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A Douro river cruise on the ‘Royal Barge’ by Titan Travel

One of the many highlights of 2012 and the Jubilee celebrations was the magnificent Thames Pageant, led by Her Majesty The Queen aboard the luxurious ‘Royal Barge’ – the Spirit of Chartwell. Now making new history, the ship sails in the waters of the beautiful Douro River in northern Portugal. Exclusively chartered by Titan, I was invited (along with some of the Titan sales team and 22 travel agents) to experience a taste of what it may have been like for the Royal Party.

Day 1 – London to Porto

The TAP Air Portugal flight promptly departed Gatwick at the very civilised time of 4.40pm and after a pleasant two hour flight, on which we were served a snack, a glass of wine or a soft drink and a choice of tea or coffee, we arrived in Porto. The airline does not charge for 20kg of hold luggage and one piece of hand luggage. The coach transfer to the ship should only take about 20 minutes but due to bad traffic conditions we didn’t get on board until later. The Spirit of Chartwell is owned by DouroAzul, a Portuguese cruising company based in Porto that offers cruises on the beautiful Douro River Valley landscape, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, from Porto to Barca d’Alva on the Spanish border. The cruise starts at the Port Wine District mostly owned by the English.

We were warmly welcomed on board by the crew who offered us drinks-what else but port of course! Dinner was excellent with a choice on the menu and included drinks. Afterwards we went ashore and strolled around the pretty river front. Once back on board the pianist asked if we had any requests and duly sang and entertained us.

Day 2 – Porto – Régua – Pinhão

After a buffet breakfast (the waiters also offered a cooked option) we relaxed in the opulent surroundings of the Spirit of Chartwell as we cruised past scenic vineyards. In Régua we had an excursion to the wonderful Mateus Palace and Gardens. We rejoined the ship in Pinhão and later disembarked for a special dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 3 – Pinhão – Barca d’Alva

As we set sail towards Régua en route we visit Lamego, one of the most attractive cities in Portugal, and visit the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios. We admired great views from its elevated position and walk down to the city using an ornate staircase (700 steps) decorated with blue tiles. In the evening we dined alfresco with a Portuguese barbecue dinner with live music.

Day 4 – Porto to London

After a very early breakfast (served by the same waiters who were up late at the festivities the previous evening!) we were transferred by coach to Porto airport for our flight home.

Each of the 15 air conditioned outside facing cabins are sumptuously appointed with a writing/dressing desk, flatscreen TV, telephone, hairdryer and a safe. En-suite facilities include a walk-in shower, washbasin and WC. Bathrobes and slippers are provided. The distinctive chocolate and cream livery brings to mind a Pullman train. In the restaurant the seating is arranged from private dining with two seats facing each other to shared dining from tables of four to eight. The elegant teak observation deck has sun loungers with alfresco dining. There are no lifts on the vessel and it is not suitable for anyone with mobility difficulties as there are steep stairs down to the cabins.

Besides the wonderful experience of the river with fabulous scenery changing every few miles, the barge has been refurbished to a very high standard and everything is first class. The food is superb three set meals a day-not the 24 hour gluttony on some of the ships I have been on. The cuisine is freshly prepared on board by chefs using local produce. Our cabin was compact but, like the rest of the boat, spotlessly clean. The staff were friendly, efficient and extremely helpful. During the day the dress code casual. In the evenings no formal dress is required; however for the captain’s welcome dinner or the farewell cocktail men may choose to wear a suit and ladies a cocktail dress. No shorts are allowed in the dining room at night and swimwear is not permitted in public indoor rooms at any time.

The ship’s voltage is 220V and plugs are UK style; therefore no adaptor is required.

The language on board is English and the currency is the Euro.

The weather was hot at 29°C (with clear blue skies) but this was higher than Porto’s average of 15° in May.

Scenery 2

The Douro Valley

Sun Deck

Inside 3

 

Inside

Spirit of Charwell

Ship Plan
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