Get your bookings in early for the “River of Gold”

Question: Which river in Europe has the most ports? Answer: The Douro in Portugal, famous for serving the famous fortified wine at every stop.

This picturesque 560-mile waterway that flows from Spain to the Atlantic is increasingly being discovered by British cruisers – and not only for its drink.

Operators, who are seeing a sales surge, wax lyrically about the charms of the ‘river of gold’ – and their confidence is backed up by the launch of three new ships this year.

CroisiEurope, which already has a four-strong fleet on the Douro, is introducing Miguel Torga, a three-deck ship that can carry 132 passengers. It will offer eight-day cruises from Porto, stopping at Régua, Vega de Terrón, Ferradosa and Pinhão. A sister ship is already planned for 2019.

Gabrielle Alam, head of UK sales for CroisiEurope, said: “You sail through an ancient land of tiny villages clustered around historic churches, monasteries and castles.

Traditional boats - Porto - Portugal
Waterfront boats in Porto

“On a Douro cruise you can discover Baroque palaces and impressive manor houses, admire tranquil landscapes with vineyards stacked up the hillsides on narrow terraces, and watch rabelos – traditional cargo boats – heavily laden with casks of port wine.”

Riviera Travel is launching the Douro Elegance – and also chartering her sister ship, Douro Serenity, for some extra dates to boost capacity. On some sailings, guest can extend their adventure with a four-day stay in Lisbon from just £399 a person, including excursions with a tour manager.

Joseph Grimley, head of agency sales for Riviera Travel, said: “The Douro has continued to be the fastest-selling river in 2017 for us. We are mainly seeing it being booked as a third or fourth river cruise. Clients normally do their first river cruise on the Danube or Rhine, and then often go on to do the Rhône.’

Emerald Waterways is introducing the Emerald Radiance, to carry 112 guests from Porto to Vega de Terrón and Salamanca in Spain. Its eight-day Secrets of the Douro cruise includes Pinhão, home to some of the world’s best port.

AmaWaterways has a seven-night round trip from Porto. Jamie Loizou, its sales, marketing and digital director, said: “The Douro Valley can be enjoyed throughout the entire river cruise season. However, we would advise that the spring months are one of the best times to visit so guests can experience the blooming almond blossom and have the added benefit of a cool, welcoming breeze.

“September is also a great time, particularly for wine enthusiasts looking to witness the grape harvest. Either way, we recommend that guests book early as this itinerary sells out extremely fast, with only pockets of availability left for 2017.”

Scenic is promoting an eight-day cruise next year where guests have the opportunity to tour the award-winning Douro Museum in Régua and join an exclusive after-hours cocktail event hosted on the beautifully manicured terrace. They can also enjoy a traditional fado music performance at the Burmester Cellars in Porto while dining on Portuguese cuisine.

Old town - Porto - Portugal
Old town, Porto

Angela Sloan, head of sales UK for Scenic, said: “Portugal’s Douro is making huge headway as a popular choice for river cruisers looking for something new. A long sailing season, stunning scenery and authentic culture make it a logical follow-on from Europe’s popular Rhine and Danube itineraries, reflected by huge early interest in 2018 Douro cruises for Scenic.”

Viking has a ten-day trip from Lisbon to Porto – with an added trip to Salamanca – that includes the chance to bake traditional bread in a family bakery.

Head of sales Neil Barclay said: “Agents are encouraged to use the routes as a way to entice previous river cruisers back to explore new routes and take in destinations further afield. We have increased our training programme with agents to increase awareness and insight into the European river options.”

Lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan can enjoy a seven-night Saga cruise on Douro Princess that includes five onboard concerts of the pair’s music by expert hosts Matthew Craven and Judith Buckle. The cruise leaves Porto on August 2.

Saga is also running a seven-night singles-only cruise departing on November 15. Andrew Iwasyszyn, Saga’s head of specialist product and innovation, said: “All of our itineraries on the Douro are extremely popular and are all among our best sellers for river cruises. The Portuguese weather allows us to offer passengers an excellent choice of departures, with sailings available from March to November.”

APT, which has already sold out on Douro cruises for 2017, is introducing the 63-cabin Douro Serenity in June next year to sail eight-day cruises.

Angela Waite, its head of sales and commercial, said: “The Douro is a popular river for British travellers who seek sunshine, culture and stunning scenery. It’s an option for those looking for new places to explore.”

SALES TIPS

1 The Douro is a very popular river this year so book early

2 Most cruises start and end in Porto and many customers choose to add an extension to their cruise to properly tour this city

3 Customers can’t always visualise the rivers, so point-of-sale imagery of the key destinations helps highlight the areas they get to see

4 The Douro suits anyone interested in history and wine – and also people who have cruised before but are looking for a different experience

5 Shearings offers itineraries from April to September – early or late sailings are ideal for customers who don’t enjoy travelling during the hot summer Mike Bowers, national sales manager of Shearings Holidays

SELL IT

Shearings has a new seven-day itinerary sailing from Porto on May 9 and September 2 and 19 from £1,219pp. It includes a night in a Porto hotel, return air travel from the
UK, five-night cruise on Miguel Torga and drinks on board. 0844 209 7143 shearings.com

Uniworld offers a 13- day trip through Spain and Portugal, exploring Salamanca, Madrid and Toledo before boarding at Vega de Terrón. Prices starting from £4,629pp including selected excursions, complimentary drinks and airport transfers. uniworld.com/uk 0808 168 9231

For something different, Titan Travel has a ten-day itinerary between Porto and the Spanish border on The Spirit of Chartwell – the ‘royal barge’ that carried the Queen
during the diamond jubilee pageant on the Thames. Prices from £2,899pp include flights, two nights in Lisbon, seven-night cruise and Titan’s VIP door-to-door service. titantravel.co.uk 0800 988 5873

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