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!
Arrive in Porto, where your five-star floating hotel is moored. Here an attentive crew will welcome you aboard, ensuring you settle into your comfortable and extremely well-equipped cabin.
As dawn breaks the ship slips quietly away from Porto and you will awake to the gentle sound of water lapping against the sleek hull and that most relaxing of travellers’ joys as you witness the ship’s stately progress upstream. Your first breakfast, you will be welcomed in the restaurant and immediately spoilt for choice, with the omelette station being a real favourite of many! Even on the first day it is so apparent that the Douro is one of Europe’s most photogenic river valleys with tourism being almost completely undeveloped.
Late morning, the ship approaches its first port of call at one of the river’s few small towns, Peso da Régua. The observant will have already noticed that the lush covered hillsides have largely given way to an intricate patterned landscape of steeply terraced vine covered slopes, as we enter port wine territory. The climate has evolved too; leaving the Atlantic behind it is noticeably warmer and dryer. The topography has a much more Mediterranean appearance with browns and ochres replacing verdant greens.
This afternoon, we take a short drive along sinuous roads to historic Lamego, home of Portugal’s sparkling wine Raposeira and one of the first places to be re-conquered from the Moors in the 12th century. Situated on top of 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 famous painted tilework.
We then enjoy a little indulgence as we visit one of the region’s best quintas (vineyards) learning how legendary port is produced – culminating in a tasting of the delicious final product!
The Douro was once a precariously wild river, rendering navigation extremely tricky for the traditional flat bottomed boats which often foundered. Today the river has been tamed by a series of locks and we navigate several of them; always intensely fascinating, the resultant almost loch-like river topography really enhances the valley’s charm.
Cruising into evermore rural territory towards the Spanish border, the river here is at its most peaceful, a perfect time to take a refreshing dip in the pool, or catch up on some reading perhaps with a cool pre-lunch glass of local vinho verde white wine. It’s worth mentioning Portuguese wine is really outstanding but as the production is not huge, the higher quality wines tend to be consumed locally, so if you are a wine aficionado, experiment a little – you are in for a real treat! We are now on the River Duero, as we have crossed into Spain, however the northern bank remains in Portugal!
This afternoon we visit Castelo Rodrigo, a delightful 12th century walled village tucked away in the peaceful border hills, whose church was a resting place on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela – indeed it is said that St Francis himself stayed here. Perched on a hill, the views are simply stupendous - stretching across almost deserted ochre-coloured hillsides.
This evening we have a delicious, typically Portuguese barbecue, served on the sundeck (weather permitting) as the unmistakable sound of crickets and scents from the surrounding hillsides pervade the warm evening air.
Today we visit historic Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, acknowledged by many Spaniards as one of the country’s most beautiful cities and once seen it really is difficult to disagree. Renowned for the gorgeous rose-coloured hue emanating from almost universal use of local sandstone for its construction, the city appears to glow. Perched on a small hill on a bend in the serene River Tormes, it is a picture of tranquillity but, founded by the Romans, who built the still used 400 yard long bridge, Salamanca was repeatedly fought over by Hannibal, the Moors then the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon.
Salamanca is dominated by its two cathedrals and Spain’s oldest university founded in 1215, which for four centuries was one of the civilised world’s most important seats of study. The Spanish Inquisition’s records are still kept here, and as early as the sixteenth century it boasted some twelve thousand students. You can see beautifully preserved lecture halls with their vaulted ceilings and you can imagine Christopher Columbus addressing the most learned men of the day or legal experts constructing the international laws originating here.
Over lunch you enjoy a traditional flamenco show, then explore as you wish. Whilst the buildings themselves dominate the skyline, their internal decoration is just as exceptional. Visit the two cathedrals – the more recent dates from the 16th century! Salamanca is a wonderful place to just wander through: tiny streets, medieval squares, traditional shops, gardens and marketplaces all add to its atmosphere. The main square, the Plaza Mayor, is widely acknowledged as Spain’s finest and the hub of Salamantine life, with plenty of cafés and places to sit and watch the locals go by whilst absorbing the lovely atmosphere.
During breakfast, the ship slips its moorings and cruises towards Peso da Régua. One of the benefits of life aboard a river cruise is the sheer sense of relaxation it brings. There is plenty of time for a spot of pampering in the on-board spa, or simply watch the ever-changing scenery pass by from the comfort of the lounge. In the late afternoon you may wish to stroll along the quayside, watching the occasional river traffic or enjoying a coffee in one of the many cafés.
This evening we enjoy a truly authentic experience as we take the short drive to a traditional quinta for tonight’s delicious dinner. You will have time to wander through part of the quinta’s fertile estate, set in a beautiful location with spectacular views over the magnificent Douro landscape, before sampling a selection of its finest wines over dinner
This morning after a leisurely breakfast we visit the magnificent Mateus Palace. Anyone familiar with Mateus Rosé, the wine with its characteristic “squashed” bottle shape, will have seen the palace featured on the label. Whatever your opinion of the wine, the palace is an impressive 18th century Baroque edifice beautifully mirrored in the stunning “reflecting pond”, and the extensive “French” gardens are beautifully landscaped and decorated with elegant statues. We return to the ship for another superb lunch on board and the ship departs towards Entre-os-Rios.
This afternoon is spent cruising so there’s the opportunity to truly unwind whilst the skilful captain and his crew navigate the ship effortlessly through the winding bends of this truly magnificent hilly hinterland. Head up on to the Sun Deck for spectacular viewing; as the invigorating river breeze revives you, you’ll be captivated by the ever-changing riverbank scenery slipping past – it really doesn’t get more relaxing than this! This evening is the Captain’s Dinner, hosted of course by the Captain himself, a delightful experience featuring some superb local specialities. After dinner, we are entertained by a cultural group performing traditional Portuguese folk music.
This morning we arrive in Porto, on quite a spectacular passage which takes us under many of the city’s famous bridges. Originally Roman, Porto’s wealth derived from its knowledge of the sea routes to India. Spices, silks and other fine goods made the fortunes used to build Portugal’s second largest city. The city is obviously synonymous with Port wine and we will be guests of Cálem – one of the best known port brands in Portugal, learning the fascinating history of port wine and its close British connections. The wine is made from grapes still staggeringly trod by foot, then lovingly tended, sometimes for decades, before you can enjoy its subtle flavours. Of course you’ll get the chance at the end of a fascinating visit to sample various styles.
We enjoy lunch on board before starting our sightseeing tour which unveils some of the city’s 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 town houses and fine views to the wine lodges across the river. One of the river’s bridges was designed by Gustav Eiffel – 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. Wonderfully free of the chain shops dominating other countries, enjoy the tiny antiquated shops specialising in fine art, antiques, ceramics and some of the most wonderful cakes you’ll ever taste.
This evening and after a final delectable dinner then perhaps the bar beckons and a chat into the evening with new-found, like minded friends, reflecting on the splendours of the remarkable River Douro, from its busy lower reaches to those beautifully peaceful terraced hillsides and the tiny unspoilt villages of the river’s delightful heartlands - over a glass of port of course!
We depart the ship and leave behind the terraced hillsides of the Douro Valley. Heading south, our journey takes us inland as the wild seascapes of the Atlantic coast gradually give way to a hinterland of fertile fields and pine forests.
Our first destination is the ancient city of Coimbra, renowned for the impressive Roman aqueduct striding across the city and the historic university, one of Europe’s oldest and a rival to Salamanca’s. With its labyrinthine lanes, charming Moorish quarter and pretty squares, this city is a fascinating place to explore and its many historical buildings are collectively classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once a capital city, Coimbra became a major cultural centre during the Middle Ages with the university at its heart. We have the privilege of a visit to the university, which is situated on a hill overlooking the city. Its Baroque library – rich in giltwork, exotic woods and with a dazzling frescoed ceiling – contains over 200,000 leather-bound, centuries-old volumes. Equally extraordinary is the chapel, so exquisitely decorated it would be considered a cathedral in most places, and in complete contrast to the university prison, which is suitably austere and dates back to the mid 16th century.
We drive on through olive groves and wheat fields to Fátima, an unremarkable small town until 1917 when three children experienced an apparition of the Virgin Mary and it suddenly became an important Catholic pilgrimage site and a national shrine. The original chapel built to mark the site of the apparition is now part of a large and impressive Sanctuary Complex, which is well worth exploring.
Later we arrive in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal and the country’s finest natural harbour, situated at the mouth of the River Tagus. Nestled amid seven hills, the city’s skyline is a mosaic of pastel and ochre shades, peppered with elegant domes and soaring spires.
We stay three nights at either the Hotel Marques du Pombal or the Real Palacio Hotel. The Hotel Marques du Pombal is located on the famous Avenida de Liberdade at the very heart of this vibrant capital. The hotel has a contemporary feel with stylish public areas, elegant restaurant and bar, plus a gym sauna and hairdresser’s salon. The Real Palacio Hotel is creatively constructed around the renovation of a historic 17th-century palace giving the hotel a modern yet classic feel, with elegantly furnished public areas, restaurant, bar, health club and spa. Well-located in close proximity to plenty of restaurants and cafés, it provides the perfect base from which to explore the city.
We start with a fascinating tour taking in Lisbon’s magnificent sights such as the impressive Terreiro do Paco, its wide tree-lined boulevards, the characteristic architectural style of the splendidly graceful 17th century Baixa quarter, the majestic castle and Sé - the 12th century Romanesque cathedral. Plus Alfama, the Moorish quarter of timeless narrow cobbled streets and the wonderful belvedere at São Pedro da Alcântara with its expansive views across the rooftops.
Lisbon’s eclectic charm is its mix of ancient, modern, bustling and peaceful, so this afternoon is free to explore, discovering this delightful contrast for yourself. You might be tempted by the chic shops of the Baixa or decide to seek out a tiny café and enjoy a “bica” - a strong espresso often taken with a “nata”, the city’s famous moreish custard tart. Discover the incredible Gulbenkian Foundation founded by an Armenian oil magnate who bought art from St Petersburg’s Hermitage after the Russian Revolution for bargain prices. This truly world-class institution displays extensive exhibits from Ancient Egypt and Rome, Chinese porcelain, fine art from throughout the ages, priceless furniture and antiques. Take a ride on one of the city’s clanging, rattling, yellow trams; seemingly well past their sell-by date, they’re still the best to negotiate the sharp bends of the delightful historic quarter.
We take a short drive to the lovely town of Sintra; spectacularly perched on a hillside with panoramic views towards the nearby Atlantic coast, where Henry the Navigator grew up and doubtless gazed out to sea not knowing where his destiny was eventually to lead him. The narrow winding streets of the old town wind their way to the wonderful main square with the famous Royal Palace, its huge white conical chimneys soaring above. This extraordinary landmark, once the residences of the Portuguese monarchy, today is a wonderful museum with grand rooms and priceless collections. You can also see the romantic 19th century Pena Palace.
Built as a summer residence, it is a living fairy tale; its colourful turrets, ramparts, gargoyles, domes and Moorish arches are a mystical mix of styles, while the interior is extravagantly decorated with a superb ballroom and a magnificent Arab Room. The surrounding park and lakes displays an equally eclectic mix of ferns, magnificent rhododendrons and exotic plants from the former Portuguese colonies.
We return to Lisbon along the stunning coastline where Atlantic rollers crash onto infinite stretches of sandy beach. We stop at the famous riverside Monument to the Discoveries then visit the wonderfully preserved16th century Jeronimos Monastery. Founded by Henry the Navigator, it contains the tomb of Vasco da Gama, one of the finest ever maritime explorers. Today’s enormous edifice in classic Portuguese Gothic style looks like a giant wedding cake, dazzling in the bright sunlight.
Lisbon has an amazing old quarter which still follows the centuries old Phoenician street grid, so spend this evening wandering through its charmingly tangled, cobbled lanes, lined with ancient bars and restaurants, decorated with the colourful ceramic tiles so typical of this fascinating city. Many will be buzzing with the sound of ‘fado’ - a unique and infectious musical mix evolved from traditional folk, colonial African and Brazilian styles. Don’t leave Lisbon without experiencing this.
Today we check out of the hotel at the appropriate time after a truly fascinating and memorable tour into one the most unspoilt corners of Europe.
River Cruise: Prices are per person, based on two people sharing a twin cabin with a limited number of single cabins available on all decks, at the relevant supplement. The price includes full board from dinner on your day of arrival until breakfast on your final day; 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 Travel cruise director.
Please note that on-board Wi-Fi speeds may vary.
Extension: The price of this extension is per person based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability and are available at the relevant supplement. The price includes three nights accommodation in Lisbon with breakfast, all tours as mentioned and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.
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.