Fly to Lisbon or Porto, where we’ll meet and transfer you to your five-star cruise ship in Porto. From 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.
After breakfast, you’ll be transferred to the airport at the appropriate time, with memories of one of the most unspoilt corners of Europe to savour for a long time to come.
We are absolutely thrilled to announce that our highly successful Douro cruise on Portugal’s most spectacular waterway will now be operated on a brand new state of the art vessel, the magnificent five-star MS Douro Elegance. Painstaking research over many months with our highly regarded Portuguese shipping partners, the first luxury ship operator on the Douro, who have been involved in river cruise ship building for over a quarter of a century, has resulted in the creation of a worldclass vessel which is without doubt one of the most exceptional ships afloat on any European river.
If cruising is an art, then this ship has truly mastered it; constructed with the very latest technology and a strong environmental ethic in mind, yet simultaneously retaining a classic, refined elegance reminiscent of cruising from a bygone era, this five-star, fully-air-conditioned river cruiser has been purpose-built to fit the unique size limitations of the Douro’s five locks and features all the facilities you would expect in a top-class hotel and more so your cruise will be as relaxing as possible and your stay on board will be a uniquely memorable one.
Accommodating just 126 guests in the most exquisite of surroundings, the ship’s spectacular design and high specification ensures this vessel feels exceptionally light and airy. The generous ratio of 3:1 guests per crew member ensures a first-class personal service plus the friendly ‘small ship’ feel so beloved of Riviera Travel cruise aficionados, enables the ever attentive crew to revel in taking care of all those little things – leaving you to simply sit back, relax and enjoy every minute of your sensational river cruise experience.