I like wine. Not in a “Why yes, monsieur, if I spit this out of my mouth, I get a lingering sensation of toasted chamomile and tree bark” kind of way. But I enjoy a nice glass of wine. When I was in the US, I liked visiting local vineyards (shoutout to Big Cork Vineyards for making miracles happen in Maryland! YES, Maryland!) and I even made my way to Napa to see where some of my favorite cabernets are produced.

But once you open your eyes to wine, as a traveler, the options are astounding.

Spain? Great wine. Italy? It’s coursing through the veins of every Italian. And then there’s France. I won’t say anything besides… they know what they’re doing, and nobody else can understand… because it’s all in French! (I kid, I kid.)

So imagine my surprise when I moved to Portugal, and discovered my new favorite wines all came from a place I’d never even heard of. I don’t know everything. Maybe I’m slightly stupid when it comes to wine? But never in my life had I heard of the Douro Valley, when I frequented my local wine bar in New York.


Of course, NOW, whenever I talk to someone about wine and mention the Douro Valley, they say, “Oh! Of couuuurse! Excellent wine. Excellent wine.” If you choose to stop reading this post now, please take the following nugget with you:

  1. Start asking for Portuguese red wine from the Douro Valley
  2. GO to the Douro Valley, and get the full experience at Quina da Côrte.

Didn’t see #2 coming? Well, folks this is a travel blog, so I’m here to drop the travel secrets on you. And this is a BIG SECRET.

The Douro Valley is still a secret. Its stunning mountains, riverbed, and tiny towns perched along winding roads are waiting for you to come and explore. And you’d better get there soon before the rest of the world realizes what’s up. For instance, the average (and we’re talking AVERAGE) hotel in Napa Valley will run you about $300/night. In the Douro Valley? Half that number. And that’s at a boutique hotel or, better yet, a “Quinta.” I’ve been to wine country all over the world. None of it is this pretty and this unknown to everyone else.

Case in Point: Quinta da Côrte.

I chose Quinta da Côrte for my stay because… well, Google it and you’ll understand. In all seriousness, this gorgeous old estate sits on the top of a mountain (bring a stress ball for the drive) overlooking the Douro River, the neighboring town of Pinhão, and the pride and joy of every place in the Douro Valley… GRAPES!

But don’t think this is your Portuguese Mom and Pop homestay. Quinta da Côrte was designed by architect Pierre Yovanovitch, who was sought out by the French owners for his expert taste, with an approachable (and fun!) flair. There are eight rooms here. Eight. And each of them works with the original bones of the farmhouse, including the room I was lucky enough to call home, with a clawfoot tub and a killer view. The employees here wear French-inspired striped tops, and go out of their way to deliver 5-star service. Basically, Quinta da Côrte is here for your Under the Tuscan Sun moments, without the struggle.

But it wasn’t until I had 20 spare minutes to settle in after arriving (and being presented with a uniform for grape stomping!) that I started to understand the magic of the Douro. It’s nice. No, it’s really nice.

But it’s approachable.

Yes, I sipped an espresso in a fluffy bathrobe with my window open to jaw-dropping views over the river and surrounding mountains. But one hour later, I jumped into a pool of half-fermented grapes (I recommend shaving your legs before this experience. Otherwise, it’s prickly. Not that I would know…) and stomped around with an extremely friendly local guy whose entire life is grapes. One hour later, I tasted two versions of an unfinished wine and discovered the interesting invention of wine spit buckets (I’m unconvinced). Then, I was subsequently whisked off to an expertly-appointed room overlooking the vineyard where I got to taste the crème de la crème of Douro wines. And one hour after that, I walked through the dirt with a seemingly-normal French guy, talking about happiness, what led him to develop this particular Quinta, and, as we turned around to admire the golden hour light, the simple beauty of mother nature. (Then I changed into a cute dress and heels, enjoyed a port tonic aperitif and chatted up a tomato farmer and wine distributors, and proceeded to enjoy an incredible meal with wine pairings that would send your taste buds flying.)

You see, just like the wines and ports coming out of this region, everything here is balanced. There’s an appreciation for the land, a passion for the vines that dictate the livelihood of those living in the surrounding towns, trapped in time, and a clear vision for the future. The Quintas are getting fancier. The tour buses are growing in size. And the secret is spreading. But for 24 hours, celebrating the end of the harvest at a decadent Quinta da Côrte lunch setup for eight, overlooking the pride and joy of northern Portugal, I felt special. I felt like a part of the secret. And as a traveler, that feeling is like a MasterCard commercial:


While I was generously hosted by Quinta da Côrte for my stay, the opinions expressed above are entirely my own (and I can’t recommend this incredible place enough).