“Be local, buy local, eat local,” is the mantra at Six Senses Douro, a refrain that won’t surprise spa-goers who are familiar with the brand’s emphasis on wellness, organic foods, and sustainability at its high-end Asian outposts.
The eagerly anticipated Six Senses Douro, the brand’s first European property, made its debut in July 2015, in Portugal’s exquisitely rugged Douro Valley. Located in a magical region where steep, terraced hillsides slope towards the river, the area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is best known for its family owned Port wine estates, called Quintas. The fertile river valley also has a long commitment to producing organic agriculture and natural ingredients, including olive oil, figs, and cheese.
One of the region’s magnificent wine estates, with its palatial 19th century country house, was transformed to create the 57-room Six Senses Douro resort spa. The original structure, with its arches, a turret and tower, is set high on a verdant hillside overlooking the Douro River, a 90-minute drive east of historic Porto, the country’s second largest city. The newly restored, expanded, and stunning multilevel, Clodagh-designed contemporary spaces—with their Portuguese limestone floors, neutral leathers and woods, textured fabrics, and decorative barnyard tools—offer distinctive dining venues.
The Wine Library accommodates weekly wine dinners and nightly wine tastings—served with Portuguese tapas, called petiscos, that feature local cheese, chorizo, and smoked ham. The resort’s main restaurant, Vale de Abraão, serves country house cuisine offered on an a la carte or prix fixe menu. We lunched in the Open Kitchen, where shelves are lined with jars filled with house-made, garden-fresh preserves, fruits, and pickles. Nearby, cooks are working at the Josper Grill and the traditional wood-fired oven, where bread bakes before it’s served with superb, house-crafted butter. There’s even an Enomatic wine dispenser for by-the-glass pours on the wall that leads into a second spacious section of the dining room, which boasts a fireplace, 18tcentury Portuguese tiles, and a tea bar. The dining room terrace, plus a poolside snack bar are idyllic spots for scenic al fresco meals.
In Spring 2016, a new culinary team made its debut. Sarajevo-born, Consulting Executive Chef, Ljubomir Stanisic, studied pastry, bakery, international cuisine, and food chemistry before he arrived in Portugal in 1997. Trained with Michelin-star Portuguese chefs, he established his own widely acclaimed, award-winning Lisbon restaurant where he was recognized for his creativity, won a prestigious gastronomy award, and served as a judge on the first MasterChef Portugal TV show. The menu he created at Six Senses stars traditional Portuguese dishes and has been lauded for its “urbane rusticity.”
Chef Nuno Ferraz, who completed his studies in the Hotel School of Porto, heads the resident team. His gastronomic experience developed on luxury cruise ships and as Sous-Chef at the prestigious, The Yeatman Restaurant—which was recently awarded its second Michelin star—and is the gastronomic venue at the Yeatman Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux member, in Porto. “Chef Nuno” is available to discuss the food program and cooking techniques with spa guests, and he willingly adjusts menu items, according to personal needs and tastes.
The culinary program practices a philosophy of minimal processing that assures nutritional richness and extraordinary flavor. The results illustrate how delicious healthy, whole-food-based cooking can and should taste. The team prioritizes an organic “where possible” approach, which incorporates fresh-picked produce and herbs from the estate’s own organic garden, seasonal, market-inspired ingredients, wild-caught fish from the North Atlantic, and local, grass-fed red meats, poultry, game, and cereals.
Menu starters feature a house-smoked trout, char-grilled leeks, garden figs and peaches, and kitchen-made tomato relish. Entrée choices introduce Atlantic sea bass paired with Guru white wine and farmer-style grass-fed chicken, among others. We were delighted with the roast garden vegetables served within a cast iron pot. The dish displayed multi-colored carrots, baby beets, and corn on the cob atop a coating on the bottom of the pot that looked like soil, but was actually made with finely chopped olives and mushrooms. We also enjoyed sweet, tender grilled shrimp a l’ajillo cooked in the Josper Grill and served with an herbed, grilled rustic bread.
The expansive wine list emphasizes regional, Douro Valley wineries. We drank a 2013 VZ Van Zeller Douro from Van Zellers & Co, a traditional Port wine shipper which Wine Director, Francisca van Zeller’s family has owned for over 300 years. Dessert choices appear on the menu, though I chose a glorious plate of garden fruits instead of the egg-yolk-rich Port wine flan cake or the traditional “Abade de Priscos ” custard. Our leisurely lunch ended, as does every meal in the Douro Valley, with a Port, in our case a sublime Old Tawny Port: Van Zeller’s VZ 1990 Colheita.
Á l’Ajillo Shrimp
8 large peeled and deveined shrimp, with tails
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
¼ cup brandy
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
Pre-heat the pan. Add olive oil, then garlic. In a separate bowl, salt and pepper shrimp. Add the shrimp to the pan for two minutes, until pink; turn for another minute. Flambe with brandy. Add butter. Garnish with chopped coriander, and serve.