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Review: Douro Spirit

Cruise - River Cruise

Portugal Spain and Douro River Valley

  • By SilverTraveller Steve-Newman

    18 reviews

    Ribbon

  • 2011
  • Partner
  • Family holiday
  • Balcony

101 people found this review helpful

Too many people think of Portugal as The Algarve. Yes it’s beautiful and it’s easy to get to but as a consequence the stunning northern half of this amazing country is vastly over looked. We went on a river cruise with Uniworld Boutique River cruises to explore the port wine growing region of the Douro Valley with its spectacular gorges and little towns seemingly almost unimpressed by the modern world. Our first two nights were in Lisbon where we were given a tour of the major sites and then the next day we explored the seven hills of cosmopolitan Lisbon on our own, uncovering a treasure trove of Old World architecture. Go up to tower in centre with its wooden lifts and get the whole panorama of the place. Lisbon is a very walkable city although you can take trams up to steep hill of the castle and all round this fascinating place we had a great time exploring the old medieval centre, the botanic gardens and the fabulous art museum. Then we went northwards by coach to Oporto via the small city of Coimbra, the “Birthplace of Kings” which houses Portugal’s oldest university with the most incredible 18th century library with over 300,000 books. The library has its own colony of bats which has been there since it was built to control the insects that might otherwise destroy the books! The river sparkled and danced in the light as we arrived at Oporto and the evening sun had painted the city with an orange coat as the locals began to fill up the quay side cafes on their way home from work sipping port as we would a sherry and somehow it seemed right to be doing so in this the birthplace of the wine. In fact port has historically been bottled and brewed in the small town of Villa Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank but because Oporto was where the Customs House was situated and the sale receipts stamped with its seal the city gave its name to the wine. Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the World Heritage Site of The Douro River valley and we had come to explore the gorges, vineyards and villages of this fascinating waterway by taking a cruise along its length with Uniworld River Cruises on the “Douro Spirit”. Carrying only 128 passengers she gives an intimate small ship ambiance and was designed especially for the valley. The micro climate produced by the Douro allows the grapes to be grown like nowhere else in the world. The tasting of port takes up a major part of this cruise either as organised tours or as independent visits both in Oporto and at the quintas higher up the valley. The hard volcanic rock absorbs the heat during the day and releases it at night so the grapes are deliberately grown close to the ground to get a double helping of warmth The fermentation of the wine is stopped by the addition of a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente leaving residual sugar in the wine thus boosting the alcohol content. The wine is then kept and aged in barrels stored in a cave before being bottled. The valley of the Douro is a truly magnificent experience varying from terraces filled with vines to steep sided gorges where nothing but scrub grows and golden eagles fly alongside to keep you company. As the valley unfolded revealing its secrets we became absorbed into its gentle, slow rhythm of life. At times there is only a metre either side of the hull between the rocks making it easy to image how in the early days to get the wine barrels down to Oporto the boats had to be pulled over the rapids by hand. Nowadays these rapids are marked by four huge dams and locks, that make the Douro navigable and these are one of the abiding memories you take away with you. These incredible pieces of engineering found most of us on the sun deck in open mouthed in awe as we passed under the cascading water from the lock gates above or smiling nervously as we crouched down on our knees to cross under the low bridges after the millions of gallons of water had raised and lowered us with silent ease. A range of excursions are offered on the cruise to destinations such as the Mateus Palace (of wine bottle fame), the tiny hilltop village of Castelo Rodrigo still with its encircling walls built in 1296 and narrow streets where Jews, Christians and Moors lived in harmony until the Inquisition arrived. Don’t miss out on the sweet roasted almonds or rosemary honey here, they’re both fabulous. This area holds the Douro Internacional Natural Park covering 852 square kilometres along the Portuguese/Spanish border – not to be confused with the Douro Valley itself. It is the second largest natural park in Portugal and is where the river Douro passes through stunning mountainous territory. The area across the border in Spain is also protected and together they offer a huge amount of birds of prey, you’re unlikely to see so many different species of raptor anywhere else in Portugal. Indeed as we descended in to the valley back to the ship we stopped at the view point of Valdenoguera and almost at once four Gryffon Vultures appeared soaring above and diving below us and if this wasn’t enough two Egyptian Vultures to hove into view over the crest. We loved Guimaraes with its mediaeval streets that really do drag you in to explore them with their overhanging balconies all watched over by the castle above. Others include the Spanish city of Salamanca with its stork nests, ancient university and cathedral with an astronaut carved into the doorway surrounds during the 20th century restoration. The company provides electronic voice boxes with an earpiece for the tours so you can hear all the guide is saying but there is nothing to stop you exploring on your own should you so wish.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises offers an 11 day Portugal, Spain & the Douro River Valley cruise on the Douro including two nights in Lisbon with transfer to Oporto. Including private car door to door airport transfers, return scheduled flights, 7-night cruise in a riverview stateroom on the intimate NEW Douro Spirit, 3 nights in Lisbon at the deluxe Tiara Park Atlantic Hotel (or similar) with breakfast, complimentary fine wine, beer and soft drinks with dinner onboard, and bottled water in your stateroom during your cruise and 10 shore excursions, fully hosted by English-speaking local guides

www.uniworldrivercruises.co.uk

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