Douro, Porto & Salamanca River Cruise
With this 8 day river cruise you will experience one of Europe’s best kept secrets, in one of its most undiscovered corners of Portugal and Spain. Explore the sleepy villages and medieval towns unchanged for centuries, amongst the breathtaking rolling hills and terraced vineyard slopes of the stunning Douro Valley.
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. Your destination is the higher reaches of the valley from where you will 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!
Day 1: Arrival in Porto
Fly to Lisbon or Porto, where you will be meet and transferred 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.
Day 2: Porto
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 your 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.
You will return to the ship and there’s an air of expectancy on board as during your first delicious lunch, the ship will slip its moorings and begin the 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, you will see a celebratory vintage port wine opened in the traditional way. You will be moored overnight in Porto Antigo at the confluence of the River Bestança.
Day 3: Castelo Rodrigo
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 you 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. Your 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 you will 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.
Day 4: Salamanca
Today you will 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 will 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.
Day 5: Mateus Palace Gardens
One of the benefits of life aboard a river cruise is the sheer sense of relaxation it brings; your 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. You will be 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, you cruise into the small town of Peso da Régua, from where you can 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 you will 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.
Day 6: Lamego
This morning after breakfast you will 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 enjoy a little indulgence as you make a stop to enjoy a tasting of local specialities. After sampling some typical Portuguese delights you have some free time to explore Lamego a little further.
By the time you return to your ship, the Sip’s chef and his team will be adding the finishing touches to another delicious lunch, ready to be served as you 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.
Day 7: Porto
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 the 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.
Day 8: Return Home
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.
MS Douro Elegance & MS Douro Splendour
If cruising is an art, then these 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 (MS Douro Elegance) & 4.1 (MS Douro Splendour) guests per crew member ensures a first-class personal service plus the friendly ‘small ship’ feels, 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.
Departure dates & additional information
- This tour departs weekly between the 5th May and the 1st November.
- Regional Departures from Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stansted, Liverpool, Manchester & Birmingham
- 7 Night Drink package is offered from £99 per person
- 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 (excluding one lunch); if you choose to travel with 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 itinerary, airport/station transfers, coach travel as mentioned, travel to and from port of embarkation and the services of a local travel representative & Concierge. Please note that on-board Wi-Fi speeds may vary
What is included?
- International Flights
- Airport Transfers
- 7 Nights Accommodation on board a 5 star Luxury Ship
- Full Board
- Complimentary on board tea & coffee
- Complimentary on-board Wi-Fi (speeds may vary)
- All Excursions as mentioned in the itinerary
- ATOL and ABTA protection for your financial security
- RB Collection ‘VIP Experience’ service
- Single person supplement, please ask for prices
- Drinks package, offered from £99 per person
From £1,299 per person (Based on Double Occupancy)