Carrying the sweet grapes of a proud city's namesake from the abundant hills of the Douro Valley to the eager lips of the world, the life source of the Iberian Peninsula flows deep and free. Fishing boats bob on the tide as they have for centuries, framing a scene of bygone days in a place where nostalgia is celebrated and never forgotten.
Such a high benchmark was set with Claudia and Jeremy as leaders, hotels, the ship and the shore visits that it will be a very hard act to follow. Believe me all my expectations and more were met.
L Taylor, Vietnam Delights
Boarding our evening Emirates flight to Europe, we’re looking forward to skirting the periphery of northern Spain and Portugal.
Located just off Las Ramblas, hotel El Palace is the perfect base for discovering Barcelona. An afternoon at leisure precedes dinner at the hotel.
Bring the Spanish spirit to life touring the Gothic Quarter, including the ever evolving Sagrada Familia. The fragrance of saffron infused paella will lead you to the beach for a tantalising seaside meal. Then, explore Gaudi's beguiling candy cane creations at Park Guell until sunset dapples the city in muted evening pastels. Tonight's Welcome Dinner in a special location is sure to impress.
Follow the sea breeze further afield today.
After a morning at leisure and a traditional tapas lunch, we’re ready to open our hearts to San Sebastian aboard an afternoon flight.
Ever a highlight, this diminutively sized town is a proud purveyor of fiercely unique Basque culture. The air is flavoured with salt, the taste of sangria lingers on your lips and bars laden with Pintxos and Basque beer beckon.
The Hotel Londres is a personification of elegance and timeless beauty. An inhouse dinner with sea views sets the scene.
Join El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo
Transferring to Bilbao, we meet the esteemed El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo. Spain’s oldest vintage train is a hotel on wheels steeped in old world glamour, exclusively chartered for Captain’s Choice guests.
Settling into our elegant private cabins in their beautiful saloon cars, this is the last time we will have to unpack for seven nights.
Soon the cityscape of Bilbao fades into rural pastoral scenes on the tracks to Villasana de Mena. Don’t expect any of the locals to speak English here. This evening the train remains stationary as it will every evening so you can enjoy an uninterrupted sleep, dreaming of the journey to come.
A whistle stop to Bilbao's Guggenheim museum precedes a passage to Santander, capital of Cantabria. With its striking city beaches, this coastal gem sparkles on our afternoon city tour.
Doesn’t it feel like we are exploring a side of Spain that others miss? Chasing the rural idyll, the morning takes us on an excursion through the gorge of La Hermida until we reach the impressive Shrine of Santo Toribio de Liebana. Our train continues to later Potes, but with dinner and local entertainment on board, we’re happy to leave exploration until tomorrow.
We press on this morning to Santillana del Mar, with its beautifully preserved medieval old town, and hope to watch seagulls chasing the fishing boats returning with their catch in the village of Ribadesella. We meet the train back in Arriondas where we settle in for the night after dinner.
Nestled among the Picos de Europa Mountains, we’ll visit Lake Enol and the Sanctuary of Covadonga. Reaching the elegant capital of Asturias, said to have been settled by two monks in 761, we find it beautifully preserved in its original state. Our train continues on to Candas over dinner.
The train snakes along the coast, stopping off in Aviles on our way to Gijon. We’re now over 800 kilometres from Barcelona and feeling a different side to Spain. Dubbed ‘the white town of the green coast’, fishing village Luarca has a simple beauty – bobbing boats, white bluffs and plunging cliffs pose the perfect backdrop for a memorable dinner on board.
Resplendent in early summer, western Asturias melts into the Galician countryside as we make our way to Ribadeo. Wriggle our toes through the wet sand of Las Catedrales Beach, with its impressive natural archways carved by the relentless seas of the Bay of Biscay. No doubt the sea air has worked up your appetite. Lunch awaits in Ribadeo before we’re back aboard the El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo heading to the city walls of historic Viveiro, where we call it a night.
Join Spirit of Chartwell
As we cross country from Viviero to Ferrol, we prepare to disembark El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo, waving goodbye to staff who have become our close friends.
Just three hours’ drive takes us across the border into Portugal this morning. At Ribeira waterfront, the Spirit of Chartwell awaits. Exclusively chartered for our guests, it’s enlightening to consider that this is the barge the Queen of England travelled upon for her Diamond Jubilee.
From the railways of Spain to one of Portugal’s most famous rivers, our journey takes us to lunch at the 14th century Alpendurada Monastery. We explore the Douro Museum before we're back aboard, meandering past port wine vineyards stacked up over the hills.
We are treated to a live Portuguese Fado singing performance on board as the sun dips into night over their haunting melody. Docking in Regua, the celebrations will be enlivened with a traditional folk music show.
The ornate Mateus Palace is a sight to behold on our excursion ashore to Vila Real. We’re back on board for lunch to learn more about Portuguese gastronomy.
We dock in Pinhao for dinner at Morgadio da Calcada, a house set in a famous enotourism region, followed by a port wine tasting.
Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo is a cosy mountain town boasting a proud castle, medieval streets and an ancient city wall.
Back on board, strolling through the Spirit of Chartwell, it’s no stretch to imagine the Queen of England sashaying through in all her finery. In line with the regal theme, we look forward to the Captain’s Dinner tonight as we dock in Barca d’ Alba.
Crossing back into Spain momentarily today, our tour to Salamanca embraces the rhythm of Espana with a rousing matinee Flamenco performance amid the Renaissance architecture of Castilla’s most famous city.
Back on board our ship we cross the border, ending a perfect day with a sunset cruise and traditional Portuguese barbecue.
We enjoy our last day on the river today, kicking back to admire the view as our regal vessel meanders through the tranquil waters of one of Portugal’s most picturesque wine regions. Perhaps you'll enjoy another lecture about Portuguese culture, or make your own entertainment with a book.
As one last sunset burns over the horizon we make our way to Entre os Rios and settle in for one last night on board.
Disembark Spirit of Chartwell
Pousada do Freixo Palace is the jewel in Porto's crown. Admire gilt edged Renaissance style paintings before a walking tour of Porto. Baroque churches and terracotta rooftops bank the Douro. An afternoon stroll concludes with dinner at the hotel.
Ready to paint a portrait in people and provinces beyond the beaten track, we sail to Guimaraes, the country's former capital. At Braga, we admire the view from the Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary before returning to the hotel.
Arriving in the capital, we meet Lisbon, where sunshine yellow trams clatter winding lanes. We are staying at the Pestana Palace, a national monument whose ornate ambience speaks volumes for the impeccable service we are to expect.
Where will your last day in Portugal take you?
Enriched with the culture of Iberia, it’s time to say ‘adeus’ one last time as we make our way to the airport after breakfast.
After the royal treatment we have received, it's almost surprising there's not a red carpet waiting for us on our arrival back to Australia.
Imagine a trip where you won’t have to lift a finger, or worry about bringing your wallet.
All meals are included with your tour price along with beer, wine and soft drinks. Dining experiences can range from Michelin-starred restaurants to intimate local eateries.
During our adventure through Northern Spain and The Douro Valley, explore a side of Spain that others miss on El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo. There’s simply no train in Spain better equipped or more luxurious. Built in 2011 with just 14 cabins, your comfort was the first and last thought in design. There are no bunk beds – simply your choice of double or twin configuration. Train travel is during the day to ensure a comfortable night’s rest – it also means you don’t miss the changing landscapes along the way. Breakfast is served aboard each morning whilst most lunches and dinners are taken in fine local restaurants, giving you a taste of the local flavours. Wine, beer and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner when travelling on the train.
Your Deluxe Suite features a living room, bedroom with a double bed or twin beds, and an ensuite bathroom. The living room has a sofa which can be turned into a bed. Each suite is equipped with a luggage rack, desk, safe and minibar, as well as state-of-the-art comforts such as LED screens, in-room music tuner, climate control, computer with free Internet access and a telephone. Deluxe Suites also have a spacious ensuite bathroom, with hydro massage shower/steam sauna, hairdryer and a varied set of toiletries.
While many may claim to treat you like royalty there are very few that Her Majesty The Queen has sailed on herself. The centrepiece of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant becomes your home on the Douro River for six nights. The Spirit of Chartwell combines old world club elegance with modern comforts. Intimate staterooms (twin bed configuration; double bed available in Royal Suite only) are finished in rich cream and mahogany decor with a private ensuite. Excellent cuisine is served in the panoramic dining room and the adjacent piano bar is a wonderful place for an aperitif or a nightcap.
These outward facing cabins are located on the main deck and come complete with a double bed or twin beds, personal climate control, a satellite television, safe, double wardrobe, desk and a large ensuite.
Based on per person, twin share in a Deluxe Suite aboard El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo and a Stateroom aboard Spirit of Chartwell – from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane flying with Emirates. Prices from other cities are available on request.
Cruise & Land Only guests join in Barcelona for dinner on Day 2 and depart Lisbon after breakfast on Day 23.
Supplements (Add to base tour cost, per person, twin share)
Royal Suite aboard Spirit of Chartwell $1,580