The Douro river snakes its way from north-central Spain and across the entire width of Portugal before uniting with the sea at its outlet at Porto. In total it runs for 897 kilometres – though not all of it is navigable by ship.
The parts that are accessible by boat are thankfully so: you won’t want to miss the unforgettable experience that is cruising along the river’s gentle curves as the views of the valley unfold all around you.
So what makes the Douro river such a spectacular route to traverse? More things than we can name, but to break it down, here are five:
The Douro Valley that the river nestles into is rich, fertile, and life-giving. Rows of grape vines roll out across the hills creating magnificent terraced waves that change from green to blushing gold depending on the season. The waters from the river give sustenance to all the crops while the valley’s mild climate makes growing and cultivating grapes the lifeblood of the local communities. Witnessing both life among the valley and the beauty of its scenery is perfectly done from the vantage point of the river.
And as you can imagine, where there are vineyards, there’s wine. The Douro region is famous for its wines and port wines. Dotted along the river are numerous quintas (wine estates): stunning properties with paradisiacal gardens and stretches of trellised vines who offer hospitality, cellar tours, meals and wine tasting.
The river’s size.
Owing to the Douro river’s relatively narrow locks, hulking cruise ships are absent from its waters. That’s another reason why cruises here are so charming: smaller boats mean more sympathetic connections to be made with other passengers and crew, and a more tranquil landscape stretching out before you.
The historical towns.
Most journeys start from Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, with its Unesco World Heritage listed historic town centre and picturesque cityscapes, the birthplace of port wine and a cultural hub of contemporary events. The urban landscape may change as you drift along the river, but the romance around you does not. The city gives way to olive trees and grape vines interspersed with small, historic villages ripe with stories for the telling.
You don’t have to be a wine lover to enjoy a cruise on the Douro. As well as the beauty of the surroundings, the sunsets melting the sky across sweeping views of the valley, the friendly locals and history-steeped towns, there’s also the general relaxation of the whole affair. Drifting down river, letting the sun’s rays warm your skin and the calls from the birds overhead remind you you’re so close to nature, you can’t help but feel tranquil and serene. And it must be said: an afternoon glass of locally-made vinho tinto can only make things even better.