Although the Algarve and Lisbon remain the most popular tourist destinations in Portugal, the government believes that, with proper marketing and development, the River Douro Valley can be turned into a major international tourist attraction, bringing in much-needed revenue for the country. With this in mind, it has embarked on a 10-year programme to bring this about and is planning to invest around 1,700 million euros in the Douro region over the next five years. The money will be spent on new roads and improvements to the waterways and the railway along the riverbank, as well as the airports at Vila Real, Bragança, Foz Côa and Mogadouro.
The centre of the Douro Valley is obviously the River Douro, which runs from its source in Soria, Spain, to its mouth in Porto on the Atlantic Ocean. The Douro’s main attraction is the Douro Demarcated Region, which is the world’s first demarcated wine region recognised by the Marquis of Pombal in 1756. UNESCO classified the region as a World Heritage site in 2001.
Highlights for visitors to the region include the Douro River itself, which is perfect for pleasure travel and water sports – the number of passengers on boat trips on the Douro increased from 63,042 in 1997 to 125,000 in 2002. Other tourists choose to follow the various wine routes in the region, which feature 183 sites open for public visits. There are also 10 port wine estates with special visiting centres for tourists. Last year, some 48,000 foreign tourists visited the Port Wine lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. Furthermore, there are 1,500 cultural heritage sites, including monuments, monasteries, castles and museums, on the Portuguese part of the Douro Valley alone.
In terms of visitor facilities, there are currently 16,000 beds in the Douro Valley, the majority of them in Greater Porto. There are only 25 hotels in the rest of the Valley but, despite this, overnight stays at hotels in the Douro Valley have been increasing by three per cent per annum over the last 10 years. Now, the government is hoping to attract foreign investment to assist with the construction of five luxury resorts at Castelo de Paiva, Lamego/Vila Real, Torre de Moncorvo, Miranda do Douro and in the Port Wine Vineyard areas. The resorts will include equestrian facilities, new golf courses and even a horse racetrack. Investors will be offered several incentives, including Tax Credits (five to 20 per cent of the applicable investment), and total or partial exemptions from Municipal and Property Transfer tax and stamp duties.
Forum Portucalense has organised a seminar to inform any interested British golf course designers, interior decorators, architects, consultants and potential investors of the opportunities in the Douro Valley.British participants can attend the seminar free of charge and will get the opportunity to meet influential government officials and local entrepreneurs. For a detailed itinerary of the seminar, which will take place on March 15 to 16, contact the British Portuguese Chamber of Commerce.
ALREADY UNDERWAY IN THE DOURO VALLEY
The Foz Côa Project
The Golfe e Clube de Campo do Castelo de Numão (GCCCN), which is owned primarily by local entrepreneurs, has announced plans to invest 50 million euros in a 127-hectare site located between Castelo de Numão and Arnozelo in the Douro Valley. The project consists of a resort with 372 accommodation units, a four-star hotel with 80 rooms and 18-hole golf course, and an equestrian centre. A heliport, a marina with berths for 25 boats and the restoration of an old railway station are also included in the project. Once completed, the complex will employ 250 full-time staff. Foz Côa Câmara and the API (Portuguese Investment Agency) have already approved the project.
The Mesão Frio Project
The Douro Azul – Sociedade Marítimo Turística group is planning to invest 33 million euros in the construction of a five-star hotel with 158 rooms in Mesão Frio. A spa and an 18-hole golf course will be built alongside the hotel. The complex will employ 180 people and will straddle both banks of the River Douro.