The River Douro Cruise.
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
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.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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
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
Oporto; Palacio Mateus; Lamego; Monastory; etc.