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Cruise on the Douro River, Portugal (with a day trip to Salamanca in Spain), June 2016

We have fallen in love with Portugal, a very friendly (and eco-friendly) country. It is especially friendly to the English - the oldest alliance in the world between two countries that is still in force, we learnt, is between England and Portugal (if you're interested, see here).

Our cruise (on the AmaVida, or “Love Life”, a small but excellent river boat) started and ended at Porto and included navigating 5 locks, among them the highest single-lift lock in Europe.

Porto (map link) - start of our river cruise on the Douro. Our first evening was a harbour tour, beautiful in the evening light.

The building to the right of the cathedral, catching the sun, is the Bishop's Palace.





"The Maria Pia bridge, commonly known as Ponte Dona Maria, is a railway bridge built in 1877 by Gustave Eiffel" - who later was responsible for the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Statue of Liberty in New York, among many others





Next morning, starting up the Douro in early-morning mist



Approaching the Crestuma Lever dam, with a relatively small lock (only a 46 foot rise)...


...but which still generates over 100 MW of hydro-electric power


The side of the lock, which I could easily touch from inside our cabin window. The boats on the Douro are designed to JUST fit in the locks.


The boat rises at about one inch a second in this lock...


...and we are soon heading upstream. This is a very different river from (say) the Rhine!





Approaching the Carrapatelo Dam, with the highest single-rise lock in Europe (115 feet)


Serious sluice gates... and as with all the dams, they generate hydro-electric power here, around 200MW in this case (around 800 GWh per year)


Going in... some passengers enjoyed this, while others retreated to the lower decks!


Hmmm... this is all going to fill with water...


Going up (looking ahead)...


... and up (looking behind)...

Unlike in the small locks, the rate of rise increases considerably after a while, because the incoming water is far enough below the boat not to disturb it








While traversing locks and going under low bridges, the sun-deck shade awning is lowered hydraulically... showing that its top is covered in solar cells...



...which, together with the solar cells on the captain's wheelhouse, can supply the entire electrical demand on the boat in good conditions.


The Mateus Estate - remember Mateus Rosé? It was generated purely for export and to generate much-needed income, the bottle's shape taken from WWI canteens.


The Casa de Mateus Foundation was established here and, with the university town of Vila Real, still plays a major part in the cultural and economic recovery of the region




The Cedar Walk...


,,, only a few grapes grown here (but big vineyards elsewhere)...


...and another kind of harvest, free energy. Portugal really gets it. They produce enough hydro-electric, solar and wind energy to export some clean-generated electricity to other countries in Europe, while they collectively laugh all the way to the bank!

(In May 2016, the whole of Portugal ran for four consecutive days on renewable energy alone.)


Evening at Régua (map link)




A walk after supper




Next morning... England voting on Brexit...


Leaving the Bagaúste Dam (a mere 84 feet rise), looking back...


Another 560+ MW of electricity generated here





Castelo Rodrigo, a very picturesque fortified hill town, current population now down to 65, near the border with Spain


Looking over Spain (if I'm facing the direction I think I'm facing)






The much bigger town of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo below, where most of the population of this village has moved to



Welcome refreshments (free wine tasting)

More pictures of Castelo Rodrigo here


Descending towards Barca D'Alva (map link), where the Douro forms the boundary between Portugal and Spain. Spain is to the right of the bend in the river. The distant mountains beyond the river are in the Bragança District of Portugal, which was populated before the Romans by the Celts.


Rejoining the boat at Barca D'Alva, where it moved to during the day's excursion.


The next morning we had a day trip to the beautiful city of Salamanca in Spain, where because of the heat (close to 100°F) we spent the majority of our free time in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum, one of the finest collections of such art and sculpture in the world. We couldn't take photos there (except in its wonderful Art Nouveau café) but I have featured it in this post below.

[Portugal/Spain visit continues in Part 2]


Douro River Cruise - Return Journey to Porto

[Portugal/Spain visit continued from Part 1]


Leaving Barca D'Alva for the return journey




One of many pigeon houses (or dovecotes) that are a common sight in the vineyards. They were originally used to achieve several things at once: to raise pigeons for food, to produce a ready source of manure, and to attract raptors who (if I understood the guide correctly) scare off other wildlife that feeds on the grapes.

There is a programme in Portugal to restore these to active use - I can't find a good description of the programme, but you may find this post on the use of dovecotes as wild nutrient collectors interesting.




The "Quinta" of a famous name in Port wine


Back at the low railway bridge (only 7m clearance from water level) - everyone keeping low



... and a train crossed just after we went under


The captain's large wheelhouse (if that's the right term) collapses around him during these transits, leaving him standing at the controls. And yes, not wasting any space that can house solar panels.


About to descend the Valeira Dam lock, which has a single lift nearly as high as the Carrapatelo's




House Martin nests - I think


The guillotine gate being lifted up



Going down... 109 feet


(BTW: If you are interested in awesome locks, check out the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift in Scotland, the only one of its kind in the world)


Night at Pinhão (map link)




Back in Porto - another famous name in Port wine (their web site is here, a link that I highly recommend you to follow if you're interested in the history and production of Port wine!)


The huge barrels at the end are for long aging of Tawny port, the small barrels are for the younger Ruby (if I have got it right)


From right to left: the "cheap and cheerful" Ruby (only relatively cheap!), a 10-year-old Tawny and a 20-year-old Tawny (far from cheap). I actually preferred the middle one, my spouse preferred the really expensive one on the left.


And some of the vintage wines which mature on sediment in the bottle, and can be kept almost forever if stored in this position. Seriously expensive!

[Portugal/Spain visit continues in Part 3]

Some Wall Art Along the Douro

[Portugal/Spain visit continued from Part 2]

I took photos of some of the wall art appearing in public places.

These pictures were on display in the dining area of Quinta da Roêda, one of the Douro Valley’s finest vineyards, owned by Croft Port. The artist is António Ervedeiro, but I haven't found any information about him online (yet).



I also took a small selection of the many tile murals at Pinhão's small railway station. The old-style baskets for collecting grapes weighed over 100lb when full.



Before the dams were built, the Douro was shallow with fast currents. Taking the loaded Port Wine boats downstream to Porto was relatively fast, perhaps a week or so, but it could take a month to bring the boats back up to the vineyards.


Things are much faster now!

[Portugal/Spain visit continues to Salamanca in Part 4]