[I was invited to experience Viking River Cruises. I chose Portugal’s Douro Valley. My airfare and cruise were paid for. Financial compensation was not received for this post. Opinions expressed here are my own, always are and always will be.]
Vine roots in Portugal’s Douro Region grow deep.
Driving into the rock and soil taking hold as deep as 30 feet.
I imagine like most roots, they just need a little nurturing to grow back stronger than ever.
This trip to Portugal was like a little watering of my own vines. Awakening my heritage.
It was an unexpected outcome to my journey to Portugal.
I liked Lisbon.
I liked Porto.
I enjoyed cruising and exploring the Douro River. But I LOVED reconnecting with my Portuguese roots and learning much, much more about its history, its food and its people.
There is tons of history to be explored, and I learned interesting tidbits that I find to be really fun.
Did you know:
– The James Bond novel Casino Royale was inspired by spending time in Lisbon’s Estoril Casino? Lisbon was the center of espionage during World War II and author Ian Fleming, who actually worked in intelligence for a time, stayed in Lisbon with his boss (who he modeled M after) on their way to the U.S.
– That India was bequeathed to England as part of Princess Catherine’s (or Portugal) dowry? And Princess Catherine introduced tea to the royal court. Tea is “cha” in Portuguese and when it was imported into England it was taxable, so it had a big “T” on it and became known as tea!
But enough about me and Portuguese fun facts! Let me tell you about my Viking River Cruises trip.
Viking River Cruises graciously invited me to experience one of their river cruises in Europe. As I previously mentioned, Mr. Misadventures and I had planned trips to Portugal in the past, but we ended up changing our minds and ended up in Kyoto and Tuscany.
So when we had the opportunity to select a river cruise, we very quickly decided the Douro River allowing us to explore Lisbon, its second largest city, Porto, and the Douro wine region.
What I Loved
We sailed on the Hemming, a small boat with capacity for 106 passengers and 26 crew. The boat was beautiful, spotless and intimate.
Plenty of spots to enjoy a cup of wine or glass of port (we learned that a pre-lunch port is traditional in Portugal, when in Rome…) while taking in the Douro River.
The top deck had the perfect amount of space for sun worshippers and shade lovers. There was also a beautiful pool, herb garden for Chef Carlo and of course the requisite shuffleboard.
Of course, the captain has a great view as well!
We spent a lot of time in the salon pre-and-post meals, as well as during lectures and demonstrations. Or just to relax.
The decor of that staterooms was bright, light colors and natural materials. Growing up I often wore flannel pajamas, most of the time made in Portugal. Not a lot of people know that Portugal produces great flannel. I was half-tempted to take the beautiful blue flannel blanket on our bed! The view of the wine terraces of Douro Valley were spectacular.
The bathroom had the best shower I have ever experienced on a cruise. Roomy enough, fully closing door, great water pressure – practically unheard of on cruise boats! The francophile in me loved the L’Occitane bath products.
In the evening we wound down to an outstanding collection of free movies. Oh and by the way, there is FREE wifi throughout the boat. You read that right. Free wifi!
Still ruggedly wild and unspoiled, the Douro River is a hidden gem.
The centuries old wine terraces of the Douro River are UNESCO world heritage sites. And while they are stunningly gorgeous, you get a deeper appreciation for them when you realize that nearly all the work is manual.
Passing by sleepy towns and beautiful houses makes you start fantasizing about never leaving.
Viking Rivers Cruises isn’t just a cruise line; it’s your family for however long you are with them. Especially so with the Hemming because the entire crew is not only from Portugal, but the Douro region. You cannot have a better advocate, a better guide, a more gracious host than when you are in someone’s backyard. The passion for this beautiful part of the country is instilled deep into each and every one of the team and it not only inspiring, but contagious!
I think it is a concept that should be replicated everywhere. Staff are happier because they are close to home, can see their families on a regular basis, even if it is only for a few hours, and they are proud to share their region.
Also, it was way cool to have a badass (sorry, not sorry) female lead. Captain Carolina Silva is the only female captain in the Viking fleet, a position she is holding at 26 years of age! In Portugal women outnumber men seven to one, which means you’re going to be seeing a lot more women in male dominated roles. Girl Power!
I wish I can tell you more about Captain Silva, but she declined my interview request. I think she is on the shy side, except when it comes to the job. Mr. Misadventures saw her go toe-to-toe with a grumpy lock-keeper without blinking an eye. You go girl!
Need something? Have a question? The team goes above and beyond to take care of all kinds of requests. I had a question about the origin of the pastel de nata pastry during an afternoon lecture. The next morning, this letter appeared in my room! It provides me with a book suggestion including the description, author and it’s availability on Kindle.
The team is kind and thoughtful. One afternoon Mr. Misadventures and I decided to skip the afternoon excursion in lieu of poppy hunting (see more below). That evening, our amazing tour escort, Annabela, found us having a pre-dinner drink on the back deck and handed us the bag above. She said knowing we are foodies she didn’t want us to miss out on the famous almonds from the town where the excursion had taken place. How wonderful is that?!
The Locks and Bridges
There are five locks that we went through as we journeyed upriver, which we then repeated when we cruised down. All five were built before Portugal entered the EU and they are quite efficient.
Portugal claims the deepest in Europe (Carrapatelo) that stands at a little over 113 feet. It is really impressive to watch the process of going up and down.
There are also countless bridges on the Douro River. Large, tall, concrete, wood, iron. For several of them, everything on the upper deck has to come down, including the capatin’s wheelhouse.
The captain in her convertible!
Any passengers on deck are told they will have to duck and for some bridges it is too close for comfort and passengers have to watch from the back deck. The team is an efficient machine, they know what to do and do it fast and they are always ensuring the safety of the passengers throughout the whole process – it is impressive!
One of the bridges in Porto (there are 6) was built by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel. This bridge, Dom Luis the First in Porto was my favorite. Isn’t it a beauty? It was built by an apprentice of that ingenious visionary who sparked a global frenzy for iron after revealing the Eiffel Tower during the World’s Fair of 1889
The Wines and Ports
Wines, beer and soft drinks are free during lunch and dinner on board any Viking River Cruises ship. And the servers are very generous pourers, if you don’t pay attention, you could end up a little tipsy (I’m looking at you Mr. Misadventures….). In all seriousness, the wines (and ports) we had during the cruise were OUTSTANDING. I have new favorite wines.
Claudio, the maître d’hôtel, who’s tough job it is to select from the hundreds of available wines in the region, truly is gifted in choosing one amazing wine after the other. It was a great introduction to wines I had zero familiarity with before the cruise.
Highlights of the Cruise
A real charmer, Porto (as well as Gaia across the river) are not only gorgeous, but full of interesting things to do, see and eat. Mr. Misadventures and I would have extended our cruise just to stay here a few more days.
We did a city tour, a [free] excursion offered by Viking, but it was just a tease and we want to explore more!
If for nothing else there are two food items I must get my hands on: the Francesinha, a crazy twist on the croque monsieur and Dobrada Guisada Oporto, Portuguese tripe dish that Porto is famous for.
On one of our last days we stopped Regua for the day. Instead of the free excursion, Mr. Misadventures and I went to the market. It’s one of our favorite things to do, a great way to experience local products and local people. We had a great time and although we only spoke a few words in Portuguese and most of the vendors spoke little English, the fact that we tried went a very long way.
The woman above could not stop smiling at us and helping us as much or as little as we needed while we purchased cherries and strawberries. Same goes for the bread seller, the cheese and sausage seller, olive seller, etc.
Our mission was to purchase the ingredients for a great picnic. When the Hemming landed back in Porto, instead of flying back to Lisbon, we decided to drive the side roads back to Lisbon. Our plan was to find a nice picnic spot for lunch to enjoy more of the countryside.
The Regua market was perfect!
Shopping makes you thirsty and as we walked back side streets to get back to the harbor, we stopped into a small local coffee shop to relax and take in the local scene. We ordered a galão, which is like a small latte. (P.S. I have a guide to ordering coffee in Portugal, in case you ever find yourself there.)
As we were finishing our last drops, the owner came back to check on us and share some of his traditional cakes he had created, on display in his shop. He spoke excellent English and said we could find him on Facebook. He was quite the businessman and a friendly host.
That day we missed out on the almonds? We were poppy hunting. Mr. Misadventures LOVES poppies, it’s the background of his website and a favorite subject for photos. We had been seeing them along the edge of the Douro and Mr. Misadventures wanted to capture them.
We debarked into Barca d’Alva and followed a road outside of town. We met up with an abandoned rail line which we hiked on until we were parallel with the river. All the poppies were closer to water level, so Mr. Misadventures found a “path” closer to the water (pictured above) and I stayed on the rail line.
While he was getting the poppies under the olive trees (below), I was taking shots of the wild lavender (above). We love wild flowers! And with Barca d’Alva being so small and remote, there were tons of them all around.
One of our favorite free excursions was a trip to one of the Sandeman estates. The drive alone was breathtaking with beautiful views of the wine terraces and the river.
Sandeman has been producing ports and sherrys since 1790 and is known around the world. We toured their facility and lovely grounds and ended our visit with a sample of two of their ports. The views are gorgeous and the ports delicious!
We spent the day in Salamanca, Spain (another free excursion) and had tons of free time to walk around and check out the sites, like the Plaza Major. Of course, the first thing we did was head to the local market.
We bought Iberian ham sausage and cheese for our picnic. Then we had to have a pre-lunch snack to test out the product!
On the drive to and from Salamanca as well as the entire time walking around we saw storks everywhere! I hadn’t seen any since our trip to Strasbourg over a decade ago.
The visit to this town touched me deeply and I am dedicating a whole post to it, so stayed tuned!
We arrived one day early and stayed three days later to spend extra time in Lisbon, so I’ll be writing a separate post on our time in the city.
However, we also visited the city as an excursion with Viking. Plus I did an optional excursion to the National Tile Museum which was awesome. The museum is housed in an old monastery and besides the great displays and history of tile, the architecture is pretty cool.
During our visit we got to paint our own tiles which was a total blast! The best part was bonding with two fantastic couples – Marvin & Joanne and Jim & Emily – who became our cruise buddies the remainder of our trip.
I’m calling this section MY lowlights because these are specific to me and my current experiences, they shouldn’t impact your decision to book a Viking River Cruise – I HIGHLY recommend it, but no one person can love everything, that is not real!
One of the things I love most about ocean cruises is being rocked to sleep at night by the sea. I assumed the same would happen on the river. I was not aware that the river cruise boats don’t cruise at night. Despite that fact, I slept like a baby, but I missed the motion.
At this moment Mr. Misadventures and I are traveling the U.S. in a 40-foot RV coach. After being in the RV six months we were very much looking forward to being off the RV and on a boat. The Douro River is beautiful, but remote, so some of the places we visited required bus transportation. Viking has their own coaches which are amazing, but we personally were tired of being on a coach.
We had a nice balance of coaching, walking, cruising so it wasn’t terrible, but just the reality of our personal circumstances.
We had a FANTASTIC time. We fell deeply in love with Portugal. The crew was above and beyond and made the trip even better. The Hemming is a beautiful vessel. I would definitely recommend the Douro River trip.
I don’t know what the experience is on a larger more established river on a larger boat. I can extrapolate that the Viking experience translate well to this scenario.
Viking now has two new ocean cruise boats and I am keen to see what that would be like considering their level of service and attention to detail, plus the boat would rock!
Thank you Viking River Cruise for inviting Mr. Misadventures and I to experience your brand, your boats and your people.
Despite the fact this was a sponsored trip, all opinions (as always) remain my own.
How about you? Have you been on Viking River Cruises? Have you been to Portugal? The Douro River? If not, do you want to? Do tell!
You can see more photos from my trip on Instagram, I used #mwa_vikingcruises on all my pics.