Madalena Vidigal spends her days "Entre Vinhas" (among the vines) and feels that wine tourism means visiting wineries, eating in a good restaurant, staying in a countryside cottage, sharing genuine stories, and appreciating the origin of the wines. Madalena hopes to further inspire your wine tourism passions with her blog and by designing custom tours in Portugal’s wine country.
Wine and Serra da Estrela cheese both come to mind when one mentions the Dão region and they are reason enough for a visit. In Dão, you will discover a rugged granite landscape and some of the most beautiful and well-tended vineyards in all of Portugal.
Dão is the proud birth region of the quintessential red variety Touriga Nacional, which is renowned for its flowery scent and makes very elegant wines. Any discussion of Dão must also include mention of the red varieties Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Tinta Roriz as well as the white Encruzado and Malvasia grapes.
At nearly the highest point on the Portuguese mainland—Serra da Estrela (Star Mountain) is known for its buttery sheep cheese and for the surprising longevity of its red and white wines. The wines are produced to last for many years. They maintain their quality over time, but can still showcase their smoothness and character when opened as a young wine.
Casa da Passarella – A Winery Visit with Tasting and Museum
At first glance, there is nothing unusual about Casa da Passarella. There is a cellar, a mansion, a wine shop and a museum with some farming artifacts. These are features you will find at wineries throughout the Dão region.
The winery’s history, dating back to 1892, confers a special status as well as a series of interesting stories about many of the wines produced. One is the Brasileiro (Brazilian) named Amândio de Oliveira, who got tired of the life in the Portuguese countryside and daydreamed of Brazil. After stowing away on ship bound for South America, he made a fortune in the coffee trade before returning to Portugal. He went on to build the Passarella estate, which he named after the point where Napoleon’s troops passed during the French invasions.
Other wine stories include Oenólogo (named in memory of a French-Jewish winemaker), as well as Fugitivo (Fugitive), A Descoberta (the Discovery), Enxertia (the Graft) and the flagship wine Villa Oliveira. There is a story behind each wine name.
A museum visit, wine tasting and a look at the view from the manor house balcony are all a must during your stop at Casa da Passarella.
Madra de Água – A Vineyard Stroll and an Overnight Stay
Lurdes is a dog lover who once lived near Lisbon. When she ran out of room to house more abandoned dogs, she decided to return to her hometown in Dão and take with her as many animals as possible so they might experience running free in the countryside.
Her large dog shelter slowly took shape alongside a plantation of vineyards, a rural hotel-restaurant and a small factory that produces Serra da Estrela cheese.
Each suite at Madre de Água hotel is named after a wine grape variety. Inside, each room has a modern yet cozy décor. The balcony, however, is the best room feature offering a view of the sunset, with all of its changing hues, as it dips behind the vineyards.
In the restaurant, every dish is prepared with local ingredients. Madre de Água wines are quickly becoming regionally well-known. The wines also come from a vineyard that has for several years in a row been known as the most beautiful in Dão.
Paço dos Cunhas de Santar—Wine Tasting and Signature Cuisine
As you arrive at Paço dos Cunhas de Santar, you will enter through a tall gate leading you into the front courtyard overlooking the garden. Once here, you will notice the elegant and refined work that combines modern architecture with the original structures dating from 1609.
As a result of political turmoil, former owner D. Pedro da Cunha was forced to flee the country. The people of Santar felt betrayed and abandoned and subsequently marched on and wrecked the residence. The estate fell into a state of decay. Restoration began a century later, and in 2004, the current owners transformed it into the wine tourism business we see today.
Today only one wine, Vinha do Contador, is produced. Made with local grape, the wine is well structured, fragrant and very elegant.
Other charming estate features include a wine bar and restaurant, which offers a menu of signature dishes. The Chef uses local produce and elevates the meal to the refined level of the wines.
Also be sure to take time to stroll through the beautiful, romantic gardens and immerse in the atmosphere of a centenary winery.
Caminhos Cruzados – Designer Winery Visit and a Tasting
The Caminhos Cruzados (“Crossroads”) winery, opened in 2017, is the region’s newest wine project and is establishing itself as “the new Dão” — a young, modern and bold Dão.
Although family does not have deep roots in the wine business, the owners of the new winery take this family project very seriously. They left their day jobs in the city and moved to the countryside where they embraced their new life. Lígia, the daughter, left a successful law career and Paulo, the father, splits his time between the fabric business and the winery. Both paths end up crossing in Dão where the family has its roots.
Early on, the family used a small, older cellar to produce wine, but as the business grew the need for a larger winery became obvious.
Established in Quinta da Teixuga—also the name of their top wine—this design cellar stands out among the vineyards, some new and some very old (more than 50 years). Whether you visit to taste the high-quality wines (made exclusively from local grapes), to tour the modern winery, to have a picnic or even a treasure hunt in the vineyard, Caminhos Cruzados is a must visit winery in the Dão wine region.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Eat
Bem Haja in Nelas is a good example of a hearty and honest Portuguese cuisine, using only the freshest and most characteristic local ingredients. This former winery provides very pleasant dining spaces—near a fireplace during Winter, and the terrace on sunny summer days.
Mesa de Lemos in Silgueiros is the place to try sophisticated cuisine, where Chef Diogo Rocha will definitely impress you. Mesa de Lemos belongs to Quinta de Lemos winery, which can also be visited during the day. One can taste the wines paired with menu items at dinner.
Where to Sleep
Casas do Lupo, in the village of Lapa do Lobo, is a perfect place to relax after a full day exploring Dão. The old granite house was fully restored, and each of the eight bedrooms in this boutique hotel has their own unique and very cosy decor.
Casa da Ínsua in Penalva do Castelo is a baroque-style mansion converted to a charming five-star hotel. As one of the top Serra da Estrela cheese producers in Dão, Casa da Ínsua also organizes cheese making workshops for guests.