Most Douro river cruises concentrate on the stretch between Porto and Régua, Pinhão, or Barca d’Alva. Although the contours and lines of the Douro wine region, I wanted to see the natural park’s rugged, rocky landscape on an International Douro river cruise.
With Las Arribas del Duero of Spain on one side and Portugal on the other, it was a boat trip to remember, if a little noisier than I’d have liked.
International Douro river cruise departure points
The boat leaves from Congida river beach, a gorgeous riverside park near the small town of Freixo de Espada à Cinta. Weeping willows provide plenty of shade and there’s a café on the waterfront, next to the jetty, if you need refreshments before or after the trip.
This is the widest point of the river cruise and the surrounding landscape is partially cultivated, especially on the Portuguese side.
By the time we pulled up to La Barca, the Spanish boarding quay backed by a bone dry picnic area, the only other signs of human activity were isolated smallholdings with tiny terraces nestled between smooth boulders and patches of resilient olive and almond trees.
At this point, the tranquillity was shattered by a cacophony of competing Spanish voices as more passengers joined the cruise. My friend and I managed to find a spot on the prow of the boat where we could just about make out the guide’s announcements above the racket.
Scenery on the International Douro river cruise
The first point of interest along the route being a black storks’ nest and their favourite white rock.
Try as we might, we were unable to make out the Paleolithic engraving of a horse on one of the rocks we passed but the solitary pine tree stood out, alone in the wilderness.
The waterfall was dry after the summer but the combination of odd cloud and rock formations and birds circling above kept us occupied along the route.
Despite the unwelcome noise, the mini river cruise itself was well worth doing, although it was even better once we’d dropped the chatterboxes off on the return journey.
River cruise practicalities
Tip: Use sun cream and wear a hat or other weather appropriate clothing if you plan to stay outside as there is little shade. There is plenty of indoor seating but the views are better outside.
Congida river beach on Google Maps – you’ll need a car to get there.
More information about the boat trips (in Portuguese) can be found here. Standard fare is €14 (pay as you board) and the boat leaves Congida at 10:30 am and La Barca at midday (Spanish time). There’s an extra afternoon cruise from mid-July to August, leaving Congida at 4 pm.
Outside the peak summer period, the boat only runs on Saturday and Sunday mornings, except for special group bookings and even these scheduled weekend trips are suspended in December and January. Expect to spend around 2 hours on board.
Where to stay near Freixo de Espada à Cinta
We drove to Congida from our base in Pinhão but it was a long haul. Were I to do it again, I’d seriously consider staying at least one night somewhere around Freixo de Espada à Cinta to make the most of the river beach and explore the various local viewpoints and walks. Or do this 1-week hiking vacation in northeast Portugal.
The local council offer a set of 1-bedroomed self-catering bungalows within the Congida river beach complex called Moradias do Douro Internacional.
If you’d prefer something more luxurious, I’d go for Casa de Alpajares Wine Hotel and Spa which overlooks the river and surrounding hillsides and has an infinity pool and onsite restaurant.
A more rustic, country house setting can be found at Quinta do Salgueiro B&B which has a garden and pool.
If you want to explore the Douro wine region, a more central base would be better – see my guide to the best places to stay in the Douro Valley.
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