To say I'm having the post holiday blues is an understatement! I didn't want to come back! Alas, they say it's the best time to leave somewhere when you are enjoying it so much you don't want to. That's the case with our recent small group adventure to Portugal. Here's a synopsis, and there will be a few more articles on specific topics which will follow in the coming months.
Our group trip on The Douro with Viking River Cruises was incredible. From the moment we arrived in Lisbon everything fell into place perfectly. Especially the weather! We were told that for the 2 weeks preceeding our arrival, torrential rains had been falling constantly in Porto and throughout the Douro. There was concern for the vineyards as areas were literally flooding. When we arrived in Lisbon was a pleasant, sunny 22C with beautiul breezes filling the air with the scents of Jacaranda blossom and Linden.
After some sightseeing and wining and dining in charming Lisbon, we were transported to Porto stopping enroute at the old revered university town of Coimbra. here we toured the "Harry Potter" -like university, saw students in their black capes and uniforms, and were left awestruck by the stunning architecture, collections of priceless books and sheer magnificence of the place. For lunch that day, we were treated to the traditional Portuguese "Fado" music, melancholy singing and guitar strumming.
We arrived into Porto late afternoon to board our ship, The Viking Hemming docked in Vila de Gaia on the river below the many port houses, winding narrow streets and shore side restaurants. It was a brilliant, hot sunny day and the first sights and sounds of this magnificent ancient town left us speechless. So we ordered a drink! White Port Cocktails on the sundeck surrounded by the view.
Our 8 day river cruise included a full day in Porto, so I had arranged for some private VIP Port House visits for our group of 14 after the city tour. We were treated royally by our Port Ambassador Gustavo at Graham's where we enjoyed another refreshing white port cocktail before touring the archives and cellars of this 200 year old place. Gustavo invited us into the library where we sat down to an educational tasting of the different aged ports, including the not yet released and newly declared 2016 vintage port! A full lunch on the grapevine covered terrace overlooking the river and bridges with wines and port followed. Yes, another tough day at the office!
We departed Graham's and headed over to Taylor's by taxi. Another iconic Port House, our hostess, Anna toured us through the cellars and escorted us into a private dining room for a technical tasting and discussion of the Taylor line up of Port. By the time we emerged into the blinding sunlight at 6pm, we all needed a nap! What an incredible experience.
Our ship departed Porto the following morning and we enjoyed a leisurley cruise along the Douro and entered our first of four locks that we would experience going up river. The Douro was dammed back in the 1970's to provide electricity and power to Porto and the surrounding areas. Until then, no electricity was available throughout the area! Everything was done manually.
Over the next several days, we enjoyed cruising, touring some of the vineyards along the way, visiting the Mateus Palace and gardens, visiting the ancient village of Catelo Rodrigo, sightseeing in Salamanca, Spain, shopping and mooching about the market in Regua, learning about Moscatel in Favaios and marvelling at the incredible terraced vineyards that stretch up the sharp hillsides from river bank to the sky. A famous quote says " God created the world, but man created the Douro". We ate delicious Portuguese food, drank copious quantities of Vinho Verde, Albarhino, Touriga National and spoiled ourselves in the evenings with Stilton Cheese and Port in the Lounge. A small pool on the sundeck provided a welcome respite from the increadible heat we were having, and the day the Chef popped upstairs with his freshly baked egg custart tarts which he handed out, still warm, to us in the pool was a moment where I felt truly spoiled and grateful for this whole experience.
We arrived back into Porto on the eve of the Festival of St John. Throngs of people jammed the pier, the bridges, and the narrow streets in anticipation of the fireworks display which was held at midnight over the bridge on the river. We had front row seats! The 20 minute light show was spectacular, truly the icing on the cake in terms of a grand finale on this trip.
Travelling in a small group like this is so enjoyable and rewarding. Everyone had life stories to share, but there's also time to relax and read a book in the quiet tranquilty of sailing along a river. We often dined together, but occasionally split into smaller groups and met other new friends on board from all over the world.
If you have not yet experienced River Cruising, I highly recommend it. Visiting the heart and soul of a country via it's ancient transportation corridors is the perfect way to travel. You see and do a lot, you relax a lot and you only have to unpack once for a whole week!
If you are interested in any river cruise anywhere in the world, feel free to contact me. I love what I do.
Aligra Wine & Spirits/ The Travel Agent Next Door