Portugal may be low-key, but the Douro Valley wine region, with ancient and atmospheric Porto as its anchor, is steadily raising the country’s profile, particularly among travelers tired of the Tuscany circuit.
“Today’s oenophiles and gastronomes are always looking for something new,” says Frank Bruni, writer and former chief restaurant critic for The New York Times, noting how generations of sweet port production have provided a viticultural base for more serious endeavors like the intense Vinha Grande and the fruity Quinta do C?tto. “Portugal’s proximity to Spain, Italy, and France ? in its Mediterranean sensibility as well as in its geography and currency ? make it a logical next focus.” Plus, it’s simply gorgeous.
The best place to kick-start an acquaintance is in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto’s earthy-chic answer to Paris’s Left Bank. Here, tasters can migrate from one “wine lodge” to another, sampling all the port fit to sip (and that’s a lot) before settling into buzzy Bacalhoeiro (74 Avenida Diogo Leite, +351-223-759-408, Bacalhoeiro.com.pf), a bright, modern restaurant in a 100-year-old granite building that specializes in a plethora of bacalao (salt cod) dishes.
The five-star Yeatman Hotel (4400-088 Rua do Choupelo, +351-220-133-100, The-Yeatman-Hotel.com), a sumptuous melt of Portuguese warmth and cool Britannia with a layout echoing the valley’s terraced slopes, overlooks the historic red-roofed district. Drink in the views as well as wines from its 20,000-bottle cellar, including a vast collection of wood-aged and vintage ports.
Indeed, take a bright, crisp décor, add some 20,000 bottles of the best Portuguese wine and fold it into a hotel with stunning views across a wide river to an ancient city on a hill, and there you have The Yeatman. Portugal’s first and only “luxury wine hotel” opened in September in Porto, the little country’s second biggest city that’s most famous, of course, for Port wine. The property so lovingly acknowledges Portuguese history while single-handedly propelling the city’s hospitality scene into the future that it’s entirely appropriate to agree with its website’s assertion that, “a great classic hotel defines a destination, providing an authentic and memorable sense of place,” and that moreover Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage City, is defined by The Yeatman.
Part of the reason comes down to location: The hotel is just across the River Douro from Porto proper, in an area called Vila Nova de Gaia. This is where for some three centuries British wine shippers and their families warehoused Port wine, and The Yeatman (whose name refers to one such family) actually overlooks the warehouse district. The hotel’s own cellars contain one of the world’s most extensive collections of Portuguese wines, including wood-aged and vintage Ports. The hotel itself is structured in a manner that evokes the terraced vineyards that flank the Douro further east from Porto, with each of the 82 rooms opening onto a private balcony with views across the river to the glorious old city.