Review of My CroisiEurope River Cruise along the Douro, Portugal onboard the Gil Eanes
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Arrival at Our River Cruise Vessel, the Gil Eanes
We arrived at Porto airport and transferred to the port via private car with driver (the only way to travel). Embarkation was smooth and easy. As we waited to join the ship we were instructed to keep our masks on and our temperature was taken by a novel forehead infrared gun. We then sanitized our hands and disinfected our shoes by stepping on a disinfecting mat before excitedly embarking the Gil Eanes.
Social Distancing… c’est la vie. Croisi Europe is a French company that has successfully navigated Covid-19 since early June 2020, so no kiss on the cheek here but rather a friendly smile and a feeling of safety. All crew were wearing face masks and everyone (crew and passengers) adhered to social distancing.
Our ship, the Gil Eanes is only five years old. We were shown to our cabins which are modern, extremely well designed, bright with plenty of closet and drawer storage. Additional face masks and hand sanitiser were provided in each cabin. Cabins on the middle and upper deck have a French Balcony with full length sliding doors, cabins on the main deck have a window. There is no step into the bathroom which has a spacious shower with a small step into it. The bathrooms have plenty of storage and shelf space. There is also one PRM (persons of restricted mobility) cabin with a wet room.
The Gil Eanes is innovative. From the very technical as no more than 90 second power cuts when transferring from ship power to land power, to the mood and under-lighting that compliments the hues of the sunset and sunrises of the Douro valley. The ship is well laid out with a spacious lounge/bar area and a restaurant. Due to Covid-19 we sailed at reduced capacity with only 46 passengers onboard (the ship has a maximum capacity of 138 passengers). Currently the ship can sail with a maximum amount of 80 passengers to ensure social distancing and the safety of the passengers.
Prior to our first dinner we were introduced to the Captain and his crew who welcomed us and explained the new guidelines on board to secure everyone’s safety. Dinner followed with a set regional menu and wine which is, of course, included. Tasty French wines, Port, beer, spirits and the cocktail of the day are all included in your cruise fare. With the exception of breakfast all meals are three courses with wine. Complimentary bottled water is available at all times and also provided in your cabin. After dinner, some passengers took an evening excursion to explore Porto by night… don’t forget your bottled water or quaff your Port wine, it is Porto after all.
After an excellent nights sleep we enjoyed breakfast which is buffet style served to you by the crew, displayed to tempt and for you to select. After breakfast, we disembarked the ship and took a taxi into Porto’s heart. Most passengers took the Historical & Cultural Porto shore excursion, but we sought a different adventure. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes for Porto’s cobbled streets and walkways, hills, steps and latticed tram lines will favour the sensible not the fashionable.
We spent a few hours exploring the beautiful and fascinating architecture this wonderful city has to offer including the beautiful tiled train station. Porto has a vernicular railway which takes you from the bottom of the Dom Luís bridge to the top for spectacular views.
Due to the current pandemic there were far less tourists in Porto than I expected. The convenience is obvious: less traffic, better taxi fares, no queues for attractions, first table pick at river side restaurants and even available tables at the Majestic Café with its stunning main room and attractive winter garden which have guaranteed it a spot in every café-themed coffee table book.
Your scenic photos will appear professional without a soul in the shot. As a first time visitor to Porto, I sat drinking Port wine by the river watching the cable car on the opposite bank wondering if my singular experience could be better if accentuated by the crowds that would provide the evening crescendo to this Historic city known for its vibrant culture. I concluded, no – my companions and I were very lucky to have experienced Porto without the crowds of tourism.
The lucky few all wore their masks in public (not just in shops) adhering to social distancing guidelines. All passengers were back onboard by 12.30pm for a wonderful lunch at 1pm.
During the evening we participated (badly) in the National Anthems quiz followed by cocktail hour. As mentioned all drinks onboard are included along with wifi. There was a Portuguese themed dinner this evening accompanied by Portuguese green wine. We were then treated to a display of Portugese dancing which was colourful and graceful. The ship was docked overnight so there was an opportunity to walk into the local town of Regua.
The following day we arrived in Lamego. This was a technical stop to disembark passengers taking the Vila Real and the Mateus Palace shore excursion. I stayed onboard, lounging on the sun deck and enjoyed the incredible scenery, and the sunshine, whilst we sailed from Lamego to Pinhao via Bagauste’s Lock, a true feat of engineering. Upon arrival at Pinhao all passengers returned to the ship following their excursion for our afternoon sailing to Barca d’Alva.
On the 4th day we were all up bright and early for the full day excursion to Salamanca, Spain. Salamanca, the goldstone city, was classified World National Heritage by Unesco. An entire city classified a World National Heritage site! So, where to begin…
The city is captivating with so much wonderful architecture and beauty. We began with a tour of the Plaza Mayor public square, one of the most beautiful in Spain, followed by a walk along the Rua Mayor, the main street with the amazing Casa de las Conchas or shell house.
We also visited Salamanca Cathedral, the “new” romanesc Cathedral (completed in 1733) which has to be seen to be believed and the old gothic Cathedral with its marvelous alter in the main chapel, dated from the 1440’s. A stark contrast. The Cathedral offers the visitor the unique treasure of nine centuries of history and religious art and constitutes a fundamental part of the city of Salamanca, a World Heritage Site.
This was followed by a visit to the Medieval University with its spectacular library, akin to a scene from a Harry Potter movie. We had lunch in a local restaurant before returning to the ship. The ship then sailed on to Senhora da Ribiera through Pocinho’s lock.
This evening was gala but the dress was casual, smartly done. Dinner was followed by the baked Alaska parade, sparklers, flambe and all! After 4 courses and wine, what to do? How about dancing on the sun deck under the canopy. As dancing is no longer allowed inside due to social distancing rules, how about a little wiggle outside. Enjoyable for the ‘dancing queen’ or spectator alike. Of course we had all eaten far too much during lunch and dinner and a little dancing helped shift the extra pounds!
Day 5 began with the departure of the ship to Ferradosa and upon arrival we took the Porto Wine Road shore excursion whilst the ship sailed on to Folgasa. The scenery during the coach journey to Sao Salvador do Mundo, a renowned sanctuary, has to be seen to be believed.
From the sanctuary we could look down and see our ship sailing through Valeria’s lock and breathtaking scenes of the Douro Valley.
We then travelled to Sao Joao da Pesqueira, a small typical Portuguese village to see the charming Praxa da Republica and enjoy time at leisure.
The highlight of the shore excursion was the tour and the port wine tasting at the Quinta (wine farm). I have always associated port with Christmas as a heavy, winter drink so I was very pleased to be introduced to rosé port which is a very light refreshing (and moreish!) drink. Did you know port (rosé, tawny or vintage) should always be served chilled? We learn something new every day.
There was a wonderful opportunity to admire the terraces built centuries ago for the vines to produce port wine. The landscape of this valley, also declared World Heritage by Unesco, is unique and truly impressive.
We rejoined the ship in Folgasa and sailed onto Leverhino through Bagauste’s lock and also Carrapatelo’s lock. Dinner was followed by a folk evening.
Day 6 arrived all too quickly and it was time to disembark which was smooth and quick. Sadly we said goodbye to the Gil Eanes (pronounced Jill-e-arn-ess) and we look forward to seeing her again in April 2022.
My river cruise was 5 nights long however the good news is our river cruises departing on 6th & 13th April 2022 with haemodialysis onboard are 7 nights long giving you an extra 2 days to enjoy everything this enchanting valley and fabulous ship and crew have to offer.
Read a review of this river cruise written by a fellow traveller, Wendy, and her husband, by clicking here.
Your dialysis will take place onboard the ship and will be arranged as far as possible when the ship is sailing so you don’t miss out on the ports of call or the shore excursions.
Strict Covid-19 procedures are in place to take care of you during the cruise and also during your dialysis. In addition to CroisiEurope’s Covid-19 mitigation efforts your dialysis team will be wearing full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and patients will be required to wear masks at all times during dialysis.
Access to the dialysis unit will be limited to staff and patients only. Temperatures and oxygen saturation levels will be taken for all patients and staff upon arrival to the dialysis unit.
To minimise entry of additional personnel, the dialysis unit will be cleaned and disinfected regularly by the nurses. Your safety is our first priority. A safe environment equals a fun and memorable holiday.
Opening up like a pop-up book from the banks of the Rio Douro, edgy-yet-opulent Porto entices with its historic centre, sumptuous food and wine, and charismatic locals.
Visit Porto, Portugal – Regua – Vega de Terron – Barca D’Alva – SALAMANCA – Ferradosa – Pinhao on the 7 night River Douro Cruise. The best way to explore Portugal and Spain.
We look forward to seeing you on-board soon.