Portugal’s ‘World of Wine’ complex is the Mediterranean’s latest oenophile destination

Portugal’s ‘World of Wine’ Complex

An interactive experience exploring all things wine

Editor’s note: See other Escape Plan stories here.

A magical cork forest. The rosé palace featuring a pool of pink bubbles. A dreamy chocolate experience a la Willy Wonka. Port and cacao pairings.

The World of Wine in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal is a wine lover’s fantasy land. Despite being located in the birthplace of Port wine, the World of Wine is not solely dedicated to the fortified beverage – rather, it is an appeal to oenophiles of all tastes, background and levels. Just across the Luis Bridge from historic Porto’s Ribeira district is the breathtaking multi-level sprawl fitting snugly into the cultural, historical and aesthetic landscape and architecture of Porto, with its red-shingled terracotta roofs and azulejos(mosaics), rather than sticking out like some sort of New Age metal thumb.

Founder Adrian Bridge designed the museum around a central open-air square to provide the best views over Porto and the Douro River’s breath-taking landscape. Named a “Project of National Interest” by the Portuguese government, this new cultural destination is located in the historic Port warehouse district. It is also one of the largest tourism projects to launch in Europe this year.

Portugal’s ‘World of Wine’ Complex
Inside the Wine Experience

WOW houses seven museum experiences, nine restaurants, bars and cafes, event spaces, temporary exhibition space, retail outlets, and a wine school, set in the historic centre of Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an incredible wine experience rather than a “walk-and-stare” museum that will whisk you away into the many facets of wine without being overbearing or let’s face it—boring as many museums can be.

“By creating engaging cultural experiences—that are unique and authentic to Porto—we are able to help define Porto as a cultural destination, telling the story not only of wine for which the city is world famous, but also of the city, it’s people and their adventures across the ages,” Bridge says.

From rosé and cork, fashion and chocolate, explore the varied tributaries of what wine means through seven museums and eight dining venues that demystify wine and make it fun, not intimidating. We’ve highlighted the must-see exhibits and spots to eat.

Planet Cork

Cork. The stuff that keeps our wine in the bottle. But did you know it is also used in NASA spaceships or even to make skateboards, tennis rackets and in building construction? Discover the history and many uses of cork in this almost Jurassic Park-esque exhibit. Cork is one of Portugal’s major exports. Dive into the many incredible uses of cork beyond just wine cork stoppers. There is even a miniature cork forest housed in the exhibit, so that visitors can feel and interact with the tree.

Portugal’s ‘World of Wine’ Complex
Dive into rosé

The Pink Palace

If you’ve ever visited the Rosé Mansion in New York City, you will find The Pink Palace to be the stuff of similar bubbly, rosy, social media quality. It is probably the most peculiar and flashy of the seven exhibits, with its plastic pink bubble pool filled with blown up flamingos that visitors can jump into, a pink 1950s car and many more scenes specifically created for snapping photos. Beyond the picture moments, visitors can learn about the history, science and culture behind rosé. Throughout 11 rooms, sip and learn about the rosé regions, climates, cultivation and production techniques.

​​There are about five rosé wines served during the visit, which visitors mark off using a special pink wrist band they receive upon entering. At the moment, those rosés are Quinta do Vale do Bragão Rosé, AIX Gran Vin de Provence Rosé, Mateus Rosé, Vértice Rosé Bruto and Croft Pink Rosé Port (created by Bridge himself). For those looking for a deeper dive into wines, there is also a deeper, private wine-tasting experience at The Wine School on the museum’s premises.

The Chocolate Story

Nibble on cacao while sipping a port pairing during a class tasting at The Chocolate Story. This experience details the decadent ritual of chocolate-making from bean to bar. Visitors can watch the chocolate being produced and packaged. In fact, the entire factory is visible to visitors, who can follow the full processes in real time.

Vinte Vinte is a new brand of chocolate produced exclusively in WOW’s Chocolate Story factory. It’s named after the specific geographical position from which cacao trees are born. The “cacao belt” is a limited area of the planet, which is precisely twenty degrees north and twenty degrees south of the Equator. Grab a bar of personalised chocolate for the journey home.

Portugal’s ‘World of Wine’ Complex
Explore how wine has been consumed through the years

The Bridge Collection

Marvel at nearly 9,000 years of drinking vis-a-vis a collection of more than 1,800 of the world’s most ancient wine cups and glasses by founder Adrian Bridges. What started out as a whimsical hobby collecting unique beverage glasses evolved into an extensive exhibit of  thousands of years old cups — those made from extremely rare and precious materials such as one wine vessel made entirely from carved mother of pearl and many of various shades of jade.

There are cups even dedicated to ancient drinking games, such as the Medieval German Passglas. Passglas, which means ‘the glass that passes from hand to hand’  was an after-dinner game where the drinker’s task was to slurp precisely the right amount, right up to the marked circle. Failing the target, they would have to slurp again until the mark of the next circle and, so on, until reaching the circle or emptying the glass. Explore this and many more cultures’ rich drinking history in this fascinating exhibit.

Where to eat

There are many eateries onsite, fit for a variety of tastes, diets and lifestyles. Grab a quick coffee and sweet at Suspiro, the dedicated all-dessert cafe featuring Portuguese treats like pasteis de nata and gelato. Catching onto the trends of ever-growing plant-based fare, Root & Vine is the vegetarian restaurant. For a higher-end experience, there is Barão Fladgate offering contemporary Portuguese cuisine and the 1828 Steakhouse, a seasonal fine dining venue with beautiful views of Porto. While not associated with the museum, there is the Michelin two-starred restaurant at The Yeatman Hotel, The Gastronomic by chef Ricardo Costa, a mix of classic and modern Portuguese cuisine.

Where to stay

Fortunately, there’s an onsite hotel, the five-star The Yeatman Hotel with views overlooking Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage city, and the Douro River. It is the best spot in the city for jaw-dropping views of storybook Porto across the water.

World of Wine

This story was first published on Robb Report USA