The Douro River in Portugal ©Solange Hando
The Douro takes its source in northern Spain but only the 130 km section from the Portuguese border to the estuary is navigable.
Starting in Porto, the river promises one of the most scenic cruises in Europe, a great way to relax and a spot of excitement when you sail under low bridges or through one of the deepest locks on the continent. The return journey follows the same route but offers a different perspective.
Clear waters on the Douro ©Solange Hando
The scenery is for ever changing as beyond the wooded slopes of the lower reaches, the river meanders towards the rolling hills, the red-roofed villages sprinkled here and there and vineyards stretching as far as you can see.
The Douro has many moods,widening out like a lake, narrowing like a fjord to squeeze through a towering gorge, skirting an island or two or ochre-coloured rocks. Emerald or blue, the water is clear with lovely reflections of land and sky.
Wine lovers couldn't dream of a better place to sample Portuguese wine, be it the ubiquitous Porto, red or white, the Mateus rosé, the sparkling Vino Verdhe and many more. Every cruise includes optional visits to wineries with tasting and buying if you wish.
A few vineyards still plunge straight down to the river but today most follow the curve of the hills, on horizontal terraces retained by stone walls. Put them end to end, they say, and you could build two Great Walls of China.
Pinhoa in the Douro Valley ©Solange Hando
There are daily opportunities to visit some of the pretty villages in the valley or up in the hills, with ample time to sample the local gastronomy, and seek out a cultural site or two, such as the Lamego shrine or over the Spanish border, the Unesco city of Salamanca.
As this is a linear journey, most boats will schedule different opportunities on the return trip.
Sunset on the Douro in Barca d'Alva ©Solange Hando
Close to the Spanish border, Barca d'Alva is the last port of call on the Douro before the journey back to Porto and new places to explore along the way.
From the river to the villages and vine-covered hills, the unique landscape of the Douro is protected by Unesco.
All aboard, enjoy! ©Solange Hando