Riverboat Cruise in Portugal May 2018


On Friday, 18th May 2018, we (my wife, Jean, and I) fly to Lisbon, Portugal, to start an 11-day experience with Viking Cruises which will take us from Lisbon to Porto, along the River Douro to Salamanca in Spain, back to Porto and on to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain for a few days as an extension to the trip. This blog is intended primarily as a record of the trip for us, but others might be interested. Possibly.

Thursday, 17th May

Drove down to a Holiday Inn near Heathrow. Traffic thickish but no real problems. Found that the plug in the bathroom sink didn’t work, so had to change rooms. Great start.

As I don’t know Heathrow, decided to recce where we had to take the car for Meet and Greet the following morning. Very glad we did, as this was far more difficult than I thought. Finally worked it out and went back to the hotel for some welcome, reasonably tasty but rather expensive food and drink.

Friday, 18th May

Dropped car off at Meet and Greet at Terminal 3. I’d blithely assumed that the return flight from Madrid on 29th would come back into T3, but no. T5!! Fortunately, the car can be collected from there on our return.

For once, got through Security with no trouble. I’d pre-booked a lounge, so headed straight there and enjoyed a Buck’s Fizz and bacon roll, as you do.

Starting as I mean to go on…..

Flight smooth and uneventful. Staying at the Hotel Tivoli Avenida Liberdade near the river. Very posh.

Went for a walk around Lisbon. Charming place for the most part, but hilly. Ended up in the Alfama district at a place called Cafe 28, where a beer and an excellent cheese toastie were called for.

Back to the hotel after a long walk where we decided to go up to the terrace bar for a pre-dinner drink. Wish that we hadn’t. Despite a decent view, it didn’t deserve the 42 euros we were charged for two drinks. Total rip-off.

Went down to the main restaurant where we had a decent meal for a reasonable price, but once again, we were charged an exorbitant price for ham, cheese and toast appetisers which were forced on us but didn’t realise we’d have to pay 28 euros for. Left a nasty taste in the mouth.

Despite this, slept well in a comfortable bed after a knackering day.

San Jorge Castle from the Sky Bar atop Tivoli Avenida Liberdade in Lisbon

Saturday, 19th May

This was the first included excursion provided by Viking – a short coach trip which took us to Belem Tower in the west of the city, then to the extraordinary Jeronimos monastery in the Belem quarter and finally a short tour round the Alfama district of the old town, much of which we had seen on our walk yesterday.

Belem Tower – built on the River Tagus to defend Lisbon
Cloisters of the Jeronimos monastery
Tiled outer walls of a building in the Alfama district

This was actually a very interesting morning – having a knowledgeable guide with the Quietvox system makes a huge difference.

We had been given a lot of information about Lisbon by a Portuguese colleague of our son-in-law, so we decided to try and find one of her recommended restaurants for lunch (Cafe Beira Gare). Finally found it – very busy, but we managed to polish off some grilled salted cod and a pork steak sandwich – very nice, but much more than we originally intended. Decided to check out another restaurant for an evening meal – the strangely titled Lost In. This took some finding, and it involved a lot of climbing, but it was a charming place.

The Lost In terrace bar
View from the Lost In restaurant

So – we decided to sit here and have a drink before returning to the hotel via the rather disappointing Botanical Gardens. Very nice it was too.

Final night in this very nice hotel before we depart for Porto in the morning.

Sunday, May 20th

Another example of Viking’s legendary efficiency. Luggage to be collected at 7 a.m. from our room to be loaded onto the coach to take us to Porto. They were all of 10 seconds late!

Set off on a coach journey again, but Viking coaches are highly commended, as they have LOADS of legroom! This time we were headed north of Lisbon to the northern town of Porto, where we were to board our river boat for the cruise along the River Douro.

We stopped at Coimbra, a town with a world-famous university (it is one of the oldest in the world). The highlight was the library, an extraordinary series of rooms with tens of thousands of original books and astonishing rococo gilt decor. Apparently this place was an inspiration to JK Rowling for the Harry Potter stories.

Inside the main room of the Coimbra University library

As part of the package, we were then taken to a restaurant on the outskirts of Coimbra, the Republica da Saudade (the last word has no exact English translation, but means “missing someone or something”). This was obviously set up for large parties arriving at once, for we had a great three course meal with virtually unlimited wine, served with remarkable speed and aplomb. However, an unexpected delight was some live fado music, played by ex students of Coimbra University. This is the national music of Portugal, and normally I can take it or leave it, but this was the real McCoy, played live by two great guitarists and a very good singer. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Proper musician playing a proper fado 12 string guitar

Rosy and replete, we were bussed to our boat, the Viking Hemming, at Gaia, on the opposite bank of the River Douro to Portugal’s second city, Porto.

The usual effusive Viking welcome awaited us and we boarded with little fuss. Great to be able to fully unpack and enjoy a superb three course dinner, right up to Viking’s very high standards. It was also great to see our first view of Porto from the riverside.

Porto from the River Douro

All in all, a very interesting day. I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow in our very comfortable stateroom.

Monday, May 21st

Jean’s last day of being 64…..

Took the included tour around Porto. Started with a coach trip through the city (hat tip to Bruno, our driver) which was described in detail by our guide, Rita, an absolute mine of information. Rita then took us on a short walking tour of Porto which was interesting, but not riveting.

Impromptu visit to some church on the main shopping street in Porto

And they do like their tiles in Portugal generally….

Some tiles outside some church…..

This was closely followed by a much more interesting visit to the Sandeman port wine warehouse about 200 yards from our boat! We were treated to an exposition on the various types and classes of port from Hugo, our guide round the facility. Dizzying amounts of detail, but fascinating nonetheless. Surprise, surprise – we had the opportunity to taste the produce:

Tawny reserve and classic white port

Very different tastes. The tawny was more what I’m accustomed to in my very limited experience, and was excellent, but the white was fresher and dryer, potentially very nice as an aperitif.

Returned to the boat, light lunch, then spent a very pleasant afternoon on the sun deck of the boat accompanied by several glasses of the delicious Portuguese vinho verde. Life’s hard…..

Yet another superb three course dinner (accompanied by wine, of course), then a rather fun evening of Portuguese music provided by a talented bunch of students.

Another very fine day.

Tuesday, 22nd May

Jean’s 65th birthday……

The card and the Michael Kors handbag went down very well. I congratulated myself on having smuggled this undetected in my luggage all the way from Blighty (even though Jean knew she was getting a handbag).

Very interesting talk from our Programme Director, Bianca de Jong, about the River Douro whilst the boat was actually moving to our next port of call, Regua, which is the start of the Douro viticulture proper. The wines are shipped down the River to Porto, where they are aged before being exported as port wine.

During this part of the river, we went through one of the big locks, which took me to within a few inches of my head as the boat rose!

A close encounter with a lock ceiling…..

After yet another excellent lunch, we boarded the coach to the Mateus Palace. Despite its name, this has nothing to do with the production of the (in)famous rosé wine, but a commercial agreement was reached between the producers of said wine and the owners of the palace, so that the façade of the palace could be used as a logo.

Front of the Mateus Palace

This was actually quite plain inside – it is still being used in part by the Mateus family. The most interesting part was the chapel at the side, which, as “valued” Viking guests, we were allowed to visit.

One of the artefacts in the chapel at Mateus Palace

There were some nice gardens too.

Mateus Palace gardens

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