Our flight home from Lisbon, Portugal departed about 7:20am after a 4:00am wake-up call and a 5:00 bus ride to the airport. The two-hour flight took us to London, England, where we arrived about 10:00am local time. We had a four-hour layover before departing at 2:00pm for San Diego. We enjoyed lunch with two of our traveling companions, Stephanie and Carl from Ramona at a restaurant called Giraffe. We arrived home in San Diego about 5:30pm, exhausted from a long trip and happy to be home.
Thanks to our friends Ric and Kevin for originally suggesting the trip and for their friendship and fun times together. Thanks to our Program manager, Patricia and Concierge, Lidia for their endless energy and enthusiasm throughout our trip. They kept us going in the right direction, kept us on time, suggested places to see and places to eat. Thanks to our traveling companions for providing humor, stories of their lives and the adventure of travel.
This was a free day for us to explore the city on our own. Kent stayed in the hotel room to rest as he is still recovering from his fall from the bus in Madrid. Mark took a free shuttle from the hotel with Miriam and Paul to the city center. Once in the city center we explored some of the shopping streets and walked along the waterfront. We stopped at an outdoor coffee stand for coffee and a banana bread. After a rest we stopped in at a currency museum where they display all types of currency from around the world. The security was very tight at the museum as they have all types of valuable coins, bills, gold bars, etc. from all over the world and from hundreds of years ago until today. They showed how coins are pressed from sheets of metal and how paper for bills is produced and then printed. It was all very interesting.
We had an early dinner with six of our fellow travel companions at the same Italian restaurant that we had dinner in last night. It was early to bed as we have a 4:00am wake up call.
We began the day with an enormous buffet breakfast served in the dining room at the hotel. The hotel has 400 rooms so it is a very large dining room and the buffet has a bit of everything to offer. They cooked eggs any way you like them, waffles, ham, sausages, bacon, breads, pastries, cheeses and cold cuts, fresh fruits, cereals, muesli, juices, coffee, teas and much more. They also had a pianist who played a grand piano during breakfast.
Next was a four-hour guided panoramic and walking tour of Lisbon including Lisbon’s famous Belem Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Belem Tower, officially the Tower of Saint Vincent is a 16th Century fortification that served as a point of embarkation or disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. The beautifully ornate, four-story seaside tower is about 40-feet wide and 100-feet in height and located on the bank of the Tagus River. It was built in 1519.
We stopped to see the Monument of Discoveries created in 1940 for the Portuguese World Exposition. It was made of wood at that time, but was so popular that in 1960 it was reconstructed to mark 500 years since the death of Henry the Navigator. When it was rebuilt it was constructed with concrete and rose-tinted Leiria stone. The monument includes a portrayal of 32 navigators, warriors, colonizers, missionaries, chroniclers and artists. This monument is not far from the Belem Tower along the Tagus River.
Jeronimo’s Monastery is a gorgeous Portuguese Gothic style structure built in the early 1500’s. Inside the monastery lies many famous tombs including that of Vasco de Gama, born about 1465 and died in 1524. We stopped to taste the famous local pastry, the Pasteis de Belem. This custard filled puff pastry with the perfect blend of lemon and cinnamon is the most popular sweet in the country. The first recipe is believed to have been created in 1837 by the monks of the Jeronimo’s Monastery. This recipe is kept a secret and therefore only at the Fabrica Pasteis de Belem can you find the original Pasteis de Belem. They sell about 42,000 of the delicious treats each day as the locals and tourists line up to get some of these sweet treats. Other similar pastries around the country are called the Pastel de Nata which are equally delicious.
The city streets of Lisbon are all built on hills so there are many staircases, elevators and funiculars to take you from one level of the town to another. Many of the sidewalks and pedestrian plazas are paved with two-inch square, black and white stone pavers. These small paver stones are laid in beautiful patterns. The streets are lined with small cafes that spill out onto the sidewalks and plazas so you can sit and enjoy a coffee, a pastry or a meal. Famous designer shops from around the world can be found here as well as an enormous department store, the Corte de Englis where you can purchase anything from a Tesla to your groceries.
After our tour Kent decided to return to the hotel and rest while Mark headed out into the city streets to explore with Ric and Kevin. We stopped at a local’s lunch spot for a sliced pork loin sandwich on soft white roll with au jus sauce. We later ran into a fellow traveling companion who wanted us to check out a donut shop called Crush Donuts with what they claim are American style donuts. The donuts were raised donuts larger than most you would see in the US and with much more ornamentation. Between the four of us we tried a peanut butter and chocolate donut and a pumpkin donut. The peanut butter was full of flavor and topped with roasted peanuts but the pumpkin donut fell short. While it was dipped in an orange sugar glaze it did not taste like pumpkin at all.
For dinner Kent and I went to a small Italian restaurant a few doors from the hotel for a salad and Portuguese style pizza. The Portuguese pizza came with chorizo sausage, onions, olives, cheese and a raw egg partially cooked right in the middle. It was all good and filled us up until another buffet breakfast in our hotel.
This morning, early we disembarked the m/s Douro Serenity for the final time, bound for our final stop in Lisbon. We stopped for lunch in Nazare, a beach town famous for its monstrous waves and surfing culture. Nazare is about 135 miles southwest of Porto and about 80 miles north of Lisbon. The bus ride took us about three hours to drive with a comfort stop along the route.
Nazare, a town of only about 10,000 inhabitants, was once known as a fishing village but has now become a tourist destination for its Mediterranean climate, quaint seaside town and its surfing. The coastline here has some of the largest waves in the world created by an underwater canyon that increases and converges the incoming ocean swell with the local water current, dramatically enlarging the wave heights.
The restaurant called San Miguel, where we had lunch, was tucked against the hillside and elevated over the white sand beach. For lunch we had deep fried fish balls and sticks with cheese. Next came a green salad with tomatoes, onions and vinegar and oil dressing. For the entrée they served a fried white fish with rice mixed with peas. Dessert was a vanilla ice cream with a strawberry swirl.
After lunch we had about an hour to explore the beachside town and its many shops along the waterfront. Most of the shops were filled with Portuguese souvenirs like the cork purses and shoes, clothing, shot glasses, roosters, mugs, painted tiles and the like. Some of the folks in our group seem to do some shopping in most every town whereas we seem to pass by everything without giving it a second look.
Our next stop along the way was at a charming seaside town called Obidos with only 3,000 residents located about 60 miles north of Lisbon. Here we took a walking tour of this small Medieval town that is encircled by a fortified wall and has become a popular tourist destination. Obidos is also popular for its bookstores. There are about 15 bookstores in this small town. It is also popular for its sour cherry liqueur called Ginginha. They serve the liqueur either in a plastic glass or in a small cup made of dark chocolate. They only charge about one euro for the tastings at most of the shops but we didn’t try it. Kent did eat a chocolate cup from a fellow traveler who couldn’t eat chocolate.
Obidos is a very charming rural town with one main street of charming shops and cafes lining both sides of the narrow cobblestone street. Many of the shops have merchandise hanging on the walls outside and you find many plants like bougainvillea hanging over the walls to enhance the charm. An artist was painting local scenes on a porch of a building using only coffee instead of paint. The coffee creates many shades of brown tones like a watercolor. One shop is filled with small cans of sardines and fish with your birth date on them. Each can has things that happened during that year as a souvenir. Very colorful and fun but not sure how long you can keep the can of fish.
We arrived at our hotel, the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon, after five-o’clock in the afternoon. After a short rest and some time to get settled into our new home we gathered at the hotel restaurant for a farewell dinner. We would be in Lisbon for three nights before our departure, but this was when they had the farewell dinner. Dinner included a salad with cheese and pickled pears, chicken breast stuffed with a Portuguese sausage and an apple tart dessert. Everything was very good.
On this morning we had the opportunity to visit a town about an hour’s drive northeast of Porto by the name of Guimaraes. This historic town center has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its well preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town. The population of the city is about 150,000 and was originally settled about in the 9th century. It is often referred to as the “birthplace of Portugal” because it is believed that Portugal’s first King, Afonso Henriques, was born here.
We experienced a bit of rain during our visit, otherwise the weather was mostly cloudy and slightly cool. We toured the historic old walled city and its rustic cobblestoned streets with our guide. Most of the buildings are very old and in differing states of disrepair. Some abandoned, some restored and many showing their age. Several large churches are located in the old city with their bell towers, ornate altars, paintings and artifacts. Cafes line the public squares for people to stop and enjoy a bite to eat and a snack or a full meal. A few souvenir shops sell items like colorful tiles and ceramics, fine filigree jewelry and locally made cork and linen products.
Lunch was back onboard the ship with the afternoon at leisure in Porto. We took this opportunity to have a little nap after the long week of activities onboard and to begin preparing for our trip to Lisbon early the next morning.
Others headed several miles east of Porto’s city center to the area called Gondomar which is well known for its Portuguese filigree jewelry. The exact origin of the jewelry is unknown, but it is believed to date back to around 2000 BC, with Phoenician origins. The technique consists in molding metal into very fine threads, mainly gold alloy, and then twisted two-by-two and then flattened. The threads are as thin as a hair strand and the twisting gives them greater resistance allowing them to be bent and rolled without breaking. Expert artisans work these very fine threads into delicate looking brooches, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings.
Several of us joined the ships concierge, Lidia, on a short walk to a local café to taste a local specialty, the fish cake. The fish cakes are made of cod with a local cheese from the north of Portugal inside and the outside has a slight amount of breading. The fish cakes are served warm with a glass of cold white port wine. The Café where they sell the fish cakes had an organist playing a vintage pipe organ to attract people to the shop.
We then went to a local bar where folks tried a local beer called dirty beer where they add a little local wine to the beer. They also have what they call the ladies drink, dirty beer with red grenadine syrup which makes the beer red and much sweeter. Not any better than regular beer to me.
On our final leg of our cruise on the Douro River we sailed into the town of Porto this morning in a downpour of rain with very little visibility. Porto, with a population of about 240,000 people, is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. This does not account for the nearly 2.4 million people living in the metropolitan area. The city is located along the Douro River in northwestern Portugal and its historical core was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Across from Porto is the town of Gaia where we docked. Gaia is the area where most of the wineries have cellars. The higher humidity and lower temperatures are more conducive to wine storage than in the heat of the Douro River Valley.
The history of Porto began around 300BC with the Celtic people being the first known inhabitants. Ruins from this period have been discovered in several areas. During the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsula the city developed as an important port. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Porto’s shipyards contributed to the development of Portuguese shipbuilding.
One of Portugal’s internationally famous exports is the port wine named after Porto and produced in the Douro Valley as far back as the 13th century. Other top exports include cork and sardines.
On this morning we visited one of the city’s best-known cellars to check out the port wine that the city is known for. We took a short-guided tour of the Taylor wine cellar as well as had a tasting of both a white and a red port wine. The cellar sits high above the river on the Gaia side of the river where all of the wine cellars are located. The cellar has panoramic views over the city and the river.
We enjoyed lunch back onboard before a panoramic tour of the city of Porto, including the exterior of the Porto Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Church located in the heart of the old town.
We stopped in at the 1916 train station in the center of town to view the beautiful murals on the walls. These murals are painted on approximately 20,000 Azulejo tiles. The tiles are painted in blue on white tiles and are quite extraordinary. They reminded us of the ceramic Dutch tiles. The scenes depict battles, the conquest of Ceuta and many scenes from historical events in Portugal’s history. The city is filled with architecturally interesting buildings one stacked right next to another. The majority of buildings have red clay tile roofs which give the city skyline a very unique look.
After dinner, a local tuna band performed in the ships lounge. A tuna band is a group of university students in traditional university dress who play traditional instruments and sing serenades. This tradition originated in Portugal in the 13thcentury as a means for students to earn money and food. This group was ten students who performed local songs for about 45-minutes. It was very interesting.
In the morning we set sail down river passing the deepest lock in Europe called the Carrapatelo Lock with a height of 115 feet. The voyage along the Douro in this area is more developed than the area further east and the terrain has changed. Where there were grape vines and olive trees there is now much more wild vegetation, steeper hillsides and the river is much narrower in some places. The day is filled with rain showers but the scenery is still beautiful.
While we were sailing, Patricia, the cruise director presented a brief history of Portugal so that we could better understand the culture of the country. She discussed how the country came to be and how the borders have changed over time. Portugal only has one neighbor, Spain, although they were great explorers around the world and have had many other colonies over the years. They controlled Macau until they gave the land to China and they controlled Timor in Africa which is now an independent nation. They still control Madeira and the Azores in the Atlantic.
After lunch onboard, we docked at the town of Entre-os-Rios or “in between the rivers” at the confluence of the Tamega and Douro Rivers. The small town was a tragic spot in March of 2001when the Hintze Ribeiro Bridge collapsed after flooding of the river and a strong current. The collapse caused the death of 59 people. Since then a new bridge called the Duarte Pacheco bridge was built reconnecting the town of Torrao to Entre-os-Rios.
We took a 30-minute ride to the Aveleda Winery for a tasting of Vinho Verde. The name Vinho Verde translates into green wine but can also be translated as young wine. These young wines can be released three to six months after the grapes are harvested. The wines are reds, whites and rose and can be consumed shortly after bottling. Vinho Verde also has a popular sparkling version. This area has as many as 20,000 small grape growers.
The grounds at the Aveleda winery were very beautiful with vast gardens that have been in the family for some 300 years and they have produced wines for 150 years. The family would collect plants from around the world over the years and bring them home to plant in the garden. They even have a couple of California Sequoia trees. We saw a lake and the tea house where the ladies would go to drink wine under the guise of having tea as it was more acceptable at the time.
After the tour of the gardens and the brandy cellar we were treated to a wine tasting in a very modern tasting room large enough to seat more than 100 people. We tasted two white wines, one a bit more acidic and the other sweeter. They also served up some cheese and crackers. Everywhere we go we are given wine, wine and more wine. It matters not what time of day it is.
On this night they had the Captain’s farewell party as we will arrive the next day in Porto and people will have time to explore on their own. The dinner was a five-course dinner with an appetizer, soup, hot appetizer, entrée and baked Alaska for dessert. After dinner, a local trio came onboard to perform favorites from the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s. The captain joined the fun and danced with many of the women.
Our morning started with a tour of the Quinta da Roeda winery in Pinhao where they make Croft branded port wine. The Croft family history with the Portuguese port business dates back to the 1707 when the two Irish brothers moved to Portugal and began trading port wine. This estate was acquired by the family in 1889. We had a guided tour of the concrete vats where the grapes are still stomped by foot before being put into stainless steel or wooden barrels depending on the type of port wine they are making. We then moved out to the vineyards where we learned about the soil in the area, the use of olive trees to help with erosion and the fact that grape vines can produce grapes for up to 130 years.
We then were taken into a modern, spacious tasting room with large tables with chairs that can seat about 12 people each where we tasted two of their port wines. We tasted a rose-colored port wine and a dark red port wine. The rose colored one, while being very sweet, was much smoother while the darker port was much stronger and less sweet tasting.
Outside of the winery they have a display of an insect motel where insects can make their homes. Insects are an important part of the agricultural process but the use of chemicals often kills the needed insects. These motels allow the insects to find a home away from the pesticides and hopefully thrive.
After the winery tour we were taken back to our vessel where we set sail down the Douro to the town of Lamego. We had a large buffet lunch with a served entrée of either a white fish or turkey legs. On the way to Lamego we passed through the Baguaste Lock with a height of 91 feet. At the Lamego pier we refueled the ship before moving to the other side of the river in the town of Regua.
In the afternoon we visited the beautiful and historic town of Lamego with a population of about 25,000 people. The quaint town is filled with terra-cotta rooftops and tree lined streets. We first visited the Santuario de Nossa Senhoura dos Remedios or Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies. The church sits on a hilltop high above the city with wonderful views. The church is very ornate with a gilded altar, many side altars and blue and white ceramic tiles on the walls depicting biblical stories. The ceiling was painted with a beautiful shade of blue and white. From the hilltop location of the church, we began our descent of a 686-step staircase to admire the picturesque gardens, monuments, terraces, fountains and ornate tile mosaics surrounding the stairs.
After the tour of the church we had some free time in the town center to shop, visit another church or rest in a café or bakery. The town is very clean with cobblestone sidewalks and narrow roads. The few shops that were open were very nice although many of the shops were not open. We returned to the ship about 5:30pm for a short rest before having a traditional Portuguese dinner in the dining room.
After dinner we visited the Museu do Douro in Regua for a lecture and wine tasting to learn about the Douro River port wine making process. A young man who works at the museum gave a 30-minute lecture with an audiovisual presentation. His command of the English language was very good except that he spoke very fast. We then tasted a 10-year old port from the area but it was not to my liking.
Regua is a small town with a population of about 10,000 inhabitants and is famous for its Port Wine. The main street runs along the waterfront and is filled with small shops, cafes and restaurants. There were several river boats in port but there is a lot of dock space for the vessels to dock.
The village along the Douro River where we were docked on this day is called Pinhoa (population 1,000) although we took a bus to Vila Real about one-hour from the ship. Vila Real is the capital and largest city of the Vila Real District in northern Portugal, with a population of about 55,000 inhabitants. Founded in 1289 by King Denis of Portugal, Vila Real means Royal Town. The town has housed more members of the royal family during the middle ages than any other settlement in Portugal, with the exception of Lisbon. This area is known for its vineyards and export of red, white and pink wines.
We visited the Mateus Palace of the Mateus winery fame. The palace is made up of three primary buildings; the manor, the winery and the chapel. The winery buildings date from the 16th century and were modified in the 18th century, around 1740. The current manor replaced a former family residence in the same location in the early 1600’s. In 1910, it was classified as a National monument.
We had a walking tour at the Mateus Manor House and Gardens including a maze of manicured hedgerows, elegant gardens and a lake. The manor house has an extraordinary history and the interior rooms that are open to the public (only about seven) are filled with exception art, furnishings, books, sculpture, china and more. The ceilings are made of chestnut wood and the floors are a type of pine. Each window and interior set of doors has an elaborately hand-carved cornice box with tapestry draperies hanging to the floor. The library is filled is six-thousand collectable books, many of them handwritten.
The gardens of the manor house are very beautiful even at this time of year when the spring and summer flowers have begun to fade. In the front of the house is a large reflecting pool which reflects the grandness of the manor house in its waters. Next to the reflecting pool is an enormous pine tree planted in 1870. The grounds around the manor include flowers, fruits and vegetable gardens.
Our next stop was a visit to the Quinta da Avessada wine estate in the village of Favaios where we toured the winery and enjoyed a delicious lunch. This 2,500-acre wine estate is located on one of the highest peaks in the center of the Douro Valley (about 2,000 feet in elevation) with views of the entire region. There are four buildings dating back nearly 100 years surrounded by some 625 acres of planted grapevines, mostly the Muscat variety. They produce Moscatel de Favaios (Muscat of Favaios) which is a national aperitif or liqueur. To increase the world’s knowledge of this region’s wine, they started a cooperative with other growers in the area to expand their market share.
Luis, one of the owners of the family business, was there to greet us and he was quite a character. He would introduce each course of our five-course lunch with a funny story. He would laugh at his own jokes and seemed really happy to be entertaining us. We enjoyed a salad and bread course followed by three appetizers, followed by a soup, followed by pot roast with vegetables, followed by three different dessert samples. All of this while the wine glasses never went empty. After the meal we enjoyed a Moscatel liqueur and a grappa. It was way too much food and drink for an afternoon lunch at 1:45 pm.
After lunch we took a short tour of the neighboring building where they manually stomp the grapes in large concrete vats. Then we saw the barrel room and gift shop where you could purchase wines by the bottle and several other souvenirs like small paintings from a local artist. It was a great afternoon visit to the winery. We did have some rain showers throughout the day but usually while we were on the bus or inside so we never needed our umbrellas.
After dinner we enjoyed Portuguese folk music by a group called Castas do Douro. The group of nine family members performed for an hour a variety of popular folk songs from the region. After the popular songs they also performed a few Fado style songs. This folk music typically has harsh lyrics accompanied by a wire strung acoustic guitar and is sung with the sadness of poverty and loneliness, but remains dignified and fully in control. This genre of music has its roots from the 15th century when women longed for their husbands that sailed the never-ending seas. Today, many artists have used this style of music to express their opinions on social and political issues.
On this day we took a bus about 45-minutes from the ship to the fortified hill town of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, a national monument in the municipality of Guarda in Portugal. The drive took us past miles of beautifully terraced hillsides of grapes, olive and almond trees. The terraces have been created over the centuries by hand using stones gathered from the land and dry-stacked into beautiful walls. The trees only get rain water, are not irrigated and they must be hand-picked due to the steep hillsides.
This Portuguese town along the border with Spain has a population of approximately 6,500 inhabitants. We traveled further up the hill to the old castle ruins where only about 55 residents reside. We took a brief walking tour to see the city walls, the 16th century pillory (wooden framework with holes for your head and hands in which an offender was imprisoned and exposed to public ridicule) and the local Parish Church of Castelo Rodrigo.
The Parish Church was founded in 1192 by a brotherhood of Hospitaller friars in order to assist with the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The church was originally built in the Romanesque style although later enlarged and enhanced. The wooden altar with gold embellishments dates back to 1686 while the coffered ceiling decorated with paintings of saints is from the 18th century. It is a very dark church and not well lit as to preserve the interior. There is a small statue of St. Sebastian that is now recognized by the LGBTQ+ community to be their patron saint.
It is thought that the medieval castle now in ruins was built in the sixth century by Alfonso IX of Leon as part of his defensive line. The name of the castle and the surrounding village comes from the name of Count Rodrigo Gonzalez de Giron who was responsible for the defense of the castle. The fortress, walled fence, moats and 13 turrets were rebuilt in the 14th century. The ruins have been listed as a National monument since 1922.
While in town we were introduced to the culinary culture in the area with a tasting of some of the local products. Candied almonds with both savory and sweet flavors are popular as well as local wines, liqueurs and cheeses. We sampled almond liqueur with a sparkling soda water which was very refreshing. Also available in the shops were many purses, shoes and jewelry made from the local cork.
The downside of our outing today was that it was raining and extremely windy on the hillside. We had umbrellas but with the strong winds they were not keeping much of the rain off of us.
Back onboard our vessel we set sail down river and were given a basic lesson in the Portuguese language. The language is similar in some instances to Spanish but mostly much more complicated than Spanish or English. We also had a demonstration on the making of a classic Portuguese egg pastry called the Pasteis de Nata. Along with the pastries we were introduced to the Portuguese tea traditions, tea drinking and tea production. The pastries were delicious although doubt I would ever try to make them myself.
By 11:00am we set sail on the UNESCO listed Douro River lined with beautiful terraced hillsides of vineyards, olive orchards and rural estates known as quintas. We had intermittent showers but the narrow river lined with steep hillsides was breathtaking. We transited through the Pocinho and Valeira locks on this day with 72 and 109-foot drops. We docked in the small town of Pinhao about 7:00pm for the night.
Dinner included an oxtail appetizer, fish or pork cheek entrée, spinach soup, lemon cake. The food has been plentiful and good but not extraordinary. After dinner in the dining room we enjoyed Luis, the ships pianist who played a wide variety of music from Portuguese songs to American Classics.