Reference: Portugal

Title:The River Douro Cruise.

Length: 800 words.

Publishing rights: All rights.

Travel operator: Kuoni/Voyages Jules Verne

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

(Please click on thumbnails of photographs on this page to see enlargement, there is sometimes distortion when they are reduced.)

The River Douro Cruise.

Wine boats at Oporto

It was perhaps its reputation as the area for Port wine that attracted me to the cruise of the River Douro. This is by no means the only attraction for in addition to the wine tastings a variety of excursions are included. The first day on board is spent in Oporto giving an opportunity to explore the town and take in the view. A bus tour of Oporto was organised in the morning. In view of the steepness of the towns as it rises up from the river Douro the transport was welcome. A hilly landscape adds character to a town and so it is with Oporto. If you are fit there is the opportunity to climb many steps up the side of the hills and explore the further reaches.

The grounds of the cathedral afford a panoramic view of the town and river. Perhaps the most spectacular sight is the Ponte Rodoviaria Luis I - a road bridge at two levels. Whilst the lower level is convenient when crossing the river from the ship, the higher level is welcome after scaling the hills of the town to reach the top on the other side. It is a place to photograph the town in its entirety, the railing provides a convenient rest for the camera but it is advisable to wait for gap in the traffic to prevent the vibration causing camera shake.

A visit to the port wine cellars is of course obligatory. There is something very peaceful about a wine cellar with casks dating back 50 years. A place where time stands still as the wine mellows and spiders weave another cobweb. The light from the tiny window was just sufficient to negotiate the space between the casks. The tasting room, however, was light and airy. Four samples were offered, including a white port, the first in my experience. A bottle of a 10 year vintage cost about £10 but I was sceptical of the advice to drink it in one sitting once opened. Maybe when you have a thousand bottles to hand it doesn't seem so extravagant.

Excursions on land were included every day such as our visit to Lamego which is a pleasant town to wander. Your attention will be caught by the shrine of Senhora dos Remedios, fronted by multilevel gardens rising steeply up the hill. Fortunately we took the bus up the hill and negotiated the multitude of steps enclosing the gardens on the way down. About half of our group joined us; some claimed to have walked up.

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Palacio Mateus

The picture of Palacio Mateus on the side of Mateus Rose wine bottles comes to life in Vila Real. It was pleasant in the shade of cedar and cypress trees on a hot day. The gardens provided a good photo opportunity, especially when viewing the manor house across the lake. It belonged to the Counts of Vila Real and the wine was made on the estates nearby. We did not have the opportunity to tour the house although it is open to the public at other times. From Vega Terron, just over the border into Spain we had the option to pay a supplement to visit Salamanca, the site of the 13th century university. A cabaret of Flamenco dancing followed dinner on board.

A novel experience was the approach to a railway bridge, so low as to require us to lie on the deck. I wondered why this was necessary in view of the height of the wheelhouse. This it transpired could be dismantled. The walls were hinged and placed flat on the deck and we sailed under the bridge with perhaps a foot to spare. The staff had been insistent that we all lay down which was understandable when the bridge appeared to sweep determinedly and ominously over us.

Whilst the excursions to the port wineries are a feature of the trip there were also the occasions when we dined on land. Dinner on the last night was in the converted monastery at Bitetos. The monks' cells had been converted into bedrooms for visitors intent on a novel experience. We were assured that the accommodation and facilities had been modernised if somewhat cramped.

The ship, MS Douro Princess, accommodated 80 passengers in 40 cabins. All had river views. The restaurant seated everyone at one sitting. Tables were laid for six people and whereas no strict placing was planned, people tended to sit at the same table. We befriended an architect and his wife, and a professor of psychology at dinner, and enjoyed the company of the other passengers on the many excursions.

View some photographs supporting this article here.

Oporto; Palacio Mateus; Lamego; Monastory; etc.

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