The Most Beautiful 5k In The World

Graham’s Port Blog is hosted on WordPress, which recently issued a challenge to all its bloggers and employees worldwide: get out from behind your computer, get some fresh air and exercise in the form of a 5k walk or run, then come back and blog about it.

The Douro is, quite simply, the most spectacularly beautiful landscape imagineable.   So, your blogger decided to take a walk through our vineyards and bring you with her through the magic of the internet, as part of this worldwide initiative.

My first challenge was simply getting to the Douro; with wildcat strikes on the train services jeopardising travel plans I had to hitch a ride with colleagues who had business at Quinta do Vesuvio, another Symington property in the Douro Superior, 120 km east of Porto. Perfect: Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, which supplies grapes for Graham’s ports, is immediately next to Vesuvio, just upriver.

Armazen at Quinta do Vesuvio
Experimental vineyards at Vesuvio
Boundary wall between Vesuvio and Malhadas
Out of the wilderness, into the vineyards
Tinta Roriz plantation
Winery and olive press buildings
The Well
Vale dos Porcos
Esteva, or Rock Rose

My walk started at the armazen at Vesuvio, with its magnificent old toneis, each holding around 14,000 litres of fine port made in the last harvest.  In fact, your blogger’s own fair feet helped tread three lagares of that wine, so it seemed a particularly fitting place to start off.

I headed east and around .75 km came to some experimental vineyards.  The Symingtons engage in considerable research, both viticultural and enological.  This vineyard is set up to compare results between seven different trellising systems.  If you look closely at the photograph, the background vines are trained “Poda Minima” – minimal pruning – as you can see!  The mad tangle of those vines contrasts with the very tidy Smart Dyson pruned vines in the foreground.  (Note:  you can click on any of these photos to see them full size, then use your browser back button to return to the blog.)

A little over 2km brought me to the boundary wall between Vesuvio and Malhadas.  In the 1870’s when phylloxera had scourged the Douro and grape production was at an all time low, the then owner of Vesuvio, Dona Antónia Ferreira, kept her staff employed on other tasks, including the building of this beautiful dry stone wall which surrounds the property – bear in mind, it is over 300 hectares of land!

The area on either side of the wall, in both quintas, is wilderness now, so it wasn’t until I had walked about 2.7 km that I had my first view of the vineyards and olive groves of Quinta do Vale de Malhadas.

The vines are doing well, as you can see, leaves are already unfolding.  Later in the day I spoke with the viticulturalist, Mário Natario, who confirmed the vines are very forward this year, and doing well.  He is hoping to get their field grafting done at Malhadas over the next two weeks.  I should mention we have had spectacular weather, warm, even hot, and clear for almost a week now.  As I was walking through Malhadas, even the caseiro, who lives year round in the Douro and should be used to it, commented on the extraordinary heat.

I carried on past this vineyard of Tinta Roriz, and then turned down towards the river and railway line, 3.5 km.  Clearly there was once a dedicated stop at the old winery.  Rupert Symington tells me the old winery is amazing, and promised to give me the key some time to explore.  In that slightly lower-roofed extension to the back, there is an old olive press – each of those four doors opens into a section of the building dedicated to one part of the process, and press, storage jars and all are still there.  He tells me the olive oil they make from Malhadas is fantastically good (a previous blog post explains the harvest process, if you are interested, though now our olives are pressed at a nearby co-operative).

Just up from the winery is a beautiful old well – notice the stone shelf-like steps which descend into the well.  There is a small brook which runs along the outside edge of that surrounding wall – just the sound of the running water was refreshing on such a hot day.

I carried on, past the quinta house (where the caseiro, the property manager, lives) and all its surrounding outbuildings, and on past vineyards to another area of wilderness.  At 4.9 km I came to Vale dos Porcos (yes, Valley of the Pigs – wild boar were and still are quite common in the Douro).  This is a deep stone-lined ravine which holds water cascading down the hillside – from that crevasse in the photo it passes under the roadway where I am standing, and carries on down the hill through more wilderness – I have no idea where it comes out, I think it is too far east to feed the little stream next to the well in the prior photo.

As I reached the 5km point, I was surrounded by Esteva, Rock Rose.  If you are familiar with reviews of Graham’s ports, particularly our Vintage ports, you will often see tasting notes of Esteva.  This is an intense floral scent but with a distinctly herbal edge to it – imagine rose with something like menthol or eucalyptus blended in.  One thing I noticed over and over again as I walked was the incredible fragrance of the air – and it reminded me of our Vintage ports.  The wilderness landscapes of Malhadas are covered in gorse, rock rose, lavender, and more flowers and herbs and shrubs than I can possibly name, besides all the olive, almond, and citrus trees.

I did walk just a little further, to 5.4 km from the start, to reach a particular spur of land and enjoy the spectacular views:

First, the view across the river, to Quinta do Vale do Coelho (coelho means rabbit), which is one of the key properties for Smith Woodhouse ports, another Symington brand.

And then, looking directly upriver:

Vale de Coelho on the north bank of the Douro, and on this side of the river, more of Vale de Malhadas.  This quinta stretches along 2 km of river front, and extends up the surrounding hillsides and valleys over 145 hectares.  These photos are taken from a little more than midway along the river frontage and a bit less than halfway up the height of the property.

Admit it, that’s the most beautiful 5k walk you’ve ever taken.  But we still have to turn around and walk back!

Wilderness hillside, covered in gorse
Almonds, already!
Caseiro’s rooster
Road back through Vesuvio
Almost there – Quinta do Vesuvio

Of the 145 hectares at Malhadas, only 32 are under vine.  The rest, as you can see, is largely wilderness, but there are also considerable olive, citrus and almond groves.  I should have mentioned, besides the haunting fragrance I noticed throughout the day, I also enjoyed the birdsong.  With almost no man-made noises, I was aware of the constant chatter and music of the birds.  I saw only a few darting about, but the music was continual.  I should add that the insect life is also thriving – bees certainly were enjoying the habitat (we have hives and most of our quintas make their own honey) and at one point I had so many butterflies around me it was a little dizzying!

The almond trees bloomed back in January and February, and have already set – nice crop coming along here, with their fuzzy green skins.  They need to be picked in September – hopefully before the grape harvest begins!  Again, at every quinta I have enjoyed the local almonds lightly toasted and salted, and generally served alongside a cold tawny or port-and-tonic.  Very nice.

These quintas in the Douro Superior are particularly remote – the roads are incredibly long and winding before you reach a village, so the properties need to be self-sufficient to a fair degree.  The caseiro at Malhadas has a great vegetable patch planted on some abandoned stone-walled patamares, and keeps both a hen-house and a separate rooster-house next door.

By 6.4 km I had re-entered the Vesuvio property, and the view was of another beautiful stone wall alongside the road, and a mortuario on the hillside ahead of me.  The word means graveyard, and is used as well for the stone-terraced vineyards that were abandoned after phylloxera.  Some were converted to olive groves, others were left to go wild.  If you click on that photo to see it full size, you can see the walls nearly buried under all the vegetation (use your browser back button to return to the blog).

Finally, 9.5 km, I had a beautiful view of the quinta house at Vesuvio.  I mentioned the need for self-sufficiency – that open ground in front of the house, with citrus trees on either side and clustered around a well in the centre, is the kitchen garden, freshly cleared and ready to re-plant.  Just two weeks ago, when I visited with the Lodge team there was still kale standing in the garden, and I have seen it at harvest time, bursting with tomatoes, cabbages, herbs, you name it, all of which go to feed the harvest team as well as the family and visitors to the quinta.

I got back to the house at just under 10k, tired, happy, and luckily just in time for lunch with my colleagues.  I hope you have enjoyed this walk as much as I did, and like me, you will enjoy a glass of chilled tawny port afterwards.

55 thoughts on “The Most Beautiful 5k In The World”

    1. Absolutely! I’m sure I saw research that even reading about exercise gets your pulse elevated!

    1. Love your name, agirl… These quintas are private property and working farms, and not open to the general public, that’s why we try to share them through this blog. If you come to Porto, you can visit Graham’s Lodge, which is open for tours, and where you can taste our wines and learn more about all our properties and winemaking. We hope you can visit us there!

    1. Our wines are widely available in Canada – in fact Rupert Symington is just back from the Vancouver International Wine Festival, and our next post will be about that – stay tuned! Thank you so much for visiting us here!

  1. I love these posts about wine and travel. This posts in particular reminded me of a trip my husband and I took to Crete in 2003. We were driving amidst sheep and cliffs and out of the blue a winery popped up right in the middle of nowhere and on a cliff no less. Anyway…thanks for the trip down memory land. Love the pics!

    1. What a wonderful story. Wine regions are always special, but naturally we are a little partial to our own… Thank you!

  2. Many many thanks for all the kind words about our post and congratulations on the Freshly Pressed. The response has been amazing, thank you!

  3. I’d take your challenge if it was not a trip to a super market along the highway… :-)

    It is amazing (to me, at least) how much I can walk when I am in a new place, and how little I can walk in my town. So sad…

    Pictures are beautiful! Thank you for sharing :-)

    1. Portugal is definitely worth the trip – an amazingly beautiful country and the wines are superb. Do come visit!

  4. Graham – blogging works… Just came across your blog on the wordpress site, gone to your website and as I love a good port, will be heading into the local bottle store in Sydney to get a bottle – can’t wait.

    Thanks mate.

    1. These vineyards are private property, but if you can stand the hills (from 100 m to 600 m rise in fairly short spaces!) I imagine cycling the Douro roads would be quite a challenge, and the scenery throughout the region is magnificent.

  5. I’m saving my pennies as of right now in order to one day take that vastly beautiful walk and reward my well-exercised body with more than one glass of silky port. Gorgeous :-)

  6. Thanks for a beautiful tour of the countryside and the exercise. Now I’m thirsty, tomorrow I will head for the liquor store! Congrats on fresh pressed. CHEERS.

  7. Again, thank you to everyone for the comments – the response is just overwhelming! It is such a pleasure to share our magnificent landscape with everyone like this.

  8. I thought I knew Douro reasonable well but obviously not, after your description and beautiful pictures. This is indeed a unique cenary. It’s nice to associate this images to our glass of Porto. Congratulations and all the best for the next Graham’s harvest.

  9. It makes me miss Portugal even more now (I lived in Braga). I’ve taken a few trips up and down the Douro by car, boat, and train, and I envy your ability to access it by foot. It’s a remarkable place.

    It was exciting to see something about Portugal on the Freshly Pressed page. Good work!

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