7 Night Cruise Through The Douro Valley
• Day 1 • After arriving at London Gatwick North Terminal for our morning flight to Porto, having already checked in online, we were able to do the new bag drop facility. It is in the main area by check in but is now computerised, meaning a quicker process for bag drop passengers. 3 hours later we arrived in Porto, the sun was shining, which following the weather we have recently had in the UK, was well welcomed.
We were greeted in arrivals by two friendly smiling representatives of AmaWaterways with passenger names on a clip board. In total there were 11 passengers arriving on our flight. The transfer coach was a brand new luxurious 49 seater coach, with leather seats and the utmost of comfort. It took only 25 minutes to reach the ship, which is docked in the heart of Porto - Vila Nova de Gaia. With the sun shining down on the ship and the stunning backdrop, we knew this was the start of a very good trip.
We were warmly welcomed in reception by the Hotel Manager and the reception team who swiftly checked in all of the passengers and were then escorted to our cabins with luggage service provided.
We are in cabin 107 which is a D grade on the first passenger deck. The cabin is well appointed with plenty of storage and cupboard space, with room for our huge cases to be stored under the bed. The bathroom has the additional features of L’occitane toiletries, storage space and a corner shower which is spacious. The picture window in the cabin is above chest height but still allows the natural light and stunning views into the cabin. One of the main features in the cabin is the 42” TV/Internet system, this features the newest released movies, music channel, internet access and games.
After unpacking we headed straight up to the sun deck to take some pictures of the beautiful scenery surrounding the ship. The sundeck is very modern contemporary with wicker sun loungers, tables and chairs - there is plenty of space for the number of guests onboard and even a shaded area for those who wish to stay out of the sun (unlike us). The pool is raised from the deck and is the largest pool we have within our fleet. The pool is heated and temperature controlled.
Watching the world go by it was then time to attend the welcome drinks in the main lounge. The lounge has seating enough for all passengers onboard and have a small dance floor where there is an in house pianist who will serenade guests in the afternoon and evening. The lounge decor is very warming and the colours used fit in perfectly with the surrounding areas - terracotta, browns and cream colours. We were treated to a champagne reception and were introduced to the Cruise Manager, Hotel Manager and other managers of the teams onboard.
The Cruise Manager talked us through the next days activities and what to expect, while the Hotel Manager talked us through the health and safety measures onboard along with some tips for the internet which is offered complimentary within the public areas and within cabins.
At 7pm we were then welcomed into dinner, the restaurant is light and airy and has two amazing Al Fresco dining sections which hold 16 guests on each side of the restaurant. These areas need to be prebooked but are complimentary. The menu is different to the main service, I will report back once we have had the opportunity to dine in this area. We were spoilt for choice with the menu for the welcome dinner, for Appetizers there was a choice of Shell mussels with peppers in balsamic vinaigrette, Crepe stuffed with goat cheese and rocket leaf or Mixed salad, for main course the choices were divine - Coast Seabass sautéed with mixed vegetables, Duck Leg confit with duchess potato and sautéed cabbage or Red lentils in a vegetable consommé. On top of these options there are the standing orders which has the choice of salmon, steak or chicken with salad or chips. We opted for a steak option and seabass - both of which were truly delicious. We finished our meal off with melba peach, now I’m not one for desserts but I could have eaten about 5 of these they were that good. Included throughout the meal was wine, beer and soft drinks, all of which are free flowing and the wines are chosen to compliment the meal choices.
Feeling very full and thinking that this is all too good to be true, we went up to the main lounge to watch the evening entertainment - Portuguese Tuna Show. Now this had nothing to do with fish.....it was a 15 strong Portuguese University group of young men who serenaded us through the evening with traditional sounds of Porto. They had guests up dancing and participating with the evenings events, we watched on and enjoyed relaxing and falling into the way of the Douro river. 11 pm came and it was time for bed......we set sail at 7:45 in the morning to our first port of call - Regua...
• Day 2 • The morning began at 7am with an excited opening of the curtains to find a dense mist and grey start. The temptation to get back into the soft fresh crisp linen sheets in our very comfortable cabin was there but we were setting sail at 7:45 out of the beautiful Porto to start our journey through the winding lush river Douro wine regions.
Our first stop was of course the dining room, we chose a table for two to enjoy the sumptuous selection of hot and cold breakfast choices including, freshly made omelettes and poached eggs, along with fresh fruits, pastries, cereals, meats, cheeses and cooked breakfasts. What a great selection of juices from pineapple, orange, apple and grapefruit. The buffet is help yourself and waiter service for tea and coffee.
After filling ourselves up on far too much pastry we headed up to the main lounge to take in the surrounding rolling hills and lush greenery as we departed Porto and sailed under 5 of the most spectacular bridges, some are still in use and others are only for foot passengers. The Douro River begins its course in the Sierra de Urbion in Spain and flows for 576 miles in a westerly direction through a series of stunning gorges on its way to Porto and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Cruise Manager gave a talk on our tours planned for the afternoon, there was a choice of going for an afternoon of port wine tasting at Quinta de Seixo or an explorer tour which there is no extra charge for and included a visit to the Quinta de Seixo and a picnic lunch. Of course we opted for the port wine tasting.
It got to around 11:30 and all of a sudden the mist had lifted and left the bluest sky Alison and I have seen for a long time! There was not a cloud in the sky. All of the guests had the same idea and headed up to the sun deck to get the full true experience of meandering along the Douro. The sun loungers are cushioned with the rich colour of burnt orange and are so comfortable you cannot help but lay back, relax and with a deep breath take in the scenery which surrounds you. Over the past month, there has been a lot of rain in Portugal and this has brought the rolling hillsides to life early as this time of year they are not always as green, they are spectacular.
Unfortunately for Alison and I we fell far to easily into this way of life and had a cheeky snooze on deck - waking up to a heat that was 24 degrees and a not so attractive T-Shirt tan, this has lead to lots of attention from our fellow passengers, along with us taking a very refreshing dip in the pool.
Along our journey we approached one of the 5 locks that the Portuguese section of the river has, the highest lock on Carrapatelo Dam has a maximum lift of 35 metres making it one of the deepest in Europe. I have done river cruising before but have never experienced such a vast lock. It took approx 30 minutes to pass through the first lock, at which point we then went for our lunch in the main restaurant. There are light snacks available in the main lounge if you decided not to have the full courses available.
We have a delicious pasta dish with fresh pesto which was cooked in front of guests at the cooking station. The selection of fresh salads are quite believable, from fresh octopus to goats cheese and even a selection of fresh homemade dressings.
Included within the lunch is ice tea and water options, any other drinks required at this time are payable onboard. There was a special selection of ice creams and sorbets, vanilla, mango and lemon, all of which Alison tried and adored.
Our afternoon tour began with a 30 minute coach ride along the Douro where you are able to see passing railways which are still in use today and run along the front of the river. We arrived at Quinta de Seixo ready for our tour of the ‘Quinta’ this means Estate. The estate produces Sandeman port wines and works with some of the local vineyards to keep up with the demand of their very moorish port wines. After trying out the white and red options of the port wine the time had come to head back to the ship and dress for our evening onboard.
We had prebooked our evening to dine in the Al Fresco area and chose from the menu......Mushroom parcel to start, Monkfish with sautéed greens and a beetroot crisp followed by a crème caramel desert. All we can say is WOW. We recommend that all guests definitely prebook this option as it is not to be missed. Of course, all of the wines served matched the courses perfectly.
The evening was then closed with a traditional folklore show made up of both men and women from Portugal and this is not usually the way they perform, they are usually only allowed to perform with men or women, not a mixed group. The singing and music was very entertaining, Alison even lead the conga around the main lounge with the host from the band. We have an exciting agenda for the next visits...
• Day 3 • So we are off to the small town of Lamego for a visit to the Sanctuary for a morning tour. The coach ride took 30 minutes through some of the most picturesque scenery we have seen yet. There are many winding roads along the Douro and the coach drivers do such a great job as many of the roads are very narrow and steep.
Arriving in Lamego, a very busy small town set back from the Douro, we visited the Sanctuary which is an old chapel dating back to......There are 660 steps leading down to the town centre, there were options to go down by coach or to walk, we opted to walk off the delicious breakfast we had consumed before the tour. The views from the top steps was quite daunting as you could see lots of levels of stairs winding down in sets of approximately 10 at a time. We started our decent and before we knew it we arrived at the bottom, it was much quicker then we thought, on the way down there are tiled murals every few levels which definitely takes your mind off of how many stairs there are.
A short walk down the road to our next wine tasting visit and what a beautiful setting it was. What seemed like a small shop from the front opened out into gardens with high tables and benches for all of the guests to relax. The sun was shining and the wine was sparkling (my favourite!). Alison and I felt we owed it to our readers to try all three on offer, a white, rose and sweet option - our favourite being the sweet :)
Following the wine tasting we had free time to explore Lamego and we chose to wander through the markets, town and visit their oldest cathedral.
We headed back to the ship to indulge ourselves in yet more delicious cuisine for lunch. I had the pasta option of carbonara while Alison opted for a standing order and chose burger and chips, and I quote - Alison said ‘this is the best burger I’ve ever had’.
We set sail for our next port of call - Pinhao. We sailed through another lock which seemed even larger then the last. Along the Douro there are many small villages with a handful of homes, they are very pretty white and terracotta in colour, with the backdrop of lush green rolling hills. We of course made use of the pool to enjoy the views and peaceful sailing.
Arriving in Pinhao we had an evening excursion planned to the Quinta da Assendra. It took us approximately 45 minutes to get there, we were travelling up the steep hills and when we arrived we were greeted by a local band and a glass of muscat. The owner, Luis Barros came to meet all of the guests and welcomed us to his Quinta, we had a guided tour of the 100 year old warehouse.
• Day 4 • We woke up to the beaming sunshine through the window, I honestly believe there is no better way to wake up!
Leaving the ship to meet the coach at Pinhao’s old railway station we set off at 9am for the visit to the beautiful Mateus Palace just outside the city of Vila Real. The journey was approximately 45 minutes and had the most stunning scenery scaling from lush vineyards to small estuaries of the Douro. We were able to stop for a photo opportunity that overlooked the town of Pinhao.
We arrived at Mateus Palace with an air of excitement as the coach is not able to drive into the grounds and stops at the side of the entrance where there are tall trees shielding the Palace until you turn a left bend and there it is, standing tall with the sun shining behind, the Palace really is a picture. It was built in the 19th century and was designed by Nicolau Nazoni. We were able to have a tour in the private grounds where the gardens are some of the best kept gardens I have ever seen, including the famous ‘Cedar Tunnel’ which is made of cedars grown to form a walk through tunnel and is a 100 metres in length. We formed small groups to tour the inside of the Palace where half of the building is still occupied by The Count who is the 7th Count of Vila Real. We were able to see the library, the four seasons room, the ball room, the ladies tea room and the dining room, all of which had a magnificent ceiling and floored carved out of chestnut, the reason for this is that termites do not like the smell. There were numerous ancient artefacts and relics of various saints preserved within areas of the Palace which are displayed for public viewing. The grounds of Mateus Palace are very grand and there is a pond in front of the Palace which when the sun shines and the wind is calm mirrors the Palace.
Arriving back at the ship we indulged ourselves in yet another amazing meal including the veal option for Alison and I opted for the rustic salad and four cheese pasta followed by another selection of icecreams, today it was strawberry, chocolate and vanilla... Mmmmm what a choice, we went for all three :)
After the delicious lunch we were advised of a slight schedule change to the sailing due to the very high waters that are currently occurring on the Douro. The waters have not been this high for decades and the authorities have advised that not all of the locks will be open for us to make our journey to Vega Terron which is the furthest port of call on the Douro. The ship has been very efficient in dealing with this and have rearranged our visits to offer a Douro Museum visit for the afternoon and then for tomorrow there is a coach excursion to Salamanca.
We started our journey back to Regua to visit the Douro Museum, when we arrived we were greeted by the host who lead us through the museum and informed us of the heritage of The Douro River and the Port Wines. The area had been producing port wine for almost 2,000 years and the Alto Douro Wine Region is classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, port wine can only be produced within this area. The museum is definitely a must see and we learnt so much about the heritage of the region.
We embarked the ship to dress for the Captains cocktail party and dinner. We were welcomed into the main lounge with a glass of champagne, some guests had opted for a jacket and tie while others had a shirt, the evening was very relaxed and with no set dress code, guests can feel comfortable in what they decide to wear. We continued to the restaurant to have our meal... An amuse bouche of melon and parma ham followed by a choice of appetisers including a local cheese salad or salmon tartare, a soup course of tomato or fish bisque and then we were treated to a pallet cleaner of black vodka and lime sorbet. For main we had the choice of spinach and ricotta cannelloni, grilled cod with vegetables and potatoes but we opted for the punched potatoes with vegetables and grilled Portuguese steak - it was divine. We followed tradition and ended the meal with a performance by the waiters and maitre d as they brought out the baked alaska. The whole meal was true recognition of how hard the chefs and staff work, it was all so scrumptious.
We finished the night off in the main lounge excited about our tour to Salamanca in the morning...
• Day 5 • It was an early start for our trip to Salamanca, we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us from Regua, usually the trip departs from Vega de Terron and takes approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes. We set off at 8am from the ship, there was a special early breakfast laid on for guests that had decided to go on the trip. We were not sure if the ship would make it to Vega de Terron or if we would have to drive back to the ship in Regua due to the high waters. We crossed the Spanish boarder within 2 hours of the drive and stopped at some services for everyone to stretch their legs and have a comfort break.
Within what seemed like no time at all we arrived in Salamanca just before 12 noon. Spanish tradition continues in Salamanca and at weekend the locals have a siesta, usually from 2pm through until 4 or 5pm they close and enjoy lunch with their families. We had free time when we arrived to explore the city and we decided to do a touch of local shopping, there were lots of shoes, clothes and jewellery shops. We didn’t purchase anything except for a local doughnut and bottle of sparkling wine which we wanted to try.
We had an organised lunch at the Hotel Alameda Palace which is just off one of the main shopping streets. We were welcomed into the grand dining room which had a glass roof and the walls were floor to ceiling mirrors. We were served a three course meal of tuna nicoise, traditional paella for the main course and then a vanilla ice-cream and fruit cream sponge for dessert, all of which went down very well with the guests, we were also provided with a choice of white or red wine with lunch too.
Following our lunch it was time to burn off the calories on our guided tour of the city with a local guide who’s expertise in the area were truly outstanding. We toured the old part of the city starting in the hustle and bustle of Plaza Mayor, the main square where lots of students were relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere of the square. We continued to the old university where we were told of the history of students and the multicultural lecturers and professors. We were lucky enough to visit Escuelas Menores a small arched patio area which is home to the a 15th century fresco showing zodiac constellations, from here we went through the cobbled streets and found ourselves at the new cathedral where we were able to tour the inside. It took over 200 years to build the new cathedral and there are signs of the new times on the front structure, an astronaut, a bull and smiling devil with an icecream, these symbols are to show modern times within the old traditions. We finished our tour and headed back to the hotel for refreshments and to be advised that the ship had sailed the full length of the Douro as planned and we would be embarking in Vega de Terron which was 2 hours away. Everyone was happy.
Arriving back on the ship we got dressed for dinner and had a fantastic meal of vegetable tagliatelle to start, Alison and I both opted for the steak option which is on the standing orders, however there was a very delicious looking main of blackened pork with chestnut puree and green beans. To finish we had chocolate cake with fresh berries, and of course the wine complimented the meal and was free flowing.
The evening entertainment was Spanish flamenco dancers, there were three ladies who wowed us all with their fierce and coordinated dancing skills. The ladies changed through their performances and each and everyone of their dresses were just beautiful. After a long exciting day it was time to go to bed for a day onboard tomorrow sailing.
• Day 6 • We set sail from Vega de Terron for our next port of call - Betitos at 645am. We had a whole day of scenic sailing ahead of us. We enjoyed another great breakfast and decided to go up to the main lounge to take in the scenery. We had our disembarkation briefing at 11 am where the Cruise Manager told us about the plans and details of checking out as well as transfers. A board was put in the main reception area with cabins numbers and all guests onward details to find out what time we would be transferred for our ongoing travel plans. We will be picked up at 11:30 on the 23rd April for our flight back to Gatwick which is due to leave at 14:35.
After the briefing we decided to have some time up on deck to enjoy the landscape of the upper Douro. The weather was perfect - 23 degrees, through the whole week we have been so lucky with the weather, not one drop of rain so far! There were many of the guests who had the same idea as us and enjoyed the sunshine as we made our way along the Douro. Our journey took us through 4 locks of Pochinho, Valeria, Bagauste and Carrapatelo. On the Douro you are only allowed to pass through the locks during the daytime, this is the reason the ship does not sail in the evening.
Before we knew it, lunch was being served and we indulged ourselves with pumpkin soup, spaghetti bolognese and then a traditional option of a minced beef, beetroot and onion pattie served with salad and potatoes. We chose the ice-cream for dessert and there were even more flavours, tangerine, cream and lemon.
During the afternoon one of the chefs came to the main lounge to do a cooking demonstration on Pataniscas de Bacalhau, this is a like a mini fish cake made with cod. This was great fun and was so easy to make, we have attached the recipe for you to try at home! Following the demonstration we then had a Portuguese lesson, learning the basics and differences between the Spanish and Portuguese languages.
We arrived at Bitetos and were going for dinner at Alpendurada Monastery. This is set only 15 minutes from the ship by coach. Upon arrival we were greeted by staff from the Monastery and then by the restaurant team from the ship and given a slight sparkling wine and guided out to the terrace which had the most breathtaking views along the Douro and grounds. The sun had just set behind the green hills and we were welcomed to dinner. It was a traditional rustic meal of vegetable soup, followed by roasted pork and potatoes and finished with crème brulee. The wine was again perfectly matched to the meal. We were lucky enough to have a walk around the Monastery where there are lots of grand furniture and chandeliers. There are documents that date from the 13th century though it is said that the foundations are almost a thousand years old. Today, it is a hotel and restaurant.
After a fantastic evening we went back to the ship by coach and decided to call it a night ready for our tour in Porto tomorrow.
• Day 7 • We set off early to sail back to Porto, our final destination for the cruise. We arrived into Porto 10am, and headed off for our city tour by coach and walking, this is a great way to see the sights as it is quite spread out. We stopped off at Porto’s Cathedral which at the time had a Mass taking place, it was very grand and had great views over the city. Our next stop was the Sao Bento Train Station, which had a stunning tiled interior that showed scenes of Portuguese history. We also drove down the Avenida dos Aliados, where there were lots of of shops and art noveau buildings dating back almost 100 years. Along the way we also saw Robeira district UNESCO World Heritage Site a famous and lively area of the riverside.
Porto is such a pretty city and the docking location of the ship gives you the extraordinary views over to the city.Our last stop was the home of Burmester Port Wine, with a tour of their original cellars and tasting of three of their Port Wines, a white, tawny and ruby port.
After lunch onboard we had free time in which we walked around the port area, other options were to go back to the city centre by a complimentary shuttle bus, or you could try the cable car right besides the port, it costs 5 Euros for a single ticket or 8 Euros for a return, this would give you amazing views over Vila de Gaia and Porto.
We had our farewell drinks in the main lounge where we were able to say goodbye to all of the staff onboard and to see some of the staff who work so hard behind the scenes.
We went for our final meal which I think has to be the best yet... I went for mushroom quiche to start while Alison chose smoked ham salad, we both opted for the roast lamb with roasted potatoes and green beans and then ice-cream to finish.
We went up to the main lounge to have one last drink before bed and ended up dancing the night away with some guests we have met during our stay. What a perfect way to end the cruise.
It has been such a great week, so many places to see and experience... How often do you get the chance to dine in a converted 13th century monastery, over indulge in port wine and see breathtaking scenery while relaxing onboard a beautiful ship!
Find your AmaWaterways Douro river cruise at www.rivercruising.co.uk
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