Douro Picture-book Delights - Portugal

Douro Picture-book Delights - Portugal

Discover Portugal’s hidden gems on a Scenic river cruise

To River cruise or not is no longer the question!

I recently embarked on my first ever all-inclusive river cruise and loved every minute of it! It was picture-book perfect and enchanting as a Harry Potter tale. Let me share my Portuguese experience with you.

From landing at Porto airport, the Scenic difference was evident.  Met by the smiling face of Max, our Scenic chauffeur, we were swiftly escorted to our awaiting Mercedes for our private transfer to the right bank of the port. The Azure is moored at the city’s historic Cais da Estiva wharf. This is important as Scenic has secured the best position in Porto with easy access to the old city. Driving through Porto I was immediately struck by a sense of wonder with the quaint houses, winding streets, and sense of Harry Potter enchantment.  Max was generous with all his tips on what to do, and see and told us all about what life was like in Portugual pre and post-pandemic.

At the dock, we were immediately met with another warm welcome from the awaiting crew who took our baggage and personally escorted us making us feel instantly at home. As soon as we boarded the Scenic Azure we were captivated by its sense of luxury and indulgence.

At reception, we were introduced to the welcoming team, hotel manager, and our fabulous butler, Filipe, who walked us the short distance to our balcony suite room just down the corridor, suite 313. Our balcony suite was stunning, spacious, and beautifully appointed. I particularly loved the welcome message of “I would gladly live out of a suitcase if it meant I could see the World ”, I totally agree!

From the separate balcony with adjustable windows and screens to the adjustable bed with comfy linens and pillows, we instantly knew that we were in for a treat.  The marble bathroom is worth mentioning as it had all the modern cons – an adjustable shower and plenty of white fluffy towels, along with the obligatory bathroom and slippers.  Queue champagne!

Our butler was obliging bringing us a glass to toast our embarkation and taking us through all the details of the room, including the numerous lighting options, refillable minibar, and complimentary laundry and daily pressing!

We quickly unpacked, and of course, I needed more coat hangers.  Before long it was time for the official welcome and safety briefing with our Captain Paulo Jesus and Hotel Manager Joao Paulo Oliveira. With the same level of luxury found on other Scenic Space-Ships, here we enjoyed the company of just 96 guests, securing a heightened sense of intimacy and relaxation as you glide along the tranquil Douro waters.

Porto is exactly how you want a European city to look and feel with a contrast of faded glory and grandeur. Its essence is part ruin, medieval, and part modern with a skyline of Cathedral, clanging bell towers, and shadowed laneways that hint at past conquests. From moss-covered staircases, to cricking bridges it’s all here, from clustered hillside villages and cobbled stoned laneways to the Douro River there’s a sense of mystery and magic at every turn.

The capital of Port wine and a city with a fascinating mix of architectural styles, including Roman, medieval, Baroque and contemporary. Stay in a luxurious hotel on a hillside overlooking wine cellars and the Douro River. During private touring, explore the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See highlights such as the Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange), the Se do Porto (Porto Cathedral) and the Livraria Lello, a historic bookstore with ornate woodwork. Browse specialty shops selling porcelain and Portuguese design products, and perhaps opt to visit additional places such as the Serralves Museum, the Casa da Musica, attractions with beautiful Portuguese tiles, or the riverside neighborhood of Ribeira.

The Rivera is where it all began, on the riverfront. If there is one thing that is evident about Portugal is that this is a quietly proud Country with so much to crow about.  With their history of discovery and exploration, with the subsequent enormous wealth, and their gentle but magnificent influence.  Around the world any other nation would gloat, but in Portugal, the people are mellow and modest.

Exploring the wonders of Portugal’s towns with an all-inclusive European river cruise in Portugal is a mix of part explorer and part connoisseur as you step back in time and relive bygone years on board this luxurious vessel cruising along the picturesque Douro River in comfort and style.

Here we step back in time to where Europe remains untouched. As we relax into our journey as Scenic Azure glides through Portugal’s magnificent Douro valley where centuries-old architecture traditions and lifestyles still prevail.

Viewing the breathtaking wonders of the Douro Valley with Scenic is the ultimate in luxury river cruising. During the cruise, you’ll experience the rich culture of timeless villages, four of which are World Heritage-listed sites including the prehistoric rock art sites of the Côa Valley, the Alto Douro, the ancient city of Salamanca, and the historically rich city of Porto.

As you cruise along the Douro River valley in 5-star luxury, you’ll marvel at the hilltop wine estates, terraced landscapes, and family-run Quintas (estates) as you indulge in the spectacular food and exquisite wines Portugal is renowned for.

Elegant surroundings, innovative features, and meticulous attention to detail — that’s what you can expect on board Scenic Azure. From the majestic Sun Deck with its luxurious Vitality Pool to the spacious suites the Scenic Azure is designed to let you take full advantage of the Douro’s warm winds and gloriously sunny weather. Scenic Azure has been custom-built to navigate the picturesque Douro River and this 5-star space-ship has just 48 suites and almost 1:2 staff-to-guest ratio, so you’re guaranteed a more intimate experience during your time on board. What’s more, most suites feature the bespoke Scenic Sun Lounges, allowing you to enjoy the Portuguese sun.
The luxury of Scenic Azure is complemented perfectly by the Scenic signature all-inclusive service, which includes unlimited complimentary beverages and access to a range of exclusive dining areas. The pinnacle of gastronomy on board Scenic Azure is Table D’or, a six-course degustation dining experience offering expertly crafted regional dishes and sommelier-selected wines, more on that later.
On-shore excursions are all included and pre-planned to your preference and no change is too much trouble, ensuring you make the most of your time on the Douro. Whether docked in a sunny port or sailing the calm waterways, you’ll soon discover that this ship has been constructed primarily for enjoyment.

As with most river cruises the evening begins with a daily port talk with our cruise director Miguel.  Later we made our way to the Crystal Dining room for our first dinner. The dining room, situated on the deck below reception, is open seating.  Breakfast and lunch offer a mix of buffet food along with hot dishes made to order and dinner is a delicious 3 course a la carte menu with a choice of accompanying local wines. There are healthy options, and nothing seems to be much trouble as the waiters waltz around each trying to please you more than the next. I loved the feel and decoration of this room and in particular, the wall of ceramic sardines, fitting for this part of the world and as a locally enjoyed delicacy.

After dinner, it’s back to the Panorama Lounge for a Fado performance and Lounge music with our Enrichment Manager the very bubbly Carolina. The Panorama Lounge offers amazing views from the large picture windows and is the hub of the ship with an all-inclusive bar. The River cafe offers a daily selection of tempting morsels from early in the morning until late at night. We enjoyed a wonderful night settling into what was to be home for the next ten nights.

Waking up the next morning after a blissful sleep on heavenly beds we prepare for our first full day starting with a panoramic coach tour of Porto including a visit to the Palácio da Bolsa, Stock Exchange Palace, or if you prefer a walking tour, including a Rabelo boat transfer and cable car ride. The railway station is worth a visit just to admire the ornate entrance hall, decorated in classic blue Portuguese tiles, before roaming around in the city centre. We had a couple of hours to grab a coffee and Portuguese custard tart and wander the pretty streets before heading back to the ship in time for lunch.

Back on board, we enjoy a light lunch of fresh salads and specially prepared dishes of the day with accompanying wines.  The afternoon is a delight as we enjoyed a tile painting class with local artist Maria Kocas.  This proved more challenging than initially thought as we’re told our tile masterpieces will be baked and given back to us on the last day – no hurry.  We set sail to Entre-os-Rios, passing the Crestuma lock and then dock for the night. We enjoyed a welcome cocktail and port talk before the Welcome Gala Dinner. With a maximum of 96 passengers and only one lounge, mingling happens easily, especially before and after dinner.

Morning stretching and early bird breakfast was on offer for those who wished.  We preferred to catch some zzz’s and enjoy a respectable start to our day before a tour to Guimaraes and the historic Ducal Palace.

Back onboard we enjoy our lunch as the Scenic Azure sets navigation to Lamego. The scenery opens up impressively and along the way, we pass the Carrapatelo lock and enjoy Portuguese lessons and salsa dance lessons with Carolina.  We are now in what is claimed to be the oldest demarcated wine-growing region of the world the so-called, Vinhateiro. Upon arrival at Regua, we enjoy an escorted tour of the Douro Museum and learn about the culture, history, and life of the people living in this wine-growing area of the Douro Valley. After this, it’s dinner and a well-earned rest.

Another beautiful morning as we awake to spectacular views enjoyed from our balcony along with my butler-delivered morning cup of tea.  After breakfast, it’s off on a tour of the historic St John of Tarouca Monastery and Ucanha with an ancient fortified bridge, the first toll bridge in Portugal. Whilst we’re out the ship changes docking position to Regua.

The afternoon is a choice of touring the delightful city of Lamego or visiting the Mateus Palace and its stunning gardens.  I take the former option and am so pleased that I did.  The town is famed for its magnificent baroque stairway that climbs the steep Santo Estevao hill to the beautiful Noosa Senhora dos Remedios church.  Fortunately, I take the 686 steps down and am rewarded with a refreshment stop and a local tasting at a Presunteca, enjoying tasty “presunto” Portuguese ham and cheeses and a glass of “raposeira ” sparkling wine. It’s a lovely place on the terrace above the shop which is well stocked with local food items.

Back onboard we enjoy our evening dinner with tonight’s entertainment of Portuguese music with local musicians the Pina Brothers. The next day we enjoy hearing from a local and learning more about life in the Duoro Valley.  We then set the navigation for the stunning Vega de Terron, passing the Bagauste Lock, the Valeria Lock, and finally the Pocinho Lock.

The Duoro is approximately 897 kilometers long and rises all the way from Porto to Vega de Terron, Spain.  We pass through five locks and this really gives you the time to savor the exquisite river landscape and striking terraced vineyards. One can see why this area is UNESCO heritage. It’s not only the landscape but the scattered and rugged little chapels, farmhouses, and Quintas as well as the notable plantations of olive trees, almond, apple, and apricot orchards.

In Pocinho and after a delicious breakfast in the main restaurant, we boarded our coach to drive the hour-and-a-half ride to the Spanish Renaissance city of Salamanca. Arriving at the main square we were met by a local guide who walked us around the town before taking us to the Cathedral. We were shown around the town highlighting the characteristic details  There was then some free time to wander around and we enjoyed some time at the Art Deco Museum and a locals light lunch in a side street, before boarding the coach to make the return journey back to the ship. We set sail for Pocinho and arrive a few hours later.

Sunday is a day of rest and in Portugal this was evident.  After a leisurely breakfast, we set off on our coach for a visit to the very interesting Coa Valley Museum, located at the top of a high slope, with the most stunning views overlooking the two world heritage valleys of the region the Douro wine landscape and prehistoric Coa Valley.  Did you know this is where 25 000-year-old stone carvings were found in 1991 and saved from being forever submerged in the famous and fortunately abandoned Côa dam construction?  This was followed by a Palaeolithic tools demonstration and an interesting talk on the life of prehistoric civilisations in this region.

Back on the floating hotel as we head up to the top deck and enjoy a traditional Portuguese Sunday BBQ lunch as we set sail for our next destination, Pinhão. Our delicious bbq lunch consisted of traditional Portuguese sausage and sardines, as well as peri peri chicken, and pork ribs, served along with some delicious salads and an obligatory glass of sangria.  With traditional music playing in the background, sailing down the Duoro the crew, and guests relaxed, this was such an enjoyable Sunday.  Hope for a siesta was gone as the executive chef and pastry chef entertained us with a Pastel de Natas (Portuguese custard tart) cookery demonstration. I’m going to have to try this when I get back home.

That evening we enjoyed an evening to remember with the Table d’Or.  Located at the back of Crystal Dining is a table for 12, exclusively set with special cutlery, table and glassware.  We were pampered and treated to a degustation dinner of six courses and six fine Portuguese wines. Our butler Filipe introduced each course along with explanations of the accompanying wines while the other, Ricardo attentively served us.  A different wine is served with each course perfectly paired to enhance the flavors and experience. We tasted the region’s best sparkling, reserve wines and of course the ports. Our butlers not only served but passionately educated us on Portuguese gastronomy. At Table d’Or, senior butler Filipe Silva explained why a full-bodied red from extremely ripened grapes complemented the flank steak with Madeira wine sauce: “The red wine is soft in tannins and with a touch of the fruity character to balance well with the flavor of the steak.” It was a fusion made in heaven as we enjoyed each specially prepared course.

For a more relaxed dining experience, I recommend reserving a table at the Portobellos restaurant located next to the Panorama lounge and managed by the butler team. At lunchtime, Portobellos serves as an informal venue to enjoy a light lunch but in the evening it is transformed into an intimate venue serving a delicious 5-course traditional tapas style Portuguese tasting menu, paired with local wines and port.

The next morning we enjoy a walk through the plateau-tip village of Provesende, one of the most picturesque little towns in the country.  We meet local characters such as the one baker and basket maker of the village.  After this, we headed to one of the old where we tasted traditional bola de carne (a meat bread stuffed with chunks of pork and chicken) paired with a dry white port from the Morgadio da Calcada estate.

The Sapphire deck is the outdoor top deck of the Scenic Azure and is the perfect place to enjoy the gorgeous scenery as you sail along the magnificent Douro valley. It is luxuriously appointed with comfortable sunbeds each adorned with an always welcome cushion, and a large shaded area with plenty of tables and chairs to accommodate all guests. There is a small pool, perfect for cooling down in the Portuguese summer surrounded by deep sofas on two sides inviting guests to lounge on and enjoy the view surrounded by water, with the pool on one side and the river on the other. Back onboard we enjoyed lunch and then headed out for an enjoyable afternoon canoeing in the Pinhao River.

That evening we are delighted to be personally invited by the Captain to join the Captain’s Table for dinner.  The evening started with the Captain’s cocktail reception and was followed by the Gala Dinner.  This was another magnificent evening of Portuguese hospitality and exquisite dining.  Before dessert was served there was a crew parade and performance of a traditional Portuguese song. It was a truly elating evening of joy and included a surprise birthday cake to celebrate Andre’s Birthday.  Heading back to our suite we entered what can only be described as a shower of rose petals and thoughtful touches.  The crew had gone over and above to shower us with more love and true Portuguese hospitality.

Sailing back into Porto was a delight as we passed families on local beaches, sailors in fishing boats and generally soaked up the last few hours of life on the Duoro River.

Just outside of Porto we took an excursion to Aveiro for a guided tour including a cruise on the waterways that meander through this historic and colourful city. Alternatively, you can choose to visit a local corking factory and learn how cork is produced as well as its multitude of uses and also visit Vila Nova de Gaia, the historic district set on the banks of the Douro River, for a tasting of the region’s famed drop in one of Porto’s most renowned port wine aging cellars.

Later we prepared for a very special final evening, which started with a pre-dinner cocktail followed by an early dinner.  Tonight we were treated to a private classic music recital at a nearby church. After a light dinner, we disembarked and took a short walk to the Saint Francis church. Upon entering the church it was impossible not to be impressed by magnificent gold leaf-coated wooden carvings adorning the walls. We took our seats in front row excited to hear the beautiful acoustics about to begin.  The four-piece string quartet began the concert with a beautiful orchestral piece before being joined by a soprano and a baritone who then entertained us over the next hour with a mix of classical, operatic, and contemporary songs. But our evening didn’t end there, back on board we ordered a light supper promptly delivered by our butler and continued our evening watching the latest movies.

Then it was time for us to turn in for our last night in our sumptuously comfortable beds before we reluctantly bid farewell to the luxurious Scenic Azure and her amazing crew the following day.  This had been a journey of surprises and delights! The experience itself as well as the professionalism of all the staff and crew of the Scenic Azure far exceeded my expectations.  Their passion and knowledge were exceptional and filled me with wonder, lifelong memories, and a desire to return.  Most of all I think it was the people. Portugal is a quietly proud Country with so much to brag about. Thank you Scenic!

Are you ready to secure a Scenic river cruise and travel again? Join my hosted luxury small group Scenic tour and river cruise in 2023, spaces are limited –  register your interest here.

If you have a future cruise credit (FCC) to spend I can help with your booking. Contact me via email and travel with confidence!

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Inspired by Luxe,



Rose Febo
Based in Hawthorne, QLD
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