If there were to be a river of the moment in Europe, it would probably be the Douro, flowing through the heart of Portugal’s famous port wine growing region. Just a few years ago, there were four riverboats sailing here. Now, there are 22, and the newest is the 112-passenger Emerald Radiance: one of two ships launched this year by Emerald Waterways.
Like all ships sailing the Douro, Radiance has been custom-built to fit into the massive locks. While she looks and feels like Emerald’s other European ships, she is slightly shorter, with a more intimate feel. The overall look is chic and minimalist, with lots of neutrals – cream, coffee and and splashes of black, with contemporary chandeliers and lots of glass in the atrium.
Where to sleep
There are 10 cabin grades over three decks. The three lowest grades, on Riviera Deck, have picture windows, while all the others have an enclosed balcony area – not a balcony as such, but a big, floor-to-ceiling window that slides right down so you can sit and feel the breeze on your face. It is a good system because you use the space in the cabin whether or not the window is open.
The décor is quite minimalist, like the rest of the ship, with neutral colours and big, fluffy duvets on the very comfortable beds. The most prized cabins are the two Riverview suites on Horizon Deck, with a whole wall of glass across one side and the balcony window on the other, as well as a living area and a very smart bathroom with a tub.
Where to eat
There are two places to eat. Light breakfasts and lunches are served in the comfortable Horizon Bar and Lounge – so juice, pastries and one hot dish for breakfast, and sandwiches for lunch as well as salads, soup and maybe a pasta dish. You can take your plate out onto The Terrace if you want to eat al fresco.
The main Reflections restaurant is on Vista Deck, where there are lavish breakfast and lunch buffets and waiter-served dinner. Portuguese specialities are always served on the lunch buffet, though there is plenty of more international food, which is just as well; some of the local dishes are pretty extreme. Porto is the home of the francesinha: a monster of a sandwich with different layers of meat, cheese and a fried egg on top, with a rich beer sauce poured over the whole affair.
On one night, when the ship is tied up at Barca d’Alva, right up against the Spanish border and in the middle of a beautiful, mountainous national park, there is a spectacular deck barbecue of grilled sardines (another local treat), spicy sausages, ribs, roast chicken and salads.
Wine is included with lunch and dinner and is generously poured; and the waiters were happy to offer us rosé instead of the house red or white, when we asked. One word of warning, though; if you want a table for two, get there early. It was only on the last day that we realised some passengers were sneaking into dinner early and bagging their favourite tables!
What to do
One of the most pleasurable things about sailing the Douro is the long, lazy afternoons of cruising; excursions tend to be half day, with the rest of the time to relax.
Emerald Radiance has a smart pool on the top deck with shimmery tiles and a wood decking surround. Being shallow, it is more for wallowing than swimming but it gets a lot of use. Activities are laid on in the lounge, too; we joined a tile-painting workshop, learning to design the traditional azulejo tiles (with stencils provided for the less artistically inclined). One day, there was a cookery demonstration, making pastéis de nata, the traditional Portuguese custard tarts, and in the evenings, cruise director Luis ran riotous music quizzes in the bar with full-on participation. There is also a small gym and massage room, and if you are feeling really lazy, a decent selection of films on the in-cabin TV.
What I loved
The excursions (almost all included in the price) are superb, taking place in three Emerald-branded coaches that follow the boat. For example: a full day in the gorgeous Spanish city of Salamanca included a cheese, ham and olive tasting in the local market before our walking tour. The trip ended with a surprise – a seven-piece tuna band (modern-day Spanish strolling minstrels, usually university students) singing folk songs in a leafy square in front of the cathedral, just for us. On another night, a candlelit dinner was served ashore in a ravishingly beautiful wine cellar, surrounded by enormous old oak barrels.
Although Emerald Waterways is less inclusive than its ultra-luxury sister brand, Scenic, you really feel there is a sense of quality in all activities. No penny-pinching here.
What I didn’t
Fellow passengers, as well as Brits, are Australians and Americans, who seem to have no problem with wearing name badges throughout the cruise. I know it makes sense and it is a great ice-breaker, but somehow, I don’t associate wearing a name tag with being on holiday. I have to confess, mine stayed in the cabin!
Would you like to experience the beauty of the Douro on-board Emerald Radiance? Click the button below to explore Emerald Waterways’ voyages, or call our Cruise Concierge on 0800 197 0854 to find your ideal itinerary.