Story by Barbara Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis

Viking Hemming

Portugal’s River of Gold
Viking River Cruise

Viking River Cruises’ has some of the most appealingly seductive television ads and often when watching them I would wonder how accurate they were.  Well, having recently returned from our first Viking Cruise, I can  honestly attest to the fact that the ads are not exaggerations.

Viking Cruise Duro River

We choose to cruise on Portugal’s Douro  River named “River of Gold” because in the day, the river was the method of transport for the fine wines, almonds and olives produced in the  river valley, the primary source of the areas wealth. Portugal has  everything we were looking for; a rich cultural history, renowned  cuisine and world-famous wines... perfect. Once we choose the destination and date scheduling the trip was effortless. The touring options were  generous with daily included offerings plus we were given optional extra tours for minimal addition fees.

Due to the size of the Douro’s lock system, our ship the Viking Hemming, is one of the smaller ships in the Viking fleet but it has every amenity one could hope for. The cabins are beautifully decorated with queen size beds, balconies in every stateroom, full baths with rain showers and  abundant hot water, complimentary WiFi throughout the ship, nightly  entertainment, and pool topside with a large deck for enjoying the  passing scene.

Viking Cruise Mushroom Dish

Fresh local food with daily Portuguese specialties were on the menu and for those who wanted something more  familiar, steak and hamburgers and other stateside staples, plus  vegetarian meals, were always available.

The staff gets high marks for their friendliness and efficiency, kudos also to housekeeping for their constant attention and the spic and span  cleanliness of cabins and public spaces. Even the floor-to-ceiling  windows were spotless. At each stop the windows were washed allowing  taking photos from inside - when weather did not encourage going outside - absolutely picture-perfect. Maps, bottled water, and umbrellas when  necessary, were handed out every time we left the ship to tour, with a  smile and “have a good time until we see you again”€. Daily updates as to where we were and our next port-of-call including the all-important  weather conditions were placed each evening in every cabin and a  libation was offered when returning to the ship from a day of  sightseeing.

And speaking of tours,  the Tour Directors were amazing: knowledgeable, helpful - if you had a  special interest they would happily research it for you - pleasant  always with a smile and jokes. In order to guarantee personal attention  and not to overwhelm the sites we visited, the 120 passengers were split into 3 groups. Our assigned tour director was Joana Lapes who kept us  entertained with anecdotes and funny stories when traveling by bus to  our destination of the day.

Viking Busses

Our cruise actually began in Lisbon with a city tour and overnight at a  five-star hotel, a mere five minute walk from the city center. Next  morning we piled into our comfortable, spacious coach for the drive  north to Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, and the port from where  the ship departed.

Coimbra University Student in Black Cape

On the way we stopped to visit the  famous University of Coimbra. Established in 1290, the University is  notable for the black capes the students wear and the colorful ribbons  that determine each undergraduate’s course of study. A graduation  tradition has friends and family removing all clothes from the graduate, leaving only their shoes and capes, and the festivities continue with  the burning of the ribbons. 

Coimbra’s library is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with access strictly limited  and controlled and no pictures permitted. We were only allowed to stay a few minutes, hardly enough time to take in all the spectacular gilded  decorative elements; exotic carvings on rare African woods; intricate  marble laid floor; and painted ceiling that adorn the magnificent rooms. Initially only three subjects of study were offered: Theology, Law and  Medicine, and the library has one room dedicated to each subject.

Viking Cruise Fado Singer

We had lunch in the República (house of students) and were entertained  by students and ex-students singing Fado, the very emotional heart-felt  form of singing usually accompanied by the Portuguese guitar. Originally in Portugal only men sang Fado but in 1891 female students at Coimbra  began singing and now both sexes perform the mournful melodies.

Porto 2 Bridges

On to Porto, made famous for the fortified Port Wine on which the city’s prosperity was built. The city of Porto, originally name Portoscali, is separated by the Douro River with Porto on one side and Scali (now Vila Nova de Gaia) on the other. Porto is referred to as the City Of Bridges for the six that span the river, two by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame. The historic Old Town Center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and  across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, we had the opportunity to learn  about and taste Port wine at one of the many wine-shipper cellars along  the waterfront.

Porto São Bento Railway Station

No visitor to Porto should miss the São Bento railway station where one  of the most romantic stories is played out in azulejo tiles. In 1386  King John, a infamous man-about-town was married to Philippa of  Lancaster, eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, to seal a vital alliance  with England. They did not know each other; in fact their marriage was  by proxy as was the custom of the times and supposedly when they first  met they did not like each other. King John was charming and handsome  and Philippa apparently lost her heart to him. So the story goes,  Philippa, a pious young woman, tried to lay down the law and told John  to shape up and stop playing around. When he refused she returned to  England. John realizing the error of his ways ran after her espousing  undying love. She returned to Portugal, they had nine children, one of  which was Henry the Navigator, and enjoyed a long, faithful and loving  marriage. End of story. (Editor’s Note: I could not find reference to  this story in a history book but our Porto guide assured me it was  gospel and besides the tiles were beautiful).

Salamanca Art Deco Museum

Daily we visited charming small towns along the Douro River Valley,  sailed in the afternoon when the light was best for viewing the  hillsides covered by vineyards, and docked in the evening to explore on  our own. Our last port of call was Salamanca in Spain, another UNESCO  World Heritage Site, with its beautiful main square Plaza Mayor, which  is often called the most beautiful in Spain. The Cathedral of Salamanca, both old 12th century, and new 16th century, is a must see. Another not to be missed site is the Museum of  Art Deco & Nouveau behind the Cathedral. If you are a fan of French  decorative art glass by Rene Lalique and Emile Gallé plus stained glass  windows of exceptional quality and art from circa 1920s, this is the  museum to visit. There is also a collection of about 300 porcelain dolls in a gallery on the second floor. Thankfully, we had the good sense to  stop for a treat of the famous Spanish hot chocolate in the café on the  first floor before visiting the gift shop.

Viking Duro Cruise Entering Lock

Sailing leisurely back along the Douro  River to Porto and passing through the five locks to navigate the  different water levels on the river and canals was equally captivating  on the return which we viewed with our new found friends courtesy of  Viking River Cruises.

For information on the many destinations, cruises and schedules Viking offers, visit:
www.vikingrivercruises.com

 

 

 

© February 2018 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.

 

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