Douro river cruise guide
Gliding past terraces of emerald vines while sipping a glass of something grown and bottled nearby, you’ll find a cruise on the Douro a delightfully relaxing voyage.
This isn’t just down to the effects of the wine. There really is no need to rush. With just 124 navigable miles, mainly through Portugal from Porto to Vega de Terron, just over the Spanish border, the Douro is pint-sized in European river cruising terms.
While your cruise will be bookended by two thriving, fascinating cities – Porto and Salamanca – most ports of call are small and sleepy. Gorgeous scenic cruising, which is all done during the day so you won’t miss a moment, is punctuated by visits to picturesque villages and ‘quintas’, as the Portuguese call their wineries.
While the ports you stop at along the river are pretty standard across the board, cruise lines create variety by offering itineraries with different focuses.
If you’re feeling energetic, CroisiEurope has a specific Cruise & Hike departure with a choice of walking excursions, and Emerald Waterways includes activities from yoga to canoeing and hiking on its voyages. Solo travellers who’d like to sail with those in the same metaphorical boat can find dedicated departures from Saga Holidays and Riviera Travel.
Most cruise lines sail round-trip from Porto, with the most common duration seven nights. CroisiEurope offers shorter, five-night cruises, and Scenic has a bumper 10-night sailing. Most lines either include, or give the option to include, a pre/post stay in Lisbon. AmaWaterways and APT, which are unusual in offering one-way cruises from Porto to Vega de Terron and Barca d’Alva respectively, also give you the chance to add on time in Madrid, too.
Here’s a sample itinerary for a seven-night cruise:
Day 1: Join your ship in Porto and board for a welcome reception.
Day 2: Get a potted history of winemaking in the region at the Douro Museum in Régua, where you dock, or take an excursion to Lamego, an elegant Baroque town with a richly-decorated sanctuary chapel.
Day 3: Cruise on to Barca d’Alva and ascend by bus or foot to Castelo Rodrigo, a medieval fortified village set high above the plateau.
Day 4: Board a coach at Vega de Terron and visit Salamanca, Spain’s beauty-with-brains university city built from glowing golden sandstone.
Day 5: Pinhão is a sleepy town in the very heart of the Douro’s vineyards, and most cruise lines will carry you off to visit a quinta or two and taste the wines.
Day 6: Regua often appears twice in an itinerary. It’s the nearest port to Vila Real, home to the ornate Mateus Palace, which you might recognise from the Mateus Rosé label.
Day 7: Most itineraries allow at least a whole day in Porto as part of the cruise itinerary. Take a city tour, or an excursion out to historic Guimarães, which has an imposing castle.
Day 8: Disembark in Porto for your flight home, or to continue your trip.
Cruise lines that go there
The Douro’s popularity means most lines offer cruise on the waterway. Both Uniworld and Viking River Cruises have new ships launching on the river for 2020, and other lines offering cruises on the Douro include AmaWaterways, APT, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, Jules Verne, Riviera Travel, Saga Holidays and Scenic.
Pack layers. Temperatures can vary from place to place – it usually gets warmer the further inland you travel – but also within one day, with cool mornings and evenings. Don’t forget your swimsuit – most ships on the Douro have small pools.