technological, social, and economic evolution. The visually dramatic landscape is still profitably farmed in traditional ways by traditional landholders.

Criterion (iii): The Alto Douro Region has been producing wine for nearly two thousand years and its landscape has been moulded by human activities.

Criterion (iv): The components of the Alto Douro landscape are representative of the full range of activities associated with winemaking – terraces, quintas (wine-producing farm complexes), villages, chapels, and roads.

Criterion (v): The cultural landscape of the Alto Douro is an outstanding example of a traditional European wine-producing region, reflecting the evolution of this human activity over time.

Since the 18th century, its main product, Port wine, has been world famous for its quality. This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that reflects its technological, social and economic evolution.

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3 Replies to “Alto Douro Wine Region”

  1. The Upper Douro region, with its terraced vineyards and stark beauty is still new territory for tourists, so make sure you visit before everyone else discovers it. You can drive there or get the train from Porto. The line hugs the river, and is one of the best railway journeys in the world. The new visitor centre at Quinta de Bomfim in Pinhão is the place to visit to 
see some of the history of the region through a series of rare old photographs. You can visit the lodge where there are huge oak vats used for maturing port since the 19th century and at vintage time you will also be able to see the grapes being crushed and fermented in the lagars.


  2. What attracted me so to the region? Firstly, the striking landscapes, with terraced vineyards everywhere made of schist and granite. The region is simply stunning. Secondly, it has a lot of history. In 1756, the Marquês of Pombal demarcated the Douro Valley, the first [wine] region in the world to be so designated. Producers showed us the stones from that demarcation.

    Thirdly, it is an amazing place to visit for wine tourism, where there are small and big wineries happy to host you, allow you to taste their wines, and in many cases, participate in harvesting. The Douro is a feast for the senses: the sound of the river everywhere you go, the beauty of the hills, the delicious foods and wines, the lagares – old-fashioned stone tanks that are still used to crush grapes give texture to your trip, and more than anything else, the people.


  3. The Douro River Valley is one of the most charmingly idyllic places we have ever visited. Terraced vineyards rise up from the edge of the river to the sky with red-roofed villages and quintas (wine estates) dotting the hillsides. The location of the Douro River Valley on the Iberian Peninsula provides the perfect microclimate for growing grapes for the region’s famous port wine.


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