If, like me, you are a lover of port, then travelling to Portugal’s Douro Valley is a kind of pilgrimage. If when you get there you stay at the Six Senses Douro Valley, you’ll think you have died and gone to port-induced heaven. In fact, it’s a paradise even if you’re teetotal.
The hotel opened only in summer 2015, but at its core is the Quinta de Vale Abraão, a 19th century manor house in a spectacular location overlooking a bend in the Douro River. Vineyards surround the property, locally produced wines dominate the cellar, and a dramatic, cavernous room is given over to port tasting.
Two kinds of visitors come to this Six Senses property: port lovers, eager to taste, smell, touch and see the products of the Douro Valley’s famous vines; and those attracted by the chain’s well-earned reputation for combining luxury and wellness. It’s a hotel where even the smallest detail has been considered, and whether you want to relax in the magnificent spa, have a consultation with an expert therapist, or go on a guided tree climbing expedition, there will be something on the programme which appeals.
It’s rare that I walk into a hotel room and it takes my breath away, but at the Six Senses that is exactly what happened. It’s not so much the interiors – though those are indisputably exquisite – but rather the way in which the architect has created a space which seems to be both inside and outside at once. The entire external wall is a panel of glass, so you can’t help but be transfixed by the view. A glass panel in the bathroom, which is cleverly positioned at a higher level to the bedroom, ensures that you can stand brushing your teeth, looking out across the room and out into the great outdoors.
In the room itself the king sized bed has crisp white sheets, and the furnishings are tastefully monochrome. It’s a high-tech space, where everything from the temperature to the music to the blinds can be controlled from a smartphone, and the same device provides all the information you’ll need about the hotel, as well as the option to make treatment and dinner reservations. Cosmetics in the bathroom (the same as those in the spa) are locally produced and smell absolutely divine.
Six Senses has created what is probably the finest spa in Portugal. There’s a large infinity pool, sauna and steam rooms, and glass-sided treatment rooms overlooking the hotel’s gardens. If you’re feeling a little more active, you can join a yoga or Pilates class in the fitness studio.
Wine lovers should head to the Wine Library, well-stocked with books, as the name suggests, but also with ports and other Portuguese wines. Wine tastings are hosted at long, wooden benches, accompanied by tasty morsels of ham, cheese, and crackers.
Food and Drink
Don’t come to the Six Senses if you are on a diet. Not only should you participate in at least one wine tasting, but you’ll also want to gorge yourself in the restaurant at meal times. Many of the dishes, including some of the best octopus I’ve ever tasted, are inspired by traditional Portuguese recipes and produced with locally sourced ingredients, but the chefs have an artistic flair, resulting in contemporary, quite beautiful, presentation. If you are interested in where your food and drink comes from, you can take a walk in the hotel’s kitchen garden, where many of the herbs and vegetables are labelled, or visit one of the neighbouring quintas (see below) to watch the wines and ports being made.
The closest city to the Six Senses Douro Valley is Porto, a vibrant place packed with history and, of course, the world-famous port houses. You will almost certainly route through Porto on your way to the hotel, and should ideally stop a night or two to visit the Warre’s or Dowe’s port houses, stroll along the quayside, and to go to the historic cathedral.
Once you reach the hotel, be sure to visit at least one of the neighbouring vineyards and take a tour of its quinta, the Portuguese equivalent of a chateau. Although more modest in size than their French counterparts, you’ll be able to see all the steps of wine production, including visiting the cellars, and inevitably ending your tour with a sampling. The surrounding hillsides offer fine hiking routes, and boat trips on the Douro River can also be arranged through the hotel.
Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.
Rooms from €250.
Value for Money
Even if rooms at the Six Senses Douro Valley were twice the price, I’d have no hesitation in paying it. It is, quite simply, one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and whilst the pound is doing well against the Euro, you might as well take advantage of that fact.
British Airways flies directly from Gatwick to Porto, and then it is a short transfer by road or rail into the Douro Valley. The hotel is on its own estate, so if you’re travelling by public transport you’ll only get as close as the neighbouring town, but the hotel can collect you from there.
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