Our plane arrived in Porto, nestled near the Douro River in the heart of port wine country. Situated at the mouth of the Douro River, it is Portugal’s second largest city. Avenida dos Aliados, the main street is lined by a number of beautiful art nouveau buildings dating back 100 years. The town hall, tourist office and main post office are at the top of this avenue. One of the highlights of the city is the Ribeira District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its waterfront promenade with numerous cafes, bars and restaurants.
A short ride to the docking location at Vila Nova de Gala took us to our floating hotel the AmaVida for an amazing cruise down the Douro River, an incredible wine-growing region known for its excellent vintages. We settled into our home away from home and enjoyed the first night aboard the AmaVida. The ship’s lounge was a gathering place for onboard announcements, lectures and entertainment. Lunch as well as dinner was a multi-course served meal with complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks. An after-dinner red port wine, Portugal’s best known product throughout the world was always served.
The following morning we passed the Carrapatelo Lock, the highest lock in Europe in one single lift. All along the river there were steep hillsides for the cultivation of grapes. The wine harvest takes place in the fall, the grapes are crushed immediately. Different varieties are created with different grapes, aging procedures, and aging time which include: Ruby Port – a blend of wines aged for a few years; Tawny Port – similar to Ruby Port but made from a lighter golden colored wine and a White Port –made from white grapes, served as an aperitif. The AmaVida gave us the opportunity to taste some of the different port wines produced in the Douro River Valley..
One of the most traditional wine-producing estates in Regua is the Sandeman Estate on the South Bank of the Douro River between the city of Régua and the village of Pinhão. Sandeman’s winery offered us a venture into port wine production, including tours of the open fermenting vats. This tour was followed by tastings in the bar with exceptional views of the River Douro.
Barca de Alva was the last port of call in Portugal and an overnight stay. The river emerges from a long, narrow gorge to the northeast, where it forms the frontier with Spain. Salamanca, Spain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on a plateau near the Tormes River would be our next stop. City highlights included sandstone buildings, a 12th Century cathedral and the University of Salamanca founded in 1218 by King Alfonso VI. A buffet lunch was served at the Alameda Palace Hotel where we had a taste of the local cuisine followed by a Flamenco show and a walking tour of the city. The ship was now docked in Vega De Terron, Spain, where a traditional barbeque dinner was served on the sun deck of the AmaVida with soft listening piano music – which would also fill the lounge in the afternoons and each evening.
After breakfast our tour was in Castelo Rodigo, one of 12 historical villages of Portugal. This small fortified village was perched on the hilltop with 16th century walls and steep narrow streets. We discovered numerous sites on their cobblestoned slopes such as a clock tower, a wall around the city, a jail, a handicraft shop and the Rocamadour Church, founded in 1192. A Tea House at Castelo Rodrigo served red and white Port Wines which everyone enjoyed while sitting outside or in a private room. In the past, Castelo Rodrigo was a place where Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in peace and harmony.
This evening we departed for Pinhao, Portugal, a tiny port town located approximately 25 kilometers east of Regua. There is only one street in Pinhao, a couple of waterfront bars and a train station – completed in the late 19th century. That evening a Portugal dinner was served at the family-owned winery Quinta da Avessada in the heart of the Douro region. This winery was built a century ago producing premium Muscatel wine. Returning to the AmaVida we continued cruising to Pinhao, where we spent the night. Pinhao may be a tiny port town, but it is an important supply center for surrounding villages and a key stop for river cruise vessels.
The next day we were back in Regua on a tour of the Mateus Palace with its beautiful gardens located in the Tras-os-Montes region near the city of Vila Real, Portugal. Inside the Palace were exhibits of paintings, furnishings and ceilings of carved wood. Returning to the ship for lunch there was an after-lunch surprise ice cream party on the sundeck. Cruising up the Douro River we arrived in Bitetos, Portugal for a 6:00PM dinner at the Monastery of Alpendurada. Overlooking the Douro Valley, it was built in the 19th century for the Count of Villa Real. Before the four-course Portugal dinner and wine served in the outside gardens, we had the opportunity to discover the beautiful 16th through 19th century Portuguese, French and British furniture decorating the Palace.
Going back to Porto, we passed the Crestuma Dam and arrived at Vila Nova de Gaia. A city tour was followed by port wine tasting at Grahams. The history of Graham’s spans several centuries, during which time it has always maintained its independence as a family business. The story of Graham’s is the story of two families: the Grahams and the Symingtons. These two enterprising families have dedicated generations of work to the great wines of the Douro Valley.
For additional information: www.amawaterways.com