Alison Marden on 10 October 2021
I have just returned from a fabulous week sailing on the river in the Douro Valley with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises with my husband Russell It was a 2 hour flight from Stansted direct into Porto Airport with Ryanair, other Regional airports are available and although we live in the North of England the flight timings worked better for us. Getting through passport control and collecting luggage was fast and efficient and we were met in arrivals by our private transfer representative, who drove us to the Port of Gaia and we were met at the ship, the beautiful Sao Gabriel, by the lovely Miriam. Due to Covid protocols regarding cleaning, we couldn’t board and check-in until 3pm, so were taken to a hotel opposite where we could freshen up and secure our hand luggage. Matias the Cruise Manager greeted us at the hotel and gave us details of local restaurants and attractions of Gaia that we could experience whilst we were waiting and we’re so pleased we had that time, Gaia is fabulous with its tapas restaurants, museums, port tastings and cable car. I would go back here to spend more time exploring. Having met the cruise manager back at the hotel, he escorted us onto the Ship to check-in and we were greeted with cooling towels and a refreshing drink. We booked a Deluxe cabin on the lower deck with a small window as it suited our budget, it was compact, but suited us as for us it was just our place to sleep and shower, but that’s not to say next time I would love to try and different category. Every single detail was catered for, with high end products in the shower room, a state-of-the-art entertainment system with English TV, movies and free internet. Afternoon Tea was served as we arrived with my absolute favourite thing “Pastel De Nata” (Portuguese custard tart). We relaxed on the top deck before getting ready for our Welcome Cocktail with safety briefing and Port Talk with the Cruise Manager. Matias ran through our itinerary and inclusive excursions for the week, so we could decide which ones we wanted to do, but alongside this you receive a Daily Programme in your Cabin every evening, detailing the day, Our Itinerary consisted of Porto, Entres-os-Rios, Pinhao, Vega de Terron, Barca d’Alva, Peso da Regua, Gaia We stayed overnight in Gaia as our first Excursion was a walking tour of Porto the following morning, before setting sail in the afternoon. Porto is a vibrant town with colourful townhouses and unmistakable landmarks, like the 19th Century Stock Exchange Palace with the famous Moorish Arabian room. The ship only sails during the day and docks in the evenings. Everyone got up early this following morning to sit on deck to watch us going through the deepest lock in Europe, Carrapatelo Dam, 115ft deep. Arriving into Entres-os-Rios we took a short walk to the Douro Museum for a signature lecture on the “Magical Douro Valley” and learnt about the unique geology and wine making history, which was fun and informative as well as tasting wine at 10.30 in the morning ??. A beautiful, air-conditioned coach drove us to lunch at Qunita da Pacheca, a family owned wine estate, known for its Old Tawny Port, where we had a tour of the vineyard and saw where they still crush the grapes with their feet! After an amazing 3 course lunch with wine and a 40 year old Port we were taken back to the ship. Day 4 we had a scenic sailing this morning with a commentary from Matias, it was fabulous sitting on our loungers on the top deck in the sunshine, whilst we were told about all the port and wine houses along the Douro River. After our lunch we went on one of the two excursions on offer to Castelo Rodrigo, a beautiful scenic drive took us to this enchanting village on a hill, where we got to taste local almonds, almond liquor and wine, what not to like?? Our 5th day was an exciting one as we were leaving Portugal for the day and taking an excursion to Salamanca, we were driven again in a very comfortable coach approx.1.45mins to the city where we received second breakfast in a gorgeous local hotel before taking our tour. We got plenty of free time too to explore on our own and do some shopping if we wished as well as sampling some local Spanish tapas and Sangria. After dinner we were treated to a Flamenco Show in the Vintage Bar. Another Morning scenic sailing on Day 6 with a cooking demonstration of “Pastel de Nata” by the pastry chef Liliana, with tasting samples along the way ??. Arriving into Pinhao in the afternoon, there was a choice of 2 excursions to either the Sandeman wine Estate or a Vineyard and wine tasting at the Quinto do Roeda which is known for its vintage ports. Day 7 we sailed back to Gaia, it was a bit overcast today and a bit chilly to sit on the deck, but the lounges on board have floor to ceiling windows so you can watch the world go by quite happily and chat with fellow passengers. Russell and I went on the Guimaraes City tour this afternoon. Guimaraes was the home to the First King of Portugal, we had a wonderful guided walk through the well-preserved old town with its unique architecture and charming little plazas, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. After a farewell cocktail party we were early to bed as we had a 4am transfer back to the airport. The tours cater for all passengers with differing levels of abilities, so you could go on a hiking or cycling tour if you were up for it. We loved the fact that we could do as much or as little as we wanted to do. The small heated pool on the top deck was fabulous, or just sit in the lounge and relax, read a book and chat to the crew and other passengers I can honestly say this won’t be my last river cruise it’s a perfect way to relax whist on holiday. Every day there is a yoga or stretch class in the morning and every evening cocktail hour whilst listening to the wonderful Matias about the following days Port of call and excursions available. With the cruise being all inclusive, including a 24hr self-service coffee area, 24 hour bar if you so wish, all alcoholic beverages, wine and soft drinks and the amazing trips on offer, it’s a very cost effective way to see so much and only unpacking once. I can highly recommend that you consider this trip with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises as it has been the most memorable trip that we will remember forever and we can’t thank the crew enough, who were all truly magnificent, for making this the most special of holidays.