In June of 2022 my husband and I joined Tauck for eight days on Villages and Vintages: Cruising the Douro River Valley. Throughout my years of cruising, the Douro Valley is among the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. The river runs along 557 miles of vineyards that cling to hillsides dotted with historic farmhouses and chapels – all leading you to idyllic villages seeped in evidence of the earliest inhabitants of the land. In 2001, UNESCO declared a substantial section of the Douro Valley a World Heritage Site and today the region is known for having the world’s best-loved dessert wines and table vintages. Tauck took us to a total of five historical towns, each one charming and unique in its own way – from the scenery, history, and of course, wine. Tauck’s hospitality was stellar, and everything was truly five-star.
There are a few different ways to get from New York City to Porto. I would recommend, unless you are in Europe, to fly non-stop from NYC to Lisbon and have a driver take you to Porto. The drive takes about three hours along the coast and leads through beautiful beaches, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, national parks, royal palaces, and more. We flew through Paris and landed in Porto with a VIP meet and greet at each stop and an easy transfer to the stunning city at the mouth of the Douro River, Porto.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon and is world famous for its, you guessed it, port wine. Porto is among the world’s top 100 cities with the most international visitors and is jammed full of progressive culture created from a liberal revolution that has crafted the city into an industrial powerhouse. The city sits high above the mouth of the Douro River and is surrounded by a wall that dates to the Middle Ages. Before boarding, we joined a Tauck guide for a tour of the city and visited the eight-century old Cathedral, Museum of Sacred Art and Archeology, and a baroque church. Prior to boarding I recommend visiting The Wine Institute for wine lovers, the Rua Santa Catarina for shoppers, and the indoor market hall, Marcado do Bolhao, is a must for foodies! The views from the Porto Cathedral are stunning, overlooking the winding alleys in the Ribeira neighborhood zipping toward the banks of the river – right where we were headed! While there we got to take a peek at InterContinental Porto Palacio Hotel. This property is centrally located, steps away from the historic center, Cathedral, Dom Luis Bridge, and Ribeira Square – the perfect place to stay!
Along the Douro sits traditional Portuguese Rabelo boats, street artists, local craftsmen and cafes, and our stunning ride, the M.S. Andorinha. The ship took six years to build as it was designed by Tauck and Scylla specifically for cruising to the picturesque villages and historic estates along the Douro River. The ship was named after a swallow, which has a special significance in Portuguese culture. They are unique migratory birds that mate for life and no matter how far they travel, they always return to the same nest.
The ship holds only eighty-four passengers, ensuring maximum care and attention on board, the Tauck standard. Our cabin had floor to ceiling windows, and I was impressed at the size of the bathroom! We had a walk-in shower and a great amount of closet space. Between stops we enjoyed the historical lectures and cooking demonstrations onboard and the nightly entertainment of music and Spanish Flamenco dancing was amazing. You must try the traditional Portuguese sandwich, francesinha!
As we sailed deeper into the mountain landscapes, charming historic villages revealed themselves among vast vineyards and landscapes. On our third day on the ship, we were treated to a lovely private dinner with wine pairings at Quinta do Portal, a family run estate in the Cima Corgo region.
At our stop in Pocinho, we visited the medieval hilltop village of Castelo Rodrigo that overlooked the vast plateaus of central Portugal and the Douro. The village had cobblestone roads, small shops, and local bars. Here we also travelled to the Museum of Art and Archaeology of the Côa Valley and saw rock art from the Paleolithic era.
We explored Pinhão, known as the gateway to the valley’s vineyards, with a hilltop hike through vineyards and ended the day with a visit to a local wine-making estate, Quinta da Pacheca. This was incredible!
For those who like adventure, Tauck arranged a thirteen-mile bike ride through the Vinho Verde region to the charming, and what feels like hidden, town of Amarante. There are several rest opportunities to take in the stunning scenery all around you! We got a peak at Casa da Calcada, a Relais & Chateaux property. The sixteenth century, lemon-yellow hotel has beautiful views of the town and river and is perfect for those who love golf, gastronomy, and wine!
The most charming town in this region was Guimaraes, known as the “Cradle City” as the Kingdom of Portugal was born here after a famous battle in 1128. We visited lots of unique churches, local shops and ate the most amazing food –a visit here is a must!