Portugal’s Douro River offers a fascinating voyage of discovery through dramatic landscapes filled with vineyards.
Discovered by the Romans, who named it the ‘River of Gold’, Portugal’s Douro is lesser-known than some of its European counterparts, yet it offers a unique cruising experience.
Rising in Spain and winding 125 miles through lush green landscapes until it reaches the Atlantic in Porto, the once fast-flowing waterway has been tamed by dams, including the cavernous 115ft-deep Carrapatelo lock, which is the deepest in Europe.
It is a particularly good time to sell the Douro, as four new ships debut in 2019 and there are new itineraries and experiences also on offer.
To set the scene for clients, point out that the Douro is very different from most European rivers due to its turbulent past. Aside from traditional rabelo flat-bottomed wooden boats once used on the perilous journey to carry port wine to Porto, it has never been a commercial artery, so no large cities grew up on its banks.
Instead, the UNESCO-listed Douro Valley offers stunning scenery and, mostly, coach excursions to places of interest. These include destinations along the Port Wine Route flanking the river, including wine lodges, where visitors learn about port production and enjoy tastings, along with Pinhao railway station, where the bright tiles depict wine-related activities.
All Douro cruises are seven-night round-trip itineraries from Porto to the Spanish border and shore excursions will typically include 18th century Regua, once the capital of the port-producing region, and the Solar de Mateus manor house set in beautiful gardens and famously depicted on the label of Mateus Rose wine.
Another highlight is honey-coloured Salamanca, Spain’s oldest university town, with its grand square and ornate old university building, where it’s fun trying to spot the tiny stone frog hidden in the facade.
AmaDouro, the 102-passenger sister ship to AmaVida, launches in April 2019 and most staterooms will have balconies. Seven-night sailings lead in from £2,381pp and agents can also offer three pre- or post-cruise stays in Lisbon. Also new for next year, AmaWaterways is offering the 10-night Flavours of Spain and Portugal itinerary, combining a cruise with a three-night stay in Madrid from £3,135pp.
Managing director Stuart Perl said: “Until now, capacity has proven problematic, with itineraries selling out months in advance. With this in mind, we are very excited about our new arrival, the AmaDouro. She is booking very well and will offer many of the facilities you would expect from AmaWaterways such as a fitness room, sun deck pool with swim-up bar and spa.
“Due to our relationships with La Chaine de Rotisseurs and fine wineries, our guests are naturally interested in food and wine, and AmaVida, with her award-winning cuisine and the Douro, with its range of vineyards, don’t disappoint.
“Additionally, there are plenty of opportunities to sample local specialities, such as enjoying a traditional home-cooked Portuguese meal ashore or watching a local cookery demonstration.”
Also launching in spring 2019 is CroisiEurope’s 132-passenger Amalia Rodrigues, the line’s sixth ship on the Douro and premium-rated sister vessel to Miguel Torga, which debuted last year.
In addition to the classic Porto round-trip sailing, CroisiEurope offers a seven-night Cruise & Hike itinerary where active clients can explore the unspoilt areas of the Alvao and Douro National Parks as well as vineyards. Departing 15 April 2019, cruise-only fares lead in from £1,502pp.
Riviera Travel will also unveil the 121-passenger Douro Splendour, providing fully escorted holidays with the services of a dedicated Riviera tour manager throughout. The ship is described as a “five-star boutique hotel” with three grades of cabins, a sun deck, swimming pool and spa.
New river experiences
Emerald Waterways has two new EmeraldACTIVE activities on its seven-night Secrets of the Douro itinerary. The on-board yoga classes and a guided canoe trip in Pocinho are included in fares, which start from £2,695, departing 20 July 2019. Agents should recommend clients upgrade to a balcony suite to benefit from an unlimited drinks package.
APT has a new Signature Experience on its eight-night Douro Delights itinerary. Passengers visit the 19th-century UNESCO-listed Palacio da Bolsa in Porto for a private tour, followed by a cocktail reception and performance of fado – the music associated with the sea. Available from May to September 2019, fares lead in at £3,195 and include an overnight stay in Madrid.
For a five-star, all-inclusive experience on the Douro, there is Emerald’s sister brand Scenic, with its luxury facilities and amenities. Uniworld also offers fully inclusive fares and talks on the region’s wine history, and dinner and tasting at a family-owned estate, as well as the opportunity to embark on a small boat cruise through a national park.
CroisiEurope offers a seven-night round-trip Porto cruise departing 4 and 11 April 2019 from £1,367pp. A five-night round-trip from April 30 2019 leads in from £1,111pp cruise-only.
Uniworld’s 10-night Portugal, Spain and the Douro River Valley itinerary features a three-night stay in Lisbon followed by a seven-night Douro cruise. Departing 2 May 2019, from £4,849pp cruise-only. Seven-night Porto-to-Porto cruise departing 5 May 2019 from £4,349pp.
Riviera Travel has a seven-night round-trip Douro, Porto & Salamanca cruise departing 5 April 2019 from £1,549pp, including flights and transfers.