‘The best of Portugal’s wine will never leave the country… we have it all, right here’ divulges the sommelier at Octant Douro in a hush-hush tone. Vinho verde – a white wine crisper than a ginger snap – is the tour de force of this particular part of the Douro Valley, close to the mouth of the Atlantic. And it was during a tasting of said vinho that I learnt that the Portuguese have been benching their best players, then drinking them.
The house tasting, named ‘Douro through the ages’, has its wines paired with other bounties from the valley. The first, a shot of extra virgin olive oil, is served in a golf-ball sized opaque blue glass. What starts as buttery and smooth turns peppery and tangy – and you’ll be encouraged to follow it with another sip of the Verde Douro 41 (produced by nearby boutique maker Casa de Vila Nova) which becomes thicker and creamier than before. The tinto – a Zom Grande Reserva Touriga Nacional – comes with paper-thin slices of rich ham, and a Manchego-like cheese (I didn’t catch the name… hic) complements the 20-year-old wood-aged tawny port.
Aside from the fine Portuguese wine, there’s also the views. On the banks of a curve just 41 kilometres along the 897-kilometre Douro river, the landscape of Octant Douro is more pines than vines. And nature is visible from every corner. Solid walls of glass frame the gentle current in the cubist-style rooms; oblong windows in the hallways, lobby and bar throw slender planks of sun onto the curl-up worthy corners and dark wood armchairs.
Being on the cusp of Gen Z and Millennial (enough, in itself, to instigate an identity crisis) I’d already studied the Instagram location tag in great depth. But even so, the soft-focus views and distinct tranquillity stopped me in my white-slippered tracks every single time we entered our river view room. Everything appears naturally dewy, haloed even – like a filter made to smooth every pore. Interiors are muted: comforting creams and tones of beige (a bold choice, it could be said, given the likelihood of wine being present). It’s the kind of room that incites self-indulgence in its purest form: lounging. So much so, that post wine tasting, I actually had a nap.
Then there’s the spa. One of three glorious pools can be found here (the other two are outdoors), plus a steam room and ice sink. But I found myself gravitating towards the sweat-inducing sauna, where an afternoon of wine left my body like a sacrificial offering. Perfect, I thought: cleansed and ready for dinner and – naturally – more wine.
Dinner in the Raiva restaurant is an affair. Sommeliers dance their way between tables, sometimes with a glass of rosé, other times a magnum of port. Pourings are theatrical, and the menu itself is a show – a curtain call of Portuguese flavours, where every dish is labelled by the number of kilometres along the river that it was sourced. At least 40 per cent of the ingredients are from local farms, the others – while perhaps grown slightly further afield – are still traceable. Start with shrimp and Portuguese sausage ravioli (47km), then move on to poached Atlantic sea bass (1km), the courgette and goats cheese risotto (434km), or the confit pork belly (41km). Alternatively, go the whole hog with a four- or five-course tasting menu, which also comes in vegetarian (but not vegan, which is a shame).
Yoga classes run every Sunday, and so in the spirit of soul cleansing, we decided to book before breakfast the following morning. In good weather, these sessions are held alfresco. But with this being an uncharacteristically drizzly April, the class was inside – a far less zen back up plan thanks to the open-plan split-floor spaces, which have no way of blocking out children running to the lobby and games room just downstairs. In all honesty, those visiting off season might prefer to stick to a śavāsana in bed.
There’s plenty more up-and-at-‘em to be getting on with, though. Boardwalks and river-hugging paths stretch for miles in both directions from the hotel, with strategically placed picnic benches along the way. You can rent paddle boards and kayaks for free – an offer we took up, despite the less than inviting water temperature (something Mr Smith became well accustomed to, what with having to clamber in and out of the kayak once he’d pushed me, and it, away from the shore). From the water the hotel is imposing – a huge structure of natural stone, shale and glass clinging to the steep banks like butterflies clustering on a rock. Despite its brutalist build, there’s a gentleness to it, perhaps because of the amount of care put in to prioritise the surrounding natural beauty.
With much to do and much to drink, you could easily bed down at Octant Douro for your entire stay. But given the diversity of the valley, we’d suggest a road trip – make for the winding, quinta-dotted N-222 and stay a further night or two at a traditional winery: perhaps Quinta Nova’s 11-bedroom idyll, with its impressive vineyard and generous tastings. And so calls the siren song of another wine-induced slumber…
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Additional photography by the author