Douro River Cruises – Looking Beyond The Port
Without doubt, the biggest draw of a Douro River cruise is the chance to sample some of the various wines that this beautiful region produces. As one of the most famous fortified wine-producing areas in the world, many quintas (wine estates) open their doors and invite you in for a glass or two of their own variety.
However, that’s not the only reason to choose a river cruise through the Douro Valley. This slow-paced holiday can also cater to many other interests, meaning there are plenty of excuses to come along, even if port isn’t your preferred tipple. Here are just some of the other sights and activities you can look forward to.
Portugal’s relationship with ceramic tiles dates back to when the Moors invaded this part of the world. Their name, azulejos, is taken from a Moorish word that means ‘polished stone’ and they were originally used as a decorative feature in Egypt. However, it was King Manuel I who really popularised the tradition and so, during the Gothic period, people would use these little tiles to bring some colour and beauty to the plain areas of buildings.Originally, geometric patterns were exclusively produced, but this later developed into images depicting stories and religious frescos.
There are a few places along the Douro where these tiles are most prevalent. Porto has its own little district of townhouses that adds flashes of blue and white, whilst Lamego is home to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies where the stairway is lined with azulejos. On particular itineraries, you can even enjoy a tile painting session on board the ship.
Trade the delightful Douro for its little, and arguably even more beautiful, sister by choosing to enjoy a canoeing excursion on the Sabor River. Starting at the village which lies at the confluence of the two rivers, Fozdo Sabor, you’ll navigate this serene waterway to see a more authentic side of Portugal.The riverbanks here are less developed for tourism than those alongside the Douro and so you can revel in the picturesque landscapes, peer into well-manicured vegetable gardens and learn more about the country’s history. It’s a great way to work up an appetite for when you return to the ship, too.
You may or may not know that the majority of Douro River cruises also venture into Spain, taking you across the border by coach to the breathtaking city of Salamanca. As you wonder amongst the red sandstone buildings, you’ll see that the skyline is dominated by two cathedrals, the New and the Old. Together with the university, where the records of the Spanish Inquisition are kept, they have helped Salamanca earn its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A regal selection of palaces helps to reveal the history of the city, whilst the architecture also shares the story of a tumultuous past that includes a range of civilisations being in power. Over a mouth-watering lunch of local tapas, a traditional Flamenco show will introduce you to an important aspect of the culture.
Even after you have departed from historic Porto, there is plenty of history to discover along the Douro. Not least in the picturesque village of Castelo Rodrigo, where a castle of the same name sits high on a hilltop and where Francis of Assisi is said to have spent the night on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The ruined walls around the settlement and the remains of the castle itself bare the scares of countless battles for control of the region between Spain and Portugal.
Another medieval destination to discover is the aforementioned Lamego, home to a beautifully embellished staircase outside the church. Elsewhere, narrow streets and imperious gates create a nostalgic atmosphere amidst which an annual Medieval fair brings the Middle Ages to life once again –complete with knights in armour and jousting tournaments.
Delicious Local Produce
Port wine is not the only local delicacy that gets consumed in great volume around these parts. This lush region also produces plenty of other food and drink options that you can sample during your cruise. Heading back to Lamego again for a moment, the town bottles its own rival to port in the form of Raposeira, a sparkling wine made from the same grape varieties originally used to produce Champagne.
The Côa Valley (the part of the Douro closest to the border with Spain) can boast an abundance of olives, almonds, and fruits used to make jam and marmalade. Join a tour to try some of these for yourself and see how Portugal can please your taste buds with much more than port.
If you would like to learn more about the Douro River cruises we have available, call the team on 0800 954 0064. You can also sign up to our mailing list so that you never miss the best offers and deals from every cruise line.