One of Europe’s best kept secrets in one of its most undiscovered corners, explore the sleepy villages and medieval towns unchanged for centuries, amongst the breathtaking rolling hills and terraced vineyard slopes of the stunning Douro Valley.
Commencing in the Roman city of Porto, the home of Port wine, Portugal’s once wild river Douro has been tamed by locks into resembling a series of finger lakes, adding greatly to the valley's ambience. Leaving behind the Atlantic influenced greenery of the coast you are soon immersed in a Mediterranean land of olives, vines, and picturesque, medieval hilltop villages. Our destination is the higher reaches of the valley from where we visit Salamanca - home of one of Europe’s oldest universities, two of its finest cathedrals, Spain’s finest city square and even the Inquisition!
You will adore the away-from-it-all experience and visit some of Iberia’s most beautiful medieval towns, monasteries and vineyards, and feel you have been away for months!
Embark the ship in Porto wherefrom the moment you board, the welcoming crew are at your service. In no time you’ll be settled into your luxurious, thoughtfully furnished accommodation and familiarising yourself with all the first-class aspects of this floating boutique hotel.
Strategically sited overlooking the Douro as it empties into the Atlantic, Portugal’s second largest city was originally a Roman town, but its wealth is derived from its knowledge of the sea routes to India, with fortunes made from trading spices, silks and other fine goods. This morning our guided tour of this interesting city unveils some of its major and more surprising sights. You’ll experience the tangled lanes of the medieval quarter, the splendid Praça da Ribeira square with its characteristic tiled townhouses and fine views to the wine lodges across the river. Gustav Eiffel designed one of the bridges, and you can immediately see the connection with his more famous Parisian creation! You’ll gaze up at the city’s imposing fortress, its fine cathedral and Baroque Clérigos Tower. Porto is wonderfully free of the chain shops prevalent elsewhere, and it’s a joy to see what the many traditional traders have to offer, from fine art, antiques and ceramics to some of the most wonderful cakes you’ll ever taste.
We return to the ship and there’s an air of expectancy on board as during our first delicious lunch, we’ll slip our moorings and begin our stately passage upstream. The Douro is one of Europe’s most captivating rivers and you can enjoy a leisurely afternoon up on deck or watching the glorious scenery drifting by from the comfort of your own cabin. Tonight, as you enter the restaurant for the Welcome Dinner, feel free to choose your table. All are expertly set with four or more seats and have excellent views through the large panoramic windows. Later, we will see a celebratory vintage port wine opened in the traditional way. We are moored overnight in Porto Antigo at the confluence of the River Bestança.
As dawn breaks, early risers can witness the ship’s graceful departure. Relax over a leisurely breakfast whilst the ever-changing scenery idly slips by through the restaurant’s superb panoramic windows.
The Douro was once a wild river, notoriously challenging to navigate, especially for the traditional flat-bottomed boats, which often foundered in its waters. Today it has been tamed by a system of dams and locks, which have raised the water level to produce a topography reminiscent of Scotland’s lochs that enhances the valley’s charm. As we cruise into ever more rural territory towards the Spanish border, the river here is at its most peaceful. It’s the perfect time to take a refreshing dip in the Sun Deck pool – a rare treat on a cruise ship – or catch up on some reading, perhaps with a cool pre-lunch glass of vinho verde, the local, gently fizzy white wine. Portuguese wine is simply outstanding but production is low, so the best is rarely exported. Our on-board wine list includes some excellent regional wines and the friendly and attentive restaurant staff will gladly guide you through them. Do experiment a little and you’ll be greatly rewarded.
This afternoon we visit Castelo Rodrigo, a delightful 12th-century walled village tucked away in the picturesque highland ranges bordering Spain. Its church was a resting place on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and it is said that Saint Francis himself stayed here. The views are simply stupendous, stretching across almost-deserted ochre hillsides. This evening after dinner head up on to the sun deck to listen to the unmistakable sound of crickets and breathe in the scents from the surrounding valley slopes that pervade the warm evening air.
Today we visit historic Salamanca, one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this journey, regarded by many Spaniards as their nation’s most beautiful city. Founded by the Romans, who erected its 389-yard-long bridge, Salamanca is mostly built from local sandstone that emanates a gorgeous rose-coloured glow in the sunlight. Perched on a hill on a bend in the serene River Tormes, the city is a picture of tranquillity but its history is turbulent, having been successively fought over by Hannibal, the Moors, then the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon.
Salamanca is dominated by its two cathedrals and its university. Founded in 1218, the university is the oldest in Spain and was one of the civilised world’s most important seats of study for over 400 years. The Spanish Inquisition’s records are still kept here, and as early as the 16th century it boasted some 12,000 students. Seeing its immaculately preserved lecture halls with their vaulted ceilings, it’s easy to conjure an image of Christopher Columbus addressing the learned men of the day or legal experts constructing the international laws that originate here.
Over lunch you enjoy a traditional flamenco show, then you are free to explore Salamanca as you wish. You may choose to linger, admiring the ornate interiors of its cathedrals – the more recent dates from the 16th century – or explore its tiny streets, medieval squares, traditional shops, gardens and marketplaces. The main square, the Plaza Mayor, is unmissable. Possibly Spain’s finest public square, it was built in the 18th century in Spanish Baroque style with colonnaded walkways all around at ground level, ideal for finding a shaded spot to sit and watch the locals go about their daily lives.
One of the benefits of life aboard a river cruise is the sheer sense of relaxation it brings; our elegant ship slips its moorings during breakfast, after which there is plenty of time for a spot of pampering in the on-board spa, or simply watch the seamless changing of the riverbank scenery passing by from the comfort of a cosy seat in the lounge. We’re in port wine territory, where the lush hillsides have largely given way to a patterned landscape of terraced vineyards. Inland from the Atlantic, the climate has changed, too; it’s noticeably warmer and drier, while the area has a Mediterranean appearance with orangey, earthy colours replacing verdant greens.
After another superb lunch on board, we cruise into the small town of Peso da Régua, from where we visit the grounds of the splendid Mateus Palace. Anyone familiar with Mateus Rosé and its characteristic ‘squashed’ bottle will recognise the palace from the label. Whatever your opinion of the wine, it is an impressive 18th-century Baroque edifice, mirrored in its stunning pond, surrounded by landscaped French gardens.
This evening we take the short drive to the 126-acre Quinta da Pacheca for dinner. Enjoying dramatic views over the Douro, it dates back to the 18th century and is simply one of the most beautiful and distinguished properties in the region. It is also notable as being the first quinta – in 1738 – to bottle wine under the name of its owner, the aristocrat Mariana Pacheco Pereira. You have time to wander through part of the estate before sampling a selection of its finest wines at dinner.
This morning after breakfast we take a short drive to historic Lamego, home of Portugal’s sparkling wine, Raposeira, and one of the first places to be reclaimed from the Moors in the 12th century. Situated atop the hill overlooking this lovely town is the ancient Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies church, its stairways adorned with attractive azulejos, the country’s characteristic painted ceramic tiles. Later we enjoy a little indulgence as we visit one of the region’s best port quintas, or estate-vineyards, to learn how the legendary fortified wine is produced. This experience culminates in a much-anticipated tasting of the delicious final product.
By the time we return to our ship, our chef and his team will be adding the finishing touches to another delicious lunch, ready to be served as we depart for Entre-os-Rios. After lunch there’s the perfect opportunity to take to the sun deck to enjoy the kaleidoscope of Douro views – or perhaps a spot of reading in the lounge over a cup of tea.
This evening is the Captain’s Dinner, a truly memorable experience featuring exquisite regional specialities, followed by a colourful performance of traditional Portuguese folk music by a local cultural group.
There’s a perfect opportunity to avail yourself of some of the ship’s range of five-star facilities this morning – maybe a little gentle exercise in the fitness room before heading up to the sun deck to enjoy a coffee whilst chatting with newly-made friends as our ship makes a graceful arrival in Porto once more, passing under the city’s spectacular bridges. Porto is of course synonymous with wonderful port wine and all the famous port producers are here, such as Cálem, Sandeman and Ferreira, so a visit here would not be complete without a tour of one of them. You’ll learn about this fortified wine’s fascinating history and its close British connections. Port is made from grapes still pressed in the traditional way – by feet – then lovingly matured, sometimes for decades, before you can enjoy its subtle flavours. Of course, you’ll get the chance to sample various port styles at the end of our visit.
After lunch you’ll have the rest of the afternoon at leisure to explore this truly fascinating city; so perhaps return to the terraced streets of the old town and wander the sloping maze of winding, cobbled alleyways, soaking up the atmosphere whilst stopping to admire the lovely architecture, soaring bell towers, fine baroque churches, golden rooftops and beautiful tiles of this slice of traditional Portugal. Stop for a drink in a cosy café and be tempted by an array of delicious cakes and pastries – perhaps sample a pastel de nata, the traditional Portuguese custard tart.
This evening, enjoy a final dinner on board expertly served by our restaurant staff under the supervision of the maître d’. Afterwards, perhaps settle into the lounge to chat into the evening and reflect on the splendours of the remarkable River Douro – over a glass of port, of course.
This morning, the crew bids you farewell before you disembark.
Prices are per person, based on one person in a twin cabin for sole occupancy. The price includes full board from dinner on your day of arrival until breakfast on your final day (excluding one lunch); if you choose to travel with us on any of the full day excursions by coach, a packed lunch will be provided. Anyone choosing to stay on the ship may of course have lunch in the restaurant; morning/afternoon tea and coffee; all visits and excursions as mentioned in the brochure, coach travel as mentioned and the services of a Riviera River Cruises cruise director.
Please note that on-board Wi-Fi speeds may vary.
While we include everything you might need in our prices, we never charge for something you might not. If you prefer to pre-order your drinks, you can purchase our drinks package which offers superb value and includes a selection of drinks during lunch and dinner.
Simply relax and when it’s time to dine in the restaurant, take your pick from a range of: draught beer; non-alcoholic beer; soft drinks; juices; red, white and rosé house wines; and wine recommendations from the menu by the glass.
If you choose not to purchase a drinks package, there is a vast selection of drinks on board each ship available for individual purchase. To see an example bar list please see our dining information.
Drinks packages must be purchased by all guests in the same cabin or suite, and do not include drinks from the bar. To book the drinks package please call the reservations team.
"Demarcated in 1756, the Douro Valley is one of the world’s oldest delimited wine regions. It’s also one of the most visually stunningly. Legend has it that it was an Englishman from Liverpool who discovered the monks of Lamego making the first ever Port wines back in the 17th century. A visit to the region wouldn’t be complete without tasting all the various styles from Ruby to Tawny, Vintage, even White Port (perhaps mixed into a refreshing sun-downer). Since Portugal’s accession to the EU, there has also been significant investment in table wine production and the quality of both whites and reds is impressive."
Susie Barrie & Peter Richards