A Conversation with Joana van Zeller about Six Senses Douro Valley
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.
“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. I vividly remember spending some white Christmas days in the Douro at my grandparent's house. But next in line comes harvest time, and harvest meant for my sister (three years younger) and 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. Still, 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 I kept on working in this magical place when it became Six Senses Douro Valley.
The hotel offering in the Douro has changed a lot since then…
Back then, Aquapura was a pioneer project. Together with the Vintage House, they were the only hotel offered in the Douro with 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, and these fairytale buildings, help our guests to better understand the Douro, its landscape and its traditions in layers of endless discoveries.
Six Senses offers guests a sense of place and an interior design that feels like home while providing five-star service.
We have put together a range of fun and quirky experiences like tree climbing and various workshops. Of course, we also offer the more expected activities, including winery tours and cultural visits to local monasteries or palaces.
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 came to the Douro for the first time, where would you take them?
I would surely bring them to Six Senses and to S. Salvador do Mundo, a breathtaking 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.
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 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!
Here's hoping you create new memories here in Portugal. Tag us on Instagram (we would love it if you do!) and let us know how it goes. 🤗
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Joana and Sofia
© Photos by JO&SO and courtesy of Six Senses Douro Valley.
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