I have just returned from spending a week cruising Portugal’s historic Douro River aboard the all-inclusive ‘space-ship’, Scenic Azure. Despite being relatively well-travelled and having cruised with many famous cruise lines, this was my first time on a river cruise, so I was eager to see if it lived up to my expectations.
Upon arrival in Porto, we were greeted by Scenic’s friendly representatives and transferred to the Scenic Azure. Following a swift boarding process, the crew guided us to our accommodation and gave us some time to familiarise ourselves with the ship before a spot of lunch.
Suite accommodation; space-ship style
Our Balcony Suite (B Grade – #203) was ideally situated close to the stairs, allowing easy access to various parts of the ship. In any case, Scenic Azure is most certainly a ‘small ship’, so you’re never too far from where you need to be. The Balcony Suites on Scenic river ships are known for being spacious, and we weren’t disappointed. Not only was the bed HUGE, but we had a comfortable seating area, ample storage space and a mini-bar. The bathroom was equally stunning, boasting a walk-in shower and well-stocked with complimentary premium bathroom products from L’Occitane (my favourite!).
In addition, every suite on Scenic Azure provides a private butler, which made our experience all the better. Our butler, Dario, was exceptional and on-hand through the journey. This level of personal service allowed us to truly relax – there’s something to be said for knowing that every element of your trip is taken care of, from room service to laundry concierge.
Scenic river cruises are all-inclusive, so our meals and snacks on Scenic Azure were complimentary. The ship’s main restaurant is the Crystal Dining Room, which provides many options, including steak. Also available were the ‘Chef’s Recommendations’, alongside healthy choices such as salads and light meals. In addition to the main dining room, Scenic Azure has two alternative dining venues; Portobellos and the River Cafe. Positioned in the Panorama Lounge, Portobellos provides an intimate environment and a view of the kitchen, so you can watch the staff prepare your meals. The Portuguese-style cuisine is unique and delicious, but you’ll need to book as space is limited. The River Cafe is more informal, serving light bites such as sandwiches and snacks and ideal if you’re a bit peckish outside of mealtimes.
Following our first night on Scenic Azure, we left Porto early and began cruising east, passing through locks and taking in the majestic sites of the Douro along the way. While the ship was in motion, we had the opportunity to participate in a few activities, such as cooking classes (Pasteis de Nata) and wine tasting. In addition, we went to a tile painting class, which was a fantastic experience, and it was lovely to get to know our fellow guests for the first time.
Regua was the first stop on our itinerary. Situated in the northeastern region of Portugal, Regua is perhaps best known for being the centre of the country’s port wine industry. While exploring Regua, we visited the quaint Douro Museum, which served as an excellent overview of the local history and provided a comprehensive insight into the region’s most famous export.
Back on Scenic Azure, we attended the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Reception during the evening, where we were warmly greeted with a refreshing glass of champagne and a selection of tasty canapes. We also got to meet the Captain and the ship’s Hosting Managers, which was a nice touch, before rounding off the day with a fun music quiz (we didn’t win).
The following day took us to Mateus Palace, where we enjoyed a guided tour and learned about the Baroque-style building’s intriguing past. Comprising three buildings (the manor, the winery and the chapel), Mateus Palace dates back to the 18th Century and is one of Portugal’s finest examples of civil architecture. In the afternoon, we returned to the ship to continue our voyage, marvelling at the rows of vineyards as we cut through deep valleys and past small villages. The next stop on our Douro River cruise was the small village of Frexio de Espada a Cinta, where we had the chance to visit a silk museum and taste delicious homemade almond cakes.
Next up was a ‘Tastes of the Coa Valley’ tour at Casa Painova, where we explored the grand manor house and sampled the port, which, unsurprisingly, was lovely. Then, back on the ship, the crew hosted a traditional Portuguese BBQ – the sun was shining, the sangria was flowing, and the food was second-to-none. Finally, in the evening, we enjoyed a fine-dining experience at Portobellos, which was simply amazing. Our seven-course (7!) dinner was divine, and we indulged in a range of meat and fish dishes, accompanied by olives, soup and of course, portobello mushrooms. The local music added an extra touch of authenticity to the ambience too!
We spent the second-to-last day of our cruise at a local event in the picturesque village of Provesende, where we visited an old bakery to taste various treats and the local port. After another day of busy shoreside activities, we headed back to Scenic Azure for a Portuguese buffet before taking in a performance of classical music at the Sao Francisco church. This excursion was by far my favourite experience of the whole trip, and I highly recommend seeking it out if you’re ever in this part of Portugal.
In Porto on our final day, we spent the morning uncovering more of the local area and touring Quinta de Avelada, which was another of my highlights. A 300 years old wine estate, Quinta da Aveleda offers an unbeatable combination of stunning botanical gardens and on-site food and wine tasting.
With our time in Portugal drawing to a close, we spent our last night onboard swapping stories with fellow guests, sampling cocktails, and toasting farewell to the excellent crew. Before we knew it, morning had arrived, and it was time for disembarkation and the short flight back home.
Since returning, I’ve reflected on my experience and look back fondly at my Scenic adventure. We felt very safe throughout the journey and made to feel comfortable around the very much needed COVID measures – We had daily temperature checks and access to hand sanitiser and face masks. Additionally, we showed a negative test result 72-hours before the voyage commenced and provided a PCR test 48-hours before departing back to the UK, all of which were very quick and easy.
My time exploring the Douro aboard Scenic Azure was the best introduction to river cruising I could have hoped for, and I couldn’t believe how much we managed to pack into the week. There was so much to enjoy, from the incredible shoreside opportunities to the exquisite dining experiences and excellent service – needless to say, I’ve already started planning my next voyage and can’t wait to return!
For more information regarding Scenic Azure or Douro River Cruises, please call us on 0800 008 6677.