From my time starting and ending our Camino trip in Portugal, I’m inspired by our time in Porto, and this week I share about river cruising on the Douro River…
River Cruising on Portugal’s Douro River
Beginning in the mountains of central Spain, the Douro River meanders into Portugal before setting off for the Atlantic Ocean, carving through the north of the country. It emerges into the ocean in Porto, Portugal’s second city and one of the nicest places to visit in the whole of Europe. Porto makes for the perfect start or end point for any Douro River cruise, but there are countless other places you’d want to visit along the river. Places such as Regua and Pinhao are often neglected by travelers to Portugal, who tend to head south, to Lisbon or the Algarve. But the north of the country has much to offer, even more so if you see it all from the water. Here are some of the must-visit destinations to be found along the Douro.
Porto rises up on the hillsides of the Douro estuary and is guaranteed to mark either the start, end, or both ends of your Douro River cruise. Known as the “City of Bridges” thanks to its location on either bank of the Douro, it is a truly spectacular city to explore. Porto does a remarkable job at blending the old with the new. The UNESCO-listed historic quarter of the city is a warren of narrow streets and impressive architecture, whilst the riverside areas are bright and modern, with a host of cafes, bars and restaurants to keep visitors entertained and well fed.
You’ll also want to head to Foz do Douro, the exact spot where the river ends its 897km journey to the Atlantic. The long promenade is home to even more restaurants and swaying palm trees, with a pergola that is inspired by the beautiful Promenade des Anglais in Nice – in fact, it is an almost exact copy. The Mayor of Porto’s wife fell in love with the city in the 1930s and insisted that the same glitz and style be brought to Porto! The old lighthouse still stands tall and proud just out to sea, having only been deactivated back in 2009. All in all, you’ll find yourself wanting to extend your stay in Porto, one of Europe’s greatest hidden gems.
Regua is the home of port wine, a fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley. There are numerous wineries across the region. During your Douro River cruise, you are almost certain to stop once or twice in the municipality in order to attend a tasting session at one of these wineries. You’ll try different types of port, sometimes paired with different cheeses such as cheddar, blue cheese and parmesan – guaranteed heaven for any food fanatics out there. The scenery in this part of Portugal is to die for, as the river carves its way through rolling hills. There are numerous viewpoints along the way and if you have time to trek into the countryside for a couple of hours then it is strongly recommended.
The cathedral city of Lamego is also worth a stopover, and features on many cruise itineraries. The cathedral itself is a wonderful piece of architecture, and the city is renowned for a certain type of sparkling wine which you’re sure to try if you visit. Particularly stunning is the Church of Our Lady of the Remedies, which an enormous Baroque staircase of 691 stairs, with a blue and white tile design.
An unassuming village near the border with Spain, Barca d’Alva is best known for the Douro Railway, which established the first rail link between northern Portugal and its neighbor, greatly helping with the development of the region. Barca d’Alva is largely an agricultural area, punctuated with olive groves and vineyards and . the countryside scenery is simply sublime.
One attraction you will likely visit as part of your cruise itinerary is the fortified village of Castelo Rodrigo. A maze of narrow streets and towering walls, this hilltop fortress offers amazing views over the surrounding area and is well worth a visit.
Located at the confluence of the Douro and Pinhao rivers, Pinhao is a small, rural town at the heart of Portugal’s wine country. Like Regua, wine tasting is the name of the day here, but the pretty riverside town is also a great place to relax with some traditional food. It is a sleepy place for most of the year, but if you time your visit with the months of autumn then it will coincide with the annual grape harvest, when the town bursts into life and the population swells, as people from all over Portugal come to help out with the harvest.
Although it lacks some of the iconic attractions of rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube, a Douro River cruise opens up a window into a lovely and often neglected part of Europe. Northern Portugal offers reliable summer weather, breath-taking scenery, and delicious wine. Plus, in Porto, visitors will find a modern city bursting with things to see and do. A Douro River cruise then, offers the best of both worlds.