Quinta da Côrte, Douro Valley, Portugal
By Teddy Wolstenholme
Just a decade ago, this 19th century Quinta was a dilapidated wreck; today, soul and authenticity bounce off the building’s whitewashed stucco walls, drawing a sophisticated European set to the centre of Portugal’s heart-stoppingly beautiful, sun-scorched wine region.
Owner and winemaker Philippe Austrey recruited Parisian designer Pierre Yovanovitch to lead the overhaul, reincarnating this pastoral hideout into an essay in refined simplicity. Each of the eight bedrooms are finished with straw-woven rugs, rattan chairs and lapis blue azulejos hand-crafted by local artisans, while glass jars of wild flowers fill light-flooded crevices. Guests come here to celebrate outmoded pleasures, be it seeking solace in dappled corners with a well-thumbed book plucked from the library, sharing suppers with new friends in the convivial farmhouse kitchen, or disconnecting completely – there are no televisions in the rooms, tech is replaced with vintage rotary phones, and the Wi-Fi connection mercifully patchy.
Outside on the wisteria-tangled terrace, the scent of lemon and fig trees clips the intoxicatingly still air, while an infinity pool sits like a high eyrie over the patchwork quilt of vineyards sewn into the hillside below. Wine tourism is the main draw of the Douro, and the estate’s jarring white winery’s floor-to-ceiling glass panes frame the hallucinatory landscape like a watercolour, concealing heavy oak casks squirrelled twenty metres below.
Sustainability: Locavore flavours sit front and centre, with chef Marie-Hélène’s husband’s homemade honey and jam adorning the breakfast table; loaves of freshly baked bread ready to be dunked into olive oil from the estate’s vines offered at lunch, and vegetables from the garden served up with plates of grilled octopus at supper. That social conscience extends to the winemakers too; the almost-organic vineyards are still tilled by horses and pickaxes, and there’s a distinct ‘no rush’ attitude to the harvesting process, just as nature intended.
Insider tips to know: Although plates of cheese and charcuterie and a bottle of robust red can be rustled up on a whim, don’t expect a full-blown restaurant open all hours, or indeed a menu – when we visited, each course served at dinner was a delightful surprise. And if you’re a nervous driver, leave your car behind and ask the hotel to put you in touch with a local taxi firm – it’s a hair-raising, vertiginous journey to get here, and certainly not one anyone new to the area should attempt after dark.
Family-friendly: With the hotel’s hushed tones, wine-centric ethos and hillside setting (there are plenty of sheer schist drops around here), this wouldn’t be a natural choice for young guests. However, staff are happy to provide cots and highchairs if needed.
Access: While bedrooms are all located on the ground floor, the nature and features of the historic building – coupled with the abundance of steep, uneven paths around the estate – means guests with disabilities might find it a little tricky getting around.
Price: Doubles from £170 per night
Location guide: Douro Valley
Do: Under two-hours from Porto, the Douro Valley is a blissfully sleepy antidote to Portugal’s more frenetic city jaunts. The Quinta itself sits in glorious hillside isolation, but pretty Pinhão is a few kilometres away – it’s well worth basing yourself here for a day. Start with pastries on the riverfront and a trip to the scenic train station to admire the beautiful azulejos, before hopping on a flat-bottomed boat and cruising down the river, stopping off at port houses along the way (save room in your suitcase to bring a few bottles of the local tipple home).
Eat: No visit to the Douro is complete without a blowout meal at DOC. Snaffle a seat on the panoramic terrace to sample star-chef Rui Paula’s avant-garde cooking – expect local specialities with a distinct French twist. For something a little more low-key, head to Toca da Raposa, where owner Maria serves up traditional Portuguese recipes such as pataniscas de bacalhau and cozido meat stew, all passed down through multiple generations of her family.
Drink: At sundown, Pinhão’s riverfront teems with locals perched outside unassuming wine bars. But for the most committed oenophiles, going direct to the wineries is the most authentic way to tap into the drinking scene. You could easily spend a week ticking them all off, but top picks include Quinta de la Rosa for its family-owned charm and intense, dry reds, and Quinta da Roêda for its mellow tawny ports.