The best independent guide to the Douro
The best independent guide to the Douro
The N222 is one of the most scenic roads in Portugal and follows the majestic Douro River as it meanders through the beautiful scenery of the region.
The majority of tourists explore the Douro Valley by river cruise; these boat tours may be relaxing, but they only show a tiny portion of this wonderful region. With a car, you can travel to remote viewpoints, discover picturesque valleys and visit traditional villages.
This article will provide a guide to exploring the Alto Douro as a day trip with the use of a car. The majority of the route follows the N222, but it also includes the little-visited Douro Superior region near the Valeira dam.
Related articles: Guide to the Douro - The Douro by train - Porto day trips
A car allows you to discover remote areas, far away from other tourists.
The suggested route begins in the town of Peso da Régua and the informative Museu do Douro before following the N222 (and Douro River) to the town of Pinhão. Pinhão is extremely pretty, set amidst terraced vineyards and sitting on the banks of the Douro River, and is a popular destination for short (1-2hour) river cruises.
From Pinhão, the N322 heads north and winds up hills lined with the terraced vineyards to the charming village of Vale de Mendiz. After passing through Alijó, the route enters the Parque Natural Do Vale do Tua, and the stunning scenery surrounding the Albufeira de Foz Tua lake.
The road then drops down to the Douro River and the village of Tua after passing the newly constructed Tua dam. Tua is another pretty riverside village and a fantastic location for hiking, and lunch.
From Tua, the N214 climbs the steep hills behind the village and then enters the little-visited Douro Superior region around the Valeira dam (Barragem da Valeira). Above the dam is a wonderful viewpoint, the São Salvador do Mundo.
The final section follows the N222 eastwards through the vineyards and terraced hills back to Peso da Régua. If you still have the energy or time you could visit the Sao Leonardo de Galafura, which is considered as the best viewpoint of the Douro.
Below is an interactive map displaying the route, and the most scenic sections of the drive are highlighted in red.
Key to sights along the route 1) Peso da Régua 2) Pinhão 3) Vale de Mendiz 4) São Mamede de Ribatua 5) Albufeira de Foz Tua (lake) 6) Tua 7) Linhares 8) Barragem da Valeira dam 9) Sao Leonardo de Galafura viewpoint (optional)
The best viewpoints along the route: 1st Sao Leonardo de Galafura (9), 2nd São Salvador do Mundo, 3rd Vale de Mendiz, 4th Miradouro Ilha do Tua
Note: This route is explained in-depth, further in this article.
You can join a boat tour at Pinhão
Tours of the Douro
There are many excellent tours of the Douro Valley, and often they combine wine tasting, a short cruise and seeing the main sights of the region. Some of the best Douro tours provided by GetYourGuide include:
• Douro Valley day tour (with over 2,000 positive reviews!) €90
• Full day Douro River cruise up to village of Pinhão from Porto (€86)
• Wine Tour with River Cruise and Wine Lunch (€100)
• Douro Valley tour, 1 hour cruise and wine tasting (€90)
As the complete route is over 120km and takes around seven hours to fully see, we suggest either spending the night in Peso da Régua or the pretty town of Lamego (just to the south of Peso da Régua). Another option is to share the driving between two people.
All of the roads shown in this tour are fully tarmacked, and wide enough for two cars. The route narrows along the M633, which leads down to the Valeira dam, but is still fine for cars or motorbikes.
The main draw of the Douro region are the spectacular hills, valleys and views, so expect many tight turns, switchbacks and generally demanding driving. If the total length is too long, the day trip could end in Tua or Pinhão. Pinhão is the prettiest town along the route and is the highlight of the day.
The steep hills of the Douro mean that the grapes have to be picked by hand, and is the only major grape-producing region to do this
If you are driving from Porto, we suggest heading to Peso da Régua via the A4 expressway and then heading south on the A24, which crosses the high bridge at Peso da Régua. For a day trip from Porto aim for at least visiting Pinhão.
To reduce the length of the day trip, Peso da Régua could be skipped (the only unique attraction is the Museu do Douro) and the Douro Superior section could be removed. Also, a fast way to return to Porto after visiting Tua, is to join the IC5 which then connects to the A4 near Pópulo.
Peso da Régua was traditional the hub for transporting goods up and down the Douro River, and today it is the primary departure location for cruises along the Douro.
Peso da Régua has a pretty waterfront and contains the excellent Museu do Douro, but there are much more scenic towns further up the Douro.
The three bridges of Peso da Régua, with the A24 bridge towering above the valley
This section of the road follows the river and passes the Barragem da Régua dam. There are many wonderful views across the terraced vineyards on the southern side of the river, and there are multiple places to stop.
While along this section you could pull into the Quinta do Tedo to see the vineyards and taste their Port wines - tickets here €12
Luxurious cruise ships are frequently see sailing along the Douro, but a car is much better for the intrepid traveller
Pinhão is the quintessential Douro valley town and has a much more relaxed atmosphere than Peso da Régua. This delightful town is surrounded by vineyard terraces and sits on a major bend in the river.
There is pleasant riverside walk along the western banks of the Douro or for a challenging uphill hike there is the Torguiano de São Cristovão viewpoint, 1.7km from the town centre. For something more relaxing, there are short boat cruises of 1-2hours, and this section of the Douro is one of the prettiest.
Pinhão is the heart of port wine production (known as the Cima Corgo) and there are many fine Quintas (farms) offering port tasting, and include the Quinta do Bomfim, the Quinta da Foz and the Quinta das Carvalhas.
The waterfront in Pinhão with the tour boats ready for the tourists
The Ponte do Pinhão bridge leading into the town
The drive north from Pinhão to Vale de Mendiz (along N322) is one of the most scenic sections of the route, but unfortunately, there are not many places to stop along the winding road.
This region provides the classic images of the Douro region, with ancient vineyards covering every section of the steep hills, and perched at the centre along a high ridge is the pretty village of Vale de Mendiz.
Advice: The Miradouro de Vale de Mendiz viewpoint is at one of the highest points of the region but is just beyond the most scenic part of the road.
The section through Granja and Alijó is nothing special, so just pass through as quickly as possible.
The village of Vale de Mendiz
The Miradouro de Vale de Mendiz viewpoint
Just beyond the village of São Mamede de Riba is the Parque Natural Do Vale do Tua and the Albufeira de Foz Tua, the largest lake of the Alto Douro. The lake is actually a reservoir and was created in 2016 with the completion of the Tua dam.
Insight: This area offers some of the most spectacular landscapes.
The Albufeira de Foz Tua lake
The Tua dam and the main bridge into Tua
Tua is a small village in the upper Douro. This is a quiet and tranquil village (once away from the train station complex) is popular for hiking, and there is a pretty riverside footpath that leads to the Tua dam. The N214 as it snakes out of Tua provides more breath-taking scenery and views such as from the Miradouro de Parambos.
The Linha do Douro railway crosses the Tua River, as it joins the Douro
The Miradouro de Parambos overlooking Tua lake
The section between Linhares and the Valeira dam becomes more rugged and wild. The forests and exposed hills dotted boulders, more clearly resemble the Douro region before the intense grape growing that begun in the Roman era.
The road drops down to cross the Valeira dam and then enters the Douro Superior region, which is much hotter and drier than the Cima Corgo.
The Barragem da Valeira and the natural vegetation over the Douro’s schist hills
The Miradouro de São Salvador do Mundoview point overlooking the Douro Superior
The final section re-joins the N222 and heads westwards back to Peso da Régua. This region passes through the Cima Corgo vineyard growing region, and is another incredibly scenic road that meanders around hills lined with the terraced vineyards. There is an outstanding viewpoint at the Miradouro da Abelheira.
Vineyards cover every available space
Probably by this stage of the day, you are exhausted, but if you still have energy, there is an amazing viewpoint at Sao Leonardo de Galafura. This summit at 640m provides some of the finest views of the Douro valley.
The view from the Sao Leonardo de Galafura