Douro river cruises have been very popular this year, with more ships being launched to take guests along the waterway and more passengers choosing to discover the delights of Portugal. Last week, we took a trip to the city of Porto to see what all the fuss is about and take a closer look at one of the ships currently sailing this beautiful and much-loved river.
Upon arriving in Portugal’s second city, it was clear our visit had coincided with one of the rare days when the sun wasn’t shining. As the taxi driver told us, two weeks earlier the locals were basking in temperatures of around 25 degrees, but these were all but a distant memory as the rain drops fell by the bucket load. However, it’s a sign of an alluring destination when its sights still look impressive when they’re dripping wet. As well as his weather insights, the taxi driver also told us a bit about why visitors love Porto and the Douro region. The fantastic food, the friendliness of the people and, of course, the wide range of port wine available all made his list of why we should book a return trip to his home town.
After a brief transfer, which potential cruisers will be pleased to hear is very simple, we arrived at the river port. As he dropped us off, the taxi driver’s last words of wisdom were to tell us that this side of the river is known as Gaia whilst Porto city centre can be seen opposite. One of the first thinks we noticed, aside from the increasing sogginess of our shoes, was the fantastic Luis I Bridge, one of many that stretch across this part of the river. This iconic structure allows trams and pedestrians to cross on the higher level and cars and pedestrians to cross along the bottom. Whether you take them from the bridge or with it as the backdrop, the Luis I is sure to make an impact on your photos.
We headed down to the riverside where we climbed aboard Douro Cruiser, a vessel owned and operated by German company Nicko Cruises. Nestled alongside some of the other ships that ply this waterway (AmaVida and Queen Isabel), Douro Cruiser seemed perfectly built for the river she shares her name with. This means having a lower bridge and a narrower build so that she can easily glide under the bridges and through the many locks in her path.
Douro Cruiser is a modest ship but has everything you will need on a Douro river cruise. There’s a spacious sun deck complete with canopy and swimming pool, creating the perfect vantage point from which to admire the passing scenery. There’s a restaurant in which you can sample some of the regional specialities, whether it’s during a buffet breakfast or a three-course a la carte dinner. There’s a plush panorama lounge that offers great views of where the ship is headed, a small boutique for buying gifts and souvenirs, and the choice of balcony and non-balcony cabins in which to rest your head. And with a maximum of 130 guests on board at any one time, there will be plenty of space to relax.
After a fleeting visit, we exited the ship to see more of the port area. There are many shops and restaurants along both sides of the river, beckoning customers with anything from local to international cuisine. Pastel de Nata (Portuguese egg custard tarts) are sold in great numbers from delis and bakeries, whilst a variety of Rabelo Boats showcase the many different port producers in the city as they bob soothingly on the water. There’s also a cable car that can take you from the dock up to the hilltop, from which you can soak up the views or take a walk across the aforementioned famous bridge that welcomes you to Porto.
Although our trip was short, it was easy to see why river cruises in this part of the world are growing in popularity. Whilst we didn’t get to experience the glorious sunshine, everything else that Porto and the Douro have to offer was there for everyone to enjoy.