Our adventure begins in Porto, Portugal's second-largest city and cultural capital of the beguiling North. Scenic Porto sits amid granite cliffs at the mouth of the Douro River and has long been a cosmopolitan trading center. The compact city is rich in architectural heritage from Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance eras. This afternoon, take a brief walking tour through the city’s historic heart and across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia where we enjoy a private cellar tour and tasting at W. & J. Graham’s 190 Lodge—the perfect start to a wine-soaked week ahead! We then gather for an opening dinner at Graham's acclaimed restaurant, Vinum, with its glass atrium and open-air terrace perched high on the southern bank of the Douro overlooking Porto's medieval landmarks. Featuring the best local ingredients of the Tras-os-Montes region, Northern Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean, dishes are created for pairing with fine Douro Valley wines.
Day 2: Pocinho / Felgar—Casa de Santa Cruz
Today we journey by rail 100 miles up the Douro Valley, one of Europe's oldest winemaking areas. UNESCO has recognized the Alto Douro Wine Region as a World Heritage Site, with wine produced here for more than 2,000 years. The Douro Valley, the only place authentic Port wine is made, is the world's first demarcated wine region, established in 1756. This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty, shaping the social and economic heritage of the region. Paralleling the riverbank on a small local train on the Linha do Douro line, we reach Pocinho, where we disembark and continue to the sleepy village of Felgar and Casa de Santa Cruz, where lunch awaits. This historic farmstead on the main square has been beautifully restored by our hosts, Ana and Jorge, who share a passion for this place that feels lost in time. This afternoon we walk down the banks of the Rio Sabor for an orientation to our kayaks, learning about life in this bucolic region as we go.
Day 3: Douro International Natural Park
We greet the morning with anticipation: It’s time to meet the river! After breakfast, we drive to the put-in on the Douro where we are fitted to our kayaks and receive some helpful instruction from our Expedition Leader. We then plan to paddle approximately 5 hours downstream. This is the international section of our river journey, with Portugal on one bank and Spain on the other. The 335 square miles of rugged surrounding terrain is part of Douro International Natural Park, created to protect the scenery and wildlife including eagles, red kites, Griffon vultures, herons, wild boar, and one of the last packs of wolves in the Tras-os-Montes region, which lives a few miles inland from the river. Natural vegetation covers the banks along this stretch of the river, with juniper, cork oak, holm oak and chestnut trees providing a green veneer for the rocky landscape. Along the way, we stop on the bank for a picnic lunch. When we return to Casa de Santa Cruz, there's time for a swim before our hosts offer a tour of the historic house, sharing their passion for authentic details in its restoration.
Day 4: Barca d’Alva / Vila Nova de Foz Coa—Casa do Rio
A beautiful paddle is in store today. We spend approximately 4 hours on the river, following the slow current from Barca d’Alva to just east of the mouth of the Coa River, a tributary of the Douro. A picnic lunch provides a peaceful interlude, and we may have a chance to pick some low-hanging fruit that grows in places along the riverbank. Our paddle ends at the stunning new Casa do Rio, an intimate luxury guesthouse surrounded by the vineyards of Quinta do Vallado, one of the premier producers of table wines in the Douro Valley. Set into a steep hillside with panoramic views over the river far below, the contemporary inn enjoys complete solitude. Relax on the terrace or refresh with a dip in the infinity pool following an afternoon stroll through the vineyards. And if the fine accommodations and glorious setting aren't enough, wait till you taste the gourmet dinner that comes out of the Casa’s tiny kitchen!
Day 5: Coa Museum / Angel’s Chapel of Sao Gabriel
Today offers an encounter with the layered history and culture of the Coa Valley, which contains one of the world's most important ancient rock art sites. Depart by van for a guided tour of the Coa Museum, where we learn from archaeology experts about the extensive paleolithic drawings near Vila Nova de Foz Coa, discovered in the late 1980s and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998. The museum offers an overview of the findings at the Coa Archaeological Park, which contains thousands of engraved drawings of horses, bovines and other animals, and human and abstract figures, dated from 22,000 to 10,000 B.C. After lunch at the museum cafe, we’ll wander through the small town of Foz Coa, then return to Casa do Rio for time to relax this afternoon.
At sunset, drink in the view of the Coa Valley from the Angel’s Chapel of Sao Gabriel, as we survey a tapestry of vineyards, olive groves and almond orchards, dotted with clusters of villages and wineries, stretching all the way to Spain. This chapel atop this commanding viewpoint is not alone in the region: hilltop chapels abound in the Douro Valley, built centuries ago on the highest points in the region to be as close to heaven as possible. Local people would trek up to them to pray for protection against thunderstorms, ailments and bad harvests. As dusk falls, return to Casa do Rio where another starlit dinner on the terrace awaits.
Day 6: Pocinho / Quinta do Carrenho / Bairro do Casal
We’re back on the river this morning, guiding our kayaks from Casa do Rio to Pocinho. Here, another delightful winery tour and lunch are in store at Quinta Do Carrenho, one of the oldest quintas in the valley. Our hosts, the Verdelho family, offer a warm and gracious welcome. The quinta is now the home of Dona Berta, one of a small group of boutique wineries that have contributed to the Douro’s growing reputation for distinctive white and red table wines. Drive on to Bairro do Casal, tucked into the scenic small village of Murca do Douro. In the surrounding countryside, vineyards are interwoven with granite mountains, chestnut forests, olive and almond orchards, and undulating fields of wheat. Capping off a delightful day of discovery, enjoy dinner at a fine restaurant on the banks of the shimmering Douro.
Day 7: Ferradosa / Foz do Tua—Casal de Loivos
Board a boat to cruise downriver to Ferradosa. Along the way, we pass some of the most magnificent local quintas, including Graham’s Quinta do Vesuvio, built in 1565, and Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas, established in 1820. Launching from a small beach, we paddle about 3 hours through the striking Valera Gorge, a narrow granite canyon carved over millennia by the Douro. Our destination is the village of Foz do Tua, where we go ashore for a lunch of freshly caught fish at a traditional riverside restaurant. Then, a spectacular winding drive takes us up and over a hill to Casa de Casal de Loivos, an 18th-century manor house set high above the heart of the Douro Valley wine-producing region. The BBC gave it the accolade of one of the six best hotel views in the world, and we avidly concur as we survey the vista from the terrace. The Douro appears as a narrow blue ribbon far below, wending its way between steep, vine-covered slopes and rows of rolling mountains marked with the red tile roofs of centuries-old farmhouses. Before a grand al fresco dinner (weather permitting), we’ll have a guided tour of this historic house.
Day 8: Pinhao / Porto
Our sojourn on the river comes to a close with one of our favorite paddling stretches, from Foz do Tua to scenic Pinhao, a journey of about 3 hours. We are in the very center of the Douro demarcated Port wine region, with neat rows of grapevines terracing down the schist mountainsides and stately white stucco quintas dotting the hills high above the river. After lunch at a riverside cafe, there’s time for a walk to see the splendid hand-painted ceramic tilework in the charming little train station, which is decorated with thousands of blue and white azulejos from the early 20th century showing pre-dam river and harvest scenes. We drive back to historic Porto for a festive farewell dinner, reveling in the memories we've made on Portugal's famous River of Wine.
Day 9: Porto / Depart
A transfer to the airport is included today to meet your departing flight.
Physical Rating: Moderate to Difficult
Our Portugal kayaking adventure includes five days of flatwater river kayaking at a beginner level. This trip is suitable for those with little to no paddling experience, although you should know in advance that you are physically able to kayak the minimum daily distance, and that you actually enjoy kayaking, before signing on. You must be able to paddle a minimum of 4 hours per day (with breaks) in order to participate. The exact distance we paddle each day will depend on local weather and wind conditions, but participants should expect to paddle for sustained periods of up to two hours at a time. The river is relatively narrow and water is very slow-moving, with little or no current. We will encounter no waves or rapids, though sometimes it can be windy in the river canyons, and we may have to paddle against the wind, which can be more taxing. Please note that during breaks ashore for rest stops and/or a picnic lunch, bathroom facilities may be limited and may entail finding a private, hidden spot in the bushes. Hikes ashore take us through inviting landscapes that frequently include historic sites. Hikes typically last from one to three hours over well-marked easy but hilly terrain, sometimes following a dirt road through the vineyards. You must be able to walk a minimum of one mile to participate in this trip, including the ability to easily navigate stairs.