Classic Douro and Minho
We invite you to join us on a seven-night Classic Tour taking in the fascinating city of Porto, the extraordinary scenery of the world famous Douro Valley and the unspoilt Minho region in Northern Portugal.
Beginning in Viana do Castelo, we explore this lovely town, complete with funicular railway and also travel the full length of the Minho railway line to the fortified border town of Valença, as well as the ancient town of Ponte de Lima
We then travel to Regua, and from here we complete our journey up the River Douro by train to Pocinho, where we visit the Prehistoric Rock Art Cave Paintings at Vila Nova de Foz Côa.
Finally, we sail down the River Douro, passing through 2 dams and sailing under Porto’s bridges including the iconic two level Dom Luis I Bridge and the former railway bridge, Maria Pia Bridge.
Even at only a week, this trip will give you a real taste of what delights northern Portugal has to offer.
Your Tour Manager for this trip is David.
Thursday 1 June Our flight leaves Gatwick at 11.40. Direct flights also available from Stansted and Liverpool and overland travel from St Pancras via the Eurostar. We will be met at Porto airport by David, our tour manager, and will transfer to Campanhã train station in Porto by metro and then on to Viana do Castelo by train. Our hotel for the first 4 nights will be the Casa Melo Alvim, originally a manor house dating from 1509, the oldest urban manor house in Viana. It was recently tastefully restored and turned into a comfortable, cosy hotel. Each bedroom is individually decorated in traditional Portuguese styles from the 17th and 18th centuries, from Neoclassic to Baroque to Rustic
Evening free for dinner (David will indicate suitable restaurants) and to settle in.
Friday 2 June (B,D) Today we will have a relaxing day to explore our home for the next two days, Viana do Castelo. In the morning our local guide will lead us through the streets and history of this fascinating 13th century town that lies on the estuary of the River Lima. The many lavish mansions, in Manueline, Renaissance and Baroque styles, were built from the wealth brought by trade with Europe and Brazil. High above the town, reached by a funicular railway, is Monte de Santa Luzia, offering a marvellous view of the surrounding area, and in your free time in the afternoon, a trip up to the top is a must. You will also find a basilica modelled on the Sacré Coeur in Paris which has a tower you can climb (lift available) for an even more stunning view over the town and the sea. Also worth visiting is the Gil Eanes Naval Museum, a floating naval hospital constructed in 1952 and which operated until 1973. It is now open to the public as a museum, housing the original equipment. The ship has operation theatres, communications equipment, refrigerating chambers and a reinforced hull. It was restored by a group of locals and then adapted to become a youth hostel and is one of the city’s biggest attractions.
Tonight we will have our Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant. (10:00 – 13:00)
Saturday 3 June (B) Our hotel is right next to the train station and today we will explore the northern section of the “Minho Line” and the fortified border town of Valença. Valença is right on the border with Spain which you can see across the River Minho. A short walk from the train station takes us to the fortress which is a walled village with many shops, restaurants, houses and the ramparts that you can explore. It is one of the biggest and best preserved military structures in Europe, a piece of gothic and baroque military architecture. The first walls were built in the 13th century and it was upgraded during the 17th and 18th centuries, forming the present bulwarked system.
Valença itself dates back to Roman times, and indeed there is a Roman milestone inside the walled village, on the former road from Braga to Tui.
The old international bridge is a twin deck bridge, carrying the railway on top and the road below and you can cross the bridge to go into Spain and visit the Spanish border town of Tui. If you are feeling fit, travel over the bridge into Spain by train and walk back to Valença! (09:30 – 16:15)
Sunday 4 June (B) A train free day today, but we still manage to take in some railway history! A line from Viana do Castelo to Ponte de Lima was planned and some of the bridges were built. However, the idea was abandoned and the track bed turned into a road (Rua da Linha do Vale de Lima – The Lima Valley Line Road) and we shall drive along part of it. One of the oldest towns in Portugal (founded on 4 March 1125), it was historically significant as a Roman settlement on the road from Braga to Santiago de Compostela and Lugo, and the first place in Portugal to receive a municipal charter. It is named after the part Roman, part Medieval bridge that spans the river. The Minho in general is famous for its vinho verde (green wine), but Ponte de Lima is especially known for its red vinho verde. An acquired taste, but definitely worth trying! It is a bustling town on a Sunday, and there are wonderful restaurants where you can take lunch. (09:30 – 16:00)
Monday 5 June (B) Today we move on to Regua by train, first heading back down the Minho Line to Porto where we change to our Douro Line train. After travelling through some attractive countryside, we descend down to the banks of the River Douro and follow this famous river until we reach Regua, the heart of the port wine industry. The remainder of the day is free for you to settle in, but we suggest you visit the Douro Museum which gives a fascinating insight into the history of port wine. There is also a pedestrian bridge across the river, giving you another view of the town, and maybe of some of the river cruisers as they pass underneath. (10:45 – 15:30)
Tuesday 6 June (B) In the morning we catch the regional train east along the river to the railway’s terminus at Pocinho. Until the late 1980s the main line continued to the Spanish border at Barca d’Alva and at Pocinho, the Sabor narrow gauge line branched off. You can still see a steam loco from that line that was abandoned in Pocinho when the line closed.
This is a superb scenic journey with stunning views and we might catch sight of the rare Black Kite which still manages to survive in this remote area of Europe. From Pocinho we will make a short road trip to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Archaeological Park and Museum near the small town of Vila Nova de Foz Côa. As well as visiting the museum, with its spectacular views over the River Douro, we will also visit one of the prehistoric rock art sites, travelling 6 Km through the countryside in an all-terrain vehicle with an easy walk for the last 600m.
At the end of the afternoon we return to Regua by train. (09:00 – 19:00)
Wednesday 7 June (B,L) One of the highlights of the holiday, we sail down the River Douro to Porto. We pass through two dams, firstly the spectacular Carrapatelo Dam. The lock in this dam will take us down 35 metres, one of the deepest locks in Western Europe and an unforgettable experience. Later we pass through the relatively small Crestuma-Lever Dam, as we start to see more settlements and finally the city of Porto. The approach to Porto is spectacular as we pass under a series of bridges, including the iconic Maria Pia railway bridge and the Dom Luis I two-level bridge. After docking we will make the short journey to our hotel for the night. We will have our farewell lunch, including drinks, on board our river cruiser. (11:00 – 18:00)
Thursday 8 June (B) This morning we return to Porto airport by metro and our flights home.
Alternatively, take advantage of your journey to Portugal and either join us on our Railway Ramble walking tour along the old Tâmega Line from Livração to Arco de Baúlhe, or stay on in Porto to visit some of its many attractions. The hotel is very centrally located and within easy walking distance of the famous São Bento station with its mosaics, Aliados Square, the picturesque Ribeira district of Porto and, on the opposite side of the river, the Port Wine Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. You can cross the famous two level Dom Luis Bridge to reach Vila Nova de Gaia. Consider a trip on the historic trams which now run again in central Porto, or even the modern surface tramway (metro) that extends out of Porto often on former narrow gauge railway lines. Add in the numerous museums and galleries, and the Guindais funicular, and there really is something for everyone.