A luxury yacht sailing along the Douro River.
Centuries of port production has given the Douro river valley a unique lexicon. Take the word pipa, a wood barrel filled with port that would be transported first by ox-cart and then by river to the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia across from the city of Port. Or, take, Douro a clever word play signifying both the region itself and the golden grape leaves. Or, take for that matter rabelo, the traditional wooden vessels slightly upturned on either end that traditionally carried pipa. Put it all together and you get the classic way of seeing the Douro — by rabelo boat.
Pipadouro offers classic or tailor made options from two-hour trips to overnight stays. Gliding on the river, every now and again a hiding quinta (wine estate) peeks out from among the hand carved hills. At the helm, Captain Nuno, once a cargo ship captain, points to an old wildrose nautical compass near more modern navigation. “You have to know how to care for a vessel like this. It requires constant tweaks,” he beams with pride talking about the yacht, Friendship 1.
Originally built in 1957 in England for the Royal Navy, and restored in 2007, the 66-foot yacht boasts luxury at every corner: a Honduran mahogany hull, riveted with copper gleams under the midday sun; a fluted vintage port decanter holds a small amount of the ruby liquid; and a silver tea set insinuates its English lineage. Given the strong English connection with port, the provenance of the boat is not surprising. Schist rockface borders the blue-green river on either side becoming more prominent as the quintas begin to fade from view.
Vera, has prepared a hearty, al fresco lunch: clear poultry broth with vegetables and chickpeas, followed by thin slices of cured cod drizzled with olive oil and mild chilis that pairs well with the crisp white Crasto wine. Next, there is traditional dobrada guisada stew, minced chicken fritters and a large platter of creamy baked custard. All of the dishes are prepared with the utmost care like that of a family gathering.
With the engine turned off, floating for a while, there is utter quiet. This peaceful journey though, has allowed for many such moments: reclining on a deck chair on the bow, sipping a glass of port, watching the fish play. In honour of the passengers on board, the country flag waves in the wind. It’s yet another small gesture among many on board that exudes loving hospitality. The entire experience conjures a feeling of sheer bliss.
This original awesome adventure article first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of City Style and Living Magazine