The Douro is one of the Iberian Peninsula’s major rivers, flowing from Duruelo de la Sierra in northern Spain and emptying itself into the Atlantic at Porto. It has been shaping the harsh landscape of the Douro region since time immemorial, sculpting and irrigating its riverbanks to sustain the tradition of viniculture that has produced fine port wines for centuries.
On its 557-mile run through northern Spain and Portugal, the Douro meanders through steep-sided valleys laden with regimentally straight stripes of vines; the wine-growing region has been appointed a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural beauty. The hillsides, arid and barren further inland from the river, are scattered with low-lying quintas (wineries) where wines can be sampled and bought. Once the river arrives in Porto, separating the main city from its counterpart Villa Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank, the waterway flows under six bridges – including two designed by students of Gustave Eiffel of French tower fame – and becomes crowded with watercraft.
The Douro is a hard-grafting money-spinner for Porto; not only has it enabled the growth of the multi-million-euro export of port wines, but it is also a leisure destination coveted by hundreds of thousands of wine tourists, cruise passengers, fishing enthusiasts, hikers and cyclists every year.
Boat trips down the Douro River leave from the quays around Alfândega and Cais de Ribeira in Porto. There are multiple watercraft options for trips down the river, including traditional wooden rabelos, small cruise boats and yachts.