SIX SENSES DOURO VALLEY
BEST FOR: A LITERAL HIGH – THE ROPED TREE-CLIMBING IN THE FOREST IS EXHILERATING
NOT FOR: THE SWIMMING POOL IN THE GARDEN IS UNHEATED
To say that the Douro is the new Tuscany is no exaggeration. The charms of Tuscany 30 or more years ago are here in abundance: rural, agricultural, quiet. The sun beats down on undulating hills, painterly swathes of grapes ripening on the vines. It’s no wonder this stunning river valley made an obvious choice for the ‘remote yet accessible’ location that Six Senses was looking for its first resort and spa in Europe.
You fly into the UNESCO World Heritage city of Porto, a wonderful, romantic destination of red-tiled roofs and white-washed Portuguese homes, so linger a few days, exploring the cobbled lanes and squares on both sides of the mighty river and visiting the historic wine-tasting bodegas. Then it’s a 90-minute drive up-country, enjoying spectacular views of the valley, as the riverbanks become increasingly steep and the vineyards more numerous.
You will be welcomed into an idyllic country-house resort, with 50 rooms and six garden villas in a former late-19th-century mansion surrounded by gardens and woodland. Downstairs the décor is an uber-stylish mix of natural textures meets streamlined modern, all in soft sage, slate grey and fawn. It’s a winning combo of old and new.
The rooms are quite minimalist, with little in the way of Portuguese style, but they all have the most divine beds, made in England. My river-view room was a simple box with floor-to-ceiling glass, the view taking centre stage. I missed having a balcony and being able to throw open the windows – they only opened a crack, which felt a bit stifling. A few rooms do have terraces, so this seems the way to go. The bathroom amenities are rich, herbal potions from The Organic Pharmacy – simply heavenly – and (hoorah!) simple light controls that all go off when you leave. It was the quietest hotel room I’ve ever had – no hum and no noise of any kind.
The spa is one to explore. Grab your cozzie and head to the indoor heated pool for some lengths. It’s spacious and full of light. The sauna is bigger than most, and the steam room, at 100% humidity, is just perfect. It’s all part of the resort’s Vitality Suite. For friends, the mani and pedi bar has a fun vibe, and you can book a session at the alchemy bar to make your own products, such as yummy body scrubs. The yoga studio is kitted out for aerial yoga, to help you stretch while supported off the ground. Then chill in the garden on a sun lounger by the pool, with snacks from the bar next to the pretty kitchen garden. Four of the ten treatment rooms look out over the lush gardens and really pack the wow factor. Six Senses knows it’s a tonic to feel the power of nature. The Schist Stone and Almond Body Soother massage involved deep-tissue massage with some much-needed stretching. I really felt lasting benefits – relaxed, yet energised – my perfect combo. The Rose Crystal Lymphatic Facial was, for me, thoroughly pampering and uplifting.
Fresh, healthy, tasty is the Six Senses way. The Douro Valley is famous not only for its wines but it also grows an abundance of olives and almonds. For lunch and dinner on the restaurant’s secluded terrace go light with Atlantic fish and seafood from the Portuguese coastal waters. Hearty dishes come in the form of local stews with pork, sausage, white beans and rice. The test of a good restaurant is if the locals keep coming back, and they do.
The menu always includes an authentic Portuguese dish of day, from oven-baked cod, with cornbread crust, tomato and migas; to sautéed pork Alentejana style, with clams, potatoes, coriander and lemon; or octopus, with baked potatoes, sautéed turnip tops and olives. Homegrown organic herbs, salad leaves, fruit and veg are tossed into quinoa tabbouleh or accompany regional cheese and charcuterie as homemade pickles.
CONTACT: +66 2631 9777 ; www.sixsenses.com
PRICE: From £250 per night B&B
NEAREST AIRPORT: Porto
TRANSFER TIME: 90 minutes
First-Hand Visit Write-Up By: Laura Ivill