We were happy enough as we set off to the Douro Valley, but I can’t say we were prepared for what we found. Although Mr Smith and I had heard about the fabulous vistas and ‘researched’ its wonderful wines, we were somehow still expecting the Portugal we knew so well – the Peri Peri saucey, sun-sea-sandy lands of the Algarve – only with less of the sun-sea-sand bits, and more wine.
As we were travelling with the little Miss Smith (aged one) in tow we were already steeling ourselves to have to resist much of the available temptation on the latter front, but still, we were happy enough.
In our minds we were simply escaping for a few relaxing days Somewhere Other, somewhere greener than London, together. The fact that this specific Somewhere Other was to be the first and very highly acclaimed Six Senses resort in Europe of course was a definite plus, of course, but we weren’t expecting to have our minds blown.
We were just a few kilometers from the airport when our minds were duly blown. In the late afternoon light, as we ventured further and further along the valley, with its winding roads, epic bridges, and hundreds upon hundreds of terraced vineyards: we were shocked. This place is jaw-droppingly stunning. More Bali than Balaia; pictures can’t do it justice. ‘Why didn’t anyone tell us about this place?’ we wondered out loud. We were already planning to come back and we hadn’t even arrived yet.
The Six Senses resort covers 20 acres of dreamy grounds all centering on a romantic terracotta coloured 19th-century building overlooking its own vegetable gardens, forests, terraces, and of course the valley itself, in all its Unesco-heritage-listed splendour. Wide-eyed from the journey, we were met with warm smiles, cold drinks and straw hats, and shown through the chic contemporary interior to our quinta.
The renovation of the buildings by New York-based Clodagh Design is an exercise in elegance. Huge picture windows and a colour palette of greys, white and soft browns are both calming and uplifting: they make you sashay a little taller and breathe out a little further.
Our room was a generously proportioned Deluxe River, and though some of the rooms in this category come with a private terrace, ours didn’t. Nevermind, the huge windows were enormous… we would cope.
The absence of a bath could have been a problem, especially for Little Miss Smith, but once we persuaded her into the rainforest shower it was clear it wasn’t going to be – unless you count the difficulty of getting her to leave it. Though we could relate, the lure of the Wine Library proved too strong for such sleepy-miniature-person resistance and she was eventually huddled in a big towel and pyjama-ified. (Some reviews will tell you that the Six Senses is not a place for children or babies, but our experience was just the opposite. Environments as serene, relaxed and fresh as this one bring out the loveliest behavior in little people, and on proper five-star form, Miss Smith was asleep in a twinkle.)
And so to dinner. Let’s start with the wine shall we? Because we did, after all. While we wouldn’t class ourselves as connoisseurs (and certainly not when here, surrounded by one of the world’s highest concentration of vino-techies per square mile) the fabulous selection on tap and by the glass in the wine library is pure joy.
We took most of our meals during our stay on the terrace and, for a cooler option in the daytime, in the bar. It was just too inviting to contemplate swapping its magic for any of the indoor or fine dining options, though if we’d been able to stay longer we would have tried everything with gusto. Breakfast was particularly noteworthy with a rainbow of fruit, every type of pastry, bread and cooked options as well as freshly made waffles, omelettes and pancakes too. A spread like nowhere else, we could have stayed there all day.
Just as the Wine Library had lured us from the shower, the pool would provide the incentive to leave the breakfast buffet. Dropping off, infinity style, into the valley beyond, it was the ideal way to cool in the 40-degree heatwave. In cooler weather, it would be the spa holding the same magnetic attraction.
The 10 treatment rooms (all overlooking the valley), four steam rooms, well-equipped gym, yoga studio (aerial yoga: one way to cure a hangover?) and another vast (this time heated) pool-with-a-view all occupy the lower floors of the hotel. The Terroir, too, is the spa restaurant which serves colourful, healthful dishes made predominantly from vegetables and herbs grown on site.
There are meditation spots throughout the forests, visiting gurus and healers, and much, much more – who knew that wellness and wine would be such perfect partners? It would be near impossible to leave this place with a tense muscle in your body.
Happiness, we’re taught, is a simple scene, a simple dream. It’s a seat on the terrace watching the sun go down with a glass of wine. This is the scene that has launched a thousand holidays, sold a million homes, and signifies perfect bliss in the 21st century.
Well, no matter how it’s been badly reappropriated by estate agents and lifestyle gurus and marketers of everything all over, here’s the truth: there are terraces and there are Terraces in this world. There are wines, and then there are Wines. There’s only one sun that we know of, but watching it go down over the Douro Valley at the Six Senses? That’s the scene.
Want a taste of Portugal’s oldest terroir? Get 15% off Six Senses Douro Valley in our Black Friday sale
Henrietta Thompson is a design writer, editor, commentator and forecaster. She is editor-at-large at Wallpaper* magazine, design columnist at The Telegraph and the co-founder of Harth: the world’s first marketplace for renting and reselling furniture, art and fine design. She also regularly contributes to a variety of other publications including The Guardian, Mr Porter, and British Airways’ Business Life.