Sailing and hiking along the Douro with CroisiEurope
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A river cruise with a difference!
A river cruise doesn’t have to be all about coach excursions
to towns and cities along the way. CroisiEurope
have hit on the option of offering a great alternative – the chance to discover
the beautiful surrounding countryside on foot.
As keen walkers this appealed to my husband and I and so we
packed up our walking gear and took an early flight from Gatwick to Porto to
join the MS Infante don Henrique river boat.
The Don Henrique is a handsome vessel, one of 32 owned and
operated by CroisiEurope. Renovated in 2014, the ship takes 138 passengers and
they are all looked after admirably by the friendliest crew. Cabins are on the
small side but perfectly adequate. Ours had a large picture window giving great
views during our cruise. The shower room is bijou but does the job and there
was always plenty of hot water.
Food & drink
On arrival we joined our fellow passengers in the lounge for
a welcome drink before dinner. CroisiEurope is a French family owned company
and on our cruise 90% of the passengers were European, mostly French. We were
thoughtfully assigned a table with the 4 of the other English speakers, two
couples from the USA. Once your table is assigned you keep it for the duration.
All meals are taken at the same time and everyone is served together. We
enjoyed fantastic dishes, the emphasis is on French cuisine and the standard is
high. A buffet breakfast, 3 or 4 course lunch and dinner. Wine and spirits,
soft drinks, tea and coffee are all included.
The next day there was morning excursion around the
picturesque city of Porto and a visit to a wine cellar, of course! We re-joined
the ship up river at Leverinho and spent the afternoon sailing along the
picturesque Douro towards Regua.
The Douro is renowned for stunning scenery around every bend
and it didn’t disappoint. There are also a number of impressive locks to
navigate and some extremely low bridges, all adding to the excitement.
Day 3 and the hiking began with a bus transfer to Sao
Matinho Anta and a 4-5 mile trail through mountains, deep valleys and remote
villages. It was bliss to soak up the peace and quiet, the beautiful views and a
myriad of spring flowers. White broom and fragrant wild lavender covered the
hillsides. There was a steep climb, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Our guides
for the week spoke good English and were very familiar with the routes. They
kept everyone together and made sure we stuck to the timetable.
Non hikers took a bus tour to Vila Real and Mateus Palace,
returning to join the ship and meet up with the hikers for lunch.
The following day we moored on the Spanish/Portuguese
boarder in the delightful village of Barca D’Alva. There was a full day tour
for all passengers to the Spanish city of Salamanca but we opted to stay on the
boat and explore the surrounding area ourselves. It turned out we had the boat
to ourselves and were treated like royalty! The crew laid on a light lunch for
us and made sure we had drinks and snacks at our disposal. Barca d’Alva has
walking routes in every direction and we enjoyed exploring this sleepy area
deep in the valley.
When everyone was back on board the crew made the most of us
being so near to Spain by treating everyone to a Spanish themed dinner with
amazing paella. Followed by a traditional Flamenco show, performed by a troupe
of dancers that came onboard just for the evening. Ole!
After a sumptuous breakfast the next day we were all set for
a morning hike but sadly it started to rain. The crew quickly re arranged a few
things so we could hike in the afternoon and low and behold the rain stopped in
time. This time we drove just a short distance along the valley and walked uphill
onto the rugged mountain side, crossing ancient bridges over crystal clear
streams. This is where eagles, vultures and kites circle high above, so we kept
our binoculars at the ready.
Day 6 was the long hike – almost a full day and over 9 miles
through the famous vineyards of the Douro.
We walked at quite high altitudes giving amazing views and the
occasional glimpse of the river sparkling in the sun way below. The ship
provided a substantial picnic to enjoy along the way and we called into a small
family run winery, with delicious tastings accompanied by bread, cheese, figs
Non hikers didn’t miss out as their coach tour took them
along the Douro Wine Road with a visit to a Quinta for tastings.
All too soon we were back in Porto and our last hike was a
complete contrast as we were transferred by road to the Atlantic coast and the
mouth of the Douro Estuary. We hiked back to the city, a distance of about 5 miles,
but all on the flat and with breathtaking views along the way. It happened to
be Easter Sunday and the banks of the river were teeming with families enjoying
the wonderful weather. We took the cable car from the historical area of Gaia, home
to the famous port wine cellars, to the gardens of Jardim do Morro enjoying the
dazzling views over the city. Once at the top we were met by our driver and bus
and taken back to the ship for our last night. A final delicious meal and an
evening of Portuguese folk music was enjoyed by all, before packing our bags
If you like a totally relaxing holiday, with some exercise
along the way, then this is the ideal trip.
Early spring, or late summer are great times to travel when
hiking is involved as it is not too hot.
This is an ideal holiday for couples who may like different
things. One of you can hike whilst the other can sit back and enjoy scenic
CroisiEurope can offer airport, station or port transfers on
request. Obviously, price depends on location but the cost of a private taxi
transfer between Porto airport and the ship is currently £45.
In 2019, CroisiEurope has hiking cruises on the Rhone, the Douro, the Seine, the Rhine, the Danube and in Croatia.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends CroisiEurope.
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