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Diary of a week on a Blue Water Holidays River Douro Cruise - cruising the 'River of Gold' through Portugal

Review of a week’s Blue Water Holidays cruise on the River Douro, Portugal’s ‘River of Gold’. Please note the itinerary may differ from the order below.

Day 1

Arriving at Porto airport we transferred by coach to the cruise ship moorings just upriver from the centre of Porto. Going aboard we were shown to our cabin, and shortly after our luggage was brought from the coach to the cabin.

Inspecting the ship we saw that our Middle Deck cabin was on the same deck as Reception and the Lounge. At the bar we used our credit card to buy a 50 euro Drinks Card. This is marked with boxes for various euro sums which are crossed off as wine or drinks are brought by the waiting staff.

The dinner menu was on display at Reception, so although there was a set menu the chef would happily provide alternatives and meet special diet needs. Dinner was an enjoyable three course affair, with dining tables for 6, 8 or 10 so that conversation was always possible. The dining room was on Main Deck level, with a lift to other decks.

After dinner we went by coaches for a tour of Porto by night. Our English speaking group had its own coach, with other coaches for French or Spanish speakers. After a tour of the riverside, with illuminated signs for the famous Port shipping houses, we were taken to the station! The walls of the large entrance hall were covered in blue hand-painted tiles depicting local scenes – best viewed later in the day when the station was quieter.

Day 2

After the self-service buffet breakfast our coaches set off for a tour of Porto by day, including guided tours of the superb church of St Francis with its superb altar and gilded wood carvings and the port trade’s ancient headquarters.

On the included visit to a Port wine house, in our case to the Ferreira cellar, our guide showed us the different types and ages of their port, with samples available! Moored along the harbourside were the colourful Rabelo barges of the port houses.

Being a French ship, excursions returned in time for lunch, with another three courses and full service. During lunch the ship set sail for Regua, with interesting views which we later enjoyed on deck in the sun, or in the shade under the sun roof, perhaps cooling off in the small swimming pool.

On the way to Regua we encountered our first lock. The Douro is noted for its few but extremely deep locks, all around 30 metres deep. As we were going up river we entered an empty lock, and gently rose to the higher level as it filled. The sun roof needed to be lowered to give enough headroom to exit the lock under its road bridge.

Reaching Regua there was a welcome drink and crew presentation before dinner, following which we were able to walk around this riverside town where we moored overnight.

Day 3

After breakfast we set off by coach through the hills to Lamego, noted for its pilgrimage church of Our Lady of Remedies overlooking the town. Pilgrims were known to climb the 640 steps on their knees, but we were taken by coach to the church from where we could walk down if desired. The famous Our Lady statuette is processed to town for religious Festivals. Lamego also has a fine cathedral and interesting market.

Returning to the ship for lunch we then cruised upriver to the Spanish border. The scenery became more intimate, with the hills and vineyards encircling the river as it narrowed, sometimes through rocky gorges. This fascinating cruising was best enjoyed on deck, with high locks to go through as the ship moved upriver.

Our ship reached the Spanish border at the village of Barca d’Alva, 200km from Porto, where we moored for the night by its attractively lit bridge.

Day 4

An early departure after breakfast for an all-day guided trip into the hills and across the plains to historic Salamanca in Spain. Starting by the old Roman Bridge in front of the Art Nouveau Museum the local guide showed us the Cathedral, the ancient University and the House of Shells, before continuing to the Plaza Mayor, the grand main square of the city, claimed to be the country’s finest. Lunch was included, with ample free time to explore the sights of Salamanca before returning to the ship.

Following dinner, we were treated to a Flamenco evening with a dance group from Salamanca.

Day 5

Cruising downriver through the morning riverscape, the silence and tranquillity highlighted the chatter of grape pickers in the vineyards. Soon we reached the first lock, but now we were going down. The lock is full when we entered, and as the lock empties we gently descended to the level below.

After a morning’s delightful cruise and a satisfying lunch we set off by coach along the Port Wine Road. Climbing into the hills we saw terraces of vineyards and reached a superb lookout point over the river far below.

Travelling through the vineyards we stopped off at the small village of Sao Joao da Pesqueira with its interesting village square and church. Our trip concluded with a visit to a port bottling centre before returning to meet the ship for overnight at the riverside village of Pinhao. One of the sights here is the blue-painted tiled walls at the station.

The evening’s dinner was the Gala Dinner, with the usual cruise sparkling dessert!

Day 6

After breakfast the ship set off for Regua, with a coach excursion going to the town of Vila Real and the Solar de Mateus. The Count de Mateus has sold rights to his famous wine but pictures of the house are still featured on the Mateus Rose bottle labels. The house itself has rooms with many historical connections, and its gardens are very attractive.

Ancient Vila Real has a Gothic cathedral and two Baroque churches, fine mansions, and an unusual computerised water fountain feature.

Meeting the ship at Regua, the cruise continued downriver to Porto, travelling on to the river mouth for a waterside view of Porto by night. The evening ended with a Fado performance – an acquired taste for many!

Day 7

This morning the ship provided a Rabelo barge for the short trip to Porto centre. Time to buy presents and explore the sights on our own.

After lunch there was a visit to the ancient religious town of Braga, noted for its many places of worship, and the third largest city in Portugal. The centre of Vinho Verde wine production, the town has rich architecture and pleasant pedestrian streets.

A Portuguese folk show after dinner provided a colourful and musical end to the cruise.

Day 8

After breakfast we transferred to Porto airport for our flight home.

River Douro MapRiver Douro Map
Our cruise base at PortoOur cruise base at Porto
Blue Water Holidays group in Douro river cruise ship dining roomBlue Water Holidays group in Douro river cruise ship dining room
Riverside at PortoRiverside at Porto
Inside a Douro river lockInside a Douro river lock
Douro river cruise ship loungeDouro river cruise ship lounge
Lamego, looking down from the pilgrimage churchLamego, looking down from the pilgrimage church
River Douro golden vineyardsRiver Douro golden vineyards Cruising the Upper Douro riverCruising the Upper Douro river Salamanca - Plaza MayorSalamanca - Plaza Mayor Flamenco dancers entertain our cruise passengersFlamenco dancers entertain our cruise passengers River Douro morning sceneryRiver Douro morning scenery River Douro vineyardsRiver Douro vineyards Solar de MateusSolar de Mateus Porto by night from the River DouroPorto by night from the River Douro A tiled building in PortoA tiled building in Porto