When the country of Portugal came up on our radar, it was only after a quick research session that we made the definitive decision to visit the Douro River Valley. The pictures we had seen of the area quickly sold us, and just a few months later, we were on a Douro River cruise with Viking River Cruises. Maybe you’ve stumbled upon this post because you’re already considering or are already booked on Viking’s River of Gold itinerary. Or maybe you are where we were at a few months back: trying to decide on the regions in Portugal you want to visit. Either way, our goal is to convince you to 1) visit the beautiful Douro Valley in Portugal and 2) do so while on-board a luxurious Viking cruise ship! So, without further adeui, here are…
8 Reasons to Take a Douro River Cruise in Portugal with Viking
Explore Portugal’s Capital City of Lisbon
Despite the fact that Portugal’s capital city is located almost 200 miles south of the Douro River’s terminus in Porto, the vibrant city of Lisbon kicks off Viking’s River of Gold itinerary. Though we weren’t on the cruise ship quite yet, we explored the city with the helpful information from our friendly and knowledgeable Viking guides, wandering the narrow, hilly streets of the Alfama district and visiting the Jeronimos Monestary and Belem Tower. During our free time, we discovered even more of the city by wandering through the Rossio, Lisbon’s main square, and making our way to the top of the Elevador do Santa Justa for wonderful panoramic views over the Baixa district. For a fun and unique dining experience, we enjoyed the eclectic mix of food stalls at the Time Out Market. Because we had limited free time in the city, we didn’t do much other than wander the streets and take in the sights. Next thing we knew, we were on a comfortable coach on our way to Porto!
Discover the Colorful City of Porto
Porto was an exciting town to visit for several reasons: It is where the cruise portion of our adventure with Viking began and it is where we spent a few days at the conclusion of the cruise where we had the awesome privilege to be amongst tens of thousands of fans when Portugal won the 2016 Euro Cup Final. The city definitely warrants more than just a day, so if you have time following the cruise, consider adding a few days. As it is, one day certainly isn’t enough time to sample a variety of port wines at the cellars in Gaia, opposite the Douro. As part of the guided tour in Porto with Viking, you’ll have the opportunity to tour and sample at the Sandeman cellar. And at the conclusion of your city tour, the time will come when it’s time to set sail!!
Visit Fascinating Towns in the Douro River Valley
Besides Portugal’s two largest cities (Lisbon and Porto), we originally had not heard of any of the ports of call we would be visiting along the way. This made the River of Gold itinerary all the more intriguing to us, as we love discovering new-to-us, not-widely-known destinations. From the hilltop medieval town of Castelo Rodrigo to the endless vineyards of Favaois, there was no shortage of gorgeous landscapes and fascinating towns to explore. Also during our journey on the Douro River with Viking, we descended the 686 steps at The Shrine of our Lady of Remedies in Lamego, dined in a 1,000-year-old Benedictine monastery, sampled freshly baked bread and Moscatel wine in Favaois, explored the lush gardens at the Palace of Mateus, sipped delicious port at a 100-acre wine estate, and visited the bustling Spanish town of Salamanca.
We are not exaggerating when we say the landscapes along the Douro River are unrivaled. We’ve been to Tuscany twice now, and while Italy may get more recognition for its stunning wine regions, the Douro River Valley certainly has some of the most breathtaking scenery we’ve come upon throughout our travels. We couldn’t stop taking pictures and once you scroll through the images below, you’ll see why. There’s a lot of relaxing scenic cruising built into the River of Gold itinerary, so we had plenty of time to also put down the camera and just take it all in.
Learn About Port Wine Making & Sample Ample Amounts of Wine
What would a cruise through the Douro River Valley be without ample amounts of port wine? Hundreds of thousands of acres of vineyards line the shores of the Douro and the valleys beyond. The region’s dry, hot summers and cold, wet winters, along with the soil quality and altitude of the vineyards, all contribute to perfect conditions for growing grapes. Not only will you learn about the process of how port is made, you will also get to sample your fair share of delicious wines. Try ruby port, tawny port, and even white port. If you’re feeling extra fancy, try some late-bottled vintage port. But don’t think it’s just port that you’ll be sipping. Within the Douro’s winegrowing (vinhateiro) region, you can also sample a variety of red table wines, rosé, Moscatel, along with the local vinho verde (green wine).
Enjoy Live Fado Music in Lisbon & Coimbra
The word Fado stems from the Latin word fatum, which is also where the English word fate originates. Fado music is full of passion and despair, heart and soul. There are two varieties of Fado and we were able to experience both during the River of Gold itinerary! It is said that Fado was born in Lisbon, and while its style is more well known, Fado in Coimbra (performed exclusively by men) is traditionally linked to the city’s University. As we travel to new places, we look for opportunities to experience a destinations’ traditional culture, and there’s no better way than through traditional song and dance… well, that and the local cuisine, which we also had plenty of throughout our cruise!
You won’t find a large theater, spa, gym, or casino on-board a Viking river cruise ship, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to do while on-board. Throughout your time on the ship, enjoy a fascinating array of informational sessions, lessons, and demonstrations. All on-board activities are free to attend for those who are interested. During our particular cruise, educational presentations included: The Douro River & Region, Portugal’s History, and Learning Basic Portuguese. We also learned how to open a vintage bottle of port with fire and how to make the famous Portuguese Pastel de Nata (tart pastry). Live music by a Portuguese Folk Band and Flamenco Dancing from Spanish locals were other activities we enjoyed during our time on the ship.
Unlike the larger Viking Longship we traveled on during the Grand European Tour, ships sailing on the Douro must be smaller in size because of the curvature of the river. With only 106 passengers on board, traveling on the Viking Torgil is a luxurious and intimate way to see this stunning region of Portugal. All of the staterooms are located on the exterior of the ship with either a French or veranda balcony. During times of scenic sailing, you can enjoy the view from your private balcony or join other guests on the Aquavit Terrace or upper sun deck for panoramic views of the region. If weather permits, you can even go for a dip in the refreshing swimming pool located on the top deck. (Note: The Torgil is just one of many Viking ships following this itinerary. The ships are identical and all have the same deck plan and amenities.)
This was our second Viking river cruise. Last year, we embarked on Viking’s 15-day Grand European Tour and cruised along the Danube, Rhine, and Main rivers taking in bustling cities, small towns, and castles along the way. One of our favorite aspects of cruising with Viking is the people we met, in particular the crew! Their jobs are not easy. They spend a lot of time away from their families and all the while, they have constant smiles on their faces and work hard to ensure that all Viking guests have the best possible time both on-board the ship and during the excursions. With just over 100 passengers on the Douro river cruise ships, they learn your name, get to know you, and treat you like family. It was honestly hard to say good-bye to this crew, though the memories they left us with will last a lifetime!
We’d like to thank Viking River Cruises for hosting us on the Viking Torgil to experience the River of Gold itinerary. As always, our write-ups are an accurate reflection of the experiences we had.