The first time my husband and I ever saw a riverboat, we were riding our bikes on a narrow path beside the Danube River in Austria. Through the trees we could see a long, snake-like boat gliding silently down the river. Tim had an immediate reaction. “Don’t ever sign us up for one of those things,” he declared. “They look like aquatic rest homes.”
That was six years ago. Since then, we have taken two European riverboat cruises – all of which have been “sublime,” he now declares.
Tomorrow we embark on our third. This one will be a Viking cruise on Portugal’s Douro River, from Lisbon to Porto.
Over the years we’ve biked in many countries in Europe but never dared to get on two wheels in Portugal out of cobblestone-fear-for-a -painful-rear. Cobblestones are beautiful to look at but they’re not fun to ride on if you’re trying to traverse them on bikes.
That’s why this year we’ve chosen to see Portugal from a riverboat, guaranteeing as smooth a ride as can possibly be taken through any countryside. We’ll view Portugal’s beautiful landscapes from the water, thank you, and we’ll walk the cobblestones when we’re on the many excursions that Viking offers every day when we’re docked.
Even before we board our brand new Viking vessel, named “Helgrim,” Viking guides have offered us a choice of four different tours in and around Lisbon, from which we’ll depart. We must choose between: 1) exploring picturesque coastal villages near Lisbon, 2) visiting the Maritime Museum in this country of exceptional seafaring explorers, 3) tasting the culinary specialties of the capital of Portugal, or 4) viewing some of the famous ceramics and decorative tiles for which Portugal is famous at the National Tile Museum.
We will be living magically for a week on the Helgrim, named after a Norse god, as are all Viking ships. (The god Helgrim co-led the first Viking mission from Norway to England at the command of Harald I, King of Norway.) Our Helgrim welcomed guests for the first time in April of this year.
She’s a signature Longship design, 262 feet in length, carrying 106 passengers, all of them required to be 18 or over. If they are on this cruise, it’s assumed they’ll be interested in culture, history, science and cuisine. Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen often calls Viking “the thinking man’s cruise” with no casinos, waterslides, or formal nights. We’ll be on the Douro River, called the “River of Gold.” When the setting sun catches it right, the waters are said to gleam like liquid bullion bars. Even though “douro” may sound as if it means “gold,” the word comes from the river’s source near Duruelo de la Sierra, crossing northern-central Spain and Portugal to its outlet at the city of Porto, which will be our point of disembarkation.
We will be cruising through some of the world’s most beautiful wine regions, and stopping at a scattering of World Heritage sites, including the medieval Old Town of Guimaraes, the nation’s first capital, with palaces and monasteries dating to the 10th Century.
My husband, who always puts his bike away with reluctance, is ready for walking and hiking on what our schedule calls “occasionally difficult, unpaved surfaces and/or multiple stairs and steep inclines.” Back on board the Helgrim after these bike-less adventures, you can be sure he’ll be nestled into his comfortable bed in our luxury stateroom for a restorative sleep. After, of course, he has polished off one of Viking’s acclaimed five-course gourmet dinners.
Story and photos courtesy of Julie Hatfield.