If one is travelling to the Douro to enjoy the landscape, the culture, the wines and the gastronomy, every period has its own charm and interest. There are some special dates and periods to maximise this experience.
You’ll find most shops closed on 1st of January and public transport operates with reduced schedules. January is a particularly quiet month, following the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays and celebrations.
Carnival in February can be very entertaining, with some truly bizarre costumes used and traditions followed, and the actual form of celebrations differs from location to location. In the larger towns carnival might be an orderly procession of masked figures but in some villages it still clearly reflects its pre-roman, pagan origins as a celebration of the end of winter and the start of spring.
Good Friday and Easter Sunday, which can be on any date between the end of March and the end of April, are public holidays and the sight of the priest and his entourage travelling around the region with a figure of Jesus to be kissed is very charming.
Freedom Day on 25 April, 1 May’s Labour Day, Corpus Christi (60 days after Easter Sunday) and 10 June’s National Day are all public holidays.
The 15th of August is a public holiday celebrating the assumption of Mary. About a month later is usually the busiest time in the Douro for the locals, as this is harvest time. Fascinating for wine lovers, who may even be able to pitch in. Imagine telling everyone back at home that you were responsible for that year’s wine harvest.
August and the beginning of September is the busiest period in the Douro. Especially in larger towns, such as Régua, see emigrants returning for their annual “pilgrimage”. This is when most festivities (such as Lamego’s festival in the beginning of September) are held, and the restaurants and bars do a brisk trade. Many visitors enjoy participating in the more animated atmosphere. Having said that, this is mostly a rural area and if you are visiting the more remote parts you may not even notice it.
The public holiday Republic day is celebrated on 5 October and All Saints’ Day on 1 November. In December the public holidays Restoration of Independence Day and Immaculate Conception Day are celebrated on the 1st and on the 8th respectively.
Most shops are closed on Christmas Eve and Day. This is a lovely time to visit and experience a more old fashioned and less commercial way of celebrating it. New Year’s Eve has some festivities, but these are rather sedate affairs, most people just enjoy the company of family and friends.
Most visitors get to the Douro by car, which is especially handy for travelling within the region, especially to visit wine estates. If you are not planning to travel around that much, however, the train from Porto, which travels all the way to Pocinho, close to the Spanish border, is an interesting option. Some distance after leaving Porto it starts following the Douro and for the next 100 km grants spectacular landscapes. There are also regular boat rides on the Douro and, while these are normally taken simply to enjoy the trip, make for scenic way to reach your destination. And for the ultimate indulgence you could even go from Porto by helicopter.
For more information on the climate, please visit the Douro Weather page.