Douro River cruises traverse the northern part of Portugal, exploring its wine regions and pretty towns. Travelers typically begin their Douro itineraries in either Porto, where they board the ship, or to the south in the capital city of Lisbon, where they enjoy a hotel stay and sightseeing before transferring by motorcoach to the riverboat.
At the mouth of the Douro River, Porto has been a longtime center for the port wine trade. Guests can sample the fortified beverage in one of the wine caves in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto’s city center. Guided tours also might visit the Sao Bento train station to reveal one of Porto’s artistic treasures -- beautiful panels of blue and white tiles, called “azulejos,” that depict scenes from Portugal’s past. They were installed in the Beaux-Arts building in the early 20th century.
Sightseeing tours in Lisbon highlight the Belem district and its 16th-century Jeronimos Monastery, an outstanding example of Portuguese Manueline architecture with its intricately carved decorative stonework. Visitors also can roam the maze of steep, cobbled streets in the charming Alfama neighborhood, which is Lisbon’s oldest quarter, having survived the earthquake that wrecked most of the city in 1755. It’s filled with small plazas, colorful buildings and shops selling handcrafted items.
A port call in Regua provides an opportunity to tour Casa de Mateus near Vila Real. Built in the first half of the 18th century, the palace is a fine example of Baroque architecture. Some might recognize it from the label that adorned flask-shaped bottles of Mateus rosé, a popular wine in the early 1970s. The formal gardens contain elaborate displays of topiaries, manicured hedges and tiered pools.
South of Regua is Lamego, famed for a shrine called the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies, which sits at the top of a long series of zigzagging steps decorated with tilework.
Farther east along the river, travelers spend time in the 12th-century walled village of Castelo Rodrigo, set on a hill and laced with narrow medieval lanes. Passengers usually travel across the border to Spain to visit Salamanca, where sightseeing excursions take in the golden sandstone architecture and the campus of the University of Salamanca; founded in 1218, it is one of Europe’s oldest universities. Some itineraries include a flamenco show in Salamanca.