A river cruise with a difference!
A river cruise doesn’t have to be all about coach excursions to towns and cities along the way. CroisiEurope have hit on the option of offering a great alternative – the chance to discover the beautiful surrounding countryside on foot.
As keen walkers this appealed to my husband and I and so we packed up our walking gear and took an early flight from Gatwick to Porto to join the MS Infante don Henrique river boat.
The Don Henrique is a handsome vessel, one of 32 owned and operated by CroisiEurope. Renovated in 2014, the ship takes 138 passengers and they are all looked after admirably by the friendliest crew. Cabins are on the small side but perfectly adequate. Ours had a large picture window giving great views during our cruise. The shower room is bijou but does the job and there was always plenty of hot water.
Food & drink
On arrival we joined our fellow passengers in the lounge for a welcome drink before dinner. CroisiEurope is a French family owned company and on our cruise 90% of the passengers were European, mostly French. We were thoughtfully assigned a table with the 4 of the other English speakers, two couples from the USA. Once your table is assigned you keep it for the duration. All meals are taken at the same time and everyone is served together. We enjoyed fantastic dishes, the emphasis is on French cuisine and the standard is high. A buffet breakfast, 3 or 4 course lunch and dinner. Wine and spirits, soft drinks, tea and coffee are all included.
The next day there was morning excursion around the picturesque city of Porto and a visit to a wine cellar, of course! We re-joined the ship up river at Leverinho and spent the afternoon sailing along the picturesque Douro towards Regua.
The Douro is renowned for stunning scenery around every bend and it didn’t disappoint. There are also a number of impressive locks to navigate and some extremely low bridges, all adding to the excitement.
Day 3 and the hiking began with a bus transfer to Sao Matinho Anta and a 4-5 mile trail through mountains, deep valleys and remote villages. It was bliss to soak up the peace and quiet, the beautiful views and a myriad of spring flowers. White broom and fragrant wild lavender covered the hillsides. There was a steep climb, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Our guides for the week spoke good English and were very familiar with the routes. They kept everyone together and made sure we stuck to the timetable.
Non hikers took a bus tour to Vila Real and Mateus Palace, returning to join the ship and meet up with the hikers for lunch.
The following day we moored on the Spanish/Portuguese boarder in the delightful village of Barca D’Alva. There was a full day tour for all passengers to the Spanish city of Salamanca but we opted to stay on the boat and explore the surrounding area ourselves. It turned out we had the boat to ourselves and were treated like royalty! The crew laid on a light lunch for us and made sure we had drinks and snacks at our disposal. Barca d’Alva has walking routes in every direction and we enjoyed exploring this sleepy area deep in the valley.
When everyone was back on board the crew made the most of us being so near to Spain by treating everyone to a Spanish themed dinner with amazing paella. Followed by a traditional Flamenco show, performed by a troupe of dancers that came onboard just for the evening. Ole!
After a sumptuous breakfast the next day we were all set for a morning hike but sadly it started to rain. The crew quickly re arranged a few things so we could hike in the afternoon and low and behold the rain stopped in time. This time we drove just a short distance along the valley and walked uphill onto the rugged mountain side, crossing ancient bridges over crystal clear streams. This is where eagles, vultures and kites circle high above, so we kept our binoculars at the ready.
Day 6 was the long hike – almost a full day and over 9 miles through the famous vineyards of the Douro. We walked at quite high altitudes giving amazing views and the occasional glimpse of the river sparkling in the sun way below. The ship provided a substantial picnic to enjoy along the way and we called into a small family run winery, with delicious tastings accompanied by bread, cheese, figs and olives.
Non hikers didn’t miss out as their coach tour took them along the Douro Wine Road with a visit to a Quinta for tastings.
All too soon we were back in Porto and our last hike was a complete contrast as we were transferred by road to the Atlantic coast and the mouth of the Douro Estuary. We hiked back to the city, a distance of about 5 miles, but all on the flat and with breathtaking views along the way. It happened to be Easter Sunday and the banks of the river were teeming with families enjoying the wonderful weather. We took the cable car from the historical area of Gaia, home to the famous port wine cellars, to the gardens of Jardim do Morro enjoying the dazzling views over the city. Once at the top we were met by our driver and bus and taken back to the ship for our last night. A final delicious meal and an evening of Portuguese folk music was enjoyed by all, before packing our bags for home.
If you like a totally relaxing holiday, with some exercise along the way, then this is the ideal trip.
Early spring, or late summer are great times to travel when hiking is involved as it is not too hot.
This is an ideal holiday for couples who may like different things. One of you can hike whilst the other can sit back and enjoy scenic coach tours.
CroisiEurope can offer airport, station or port transfers on request. Obviously, price depends on location but the cost of a private taxi transfer between Porto airport and the ship is currently £45.