The splendour of the Douro, one of the Iberian Peninsula’s major rivers, flows from northern-central Spain to Porto, where its storied wine region and World Heritage status makes it a river cruise destination steeped in history and grandeur.
From the heart of Pinhão’s vineyards to the vibrant life of Vila Nova de Gaia, this stunning waterway hosts treats for the eye as well as the taste buds. Boasting astonishing views and splendid scenery, this popular destination should be on any port lover’s wish-list.
For those unfamiliar with the Douro’s majestic locations, we present 10 awe-inspiring photographs that highlight this wonderful region.
Portugal’s second city, Porto begins our Secrets of the Douro river cruise with a medieval backbone, lively spirit and, of course, a rather good signature drink. Cafés and restaurants line the Douro’s banks, bringing vivid life to its historic background, while its impressive architecture – from the Dom Luís I Bridge to the baroque brilliance of São Francisco church – is imperative viewing. Budding gourmets should beeline to the Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s bustling food market that’s home to the local favourite: the Francesinha, a toasted sandwich consisting of sausage, ham, steak, melted cheese and a spicy tomato-and-beer sauce.
Get a taste of Porto by sampling what it’s most famous for. Your next port of call: take a trip to the Gaia side of the river and find a veritable spread of wine lodges for you to choose from. Graham’s, Churchill’s and Sandeman all offer tours and tastings if you like your tipples with a touch of history. After that, why not book a table at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Yeatman hotel? The only restaurant of its kind in the region, the innovative and unusual are the order of the day, so expect scallops, veal and razor fish, served up with incredible views of the hills of Porto.
Many miles of the Douro’s banks have remained the same for hundreds of years, with vineyards and small businesses passed down from generation to generation of the same family. Less than a mile from Pinhão, Quinta da Roeda presents a country estate whose old barns and grape farm stables have been converted into a visitor centre that overlooks the Benedita vineyard. Guided tours of the vineyard let you try your hand (or feet) at treading its grapes during harvest-time, though it’s wise to book this in advance.
On the riverfront in Pinhão, the recently reopened Vintage House Hotel features a restaurant that showcases splendid wines from all over Portugal. It’s the perfect place for a relaxed lunch, and its Quinta da Romaneira, a local white wine, makes for a particularly refreshing mid-afternoon glass. Its visitor centre is also a worthwhile destination, offering up a museum complete with old winemaking and vineyard equipment, as well as photographs of the Douro from the 19th and early 20th century. During vintage, you can even watch the process of winemaking. Plus, outdoor picnics offer plenty of opportunity for relaxed, al fresco dining – complete with wine, of course.
One look at the picturesque village of Lamego is enough to be transported to a different world – a centuries-old vista of truly awe-inspiring opulence and elegance that must be experienced during your time there. Overlooking the town is its most striking building: Our Lady of Remedies – one of the country’s most revered pilgrimage sites. Complete with hundreds of zig-zagged stairs, tiled friezes and lush, verdant foliage, it stands as a monument to an entirely different time. A must-see sculpture that’s as graceful as it is astonishing.
As the Douro river cruise reaches Spain, we come to the city of Salamanca. Home to one of the oldest universities in Europe – founded in 1218 – it’s still a lively student town. Hosting majestic squares and huge medieval structures, the walking tours of Salamanca are more akin to turning back time. Referred to as the ‘golden city’, its historic Christian architecture offers a nice counterpoint to traditional tapas bars and the infectious Spanish music flowing from its great selection of bars and restaurants.
For more history, shoring at Pocinho gives you the chance to experience the Coa Valley Museum, a concrete structure featuring pre-historic carvings from early inhabitants of the Douro. Pre-dating written language and with some as early as 22,000 BC, the engravings at the heart of the Coa Valley Museum feature various animals, human figures and religious motifs that open up a world entirely different from the rest of the Douro. An awe-inspiring destination that must be seen while you’re here.
Once a Roman settlement, the peaceful town of Regua makes for a must-see stop during your river cruise. Its historic steam train and station add quaint charm to any trip, letting you take in the picturesque vistas of the Douro with traditional folk singing accompaniments. Afterwards, the Douro Museum takes a pleasant look at the region’s history of wine-making, and once you’re well versed in its wares, follow it up with samples of Regua’s finest port and a sublime terrace view of the region.
If you’d like to experience travelling the Douro in a most traditional way, then the rabelo boat is the way to do it. Used for centuries to transport port barrels downriver, these flat, wide boats are now used in the annual shippers’ race held in the summer every year. But for something more serene, boats outside the Vintage House let you spend an hour afloat as you take in care-free, breath-taking views, taking in sun-kissed farmhouses, terraces and vineyards along the way. The perfect way to soak up the tranquillity of this idyllic region.
Based back in Porto, the Rua Herois de Franca in Matosinhos is punctuated by a host of seafood restaurants, each fronted by barbecues dispersing fragrant smoke that lightly hangs in the air. With locals cooking sardines on their front steps too, these provincial aromas prove impossible to resist. For those with a sweet tooth, Portugal’s crème brûlée adds a classic finishing touch to your dining adventures.
If this tour of the Douro’s most striking features has left you longing to travel its waters, click here to view our full collection of luxury river cruises on the Douro. Or, if you need any further help or advice, call the Emerald Waterways team today on 0808 159 8422.