Portugal’s Douro River brings a different flavour to European river cruising, as it winds through a remote hinterland along the centuries-old route taken by the first port traders.
From the historic coastal city of Porto, it cuts through gorge-like valleys amid precipitous slopes sculpted with vines from which the quintas – Portuguese wineries – produce the ports for which this region is famed.
Unlike Europe’s main river cruise routes along the Rhine and Danube, the River of Gold is more of a peaceful backwater navigable only to the Spanish border. Thus, river vessels have to retrace their steps on round-trip sailings taking four or five days, with one-week trips generally including a couple of nights moored in Porto too.
Sail in stately style
The Spirit of Chartwell brings a regal feel to Douro cruises as this was the elegant ‘Royal Barge’ that transported the Queen during the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. Now based in Portugal, the 40-passenger vessel makes a lavish base from which to explore the Douro Valley enroute to Barca d’Alva, which sits on the border, from where guests cross into Spain for a day tour to the beautiful Unesco-listed city of Salamanca and its outstanding collection of architectural treasures. The one-week voyage is preceded by a two-night stay in Lisbon where guests can discover the city’s rich maritime history and its links to the famous explorers who left here to explore the New World.
From £2,849pp, departing July 31, 2019 (0800 988 5823; titantravel.co.uk).
Vineyard hikes and port tastings
Discover Porto’s sights on a vintage tram ride before setting sail aboard the opulent 112-passenger Queen Isabel into the Unesco World Heritage protected Douro Valley, famous as the world’s first demarcated wine region. During this 10-night trip, which starts with three nights in Lisbon, guests can sample local tipples on a tasting stop along the Douro at sleepy Pinhao where energetic types can stride out on a vineyard hike to a family-owned quinta high in the hills. Barca d’Alva, on the Spanish border, injects a medieval flavour with its interesting heritage and the nearby ruins of Castelo Rodrigo.
From £2,449pp, departing August 4, 2019 (0808 281 1125; uniworld.com).
A musical interlude
Jazz up your Douro experience on this seven-night Saga sailing aboard the 130-passenger Douro Queen that comes with a musical theme. Guests can enjoy live music from a jazz quartet along with related talks on this round-trip Porto cruise as they sail towards the first stop at Regua. From here, visit Lamego, known as one of Portugal’s most attractive cities with its 12th century Gothic cathedral and the impressive Baroque Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, set high above the town. At Vega de Terron on the Spanish border, there’s a day trip to Salamanca where lunch in a local restaurant is accompanied by a flamenco show to give diners a taste of Spanish culture.
From £1,549pp, departing October 30, 2019 (0808 274 0873; travel.saga.co.uk/cruises).
Visit the ‘Mateus Rose’ palace
Watch breath-taking scenery drift by from the swimming pool on the top deck of Scenic’s 96-passenger “Space-Ship” Scenic Azure as you cruise through the Douro Valley from Porto and enjoy al fresco dining and butler service during this 10 night cruise. One of the highlights is visiting the iconic Mateus Palace near Regua that graces the labels of the famous rose wine, while from Pocinho, passengers can paddle off on a canoeing excursion along the Sabor River. The pretty village of Provesende is the penultimate stop that offers a flavour of yesteryear in its atmospheric streets.
From £4,290pp, departing September 3, 2019 (0161 236 2444; scenic.co.uk).
Lisbon, Madrid and the Douro
Combine the delights of the Douro with Lisbon and Madrid on this 13 night trip that comprises a seven-night sailing with two three-night city breaks. Guests arrive in Lisbon to explore its historic old town, before travelling to Porto for a walking tour and cocktail reception at the Palacio da Bolsa. The cruise on the 106-passenger AmaVida is punctuated with visits to wineries, port tasting and even a picnic at the Quinta da Pacheca near Lamego with its stunning views. Passengers disembark at Barca d’Alva for a day trip to Salamanca, before continuing on to Madrid where excursions include the Prado Museum, a culinary tour or a visit to the Bernabeu soccer stadium, home of Real Madrid.
From £5,795pp, departing June 22, 2019 (0800 012 6683; aptouring.co.uk).
An epicurean adventure
A traditional Portuguese port dinner at W&J Graham’s, one of Porto’s foremost wine makers, is one of the mouth-watering tours on offer to guests of Viking’s nine-night River of Gold itinerary that starts with a two-night stay in Lisbon. It’s followed by the one-week sailing from Porto on the 106-passenger Viking Osfrid which boasts a swimming pool, library, al fresco dining and putting green. During the sailing, guests can learn the art of port blending during a special class at a quinta near Regua, drive up to Marialva Castle near Barca d’Alva for a picnic, and visit one of the last traditional bakeries in the Douro Valley near Pinhao.
From £2,495pp, departing October 27, 2019 (0800 319 6660; vikingrivercruises.co.uk).