This Douro Valley Outpost in Portugal Aims to Activate All of Your Senses

Full-bodied experience.

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  • Written by
    Linda Grasso

Lisbon and Porto seem to be the “it” destinations for Portugal these days. We decided to mix it up for our trip this past October. We stayed in Lisbon a few days at the enchanting Palacio Ramalhete. Then we headed north to Portugal’s wine country, staying at Six Senses Douro Valley. We took the 2.5-hour train trip to Porto, where the resort picked us up in a Mercedes sedan for the scenic 90-minute drive to the resort.

An Alchemy Bar workshop underway—one of a plethora of all-inclusive activities offered at the resort. Many of the ingredients used in the classes are sourced from the on-site organic garden.

Six Senses Douro Valley is perched on a hill overlooking the Douro River. As we drove up, I glimpsed the Quinta Vale de Abraão, a 19th-century manor that is the heart of the resort and was originally the residence of a prominent winemaking family. The Six Senses chain took over the property in 2015 and embarked on a complete restoration.

The sight made me catch my breath. I thought: This is a place I’m not going to leave in our four days. I was right. The beauty of the manor is matched by the landscape. Dotted with vineyards, the property and surrounding forest is filled with stunning, mature trees including Atlantic and blue cedars and verdant ferns.

I was surprised to discover that the majority of patrons are Americans. Our driver explained it: “We have the option of traveling all over Europe. The notion of going to the countryside to vacation has no appeal for the Portuguese or many Europeans.”

Aside from enjoying the delicious array of local wines—mostly red blends—most guests come to Six Senses for the spa. It is perhaps the best—and at 23,000 square feet, certainly the largest—spa I’ve ever visited. It goes above and beyond the standard high-end resort spa in every way.

The highlight is the large indoor pool, which is dramatically set off by wall-to-ceiling windows. It has several basins, including a cold plunge, a warm whirlpool bath, and three separate massage stations for head, back and feet. A gigantic faucet spouts a hot massage jet. Jump from basin to basin, and then afterward you can listen to underwater meditation music.

The spa offers two saunas, including an infrared and Finnish. There are also salt and herbal warm rooms and a steam room. One sauna has glass walls with enchanting forest views.

The spa menu is progressive, offering guests the opportunity to have their sleep or skin analyzed. I opted for an above-par full-body massage and then did a wellness screening. An electrode placed on your finger measures key biomarkers to address body needs and overall health. You get more than a printout; you get to discuss the results with a wellness consultant.

The classes and activities are also nonpareil. Sure there’s yoga, and you can take e-bikes out for a spin. But there’s also an Alchemy Bar where you can take a workshop, choosing from a range of aromatic herbs, salt, fruits, spices and oils to create your own scent, exfoliating scrub, sleep balm, soap, bath salt or candle. At the Earth Lab I dove into a workshop on making pickles, yogurt and sprouts. I also toured the organic vegetable garden.

Combining sophisticated contemporary decor and the charm of traditional architecture that includes original tiles from the 17th century, the resort is luxurious and comfortable. The rooms and suites in the main structure overlook either the river or the vineyard, and some have decks and hot tubs.

Tucked away in the gardens is a recently renovated old wine lodge with nine elegant rooms and suites that can be reserved individually or together. All the accomodations have access to a shared garden and gazebo, as well as a heated pool and whirlpool. The lounge at the entrance of the structure offers a perpetual array of fresh juices, homemade cakes and snacks. We stayed in a suite, and I loved padding out in my robe to the lounge in the morning to grab coffee and fresh fruit.

For dining, guests can eat in the casual Quinta Bar & Lounge, which has pool tables for those inclined to play. Or you can go more upscale and dine at the resort’s flagship Vale de Abraão Restaurant. It features an open kitchen with wood-fired ovens, oversize fireplaces and several cozy spaces including a charming terrace. During summer you can dine in the garden.

The Wine Library, with cork floors and ceiling, is a focal point of the resort, and it offers tastings of local wines every evening. At the automatic wine bar, you can order a glass of wine with your room card at the push of a button.

Menus throughout are health-oriented, but in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re missing anything. All dishes are made with produce from the organic garden, and most are gluten- and lactose-free.

A don’t-miss for foodies: Experience the Chef’s Table, an intimate dinner with the chef at the open-air kitchen. I love to cook, and watching all the preparations and being able to converse with the chef about our gastronomic experience was a treat.

Six Senses Douro Valley is much more than a resort stay. I felt transported to a bygone era yet had all the modern luxuries. It was a fully immersive, unforgettable experience where, as the name suggests, all my senses were activated. My sixth sense tells me I will return someday.

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