Portugal - River Douro
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Having greatly enjoyed our cruises on the rivers Nile and Yangtze, we decided to try somewhere a little closer to home - the River Douro in Northern Portugal. We booked the trip through Voyages Jules Verne, our fourth holiday with them, and it certainly lived up to, in fact exceeded, all our expectations.

29th April 2006

We flew from Heathrow to Porto with TAP, the Portuguese airline, arriving in Porto during the late evening, an hour or so than expected due to a delay in our flight. The airport is very new and enormous - and was deserted. Looking around for other possible VJV customers, we saw only two, the vast majority of the people on the flight being Portuguese. We were right though, the couple were indeed on the same trip as us and it soon transpired that we were the only four British people on the tour, the rest being North American. That hasn't happened on any of our other VJV trips so I admit it was a little disconcerting. (However, we needn't have worried as everyone was very friendly.) It was gone 11pm when we arrived on board our home for the week, the MS Douro Prince, moored in Gaia on the left bank where the Port houses can be found. The other passengers had been arriving all day and were all in bed following their long flights from various parts of North America. The staff must have been desperate to get to bed too but we were greeted with smiles, soup and sandwiches and fruit juice. The ship is beautiful, small but perfectly formed with just 24 cabins, not all of which were in use for our week, with cherry wood (I think) and mirrors everywhere, the latter giving a more spacious feeling. We'd paid extra for our cabin, which was on the lower deck with a balcony and patio doors, but if you were to book this trip, I would advise against choosing that deck as the upper cabins had more room and less noise (we were directly over the engine room).

30th April

This morning we all set off on a coach tour of Porto. It felt a little odd to be one of only two British couples and we were the youngest but quite a few years, but everyone was very friendly. We stood out too because the Americans (and two Canadians) all wore name badges. There are a number of bridges spanning the Douro - we crossed the Dom Luis I bridge, built in 1886. We visited the Stock Exchange/Chamber of Commerce building, which was very impressive (but no photos permitted). We were most impressed by the Arab Room, based on the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain. Then on to the cathedral - great views across the city but heaving with people and we didn't have the  time or space to do it justice. After touring around the rest of the city, which is bigger than we expected, we drove on to one of the Port houses, where we left the Americans for their tour. We Brits were surprised to find VJV had arranged a private helicopter tour for the four of us. It was fantastic, only 10 minutes but we saw just about all the city we had seen from the ground earlier. The beautiful football stadium was one of the most fascinating to see from the air.

We returned to the Douro Prince for our buffet lunch and then went up onto the deck, where it was very warm, ready to start our cruise. The scenery is beautiful and the weather perfect so it was very enjoyable to sit there and watch the world go by whilst sipping a cold beer. We met some of our fellow travellers and were surprised to find they came from many different parts if the  USA - e.g. Seattle, California and Texas.

In the early evening we were served white port and canapés in the lounge before going onshore for our excursion to the Alpendura Monastery, originally built in the 11th century and altered extensively in the 18th. It's now a hotel with lovely views of the Douro and has been renovated in various styles including a Roman style swimming pool. After a short tour we went into a huge dining room and were all seated at a long table. We were served a very nice meal with wine and then returned to our boat.

 

1st May

We set off along the river whilst breakfasting and then went up on deck to admire the views and go through the Carrapatelo Dam, one of the highest locks in Europe (35 metres, 115 ft). Not pretty but necessary.

We docked in Régua, the capital of the Port wine trade. it was busy, being a National holiday. We were served Port at noon and then left the coat half an hour later to visit the Solar da Rede Manor House, another beautiful house now acting as a luxury hotel. The gardens were full of orange trees, dripping with blossom and fruit and the views were stunning. We had lunch there and it was excellent and included wine (this cruise includes all meals). We returned to the boat and later took a walk around the town, but the shops were mostly closed due to the bank holiday. There seemed to be a disproportionate number of bathroom shops, which was odd.

Before dinner we had a briefing (a daily occurrence) about the next day's programme and were also left a programme in our cabin every evening. Dinner, our first on board, was very nice. No choice but we eat most things (and the menu is published in advance so you can ask for something else if you wish) and were rarely disappointed.

2nd May

We breakfasted with the InTrav rep (with whom everyone else was travelling), Shannon, so it was interesting to find out how they operate. At 8.30 we boarded the coach for a visit to the Mateus Palace and Vila Real. the Mateus Palace is famous for featuring on the labels of Mateus Rosé wine, which was very popular in the 1970s and 1980s. We toured some of the rooms, which housed some interesting furniture and artefacts, then explored the beautiful gardens. We then drove on to the area's capital, Vila Réal, a large town busy due to being market day. We looked at the St Pedro church which was very ornate, and a few shops, which weren't very interesting.

We lunched back on board and cruised all afternoon, basking in lovely sunshine. We passed through two dams, Valeira and Pocinho and also under a very low bridge which necessitated everyone lying down! The river is surprisingly quiet and we saw very little traffic. Before dinner we attended a cocktail party hosted by Shannon, where we were treated to sangria which was very refreshing. Then after dinner there was a flamenco show which was fun.

 

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