The scenic Douro Valley

I thought organised travel wasn’t for me. This river cruise down the Douro River in Portugal proved me wrong. A wonderful UNESCO World Heritage area full of vineyards and the world’s most famous port houses, this Tauck holiday is a cracker!

TAUCK is a US-based tour operator. Ever heard of them? Probably not, but you should.

I don’t generally like organised group travel, but, with Tauck, I’ll make the exception. They are just brilliant at what they do.

Now in its third generation of family ownership and led by Arthur Tauck Jnr, the company offers land tours and cruises in more than 70 countries and everything- and I do mean everything – is included in the up-front price.
One of the main joys of going Tauck is that you will get so many surprises- whether it’s getting into Monet’s gardens at Givenchy before they open and the crowds pour in, or it’s a dinner in a private castle not open to the public.

I recently took one of Tauck’s river cruises down the Douro River in Portugal. Starting in Lisbon and ending after a bit of overlanding in Salamanca and Madrid, it was a wonderful experience, in a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage landscape.
The leisurely pace of exploring Europe on a vessel carrying around 85 guests makes. the experience way more relaxing and far more intimate than a trip on a large cruise ship. We had fewer than 70 guests on our beautiful boat, the MS Andorinha, and the staff were superb.
After a few days, everyone had met everyone and friendships were being formed – some that will, I expect, last a lifetime. Obviously, since Tauck is an American company, most travellers come from the US, with a smattering from Canada and the odd Brit. Most are seasoned travellers in their later years. I travelled on my own and could not recommend the experience highly enough for a solo holiday – it was way better than any ocean-going cruise I’ve been on.

Pretty Porto

A river cruise ship docks right in the heart of a city, so there aren’t any long transfers to reach the different attractions along your route. You just stroll off the ship and you’re there.
With a small swimming pool on the sun deck, a spacious restaurant, a bistro restaurant, a panoramic lounge and bar and
a good variety of staterooms for different
budgets, it’s a great base for a week.
This two-year-old vessel was designed specifically for cruising the Douro. The beds are comfortable, the showers are hot and the food is especially good. Good news for Scots is that regional flights are included in the overall price – as are all meals and drinks, including alcohol and quality wines.

The Andorinha – your home for the week

The Douro is a hugely picturesque river valley with dramatic cliffs, lush hillsides, medieval walled villages and beautiful vineyards. Lisbon is the starting point.
for this trip and we were billeted for two nights in the Inter Continental Hotel. I really like this city- it has a shabby chic vibe and plenty of excellent sightseeing opportunities. Sitting atop seven hills, the city is home to cobbled lanes, castles in the clouds and maritime monuments that pay lasting tribute to Portuguese explorers such as Vasco da Gama.
Prices in Portugal are still reasonable for our weakened pound, and stop one was Coimbra, the country’s medieval capital for more than a century. A walking tour along the tiered cobbled lanes of this hilltop city brings you to its esteemed university, founded in 1537, where its caped students evoke images of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School, its majestic buildings line squares steeped in history and cloistered arcades lead to architectural showpieces beautiful.
The Douro is a picturesque river valley with dramatic cliffs, lush hillsides, medieval walled villages and beautiful vineyards to behold.

Porto from the river

From there, the itinerary takes you to Porto. The city’s pleasures are diverse and one of Tauck’s little surprises was to offer a historic tram ride from the Foz Quarter to the medieval river-front district. A tasting tour followed, in a refreshingly small group. As well as an an experienced on-board cruise director, travellers have access to two Portuguese guides throughout the holiday, and also to local guides in most of the destinations.
It’s this degree of service that makes Tauck stand out. I was recovering from major back surgery and was slightly nervous about the trip, but I couldn’t have been better looked after.
The Douro River Valley is one of Europe’s oldest and most revered wine regions
and various visits to wine-making estates(quintas) are included. A choice of shore excursions includes a walk in pretty Pinhão, nestled in the heart of port wine country, with a visit to its historic tile-covered train station, a vision of blue and white Azulejo tiles or a vigorous hike through the area’s lush, sloping terraced vineyards with striking views of the town and river.

Around 20,000 years ago, prehistoric man called the Coa Valley home, leaving evidence of their residence on the rocks. Here, we visited the Museum of Art and Archaeology of the Côa Valley. It houses amazing exhibits of rock art from the valley’s Paleolithic era, discovered in the 1990s when excavations began for a Coa River dam.
A visit to Madrid was a way to end the 12-day trip, and the overall experience was, decidedly first-class.

Travel notes
Katie Wood travelled to Portugal with the US tour operator Tauck
Trips cost from £3750. Visit www.tauck co. uk
Tel 0800-810-8020
Or book through your travel agent

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