Location: Folgosa do Douro, Portugal
Sleeps: 6 people (3 bedrooms/2 baths)
Book now: airbnb.com
Right before the start of the pandemic, my friends Katie and Mike moved to London, where they expected to fill their weekends with trips around Europe. You know the rest: Lockdowns, of course, cramped their style, and they were separated from family and friends during a global crisis. So when regulations first started to loosen up a bit, we decided to stage a Thanksgiving mini-reunion in Portugal’s gorgeous Douro Valley, a place where our group of six could drink good wine, cook communal dinners, and catch up on the years of craziness we had just experienced.
We were certainly not on the hunt for anything fancy, but we stumbled upon this three-bedroom farmhouse-turned-villa on Airbnb, surrounded by rows of grapevines, citrus and olive trees, and plenty of rose and lavender bushes—all with a price tag under $500. But the thing that made it seem like such a particularly impressive steal were the million-euro views out back: the lazily bending Douro River on which rabelo boats traditionally carried barrels of port wine to the warehouses of Vila Nova de Gaia, the red-tile-roofed country houses dotting the green landscape, and the terraced hillsides carved with vineyards that inspired novelist José Saramago to call this area “unarguably the eighth wonder of the world.”
About a 90-minute drive east of Porto, the property is set in the quiet village of Folgosa do Douro, which is mostly residential and is about halfway between the wineries of Peso da Régua and the historic town of Pinhão, where we had an excellent lunch at Cozinha da Clara and then sailed on a gorgeous (and, once again, shockingly affordable) wooden yacht with Ânima Durius.
Folgosa itself is a bit quieter, though it is home to the restaurant DOC by chef Rui Paula, whose other restaurant Casa de Chá da Boa Nova has two Michelin stars. We opted instead to have Thanksgiving dinner in nearby Marmelal at the absolutely zero-frills roadside restaurant Douro Jovem, where the wine was homemade, the nightly menu was simple (“Carne ou peixe?”) and the service was memorably warm—and totally English-free.
The one slight downside to the location: The farmhouse sits up a winding, narrow, and bumpy country road that was only wide enough for one car at a time. I was slightly white-knuckling it the entire time—the kind of road where you have to turn down the music and shush your friends so you can concentrate. According to the listing, the formerly gravel path has now been paved, which I’m sure would have alleviated some of my concerns.
The open floor plan is perfect for bonding time, with a big wooden dining table made for late-night chatting over presunto (dry-cured ham), cheese, olives, and local wine. We stocked up on bottles at Quinta da Pacheca after a tasting and did our big grocery haul at a superstore in Lamego near the Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, which is known for its monumental baroque staircase.
I spent quite a bit of time cooking in the tight but well-appointed kitchen, with its cheerful mint green cabinets, a refrigerator paneled in wood from area wine crates, and a rug that looked like azulejo tiles. The beds—a king, a queen, and two singles in the guest bedroom—were comfortable, but the best seat in the house is the deep-seat leather couch, which should come with a warning: If you cozy up under the teddy-bear-soft, faux-fur throws, you’re going to be down for the count within minutes.
Our one complaint: The showers in the two bathrooms are beautiful, with Spanish shale and bronze fixtures, but the old pipes couldn’t quite keep up with our shower schedule. We had to pivot and divide between morning and night showers to ensure that we all got hot water.
The expansive stone patio includes a small infinity-edged pool that’s perfectly positioned to look out over the vineyard and the valley beyond. It was too cold for us to take the plunge during our November visit, but luckily the pool is newly heated as of this year. Regardless of the season, the lounge chairs and bench are an ideal spot to sit with a book and listen to the birds.
Best of all, the view changes constantly throughout the day. We’d start every morning bundled up with coffee, snapping photos of the thick wall of fog that would come barreling through the valley like a freight train. And in the more diffuse afternoon light, the grapevines glowed with golden fall foliage.
You’re invited to pick citrus fruits from the trees on site, but heed this warning: Don’t, under any circumstances, be tempted to pick a fresh olive off the tree and pop it in your mouth for a little treat! Before being brined and cured, olives contain an extraordinarily bitter chemical compound called oleuropein that will leave a bad taste in your mouth all day. You’ve been warned. And I learned the hard way.
When you’re taking a break from exploring the valley’s many quintas (or wine-producing estates), the villa is stocked with board games and books, which run the gamut from wanderlust-inspiring coffee table books (Slim Aarons: La Dolce Vita) to classics (Jane Eyre), cookbooks (Zac Posen’s Cooking with Zac) to modern novels (Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon). While the setting is certainly conducive to a romantic getaway or a vacation for a small group of friends, families can request a crib and a pack ‘n’ play from the host.
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