If you want to explore, a car is an advantage. The heart of the winelands, and the village of Cotas is about 150km from Oporto, 350km from Lisbon, 30km from Villa Real. It is easy to drive around and routes relatively uncomplicated, but the motorways aren't for the faint-hearted as the lanes are narrow.
Porto is the main airport for the Douro Valley; Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Porto from London Stansted and Liverpool airport. TAP (flytap.com) flies from London Heathrow. If travelling by helicopter, there is a helipad at Quinta Romeneira.
A visit to the Douro Valley provides a unique opportunity to ride a steam train through postcard-perfect countryside. Even if you don't need to jump aboard, it's worth visiting just to see pretty, azulejos-tiled Pinhão, one of the most charming train stations in the world, with the backdrop of the Douro River behind.
Country code for Portugal: +351.
Football fans might find they have an excuse here to take a Jose Mourinho biography - his name is inspired by the city of Porto, meaning harbour or port. To soak up more of this region's headline act, the Wine and Food Lover's Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter will whet your wine-tasting appetite.
Do go / Don't Go
This is a great place to go off-season, especially as winters here are mild. August can be scorchio but never unbearable; June until September have less rain, and the latter is harvest time and an especially lovely month to watch the grapes being collected.
In case we haven't hammered it home enough, the wine in these parts is the star of the show: Douro reds are an elegant to the local rib-sticking soup and stew specialities. Whites are less abundant, but crisp and delicious and an excellent counter to the hearty fare. For finer dining, gourmets should insist on making a pilgrimage to Redondo, the gastronomic restaurant at Quinta Romaneira.
Ask your hotel to arrange transportation in a 4x4.
A service charge isn't usually included, so the usual European 10 per cent is a suitable thank you.
Lightweight walking shoes and sunblock are the obvious packables, but maybe take your wilder fantasies including plans for owning your own vineyard; they're a darned sight more affordable here than in Tuscany or Provence, say.
The riverside historical train station of Pinhao is as pretty as can be. 18th-century Palácio de Mateus in Vila Real (www.casademateus.com) gives you a charming taste for the local architecture and Lamego Museum in Lamego is a former bishop's palace from the same era and one of the country's best museums (+351 254 600 230; www.ipmuseus.pt); works by 16th-century painter Vasco Fernandes are a must-see. Not open on Mondays.
There's no shortage of prime peaks to perch for a panorama, but São Leonardo treats you to a dose of the river valley and mountains of the Serra do Marão, all in one hit.
October The Douro Valley Half-Marathon: www.douro-valley-marathon.com