Spectacularly located at the confluence of the Douro and Pinhão rivers, just 22 km (14 miles) upstream from Peso da Régua, the pretty town of Pinhão lies at the very heart of northern Portugal’s famous Port wine-making region.
Besides being a place where the soil and climatic conditions are considered to be perfect for growing grapes, its very pleasant riverside location makes it a great place for a relaxing stopover, especially for lovers of Portugal’s increasingly-popular food and wine.
Pinhão railway station is worth seeing even if you are not travelling anywhere by train. The walls are liberally decorated with lovely azulejo tiles, with several large, very well-preserved panels portraying historic scenes of the surrounding area, thus giving visitors a good idea of how the Douro looked before the dams were built and the river was made navigable.
Pinhão is a sleepy place for most of the year but bursts into life in autumn during the annual grape harvest, an event that attracts pickers from all over the country. It’s a lively affair with much merry-making and visitors are often welcome to get involved alongside the local townsfolk.
Built on the site of an 18th century wine estate, the Vintage House Hotel (arguably the best address in town) operates regular wine-tastings and courses covering a wide range of aspects, such as the main types of grape, how the wine is made, which bottles to buy and how thy should be stored.
Between Pinhão and Pocinho, a small town 40 km eastwards along the River Douro, the railway line passes within sight of some of the world’s most famous vineyards, with Croft’s Quinta da Roeda, Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos and Cockburn’s Tua all easily visible from the train’s windows.
Further along the river are two of the grandest of all Portugal’s sprawling vineyard estates: Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas and Symingtons’ Quinta do Vesúvio, both of which have their own private railway stations.
Sabrosa, a short drive to the north of Pinhão, was the birthplace of Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan), who was born there in 1480. One ship of his fleet of five (commanded by the Basque Juan Sebastián de Elcano) was the first to circumnavigate the globe between 1519 and 1522. Magellan himself was sadly killed en route in the Philippines.
Another major local attraction is Vila Mateus, the world-famous home of the iconic rosé wine. This sparkling pink and slightly sweet best-seller is still made locally and visitors from all over the globe flock to the Baroque-style solar (stately home) to learn the story of how this very popular wine set the pace among Portugal’s leading wine-makers following World War II.