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Gastronomy of the Douro – from Portugal to Spain - MS Douro Splendour

8days from
£2,199*per person

Overview

8 Days - River Cruises

The Douro may be one of Europe's best-kept secrets but the food that is grown and eaten along its banks is not. The Portuguese are renowned for their love of good food - the flavours are fresh and wholesome (and locally grown) - so expect sweet treats, flavourful dishes and, of course, plenty of port wine. We'll visit the Roman city of Porto, the home of Port wine, and sample Portuguese wine in historic quintas. Taste the delicious almond products that Castelo Rodrigo is famous for while following in the footsteps of St. Francis and hop over the border to Salamanca for a delicious tapas lunch as we explore one of Spain's oldest cities. And that's just the onshore adventures - Portugal’s once-wild river Douro may have been tamed by locks but there's still an untouched wildness to the valley’s breathtaking rolling hills. This holiday combines our popular Porto, Douro and Salamanca river cruise with a mouthwatering adventure through the culinary landscape of this stunning region. 

Itinerary

  • Arrive in Porto and, from the moment you board, the welcoming crew are at your service. In no time you’ll be settled into your luxurious, thoughtfully furnished accommodation and familiarising yourself with all the first-class aspects of this floating boutique hotel. 
  • As dawn breaks over Porto, the adventure begins as our elegant vessel starts the journey upstream. Whilst you linger over another coffee after a leisurely breakfast, you can watch the city skyline shrink - here's where the real relaxation begins. You could head up on deck to appreciate the changing landscape as the river weaves its way between the lush hillsides. We're sure you've heard the Douro is one of the most photogenic rivers in Europe - and the introduction to the river valley as we cruise this morning will leave you in no doubt.  This morning we will enjoy an introductory talk on the cuisine of Portugal to set your tastebuds at the beginning of our gastronomic journey.  There's lots to discuss as Portuguese food is one of the most varied cuisines in Europe. It incorporates fish, meat, and cheese (all the good stuff) as well as spices, fruits, and vegetables that have been a staple of their cooking since the Portuguese Empire brought them back from far-off lands in the 16th Century.   After all that talk of food, you'll be ready for lunch on board as we cruise into the small town of Peso da Régua. From here we'll visit the grounds of the splendid Mateus Palace. Anyone familiar with Mateus Rosé and its characteristic ‘squashed’ bottle will recognise the palace from the label. The palace has an impressive 18th-century Baroque edifice, mirrored in its tranquil pond, and surrounded by landscaped French gardens.  This evening, we'll take the short drive to the 126-acre Quinta da Pacheca for dinner. With dramatic views over the river, you can enjoy seeing the Douro from a new perspective. There’s plenty of time to explore the estate - which is one of the most beautiful and distinguished properties in the region. In 1738, it was the first quinta to bottle wine under the name of the owner, aristocrat Mariana Pacheco Pereira, an imposing woman who took care of the property by herself.  We are moored in Régua overnight.
  • Relax over a leisurely breakfast while the ever-changing scenery slips by through the restaurant’s superb panoramic windows. As we cruise, you might find it hard to believe the Douro was once a wild river, notoriously challenging to navigate, especially for the traditional flat-bottomed boats like ours which often foundered in its waters. Today, it has been tamed by a system of dams and locks, which have raised the water level to produce a topography similar to Scotland’s lochs and enhance the valley’s charm.   You should remember to save some room at breakfast as we'll get to indulge in the most Portuguese of treats on board, the Pastel de Nata (egg custard tarts). We will learn the history of the recipe and see how they are made - which will make savouring one at the end even more enjoyable.  Then make use of the onboard facilities as we cruise into ever more rural territory towards the Spanish border, where the river is at its most peaceful. You could take a refreshing dip in the sun deck pool – a rare treat on a cruise ship – or catch up on some reading (although we can't guarantee you won't get distracted by the view). Perhaps, instead, you'll choose to just soak up the sights of the Douro River valley with a cool pre-lunch glass of vinho verde, the local, gently fizzy white wine. (Portuguese wine is simply outstanding, but production is low, so the best is rarely exported.) Our wine list includes some excellent regional wines - hand-picked by sommeliers. A little experimentation can reap great rewards - you may even find a new favourite.  This afternoon, we'll visit Castelo Rodrigo, a delightful 12th-century walled village tucked away in the picturesque highland ranges bordering Spain. Its church was a resting place on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and it is said that Saint Francis himself stayed here. The views stretch out across the almost deserted ochre hillsides. While we are here, we will get to sample some of the region's traditional fare, including flavoured almonds, cheese and chorizo, which you can wash down by sampling cherry and almond liquor (made from the trees that grow on the nearby hillsides, naturally) and a range of Portuguese wines.  Later, we'll see a celebratory vintage port wine opened in the traditional way - with port tongs (if you watch closely, you might be able to recreate the experience for friends when you return home).  + Included Experiences - On-board Pastel de Nata demonstration and visit to Castelo Rodrigo with food tasting
  • Hopping over the border to Spain, we'll visit historic Salamanca, regarded by many Spaniards as one of the best gastronomic cities in the country (and we have to agree).  Founded by the Romans, who erected its 389-yard-long bridge, Salamanca is mostly built from local sandstone that emanates a gorgeous rose-coloured glow in the sunlight. Perched on a hill on a bend in the serene River Tormes, the city is a picture of tranquillity, but its history is turbulent. It’s been successively fought over by Hannibal, the Moors, then the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon and their influence can still be felt in the local cuisine. Salamanca is dominated by its two cathedrals and its university. Founded in 1218, the university is the oldest in Spain and was one of the civilised world’s most important seats of study for over 400 years. The Spanish Inquisition’s records are still kept here, and as early as the 16th century it boasted some 12,000 students. Seeing its immaculately preserved lecture halls with their vaulted ceilings, it’s easy to imagine Christopher Columbus addressing the learned men of the day or legal experts constructing the international laws that originate here.     On our visit to Salamanca, there's plenty of time to stop to admire the ornate interiors of its cathedrals – the more recent dates from the 16th century – and wander its tiny streets, medieval squares, traditional shops, gardens and marketplaces. The main square, the Plaza Mayor, is also a must-see. It was built in the 18th century in Spanish Baroque style with colonnaded walkways all around at ground level, ideal for finding a shaded spot to sit and watch the locals pass by. And nearby, we’ll shop like the locals do in the city’s marketplace. This small (but perfectly formed) building next to the main square is a bustling hub of locals who come here to buy fresh produce - what better place to find the finest Iberian ham and, of course, sample it for yourself. Our included lunch today also is an opportunity to taste some of Spain's most notable tapas dishes. Back in Portugal, the chef will present a mouthwatering array of traditional Portuguese dishes for tonight’s on-board dinner.
  • One of the benefits of life aboard a river cruise is the sheer sense of relaxation it brings; our elegant ship sets sail during breakfast, after which there is plenty of time for a spot of pampering in the on-board spa, or simply watch the seamless changing of the riverbank scenery passing by from the comfort of a cosy seat in the lounge.  We’ll be in port wine territory, where the lush hillsides give way to a patterned landscape of terraced vineyards. Inland from the Atlantic, the climate has changed too; it’s noticeably warmer and drier, and the area has a Mediterranean appearance with orangey, earthy colours replacing verdant greens.  We’ll leave our ship and head to Quinta da Avessada. Located in the centre of the Douro Demarcated Region in the heart of the wine growers' village of Favaios. If the air feels a little different here, it's probably due to the altitude - we're about 600 meters up in the flattest point of the whole region. Thanks to its prime location, Moscatel de Favaios is produced here. The national apéritif is a golden-hued liquid with honey and orange notes. Production of the drink is exclusive to the whole of the Adega Cooperativa de Favaios, but it began life in Quinta da Avessada and our visit here will teach us how this famous wine came to be.  Here we will enjoy a traditional Douro Valley lunch in which we’ll taste some of Portugal’s favourite dishes – meaty rojões (fried pork), delicious Portuguese sausages, delectable salt cod fritters, to name just a few, followed by a hearty Naco de vitela à Portuguesa – a traditional Portugues beef stew – accompanied by some of their world-famous drinks. And of course, no feast is complete without desert so you can take your pick of pêra bêbeda (pear cooked with port wine), chocolate cake or crème brûlée.  Returning to the ship we will moor overnight in the wine town of Pinhão. This evening, we'll enjoy free time in the picturesque town of Pinhão, where we’ll moor overnight. Wander through the town of white buildings and terracotta-coloured roofs and visit the delightful train station decorated with azulejos - Portuguese hand-painted tiles - celebrating Pinhão history with images of the grape harvest.   + Included Experience – Traditional lunch and wine-tasting at a local quinta & visit to Pinhão  
  • Enjoy breakfast on board before we take a short drive to historic Lamego. Home of Portugal’s sparkling wine, Raposeira, it was one of the first places to be reclaimed from the Moors in the 12th century. Situated at the top of a beautifully tiled baroque staircase - and overlooking the town - is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies church. If you’re up for a challenge, it’s worth climbing the 686 steps to the top of the staircase for stunning views of the city - don't worry, you can stop to admire the fountains, mosaics and hedges along the way.  We can't visit Lamego without trying another of the area's many delicacies. You can sample traditional bôla - a mouthwatering savoury bread which hides all sorts of delicious meats and cheeses to create the ultimate comfort food (it's no wonder it's one of the most popular local snacks) - accompanied by other delicious local produce. And you’ll have the chance to try the region’s sparkling wine for yourself.   By the time we return to our ship, our chef and his team will be adding the finishing touches to another delicious lunch, ready to be served as we leave for Leverinho.   Afterwards, there’s the perfect opportunity to take to the sun deck to enjoy the kaleidoscope of Douro views – or perhaps a spot of reading in the lounge over a cup of tea. This evening is the Captain’s Dinner, a truly memorable experience featuring exquisite regional specialities, followed by a colourful performance of traditional Portuguese folk music.   + Included Experiences – Visit to Lamego with food tasting & Captain’s Dinner & traditional Portuguese folk music show
  • As we sail into our last port, there's one of your last opportunities to take advantage of the ship's five-star facilities this morning. Those who wake up with bags of energy may want to try our fitness room before heading up to the sun deck to enjoy coffee with new friends. From the sun deck you can watch our last city, Porto, appear on the horizon and see the city's spectacular bridges up close as we pass beneath.   Porto is, of course, synonymous with rich port wine. All the famous port producers are here - Cálem, Sandeman, Graham's and Ferreira - so a visit here would not be complete without a tour of one of them. You’ll learn about this fortified wine’s fascinating history and its close connections to Britain. Port is made from grapes still pressed in the traditional way – by feet – then lovingly matured, sometimes for decades, before you can enjoy its subtle flavours. We couldn't visit Porto without the opportunity to sample various port styles. At the end of our visit, you can enjoy a port tasting along with the perfect accompanying snacks which enhance the flavours even further. After lunch on board, we'll enjoy a guided tour of Porto. Strategically overlooking the Douro as it empties into the Atlantic, Portugal’s second largest city was originally a Roman town, but its wealth derived from its knowledge of the sea routes to India, with fortunes made from trading spices, silks and other fine goods. Our tour unveils some of its major and more surprising sights.  You’ll have the rest of the afternoon to explore the truly fascinating city; so perhaps return to the terraced streets of the old town and wander the sloping maze of cobbled alleyways, soaking up the atmosphere whilst stopping to admire the architecture, bell towers, baroque churches, golden rooftops and beautiful tiles of this slice of traditional Portugal. Stop for a drink in a cosy café and be tempted by an array of delicious cakes and pastries – perhaps sample one more pastel de nata, the traditional Portuguese custard tart (we know you'll be hooked). This evening, enjoy a final dinner on board expertly served by our restaurant staff under the supervision of the maître d’. Afterwards, perhaps settle into the lounge to chat into the evening and reflect on the splendours of the remarkable River Douro – over a glass of port, of course.   + Included Experience – Visit to port wine producer with tasting & guided tour of Porto 
  • After breakfast, you’ll be transferred to the airport at the appropriate time, with memories of one of the most unspoilt corners of Europe to savour for a long time to come. 

What's Included

Holiday Highlights

  • Enjoy a guided tour of a famous port producer in Porto with plenty of opportunities to taste their fortified wine.  
  • Follow in the footsteps of St. Francis with a visit to Castelo Rodrigo & taste some of the fabulous almond products the area is famed for.  
  • Visit two historic – but very different - Quintas to enjoy traditional Portuguese food and learn all about the stages of wine production. 
  • Sample delicious regional delicacies in a local restaurant in Lamego.  
  • Cross the border into Spain and shop for souvenirs in a traditional Spanish market visit followed by tapas in Salamanca. 

Our Price Includes

  • Prices are per person, based on two people sharing a twin cabin with a limited number of sole occupancy cabins available on all decks, at the relevant supplement. The price includes: 
  • Full board from dinner on your day of arrival until breakfast on your final day 
  • Complimentary tea and coffee on board 
  • All visits and excursions as mentioned  
  • Airport/station transfers 
  • Coach travel as mentioned 
  • Travel to and from port of embarkation 
  • The services of a Riviera Travel cruise director 
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Holiday code

R598

Holiday provided by Riviera Travel

BOOK WITH CONFIDENCE: This holiday is sold and operated by Riviera Travel (ABTA V4744, ATOL 3430). These ABTA and ATOL bonds mean that, when you book a Riviera Travel holiday, you can be 100% sure that your money is safe.

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