The Douro region and valley

Douro Region
Photo:  Cristina LisboaCC BY-NC-SA - Some Rights Reserved

The hillsides of the Douro valley, terraced by men for centuries in order to plant vines, have given rise to a unique and unrepeatable landscape. This region, differentiated by its geomorphology and climate, was demarcated in 1756, making it the first demarcated wine region in the world. It is the source of the famous Port wine. Recognition of its natural and cultural heritage value was reflected in the award, in 2001, of the World Heritage status by UNESCO as a living and evolving cultural landscape – the Alto Douro Wine Region.

The Douro valley is also marked by the landscape of the International Douro and Alvão natural parks and, slightly further away, the Arouca Geopark.

The Douro flows from the Spanish border to the city of Porto and, depending on the time of the year, its hillsides may delight us with almond and cherry trees in flower or with the grape harvest.

Uniting these two World Heritages is wine, born in the Douro and baptised in Porto, a refined fortified wine, rich in aroma, colour and flavour, a world of sensations that we can learn to discover.

Location

The Douro Wine Region is situated in northeast Portugal, protected from the Atlantic damp winds by the mountains of Marão and Montemuro; it is bordered to the north by Trás-os-Montes, to the west by the Minho and by Porto and to the east by the Spanish Region of Castilla y León.

The region has a total area of 250 000 ha, and vineyards cover 40 000 ha in the deep basins of the Douro and its tributaries: Corgo, Torto, Pinhão, Tua, Côa, and others. It is divided into three sub-regions – Baixo Corgo to the west, Cima-Corgo in the centre and Douro Superior to the east – with varied mesoclimates, but always with cold winters and hot, dry summers.

The combination of these factors with the nobility of the grape varieties used is decisive for the quality and authenticity of its wines, which are more the purest expression of the harmonious marriage of land, climate and people’s love for their art.

The eastern edge of this natural region is formed by more than 120 km of the rivers Douro and Águeda along the border, covering 4 municipalities: Miranda do Douro, Mogadouro, Freixo de Espada à Cinta and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo.

This region, which also includes Arribes del Duero Natural Park, is of unquestionable importance for its fauna, particularly large birds of prey and black storks. The steep hillsides offer the necessary protection for countless birds that breed here, including griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures - the symbol of the International Douro Natural Park, golden eagles, Bonelli’s eagles and black storks.

Important populations of mammals can also be found in this park, particularly wolves, roe deer, wild boars, otters and foxes.

While woods of kermes oak (Quercus rotundifolia) are the most representative, we can also find cork oak woods (Quercus suber), juniper woods (Juniperus oxycedrus) and pedunculate oak woods (Quercus pyrenaica). Shrub communities of cistus, broom, terebinth, lavender and heathers, together with water-side woods of willows and alder, contribute to the natural balance in this area.

The Douro Valley

On 14 December 2001, UNESCO named the Alto Douro Wine Region 45° 68’ N, 5° 93’ W World Heritage, in the category of cultural landscape; this was the culmination of a nomination procedure that was supported by the Rei Afonso Henriques Foundation.

The Alto Douro Wine Region became the 13th world heritage site in the country and the 5th wine area in the world, joining the regions of Val du Loire and Saint Émilion (France), Cinque Terre (Italy) and Wachau (Austria).

The classified area covers 24.6 thousand hectares, in 13 different municipalities: Mesão Frio, Peso da Régua, Santa Marta de Penaguião, Vila Real, Alijó, Sabrosa, Carrazeda de Ansiães, Torre de Moncorvo, Lamego, Armamar, Tabuaço, São João da Pesqueira and Vila Nova de Foz Côa; it represents ten per cent of the Demarcated Douro Region.

Within this region, in the Côa valley, is the most important group of open-air rock engravings in the world, dating from pre-historical, proto-historical and historical eras. It was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998.

Extending over 17 kilometres, it consists of 23 sites with rock carvings grouped into three different sections. The Côa valley has a museum of art and archaeology built between 2007 and 2010. It was designed by the architects Pedro Tiago Lacerda Pimentel and Camilo Bastos Rebelo. The museum pays tribute to the combined work of People and Nature, illustrating the universal value of the active role of culture and an outstanding landscape.

Origins

The Douro Valley has been occupied since Prehistory and vines have been cultivated here since the Roman era. The vineyard landscape reflects forms of organisation of the land and cultivation of vines in different periods of history.

Originally, the deserted landscape, with steep crags dominated by schist and granite, was covered by thickets and shrubs typical of a climate between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, becoming drier further inland.

Over the course of three centuries, techniques to improve and develop the land were created that enabled vines to be cultivated in adverse conditions, on steep and stony hillsides, through the construction of terraces, supported by miles of schist walls that help to prevent erosion.

The countryside was shaped to create an unmistakable landscape, transformed by thousands of kilometres of vines.

The huge plantations of parallel rows, on horizontal terraces and patamares, in vertical vineyards, or, as is now more frequent, alternating the two types, form astonishing geometric mosaics. Their stratification in giant staircases descending the mountains contrasts with a smooth river transformed into a succession of lakes by the construction of dams.

Published 13-09-2013
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