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River Douro

Saturday

Flying with Easy Jet was actually a whole easier than we had imagined.  A very smooth check in with plenty of check in desks all open, so no queuing!

Our flight was on time and the needs of a client with wheelchair assistance flowed smoothly.

As we arrived into Oporto airport – a stunning new terminal, we went straight through to collect our luggage and meet our coach driver for our transfers to the boat.  We were met with a clear sign saying Ponders Travel, and then showed the direction of the coach which was a 1 minute walk away. In total from getting off the plane to getting all our group onto the coach was no more than 20 minutes – record timing I think!

We were then introduced to our guide and driver for the week.  A luxury comfortable Douro Azul coach again with Ponders Travel clearly marked remained with our group through the entire week.  Our journey to the boat was approximately 20 minutes, and during this time we were given some great detail on the town of Porto

We arrived on the boat and were all taken to our cabins – our luggage was taken for us from the coach direct into our rooms.

We then had the afternoon free to enjoy Vila Nova de Gaia.   Nice walks along the river bank allowing plenty of time for Port shopping!  For those that really like their wines I would recommend buying a bottle or two here as the ship allows you to have your own wine and charges just 8Euros to allow you to have your wine at dinner.

In the evening the crew on the ship held an informative briefing including safety, followed by a welcome cocktail and dinner.  We spent overnight in Vila Nova de Gaia

Sunday

A leisurely time sailing to Regua in the morning.  When you arrive here you can opt to walk around the town or take a tour.  There is not much in the tour – but there is an interesting museum to visit if you wish.  I would recommend the tour – Lamego and the Sanctuary of our Lady of Remedies

Lamego is a very old and historical city. Small but picturesque, warm and very charming, it houses one of the most important places of pilgrimage in the country: the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies. Built in the second half of the 18th century, it is a good example of the Portuguese Baroque style.

Embracing the whole city from top of the hill, its impressive staircase, with almost 700 steps, is beautifully decorated with enormous panels of blue and white tiles.

Besides the shrine, one can still visit the Cathedral or just wander around the narrow and winding streets of the town and watch the world go by in one of the outdoor cafés.

 

 

We spend overnight in Regua

Our journey is one full of colours, delightful scenery of travelling through many Dam’s.  A peaceful day where if the weather is good you will want to be up on the top deck just enjoying all that is around you.  Perfectly laid out vineyards with meter upon meter of differently coloured vines, creating picture perfect photo opportunities You will see one port vineyard after another – Taylors, Cockburn’s, Dows, Sandeman, Barros and Croft to name but a few.

We arrive in the sleepy town on Barca d’Alva at about 4.30pm to be met by a lady selling freshly grown almonds and honey.  The town has as many dogs as it does inhabitants.  You can walk along the riverside, to the oldest railway station in Portugal or just relax on board.

On Monday night you are invited to cocktails with the Captain and the Captains dinner

Tuesday is the longest and busiest day of the cruise – but a day in which I would recommend to all to take the excursion to Salamanca.  Our coach is waiting for us as we leave at 830am and take a 2 hour journey to the Spanish City of Salamanca.  It was joked about on the journey that we had to leave early to avoid the rush hour!  We actually did not see one vehicle for the first half an hour of the journey.  I would liken the scenery as we climbed the countryside to that of the Yorkshire Moors.  On our journey our guide shared the sights of black sheep, storks nests perched on church towers or telegraph poles and lots of interesting facts about the Spanish and Portuguese way of life.  Did you know that Bulls are colour blind so when a red rag is waved at them at the bull fight – it is purely the waving that causes the anger not the colour!

We arrive in Salamanca at 10.30 and have free time in the morning to explore this fascinating city that is steeped in history.  I would highly recommend going to visit the Museum of Art Deco and Art Noveau at just 2 Euros entry a real bargain

Here are the tour details

The morning starts early with a nice journey through the “Meseta Ibérica” that crosses the beautiful fields of Castile and Leon leading to the golden city of Salamanca.

In the morning, you will have free time, thus giving you the opportunity to do some shopping in the several souvenir shops, or just to sit under the shade of an outdoor café and taste a creamy Spanish coffee.

After the free time, a typical Salamanca lunch is waiting for you at the NH Hotel Palacio de Castellanos, located close to the Plaza Mayor.

After lunch, the walking tour will introduce you to a city that is World Heritage since 1988 and was Capital of Culture in 2002. Salamanca is one of the richest Spanish cities in the Middle Age, of Renaissance, Classic and Baroque periods.

Outstanding is its University, the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula. The Old Cathedral, a monument of Byzantine influence ordered to be built in the beginning of the 12th century, is of undeniable beauty together with the New Cathedral, which construction took 220 years (1513/1733). St Esteban Convent and the House of Shells (which façade displays about 400 shells) mix Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance styles and are other places that will impress you. The walking tour will end at Plaza Mayor, built between 1729 and 1855, being one of the most impressive squares all over Spain.

 

 

Lunch is included and we all meet up at a central hotel where we enjoy a flamenco show too!

There is an informative and interesting walking tour in the afternoon included in our tour and the highlights of this are the New Cathedral, the Main Square, The House of Shells and the University and Courtyard.

This is a long day – but well well worth it.  Highly recommended!  I think it is also important to say if you don’t do the tour there really is nothing to do in the port if you choose not to go.  However the ship does maintain a normal service so you can simply relax and enjoy a nice lazy day.  Overnight in Vega Terron

Wednesday

As we are still in Vega Terron there is an opportunity to take a morning tour to Costello Rodrigo.

Here are the tour details:

CASTELO RODRIGO

  

Imagine two places located next to each other that work like a time machine taking you a few centuries back into the days when Moors and Christians were still fighting or to even before the foundation of the Portuguese territory.

Castelo Rodrigo is an enchanted place with is medieval streets and its walls protecting the granite houses that are still home to many locals who are very proud to live in one of the very few historical parishes of Portugal (there are only ten). Also from the ruins of the castle you can have a look at the beautiful white village called Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo.

Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo lies at the bottom of the Marofa Mountain. It is a very hospitable place where people are still curious about outsiders since the place has been isolated for many years

In the afternoon we set sail to Pinhao

When we arrive here we are all taken for dinner at the Quinta da Carvalhas Vineyard – wine tasting can also be enjoyed here.  A fabulous venue high in the hilltops and fun to have our waiters from the ship serving us in a different venue (yes they come too!)

On route we stop to take photos at a lovely train station in Pinhao.

  

Overnight in Pinhao

Thursday

Morning we sail to Regua where a tour and visit to the Palace of Mateus and Gardens is a must.  A stunning old Palace full of mystic and history and the gardens are picture perfect.

THE PALACE OF MATEUS AND ITS GARDENS

After being introduced to the Douro, it is time to take you to a place that is located outside the riverbanks. So nothing could be better than visiting the Palace of Mateus and its Gardens.

We start with a tour by coach that shows you the hidden treasures behind the riverbanks. While you are riding in our panoramic bus, indulge yourself with the small picturesque villages amidst the grandiosity of the steep terraces that climb all the way up the mountains.  In this fabulous place, you will have the chance to discover with the local guide why the Mateus Rosé Wine is connected to this beautiful 18th century house. You will also find out that, although the property is still owned by the Count of Vila Real, the Palace has been transformed into a Foundation providing music summer courses.

We leave in the afternoon and sail to Bitetos and enjoy our farewell cocktail and crew farewell.  This evening, we again disembark and have dinner and enjoy a hearty Portuguese meal at the 14th-century former Benedictine Monastery of Alpendurada – a fabulous hotel (and in low season just 50Euros a night!!!!)

Friday

We sail for a couple of hours for our last trip on the river and arrive in Porto at 10am.  As our cruise was just 6 nights this was our last day and we disembarked at lunch time for our flight home at 2.45pm.  Again very easy travel arrangements which ran to perfection

A super trip.

Top tips – you don’t need to dress up – casual dress code is throughout.  One night – Captains Dinner was smart casual and a few dresses were spotted but overall a very casual dress code.

The tips – the boat suggest 12 Euros per day as a tip for all staff.  Please remember tips are your choice.  On the last night of the cruise there will be a white envelope left on you bed allowing you to place your money inside.   As you seal this no one knows how much you have put in – it is your choice!

Tours – I have been known to put people off of busying shore excursions on larger cruises, but for river cruising taking this particular cruise would be almost naked without the tour package.  Each tour was superb and really enhanced the cruise in every way.

Take comfy shoes for all the walking that is involved whilst on shore excursions

Treat yourself to some nice Port – this really is the home to the best port in the world

The balcony cabins are worth every penny – with a nice little area to sit and enjoy the continual stunning scenery.

The ship staff were some of the best I have experienced in travel.  You will be looked after very well and absolutely nothing was too much trouble.

I would rate the food as very high 3 star, with breakfast and lunch being my favourite meals.

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