Portugal’s port wine country can be best explored by river cruise
Douro Valley in Portugal — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini
Exploring Portugal’s stunning Porto wine region is an exceptional experience. This part of the country is known for its dramatic scenery featuring a magnificent mountainous landscape that rises above the river. An expansive and beautiful area, the Douro Valley has been the epicenter of port winemaking for centuries, attracting visitors from across the globe.
For most travelers, a visit to the Douro Valley can be enhanced by sailing along the beautiful Douro River, which flows from northern Spain to the area surrounding the city of Porto. Viking Cruises, known for its upscale river and ocean cruises across the world, offers an incredible voyage along the Douro with an abundance of small-group food and wine experiences along the way.
Viking Helgrim — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini
One of their new ships, the Viking Helgrim, began cruising this route in 2019, offering an itinerary called “Portugal’s River of Gold,” a cruise that ensures that passengers enjoy food, wine and cultural activities. And that’s all while cruising past some of the most incredibly beautiful scenery in Europe – with glimpses of vineyards, wineries, orchards and historic sites (such as ancient castles) alongside modern structures.
In addition, this Viking cruise provides guests with an added treat – the trip begins in Lisbon (located in southern Portugal), allowing passengers to explore the city (and later, Porto) with optional activities before embarking on the cruise.
Viking ships have been a familiar sight along the Douro River since 2013, and the Viking Helgrim is the youngest in the Portugal fleet. Since the Douro River is notoriously difficult to navigate, the Viking ships on this river are strategically scaled-down versions of the larger Viking “longboats.” Their shorter length (262 feet) allows for easier navigation along the route, as well as through the many locks. Sailing on the Douro is also unique because nighttime cruising is not permitted, due to the treacherous waters.
The pool on the Viking Helgrim — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini
Modern, streamlined and high-tech, the Helgrim offers an intimate, comfortable vacation, as it features 53 modern and well-appointed staterooms (accommodating 106 guests) and a staff of 35. The ship’s many amenities include a contemporary design with artwork throughout, free Wi-Fi, staterooms and suites with verandas (and plenty of storage space), several common areas, including a dining room, lounge, outdoor seating and a spacious top deck with a swimming pool.
The ship is an optimal way to soak in the feel of the Douro, but to truly experience the area, guests need to take advantage of personal experiences throughout the journey. Viking ensures that this happens daily, with a number of activities and small-group excursions that bring travelers to places they may not discover on their own. Special dinners, lunches and picnics in the valley are all part of enjoying the region.
Food and wine excursions
Grapes in the Douro Valley — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini
Several of the memorable wine and food adventures offered to Viking guests are:
– Port wine tastings with cellar and winery visits: Guests choosing to learn about the rich, sweet port wine are in for a remarkable time. Visits to world-famous wineries, such as Sandeman and Ferreira offer facility tours – and tastings of their tawny, ruby and white ports. Another destination is Quinta da Avessada, a 100-year-old wine-growing estate in the heart of the Douro region that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Other experiences feature family-run vineyards with much smaller operations. Most of these local businesses do not export their wines, so the visit is truly unique.
– Port blending classes: Viking offers an immersive class at Quinta do Panascal, situated above the Távora River. After strolling through the vineyards, visitors participate in a workshop with a “port master” to learn about blending – and create their own bottle as well.
– Olive trees are also a familiar sight in this region, as there are a number of producers (both large and smaller establishments). One lovely, welcoming spot is D’Origem, featuring limited-production wines and olive oils – perched atop a hill with jaw-dropping views of the valley.
– A visit to a traditional bakery: Guests are brought to the charming town of Favaios to visit one of the oldest traditional bakeries in the valley. Here, bread is made in a wood oven heated with cut grapevines.
Onboard culinary offerings
Port wine glasses — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini
For culinary adventures onboard, Viking does not disappoint. So even if passengers decide to remain on the ship and not venture out into the Douro Valley, the food experiences offered on the Helgrim are just as delectable. (Plus, you are treated to incredible scenery along the way.)
Chef Anthony Mauboussin is the Director of Culinary Development for Viking’s vessels and is passionate about developing menus and creating wine lists that feature a taste of the destination. This means, while cruising, guests have access to an abundance of regional offerings during the meals.
Created specifically to offer customers authentic recipes and flavors of Portugal (and the Iberian Peninsula), the menu on this voyage features a variety of specialties, such as cataplana (a Portuguese fish and seafood stew), grilled sardine toasts and picanha com esmagado de batata e espinafres (seared steak with crushed potatoes and spinach).
For dessert, the ship serves a variety of sweet homemade favorites, such as leite crème queimado (a sugar-coated custard cream), toucinho do céu (Portuguese almond pudding cake) and cassis bavarois (a light sponge cake with black currant mousse layers).
For food lovers who appreciate inspiring culinary experiences onboard and off, a river cruise through Portugal is an inspiring way to connect with the regional foods through personalized experiences.