Travel: River of Gold

The once fast-flow­ing Douro is now a tran­quil wa­ter­way, per­fect for a re­lax­ing cruise through his­toric ru­ral Por­tu­gal

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Contents -

The Douro is a great choice for any­one who has al­ready done the Rhine and the Danube, the most pop­u­lar river cruise des­ti­na­tions. From the Span­ish bor­der, the Douro winds 125 miles through the lush land­scapes of Por­tu­gal’s green north be­fore meet­ing the At­lantic in Porto. It was here we boarded CroisiEurope’s gil

Eanes. The 132-pas­sen­ger ves­sel is smaller than the river ships ply­ing the other wa­ter­ways of Europe, cre­at­ing an in­ti­mate on board at­mos­phere where you quickly get to know your fel­low pas­sen­gers. On the Douro ves­sels are only al­lowed to sail dur­ing the day, so you never miss out on any of the sights.

Un­spoilt na­ture

As you cruise along serenely it is hard to imag­ine that be­fore it was dammed in the 1960s and 70s, this was

a treach­er­ous wa­ter­way

filled with rapids that

caused count­less ra­be­los

– the flat-bot­tomed wooden boats once used to trans­port bar­rels of port – to

founder as they made the

per­ilous jour­ney to the ware­houses of Porto.

As a re­sult of this

tur­bu­lent past, the Douro

is very dif­fer­ent to other Euro­pean rivers, as no large cities grew up along its banks. In­stead the UNESCOl­isted Douro Val­ley is lined

with dra­matic wooded

slopes, vine­yards and lay­ers

of schist, the sil­very stone

that helps cre­ate the heat

re­tain­ing soil on which the

port grapes flour­ish.

His­tory and her­itage

Each day brings new sights, and daily coach trips take pas­sen­gers to places of

in­ter­est. In the 18th cen­tury, Regua was the cap­i­tal of the port-pro­duc­ing re­gion and a trad­ing post where ra­be­los stopped en route to Porto.

Nowa­days it’s the gate­way for

ex­cur­sions to Vila Real and a tour of the baroque So­lar de Ma­teus manor house set in

beau­ti­ful gar­dens and de­picted on the la­bel of Ma­teus Rosé wine. In Lamego, we vis­ited the sanctuary of Nossa

Sen­hora dos Reme­dios. Built in 1750, it is reached by a grand stone stair­case flanked by foun­tains, stat­ues and tiled mu­rals, and af­ter be­ing dropped at the top there is the op­tion to walk down and meet the coach at the bot­tom.

A high­light is the ‘golden city’ of Sala­manca, Spain’s old­est uni­ver­sity town. It’s fun try­ing to spot the tiny stone frog hid­den in the uni­ver­sity’s or­nate ex­te­rior, which is said to bring students good luck.

A taste of Por­tu­gal

If you only drink port at Christ­mas, you’ll be in for a sur­prise. In Por­tu­gal, the for­ti­fied wine is drunk with meals and is a pop­u­lar lunchtime apéri­tif – in par­tic­u­lar chilled white port, which is also used to make re­fresh­ing cock­tails. In me­dieval Porto, strad­dling both banks of the Douro, the names on the 18th-cen­tury ware­houses in the Cais de Gaia neighbourhood read like a wine menu – Tay­lor, Cock­burn’s, San­de­man, Syming­ton and Croft to name just a few. We vis­ited Fer­reira, one of the city’s old­est wine lodges, and wan­dered through dimly lit cel­lars, stop­ping to marvel at a gi­gan­tic 15,800 gal­lon bar­rel as our guide told us about the his­tory of port. In 1678, ship­pers from Liver­pool added grape brandy to some non­de­script Por­tuguese ta­ble wine to sta­bilise its jour­ney to Eng­land and the end re­sult tasted sur­pris­ingly good and led to to­day’s for­ti­fied wines.

Back on the ship, meals fea­tured re­gional spe­cial­i­ties such as the rich beef and pork co­zido stew and mouth­wa­ter­ing tarts called pasteis de nata. On the last night we stood on deck as the sun dipped over the hori­zon and savoured a fi­nal glass of port, re­flect­ing on a mem­o­rable week that pro­vided a real taste of the Douro re­gion, in ev­ery sense of the word.

Sam­ple the local wine

Start and fin­ish in lovely Porto

Visit pretty Vila Real Ex­plore the spec­tac­u­larSo­lar de Ma­teus

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