CRUISING THE DUORO RIVER
One of the things we were told we HAD to do whilst in this Northern part of Portugal is take a cruise along the Duoro River, so today we set out to do exactly that! It was one of the laziest days we’ve had in a while, cruising along the river, admiring the Duoro Valley vineyards, and soaking in the scenery along the way. It was a wonderful way to spend the day and definitely something we will now be recommending to anyone visiting this part of the world.
We chose to do a downstream* cruise, from the town of Regua (which is about 80km inland) back down to Porto. To get to Regua we caught a local train which chugged it’s way through the hills of the Duoro Valley for 2 hours, stopping at every little village along the way. Along the way we caught glimpses of the river, but much of the journey took us through tunnels so the scenery wasn’t great. Once we got to Regua, however, the popularity of the region amongst holiday makers became obvious. It’s just so pretty up there in the hills!
*The cruises go in both directions but the upstream one takes about 8 hours which sounded just a bit too long for us.
The Douro is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, flowing from its source up on the Spanish Meseta to its outlet at Porto. The river is huge and in making its way down from the high plains of La Meseta, the Duoro has created some dramatic scenery. The river cuts its way through the granite hills of Northern Portugal, leaving some spectacular canyons and valleys in its wake.
Over the millennia that the Douro Valley has been inhabited, the slopes have been carved away and terraced to make way for vineyards that flourish in the valley’s microclimate. It’s the grapes grown along the Duoro Valley that are fermented to produce the world’s favourite fortified wine: port.
Wine and port produced in the Douro Valley has been transported down the river since the Romans were here in the 4th century. It was the wine trade that first allowed Porto, positioned as it is at the mouth of the Douro, to flourish.
The economic relations between the city of Porto and the villages and towns in the upper reaches of the Douro Valley have been documented since the Middle Ages. It wasn’t just grapes and wine that flowed into Porto either; fruit, nuts, olives, and many other food products traditionally grown in the valley have long been exported to the world from the Douro Valley, through the riverside quays of Porto. Still today the region relies heavily on income from the port wine and foods it produces.
We saw a number of vineyards, orchards, and rural communities in our 6 hour journey down the Duoro today. Some of the villages along the way were very small, made up of just a few old homes clinging to the hillside with fields all around them. Others were larger and had a few modern houses in amongst the older ones. For the most part, however, the Douro Valley is very rural and rustic.
After about 3 hours’ cruising we reached the first of 2 dams built along the river in the 1970s. The boat went through a lock here, dropping an incredible 35m in just 10 minutes.
Further on the river widened out, becoming deep and smooth. We saw a number of people kayaking along this stretch of the river, making. The most of the calm waters, good weather, and pleasant scenery.
This far downstream the town’s lining the river were bigger and far more modern-looking than the small rural villages we had seen earlier in the day. Interestingly there were a few rusted, old river boats sitting along the banks around the lower reaches of the Douro.
Here too we saw the first of a number of riverside beaches, used by the locals to cool off in the heat of summer. These riverside beaches, we learned, are more popular than the ocean-facing beaches bar Porto due to the strong current and big waves brought in by the Atlantic. The beaches near Porto are popular with surfers, but these riverside beaches are more popular with bathers – especially families.
The hillsides were often densely forested though, often with eucalyptus trees surprisingly! Seems they were imported into Portugal during the 1990s due to their heat tolerance and have taken off. It was a little strange seeing the familiar shapes of gum trees mixed in with cacti, bull rushes, deciduous trees, and conifers.
Closer in to Porto the houses got bigger; the vineyards and orchards gave way to suburbs and commercial infrastructure; and a few more boats appeared on the river.
Finally the familiar arc of the Dom Luis I bridge came into view and the city centre of Porto appeared before us.
When the boat pulled into its riverside dock in Porto and we joined the throngs of people strolling along the Cais de Ribeira. We had dinner in a local restaurant tucked in one of the side streets, away from the more touristy part of town. Like every meal we’ve had here, the food was great – very simple, but good. In many ways that defines a lot of what we’ve seen so far here in Portugal: things are simple, but good. Life may be pretty basic, but the people are good and the vibe is just so relaxed and mellow. We could get used to this…