Exploring the Douro May 10, 2023
We flew to Madrid, drove west until we found the Douro and boarded the Andorinha. Then we floated down the Douro until we discovered the Atlantic Ocean. We then drove to Lisbon. When I recover from this nine hour jet lag I will try to fill in some details. Great trip. It was probably our favorite river tour of the four that we have done.
I look forward to your experiences and am glad you enjoyed the tour. We plan on doing it again!
We start this tour on June 14 in the opposite direction - Lisbon to Duoro to Madrid. I am looking forward to all of your insights.
You didn't turn south to Jerez and Rota - old stomping ground?
Sealord - Being a veteran river cruiser and saying this one was probably your favorite, I'm interested to hear what aspect of this river tour vs the other ones you've been on that makes this one your favorite.
Was it the ship, crew, TD, sights, pace of the tour, excursions, etc. It's probably not just one thing, but I'd be interested in hearing what on this river tour was better than the other river tours to make this your favorite.
Thanks in advance. I've only been on one river cruise (on the Danube).
I would also be interested to hear. I have been on both the upper and lower Danube. One was more scenic than the other.
We arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport in the morning, and the adventure began. I finally found an airport I like less than terminal five at Heathrow. We arrived at Terminal four which incorporates hard stands so you descend the stairs and board a bus to the terminal. There we found a heard of humanity standing in line for customs with an inadequate number of customs agents. You then board a train to get to baggage claim. The info board did not reveal the carousel number and even the AA agent could not provide it. So the search began. Assisted by some other travelers and guided by our Apple tags we found our luggage. Outside we found the Tauck agents at the appointed place. They spoke no English so my limited Spanish was put to the test. We waited for some time for other passengers, as they also had trouble finding their luggage. A couple hours after arriving at Barajas we were on a pleasant drive to the Palace Hotel. We had arrived a day early, and we found the trip from the West Coast to be more tiring than normal. We used our free time to explore a botanical garden and tour the area. The welcome dinner was in the hotel on day one, and our meal was quite good, but some complained that their meat was tough.
I forgot to mention that the carousel was also marked incorrectly. Our flight was from Dallas, and it showed some other city. Of course none of that is Tauck’s fault nor AA either.
The Palace is a great hotel. I last stayed there forty-four years ago when I was working for World Airways. Of course it was not a Westin hotel then, and it has been remodeled multiple times. The first day of touring in Madrid was quite a marathon, including the Palace, Art Museum, and a walking Tapas tour. After walking and standing for a total of five hours or so with little opportunity to sit, we skipped the walking Tapas tour and went to dinner. Had I known all of the details, we probably would have skipped the Art Museum and instead go on the Tapas tour. Our traveling companions said the Tapas tour was quite good.
The next day we boarded the coaches and drove to Salamanca and then to the ship. When we boarded the ship we were told that one person had to drop out because they got covid. That was the only case during the trip … there were 74 of us.
That’s enough for now.
The Douro Riiver is very narrow in some places where there is only one way traffic. One boat will pull off to the side in a wide spot and let the other boat pass. Due to these conditions they only sail in daylight. When you go on a shore excursion you often return to the boat in a different location. The Andorinha is a charming boat. It is smaller so there is no exercise room nor a salon, and only one public bathroom for ‘each’. Rooms are well designed with plenty of storage space.
Have a great trip Sealord
I'm glad you and yours enjoyed Exploring the Douro. It's one of my favorites. I liked everything about this trip -- scenery/cities, riverboat, staff, food and lastly, the pace of the trip. I've taken 10 riverboat trips with Tauck and some of my other favorites are the Royal Danube, Berlin and Krakow; Amsterdam to Budapest; Cruising the Seine plus Paris and London and the Rhine and Moselle. If you like riverboats you might want to check these out. I'll be taking the Christmas Markets along the Rhine trip this December. I'm looking forward to it since I was unable to do it due to COVID. If you've done this one I would appreciate and comments you might have.
You might get more responses to your question if you post it in the area of the forum that relates to that specific Christmas Marker tour instead of embedding it in the Douro, Plus Lisbon & Madrid section of the forum.
Vivian - We are doing “Savoring France” next.
Sam - There is not one thing that makes the Douro our favorite it is the combination of many things. The Douro is a totally non-industrial river. There was a lot of daytime sailing while we were aboard to see the sights. Madrid and Lisbon are beautiful cities. The towns and cities we visited along the Douro were very interesting, and shall we say mostly off of the beaten path. Our tour director team was superb, and the crew on the Andorinha was special. On disco dancing night I was surprised at how many young people were aboard, until I realized that it was the crew that was out there dancing with us. I tell people that my wife does ‘pole dancing’ … I’m the pole and she’s the dancer.
Thanks for the response. Your comment about your dancing is hilarious. I hope you're out of arms reach if your wife reads your comment.
I agree about Madrid and Lisbon.
Am I correct in thinking that the pace of the tour, at least the riverboat portion was very slow/easy with the daytime sailing? That seems appropriate for a sail through a lot of wine country.
Sealord - You are bringing back some very special memories of when we took this tour. I have a few questions but will wait until you are done with your review.
We have only taken four (4) river cruises of which the Douro was our absolute favorite followed by Savoring France. Keep the posts coming!
The check-in process was so fast and easy we didn’t have time to finish the Champagne. They took your picture and gave you the key, no passport nor credit card required. Then a crewmember escorted you to the room. .It was a long day of touring so they said it was a come as you are dinner, but I think most people changed. The boat has a great ‘sitting’ pool instead of a hot tub. Can’t believe I did not get a picture of it. It was nice and warm most of the time. The pool bar was only open one day when we had lunch on the roof, but the other days waiters made frequent passes to get drink orders. Arthur’s was in full swing except for times when there were low bridges. There was a mandatory briefing every evening at 6:30 PM, followed by dinner. After dinner on the first night we had Flamenko dancing presented by local talent.
Sealord I'm doing this cruise in August, looking forward to it.
Our cruise was actually quite cool. We wore jackets much of the time, at least in the mornings. You should not need a jacket in August, but being on and near the water I would bring one warm garment … and a lot of ‘summer’ clothes. We actually packed very light for this trip. Each of our bags was only half full, and we had plenty. We did a few laundry items on the ship, but it is expensive, and it was probably not really necessary. I brought home three unworn items. A hat and sunscreen are essential. Plus, bring your own medical kit. As mentioned before medical support on the ship is minimal. We had Band-Aids, but what I needed was a BAND-AID.
Five (5) of us did the Savoring France trip beginning on April 5, 2023. It was the first sailing of the season. There were problems with the tour and hotel. We were told when we boarded the riverboat at Lyon that the strikers had blocked all the locks on the Rhone and we would not be able to do the trip we signed up for. At that point Tauck gave people the choice to go home or continue with the trip going North on the Soane. We stayed but there wasn't much to see along the Soane. We never ate dinner off the riverboat. boat. No entertainment was brought on the riverboat. The only entertainment we had was the piano player/singer. The highlight of the riverboat cruise was going to the cooking school in Valence which was scheduled for the trip we signed up for, visiting the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (add on) and a winery Chateau de Rully (add on). Les Halles de Lyon, celebrated food market, is always interesting. We had a wine and food tasting there (part of the original trip). After we got home, we were notified by Tauck that we would be receiving a partial refund.
Housekeeping at the Intercontinental in Paris was a problem on the last day of my stay. While at breakfast, housekeeping came into my room even though I had the Do Not Disturb sign on the door and threw away the macarons I made at the Cordon Bleu, took some expensive macarons I purchased and put them on her housekeeping cart in the hallway and put my coat into a shopping bag I had and put it in the trash bin on her cart. I reported this immediately to the hotel and Tauck.
I hope your trip will be wonderful.
I missed a stop so I will back up here a little bit. Enroute to the boat, we stopped at a little Spanish town Salamonca. We toured the town and a church of course, and had free time to do lunch. We are not normally three meals a day people, so we had a glass of wine and coffee … my wine her coffee. They were having a book fair at the Plaza Mayor which kind of clogged things up, but it was a pleasant stop.
Castelo Rodrigo was our next tour. Located on a hill top with some steps that challenged some, but even the ‘mellow yellow’ group made it through the ruins … just not very quickly. A beautiful day and interesting views.
So now we are on our way to Pinhao and an afternoon cruise to Folgosa for a gourmet dinner at the DOC. In Pinhao we were given three colored tokens that we could use at specified locations for wine tastings, or drinks, and food. It was something of a treasure hunt cuz you had to find these businesses. They were more than happy to get the tokens that no doubt had a cash value when collected by the ship. Cute too, only a couple blocks long, but a popular tourist destination.
After our visit to Pinhao we had lunch on the roof.
One of the treasure hunt stops for us was a tiny place with a delightful shopkeeper whose mother baked several lemon cream pies just for our group's visit. Actually, I remember the napkin holders in the photo above with the gentleman in the green shirt. It was probably the same place we went to. Such a fun morning in a charming town with equally charming people who genuinely seemed excited to see us.
So we floated down the river and disembarked in Folgosa and took a very short walk to the DOC restaurant for a gourmet diiner. There were cocktails and hors d’oeuvres outside before we were invited inside to dine. For reasons beyond my understanding I don’t have any pictures of seventy-four people who are strangers to the viewer. I do have the menu. The food was great.
On day six we visited and briefly toured the town of Lamego enroute to a winery that makes sparkling wine. We had a good turnout for this one. They explained the process as we stumbled through a rather dark winery. That of course was followed by a tasting of several of their sparkling wines.
We returned to the boat for lunch and in the afternoon we went to Quinta for “cocktail making”. That was the official description. It was actually a tour of the Pacheca Port Wine vineyards and winery, followed by a tasting and lessons in how to make cocktails using white Port, Tawny Port, and Vintage Port. By the way, in this winery they still ‘stomp’ the grapes with real feet. They stomp for four hours at a time. It can be work, but for some it is an adventure or a social event. Some people visit the winery just because they want to stomp grapes. They claim you get an entirely different product if the grapes are squeezed by machinery. And yes, I did buy a bottle of Pacheca Vintage Port.
Great pictures Sealord, I'm doing this cruise in August, appreciate the comments
Wonderful preview. Thank you…we explore the Douro June 14th!
On day seven we floated down the Douro for a while, and had a Champagne Brundh aboard the ship. In the afternoon we visited the city of Guimaraes. We did an interesting walking tour that was all down hill, and saw many interesting and quaint sights. We stopped for refreshments before meeting our coaches to return to the ship. There was also an option for a long bike ride which sounded interestin but during a phone conversation with a Tauck rep she said, “You are on vacation. Do the walking tour.”. That evening after dinner we had the dance party with the crew. Some of us never stopped … I provided the ‘pole’ when required.
On day eight we visited the Quinta da Aveleda winiery. They had beautiful gardends and the make green wines … meaning age not color. Really table wine meant to be consumed in three to wix months. It was tasty but not special. The grounds of he winery were very nice. In the evening we sailed into Porto and we had the Chef’s Signature Dinner.
Day nine was our last day on Andorinha. It was touring of Porto and Gaia … same place, different sides of the river. It was planned as land, river , and air, but they were having Navy day so the ferry was a bit jammed up. We walked across to get on the ‘air’ to the top where we had a local beverage that we were taught how to make yesterday. We really enjoy Portugal and Spain, and have been to each several times. There is a fair amount of walking on this trip, but even those who walked with canes seemed to get along just fine. Tomorrow we go to Coimbra and Lisbon.
The hardest part of that tour was having to get off of that gorgeous boat.
Day number ten was off the boat and back to school day. Enroute to Lisbon we stopped at Coimbra and visited the university, it’s chapel, and the ‘old’ library. Photos are not permitted inside the library so you will have to go there to see it. We had lunch on our own in town before proceeding to Lisbon and the Intercontinental Hotel.