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Cruise lines are pouncing on Portugal’s Douro River, with two more ships debuting this year – and there are a bunch of reasons why.

Luxury lines Uniworld and Tauck will be debuting two brand new ships in April in addition to their existing sailings, which heats up the competition with local cruise lines that have owned this hidden gem of a market for years. The ships have been fitted out with Portuguese influenced décor.

Huge growth on other waterways and the desire of regular river cruisers for something new is fuelling the focus on Portugal’s premier river.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, if you’re a wine-lover, adore old-time architecture and you want to escape the crowds of the already over-saturated rivers across the rest of Europe, then The Douro is for you.

The new ships

Uniworld’s 100-guest S.S. São Gabriel features butler-serviced suites and locally sourced cuisine while Tauck’s 84-guest Andorinha is one of the most intimate ships on the Douro. On the Sun Deck, it flaunts an infinity-style pool, Balinese daybeds and Arthur’s restaurant that is able to rise from the stern to get the best views of the countryside.

Last year, river cruise giant Viking also added Viking Helgrim on the Douro to join three other Viking ships already sailing in the region.

Tauck’s Andorinha Sun Deck pool

The Douro difference

The Douro is no stranger to rising temperatures, in fact, the hot weather is one of the key ingredients of the region’s famed Port. A big point of difference of sailing the Douro is that all sailings have to take place in the day, so guests have generous amounts of time to be lulled into the relaxing rhythm of sailing and take in the scenery lining the river. Tauck’s and Uniworld’s new ships have been built to allow their guests to enjoy the tranquil terraced vineyards of the UNESCO World Heritage Douro Valley.

The SS Sao Gabriel suite

The SS Sao Gabriel suite

The Douro is not only lined with plenty of wine producers whose tradition started 2,000 years ago. The dams have brought calm to the winding Douro today but it was once extremely hazardous. As you cruise along the river, note the little chapels you see along the banks. These tiny chapels mark spots where entire rabelo boat crews perished while getting their cargo of Port wine to Porto.

Wine lovers will delight in all the wine tasting opportunities the region has to offer but there is also culture, history and architecture to be discovered at the towns.

Explore the medieval town of Guimaraes, the birthplace of Portugal. After visiting the palace and church of the old town, pop into the lively cafe and shops that reflect the young local population (the youngest of any European city).

In Regua, visit the iconic Mateus Palace that is built in baroque style. The palace has a pinnacled facade, grand stairway and rich interiors. There is also the cedar lined walkways of the palace gardens along with the town’s ornamental carvings and tiled walls to take in as you explore.

The visually striking town of Salamanca is another highlight of the Douro. Salamanca is famous for its sand-coloured buildings and historic churches. The city is also home to Spain’s oldest university. If you’re ready to take on some stairs, climb the bell tower at the University for spectacular views.

After the exploring, sample chorizo, cheese, olive oil and ham at the local food hall which is also one of Spain’s best. At smaller towns like Favaios, there are also treats like muscatel wine and four corners bread, named after its shape, waiting to be discovered.

Although you’re surrounded by Spanish wine the Douro has more to offer and it is not just for adults. Of Tauck’s trio of new itineraries, there is an eight-day family river cruise itinerary that features activities for the family like hiking and bicycling through the wine country, kayaking on the Douro River, vintage tram rides and more.

Salamanca from the river

Douro as a gateway

Many cruisers also enjoy the option of exploring Portugal’s bustling and colourful cities on pre and post tours. Do a food tour in Madrid, sample the wine and specialty ‘little French girl’ sandwich in Porto or take in the history and culture of Lisbon, the country’s capital, on a walking tour.

Vintage tram in Lisbon

Best season to cruise

The cruise season on the Douro begins late March and ends in November. The harvest season takes place in the fall months of September and October which has cool weather after the mid-year summer. Most itineraries spend eight-days sailing the Douro. There are also longer itineraries of around two weeks that allow for more ports in between or more time in Portugal’s major cities like Lisbon, Porto and Madrid at the start or end of each itinerary.

Hot Douro deals

As we approach the 2020 Douro cruising season, many lines are competing with deals to attract guests on board. Luxury lines like Scenic and APT are having fly from $995 offers. Travelmarvel has savings of up to $2000 per couple, Evergreen Cruises is offering up to $1500 savings per couple and Riviera Travel also have their 2020 Douro sailings on sale.