Douro, Porto & Salamanca River Cruise with Lisbon Extension
|Resort:||Douro, Porto & Salamanca River Cruise with Lisbon Extension|
DAY 1ARRIVAL IN PORTO
ARRIVAL IN PORTO
Fly to Lisbon or Porto, where well meet and transfer you to your five-star cruise ship in Porto. From the moment you board, the welcoming crew are at your service. In no time youll be settled into your luxurious, thoughtfully furnished accommodation and familiarising yourself with all the first-class aspects of this floating boutique hotel.
Douro, Porto & Salamanca River Cruise route map (excludes extension) Douro, Porto & Salamanca River Cruise route map (excludes extension)
Strategically sited overlooking the Douro as it empties into the Atlantic, Portugals 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 our guided tour of this interesting city unveils some of its major and more surprising sights. Youll experience the tangled lanes of the medieval quarter, the splendid Praa 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! Youll gaze up at the citys imposing fortress, its fine cathedral and Baroque Clrigos Tower. Porto is wonderfully free of the chain shops prevalent elsewhere, and its 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 youll ever taste.
We return to the ship and theres an air of expectancy on board as during our first delicious lunch, well slip our moorings and begin our stately passage upstream. The Douro is one of Europes 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, we will see a celebratory vintage port wine opened in the traditional way. We are moored overnight in Porto Antigo at the confluence of the River Bestana.
DAY 3CASTELO RODRIGO
As dawn breaks, early risers can witness the ships graceful departure. Relax over a leisurely breakfast whilst the ever-changing scenery idly slips by through the restaurants 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 Scotlands lochs that enhances the valleys charm. As we cruise into ever more rural territory towards the Spanish border, the river here is at its most peaceful. Its 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. Our 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 youll be greatly rewarded.
This afternoon we 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.
Today we visit historic Salamanca, one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this journey, regarded by many Spaniards as their nations 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 worlds most important seats of study for over 400 years. The Spanish Inquisitions 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, its 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 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 Spains 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 5MATEUS PALACE GARDENS
MATEUS PALACE GARDENS
One of the benefits of life aboard a river cruise is the sheer sense of relaxation it brings; our 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. Were 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; its noticeably warmer and drier, while the area has a Mediterranean appearance with orangey, earthy colours replacing verdant greens.
After another superb lunch on board, we cruise into the small town of Peso da Rgua, from where we visit the grounds of the splendid Mateus Palace. Anyone familiar with Mateus Ros 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 we 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.
This morning after breakfast we take a short drive to historic Lamego, home of Portugals 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 countrys characteristic painted ceramic tiles. Later we enjoy a little indulgence as we visit one of the regions best port quintas, or estate-vineyards, to learn how the legendary fortified wine is produced. This experience culminates in a much-anticipated tasting of the delicious final product.
By the time we return to our ship, our chef and his team will be adding the finishing touches to another delicious lunch, ready to be served as we depart for Entre-os-Rios. After lunch theres 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 Captains Dinner, a truly memorable experience featuring exquisite regional specialities, followed by a colourful performance of traditional Portuguese folk music by a local cultural group.
Theres a perfect opportunity to avail yourself of some of the ships 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 citys spectacular bridges. Porto is of course synonymous with wonderful port wine and all the famous port producers are here, such as Clem, Sandeman and Ferreira, so a visit here would not be complete without a tour of one of them. Youll learn about this fortified wines 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, youll get the chance to sample various port styles at the end of our visit.
After lunch youll 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 caf 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 our restaurant staff under the supervision of the matre 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 8COIMBRA & FATIMA
COIMBRA & FATIMA
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 Europes oldest and a rival to Salamancas. 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 Ftima, 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 countrys finest natural harbour, situated at the mouth of the River Tagus. Nestled amid seven hills, the citys 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 hairdressers 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 cafs, it provides the perfect base from which to explore the city.
After a leisurely breakfast, we set out to discover Lisbons highlights, many of which have attained the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our tour well see the strikingly modern Monument to the Discoveries and its 16th-century fortified counterpart, the Belm Tower, then visit the Jernimos Monastery. One of the most magnificent buildings in Europe, the Monastery is a symbol of Portuguese wealth and power during the Age of Discovery. Founded by Henry the Navigator and containing the tomb of Vasco da Gama, it is an enormous, dazzlingly white edifice in classic Portuguese Gothic style, intricately decorated throughout with maritime motifs. We also see the impressive Terreiro do Pao square, facing out to sea, the majestic castle and S, the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral. Theres also Alfama, the Moorish quarter of timeless cobbled streets, and the wonderful belvedere at S£o Pedro de Alcntara with its expansive views across the rooftops.
Lisbons charm is its mix of ancient, modern, bustling and peaceful, so this afternoon is free to explore. You might be tempted by the chic shops of the elegant Baixa quarter, rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1755, or decide to seek out a caf to enjoy a bica a strong espresso often taken with a nata, the citys devilishly moreish custard tart. Art-lovers can savour the Gulbenkian Foundation, established by an Armenian oil magnate who bought art from Saint Petersburgs Hermitage after the Russian Revolution for bargain prices. This world-class institution has exhibits ranging from ancient Egyptian treasures to Impressionist paintings to a superb collection of Lalique jewellery and glass. And dont forget to take a ride on one of the clanging, rattling yellow trams; seemingly well past their sell-by date, theyre still the best way to negotiate the sharp bends of the historic quarter.
We take a short drive to the hillside town of Sintra, whose verdant slopes were memorably described by Byron as a glorious Eden. Spectacularly perched on a hillside with views towards the nearby Atlantic coast, this is where Henry the Navigator grew up and doubtless gazed out to sea, imagining what lay beyond the horizon. It was also the retreat of Portugals royalty during the hot summer months. The narrow streets of the Old Town wind their way to the main square where youll find the National Palace, a wonderful mix of Gothic and Moorish styles crowned by a pair of huge white conical chimneys. Today this landmark is a museum with grand rooms and priceless art collections.
You may also choose to make your own way to 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 and features a ballroom and magnificent Arab Room. The surrounding park and lakes display an equally eclectic mix of ferns, rhododendrons and exotic plants from the former Portuguese colonies. Should you wish to spend a little longer in Sintra and return to Lisbon under your own steam, your Tour Manager will be able to advise how this can be done easily by train.
Otherwise we return to Lisbon along the coastline where Atlantic rollers crash onto endless golden beaches. Lisbon has an amazing old quarter that still follows the original Phoenician street grid, so spend this evening wandering through its atmospheric lanes lined with bars and restaurants, often decorated with the colourful ceramic tiles so typical of this city. Many will be buzzing with the sound of fado a unique and infectious musical mix evolved from folk, colonial African and Brazilian styles. Dont leave Lisbon without experiencing this.
DAY 11RETURN HOME
Today we transfer to the airport at the appropriate time for your return flight after a memorable tour into one of the most unspoilt corners of Europe.