A Conversation with Joana van Zeller about Six Senses Douro Valley

LAST UPDATED
February 4, 2018

Joana van Zeller is the Communications Manager at Six Senses Douro Valley, a five-star spa hotel nestled in a 19th-century manor house overlooking the vine-covered hills of the Douro Valley.

A Conversation with Joana van Zeller about Six Senses Douro Valley

“The fact that the Douro terraces were sculpted for centuries with human hands makes me believe that men are truly capable of achieving overwhelming almost heroic things.”
– JOANA VAN ZELLER

You’re from Porto. When did you start visiting the Douro, and what are your first memories of it?

As a child, Christmas is always the golden season, and I vividly remember spending some white Christmas days in the Douro staying at my grandparent’s house. But next in line comes the harvest time and harvest meant for me and my sister (3 years younger than me) very different activities: I would get up early morning and I would follow my grandfather to the winery and sometimes to other properties that my family owned to overview the grape picking.

How did the relationship between your family and the Douro come about?

My family has been producing Port wine in the Douro for many centuries, but it was only when I married my husband that I came across the commercial side of the Douro, because his family owned Van Zellers and Co and Quinta do Noval for many generations.

I started working for Aquapura (the previous hotel where Six Senses now lives) just before it opened its doors in February 2007, and kept on working in this magical place when it became Six Senses Douro Valley.

Six Senses Douro Valley.

The hotel offering in the Douro has changed a lot since then…

Back then Aquapura was a pioneer project and together with the Vintage House, they were the only hotel offer in the Douro that had quality and international standards.

After we opened as Aquapura a lot of small country house hotels followed such as Quinta do Vallado and Quinta da Pacheca (just to name the ones that are close to us).

What sets you apart from other hotels in the Douro?

This magical setting, these fairytale buildings, which helps our guests to better understand the Douro, its landscape and traditions in layers of endless discoveries.

Six Senses offers its guests a sense of place and an interior design that feels like home, whilst providing a five-star service.

Then on top of that, we have put together a range of fun and quirky experiences like tree climbing, various workshops and of course, we also offer the more expected activities, including winery tours and cultural visits to local monasteries or palaces.

Staff picking up fresh herbs from the hotel's garden.
Six Senses has put together a range of very interesting workshops such as the “Pickles, Yogurts and Teas” a hands-on workshop where food and sustainability go hand in hand. Guests will learn how to pickle the organic produce from the garden, how yoghurts can be produced without using electricity and how herbs can be dehydrated to make tea infusions.

We enjoyed the many vegan options in the restaurant’s creative menu. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

We are the only vegetarian restaurant in the whole Douro Valley and this has to do with the fact that we would like our guests to leave us in better health shape than when they arrived. Wellness and spa are important but to take this goal to another level we believe that we have also to show that healthy food can look and taste delicious!

“We are the only vegetarian restaurant in the whole Douro Valley.”
– JOANA VAN ZELLER

If a friend of yours came to the Douro for the first time, where would you take them?

For sure I would bring them to Six Senses and to S. Salvador do Mundo, a breath-taking sanctuary built in the 16th century, where one can feel the atmosphere that led the monks in ancient times to reclusion.

What do you like to do on a day off in the Douro?

I love walking through the vineyards and discovering new and always beautiful spots. The fact that the Douro terraces were sculpted for centuries with human hands makes me believe that men are truly capable of achieving overwhelming almost heroic things.

A perfect day would involve a spa treatment at Six Senses or a delicious meal at the DOC Restaurant.

Outdoors terrace of DOC Restaurant, overlooking the Douro River
For Joana van Zeller, the Communications Manager at the Six Senses retreat, a perfect day in the Douro involves a delicious meal at the DOC restaurant, headed by renowned Portuguese chef Rui Paula.

What’s your favourite object in the hotel?

Difficult to choose but I really have a soft spot for all the lighting fixtures – the chandelier in the Wine library that is made out of empty wine bottles and the lighting fixture in the lobby that represents the vines curling around the wires in the vineyards.

The wine tasting room at Six Senses Douro, with big chandeliers, warm colours and wooden tables
“I really have a soft spot for all the lighting fixtures – the chandelier in the Wine library that is made out of empty wine bottles and the lighting fixture in the lobby that represents the vines curling around the wires in the vineyards. “

Thank you very much for this interview Joana.

Thank you too!

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Obrigada,
xx
Joana and Sofia

Check out our full report on Six Senses Douro Valley

© Photos by JO&SO and courtesy of Six Senses Douro Valley.

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