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Cruising Portugal's Douro River

A River Cruise to Experience the Beauty, Culture, Food, and Wines of Portugal

To better explore the beauty and wines of Portugal, my husband and I booked Viking River Cruise's 10-day "River of Gold" journey to explore the Douro River. While sailing onboard the Viking Helgrim, it is impossible not to fall in love with the Douro River Valley. 

About Viking River Cruises

Viking is a family-owned company known for its cultural experiences on the world's rivers and oceans. I love the blend of culture, great food and wine, attention to detail, and comfort onboard the Viking ships. 

The Viking Longships on the Douro

Viking's Douro River cruises differ slightly from other river cruises because the boats are the smallest in Viking's fleet, each carrying only 106 guests. The Douro has low bridges and often shallow water, so boats have been specially fitted to give you the best experience as you explore one of Europe's oldest wine regions. 

Exploring Lisbon Before the Cruise

To begin your Douro River cruise, you will fly into Lisbon, where you will explore for the first two days before heading to the boat. 

We stayed at the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa. We had a lovely room, enjoyed the exquisite rooftop Sky Bar, and found the hotel centrally located, making it easy to explore Lisbon on foot. 

One of my favorite things about sailing with Viking is that at least one tour at each stop is included at no additional charge. This was also available in Lisbon. We explored the history of Portuguese explorers with a local guide provided by Viking. We started at the impressive Jeronimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the Maritime Museum. Our day ended with a visit to the market and a walk back to the hotel past sidewalk cafes. 

Embarking on the Cruise in Porto

After a bus ride that included a stop in the medieval university town of Coimbra, we boarded our boat in Porto. One of Europe's oldest cities, Porto is a charming town on the banks of the Douro River. The historic city center is a UNESCO site and a European Capital of Culture. The city is home to six massive bridges, two designed by Gustave Eiffel. 

Porto is best-known for its famous port wine, which you can explore on one of the port wine tours. I'm not a fan of port, so we opted instead to explore the city. We were docked on the south bank of the Douro River at Vila Nova de Gaia. From there, we took the gondola to the upper level of the famous Luís I Bridge, explored the city, then took the funicular back down the mountain to walk along the river and make our way across the bridge's lower level, back to the ship. 

Exploring the Douro River

The Douro River runs 557 miles through Spain and into Portugal, making its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Along the Douro, you'll see beautiful old villages, vineyard-covered hillsides, and the massive oaks that supply Portugal's cork industry. 

As you leave Porto and enter the Alto Douro Wine Region, you'll see beautiful wine estates and magnificent gorges with steep banks. I enjoyed stopping in quaint villages along the way. One day, we stopped in Regua, home to Casa do Douro, the headquarters of the Port Wine Institute. 

Another day, we stopped at Barca d'Alva, the last Portuguese town on the Douro River. It sits a few hundred yards from the Spanish border, surrounded by cherry, almond, and olive groves.

While docked in Barca d'Alva, we took a short ride of about 12 miles to visit the stunning medieval village of Castelo Rodrigo. The tiny hilltop fortress town is filled with cobblestone streets and 16th-century houses. We made our way to Sinagoga Street, home to the Jewish community established here by refugees escaping the Spanish Inquisition. We ended our visit looking over the valley while sipping a glass of local wine. 

Foods in Portugal

The food in Portugal wowed me from the moment I arrived. My first dinner in Lisbon, at Cervejaria Liberdade in our hotel, served a seafood rice stew that still makes my mouth water thinking about it.

Good food continued on the cruise. One evening, we feasted on a hearty Portuguese buffet. Other nights brought regional specialties, from grilled Mediterranean octopus to seared lamb, port wine pudding to Iberian cured ham—all paired with Douro wines.

Excursions also let us sample local flavors. My favorite was the bakery in the village of Pinhão. There, the baker made the most amazing bread in a traditional wood oven—and we sampled the hot loaves fresh from the oven. 

A Douro River cruise in Portugal is truly a journey for all the senses.

While sailing onboard the Viking Helgrim, it is impossible not to fall in love with the Douro River Valley.

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