Visitors to the picturesque Douro Valley region in the north of Portugal can enjoy a very large dose of nostalgia on one of the great railways journeys of the world along the Douro line.
Departing from the old railway station at Régua (marked on the map below), the 80-minute summer service stops briefly at the pretty town of Pinhão en route to its final destination, Tua, further along the banks of the River Douro.
This exhilarating travel experience provides passengers with a rare opportunity to feel the power of the Henschel & Son locomotive pulling five vintage carriages, two of which are more than a hundred years old.
As musicians sing heart-rendering songs from days gone by with live drum-and-accordion accompaniment, passengers are served locally-made confectionary and a welcome glass of port wine as they board the train.
This unique journey runs through the very heart of Portugal’s demarcated port wine region, a UNESCO-classified area where breathtaking views of the Douro Valley and the surrounding countryside are the norm.
One of Portugal’s engineering masterpieces, the Linha do Douro has twenty-six tunnels, thirty bridges and dates right back to the 19th century when Régua was an important wine centre. The first train arrived there on the 15th of July 1879 before the line was extended to Pinhão on the 1st of June 1880, with the final stretch between Pinhão and Tua finally opening on the 1st of September 1883.
As soon as the train pulls out of Régua station, passengers get their first glimpse of the magnificent River Douro from the right-hand side of the carriage. The train briskly enters the first tunnel of the trip, which was built in 1968 because of the rise in the river’s water level following the construction of the nearby Bagaúste dam, itself a formidable sight when vessels are raised and lowered through the locks.
The journey continues through miles and miles of terraced vineyards and some of the most enchanting scenery in Portugal with both sides of the river flanked by some of the world’s most famous wine estates with names like Sandeman, Taylor’s and Croft.
Then the train majestically crosses the river as it approaches Pinhão, a charming place that has grown up around the port wine trade. Lots of warehouses and cellars have been built there over the years, but when the railway line first reached the town there were only 300 inhabitants.
When the train pulls into Pinhão station, crowds of children flock to watch as the locomotive’s boiler is refilled from a large metal water tower by the line’s enthusiastic drivers.
Pinhão station is an attraction in itself with no less than twenty-four panels of dazzling azulejo tiles decorating the walls. Produced at the Fábrica Aleluia in Aveiro in 1937, the panels depict the different stages of wine-making from the harvest to carrying the barrels on traditional rabelo boats along the river to Porto. They also show some places that no longer exist, such as Cachão da Valeira and Ferradosa Bridge, both of which disappeared under the water of the reservoirs created by the Valeira dam in 1976.
Embarking at Tua station, the terminal and turnaround point, we can see just how important this town used to be by the size of the platforms, warehouses and number of sidings. Besides being an important railway junction, it is also the hub of a region famous for its tasty oranges and figs.
Other railway lines worthy of note in the region include the Tua line which clings to a steep rocky ravine through the unspoilt Douro landscape as it follows the Tua tributary into the hills. The Corgo line is another highlight that features one of the world’s most spectacular switchbacks, along with the Tâmega line which terminates at the charming town of Amarante and the Vouga line, the last surviving metre gauge railway line in Portugal.