Feet first into Portugal’s vineyards where the new mixes with the old
A calloused, sweaty foot would not be my cooking utensil of choice, but according to numerous Portuguese winemakers, human tootsies are the perfect tool for pummelling grapes.
Far gentler (and with more personality) than a cold, steel machine, treading softens the treasured ingredient without extracting any nasty tannins from seeds.
Getting into the spirit of harvest season, I climb into a legare (wine vat) at Quinta da Pacheca and stomp alongside proudly professional old men as they rotate lower limbs in perfect harmony, accompanied by a cheerful accordion player.
Sloshing through alcoholic gazpacho is one of the activities offered by Six Senses Douro Valley in late September, although all year round there’s good reason to visit one of the world’s oldest wine regions.
Traditionally known for port, the Unesco World Heritage area has earned a reputation for award-winning table wines over the last 25 years – made mostly by a new generation of ambitious and experimental winemakers breathing new life into old practices.
Many are invited to lead tasting sessions and dinners at Six Senses, where Tiago Alves de Sousa, who works with his father at Quinta da Gaivosa, introduces me to Abandonado, a wine he produced from resurrected vines neglected by the family.
“Diversity is what makes this place so wonderful,” he says, referring to the 90 grape varieties that are grown on a cascade of undulating hills which appear to billow like sails in the wind.
It’s a secret that’s slowly seeping out, but the growing popularity of the Douro has done little to disturb a traditional way of life in villages such as Lamego, where I decline the usual option to climb 686 steps to reach the Nossa Senhora dos Remedios shrine on my knees.
A similar peacefulness pervades the forested grounds of Six Senses, where I enjoy a massage in the hotel’s spa overlooking the snaking Douro River, and hang in a wicker pod nestled between branches listening to birdsong.
A renewed burst of energy allows me to take part in one of the hotel’s other activities – climbing a tree.
Wearing a helmet and support harness, I realise a childhood dream by scrambling to the top, although the journey down seems a far more daunting prospect.
Gazing at my pulsing, perspiring feet – and the diminishing ground below – I’m relieved my toes won’t be treading any grapes today. No one wants to ruin a good vintage, after all.
Doubles from €270 (£232) with breakfast. Visit www.sixsenses.com/resorts/douro-valley/destination
British Airways flies to Porto from £74 return. Visit www.britishairways.com