800 554 7016
Trip Logs

European Coastal Cruise: Portugal, Spain & France Trip Log: April 27–May 5, 2023

Trip Logs

European Coastal Cruise: Portugal, Spain & France Trip Log: April 27–May 5, 2023

By Carin Clevidence with photography by Andrew Coleman | April 27, 2023

April 27, 2023 | Lisbon, Portugal

We gathered at our inviting Lisbon hotel on a warm, sunny spring afternoon, making our way to intimate, luxurious ‘Dumont d'Urville’ to begin our voyage. Aboard, we received a warm welcome from Captain Romain Moatti and his crew before proceeding to our staterooms to unpack and relax.

Setting sail on the Tagus River, we passed beneath the iconic, red 25 de Abril Bridge, absorbing the landmarks of Lisbon, from the Praça do Comércio to the Monument to the Discoveries and the iconic Torre de Belem.

Upon regrouping later that evening, Expedition Director Suzana Machado D'Oliveira introduced our Expedition Team and briefed us on tomorrow’s activities in Porto and the Douro Valley.

We capped the day with an elegant dinner — some of us in the dining room, others on the deck — watching the sun dip below the horizon as our vessel gently rolled northward toward Leixoes, 190 nautical miles away.

April 28, 2023 | Porto

We arrived in the port town of Leixões on a beautiful sunny day. From there, we fanned out on five different excursions.

Some of us began with a port wine tour and tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia. As gulls wheeled overhead, we then took in spectacular panoramas of Porto, some of its picturesque bridges designed by Gustave Eiffel. After lunch with courtyard views, we visited the stunning Palacio da Bolsa and the Church of Saint Francis in the Cais de Ribeira district.

Another group embarked on a culinary tour, first gathering where locals watch soccer. Continuing on, we sampled everything from green Vinho Verde and pink beer to cod cakes, malted bread, bifana sandwich and three varieties of port.

Others opted to tour the Douro Valley, famous for its port wine. Learning about northern Portugal enroute, we arrived the town of Quintas, where we enjoyed a tasty lunch and partook in a wine tasting before returning to our vessel, some of us with bottles in tow.

Still others ventured to the town of Guimarães, birthplace of Portugal's first king, where we marveled at the lovely architecture and enjoyed lunch at a local pousada (traditional inn). Capping the day, we visited the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, gaining insight from our local guide.

Our last group went to see the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, its six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ. After a local lunch, we admired the center of Braga, with its grand cathedral, picturesque gardens and town squares.

Back aboard, we attended a festive cocktail hour and dinner, hosted by our Captain, before leaving Portuguese waters for Spain overnight.

April 29, 2023 | Cee & A Coruña, Spain

We awoke in the city of Cee, home to Europe´s only Atlantic rainforest. One intrepid group of hikers left at dawn for Mar de Fora beach on Cape Fisterra. We hiked uphill to the Cape Finisterre Lighthouse at the “end of the earth.” There, we enjoyed a cup of coffee as birds sang exuberantly, the surrounding fields alight with wildflowers. Proceeding to Castelo de Vimianzo, artisans demonstrated the arts of lace and linen making. At Santiago de Compostela, we then sat down to lunch at a former monastery. The day ended with a walking tour of the city and a visit to its cathedral.

Those with culinary interests instead met a local food expert, starting the day at the bustling Mercado de Abastos de Santiago. After admiring the bounty, we sampled local cheese and enjoyed a cup of coffee. We next continued to two local restaurants, an innovative tapas spot and an establishment specializing in local delicacies and wine. Replete, we toured the iconic local cathedral, admiring the Romanesque interior and magnificent altar.

Another group first proceeded to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to attend Spanish mass and witness the Botafumeiro — a large thurible hanging from the main dome by a pulley system — as it swung in an arc toward the side naves. We concluded the day with a walking tour of the town, followed by lunch at a historic parador, accompanied by folk music.

Our final group headed to the dramatic, foreboding Costa da Morte on the Galician coast, seeing a beautiful waterfall enroute. After learning about the region’s many shipwrecks, we paid a visit to a quaint church and had a local lunch at a parador with stunning views of the bay. Continuing to A Coruña, where our ship repositioned, we concluded at the Tower of Hercules, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rejoining our ship in A Coruña, well gathered for recap and briefing in preparation for tomorrow.

April 30, 2023 | Santander & Bilbao

Some of us welcomed the day by stretching and relaxing by the pool. Later, resident expert Andrés Hernández-Salazar offered a musical discussion about the pilgrimage route.

Upon arriving in Santander, we took in gorgeous views of the long sandy beach and distant Cantabrian Mountains before setting out for the day’s excursions.

Some of us explored Cantabria and the nearby Basque country, while others proceeded directly to Bilbao to explore the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, its façade a study in undulating titanium. Others began the day in Santander, visiting the Palacio de la Magdalena and ending the day at the Itsasmuseum Bilbao and its attached aquarium.

Still others chose a scenic drive to two coastal villages, first stopping in Santoña for a stroll along the promenade. Then, in Laredo, we admired its traditional stone buildings with wooden doors and saw its tunnel leading to a sandy beach.

Our last group ventured to a prehistoric cave, Cueva de Santimamiñe, to learn about the lives and art of the region’s ancient peoples, before continuing to beautiful Bilbao.

All excursions included a walk around the Guggenheim’s stunning exterior, an opportunity to admire the flower-swathed “Puppy” sculpture; enormous “Maman,” a spider; and the pillar of silver balls known as “Tall Tree & the Eye.”

While we were ashore, the ‘Dumont d'Urville’ crossed Cantabrian Sea to meet us. Our day’s adventures concluded with a happy reunion on the docks of Port Getxo.

May 1, 2023 | Bordeaux, France

Upon entering France’s Garonne River this morning, we observed a dramatic change in scenery. After a yoga session with our wellness guide, we joined Andy Coleman for an enriching photography discussion, and then Andrés Hernandez-Salazar presented a lecture on the music of the Iberian Peninsula, illuminating the lasting Arab influence on Spanish music.

Reaching our berth in Grattequina, just north of Bordeaux, the first intrepid shore excursion visited beautiful Réserve Naturelle de l'Étang de Cousseaua. Home to the largest cultivated woodland in Western Europe, it is a haven spoonbill and wild boar. There we hiked five miles in resin-scented air, through maritime pines planted on land reclaimed from the sea.

Others instead opted to visit Les Bassins des Lumières, an immersive art experience in a former German submarine base, built by the Germans during WWII. Paying tribute to Antoni Gaudí — with an emphasis on the architect’s UNESCO-listed structures — it features fascinating projected installations. We then took a scenic drive along the river, finishing the day with a walking tour of Bordeaux.

Meanwhile, two other excursions sampled local specialties. One group enjoyed a wine tasting with cheese and charcuterie at gorgeous 14th-century Château Giscours, sitting beneath an enormous chestnut tree. The rest travelled to the seaside resort town of Arcachon for oysters and Champagne, followed by a ride around the bay in a flat-bottomed pinasse (small local boat).

After recapping the day's adventures back aboard, our ship set sail and we enjoyed a dance and song performance in theater as we headed for the port city of Saint-Malo, 403 nautical miles away.

May 2, 2023 | At Sea, Bay of Biscay, France

Our run of good weather continued today as ‘Dumont d'Urville’ sailed smoothly through the beautiful Bay of Biscay toward Saint-Malo. Some of us welcomed the day with yoga on the pool deck, while others slept in or lingered over a cup of coffee.

Later in the morning, naturalist James Parry offered an informative — and well-attended — talk on birds of the Brittany Coast.

After lunch, many opted to watch The Way in our onboard theater. Starring Martin Sheen, the movie chronicles the life of a bereft father, who finds himself walking from the Camino de Santiago to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral — now familiar from our visit. Meanwhile, some wildlife enthusiasts among us looked for gannet and other winged wonders on deck.

Pausing for tea and pastries in the lounge, our enrichment coach, Andrew Coleman, then shared enlightening travel photography tips. Following a briefing on tomorrow’s excursions in Saint-Malo, we sat down to dinner. As a nightcap, our onboard pianist delivered a classical music performance in the theater.

May 3, 2023 | Saint-Malo, France

We approached the beautiful city of Saint-Malo on the Brittany Coast as the sun began to rise. Our Captain expertly navigated ‘Dumont d'Urville’ into the narrow sea-lock separating the outer harbor from the inner waterway.

Docking steps from the city’s medieval stone ramparts, we disembarked in high spirits. On our final day of excursions, some of us went to the picturesque town of Dinan, where we visited a local oyster farm, sampling the fresh-shucked bivalves with Champagne. We then visited the Chapelle Sainte-Catherine and the former home of explorer Jacques Cartier, now a small museum.

Others chose to explore the magical village of Mont Saint-Michel. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the tidal island is surrounded by mud flats at low tide. Hiking up steep cobblestone streets, we toured the gravity-defying abbey and took in spectacular views walking along the stone ramparts. Our day concluded with a local lunch across the Couesnon River.

Those who went to Brittany’s capital city, Rennes, paid a visit to the magnificent 17th-century parliament building. After a luxurious lunch of galettes and crepes, we took a walking tour through the town’s cobblestone streets, observing its medieval timber-framed houses.

Yet another group headed to the charming town of Cancale to sample local oysters. Greeted by the incredible aroma of melted Brittany butter, we then visited a traditional Breton biscuit maker before returning to Saint-Malo for a local lunch and chance to explore its stone ramparts and lively, historic streets.

Our last group ventured the farthest afield to the Omaha Beach landing area in Normandy, used by Allied forces in the WWII D-Day invasion. We were then able to pay homage to the American soldiers buried in the Normandy American Cemetery, a moving memorial on a bluff above the coast. Ending the day, we enjoyed a lunch of just-plucked local seafood.

Upon returning to our vessel, we all reflected on the incredible journey during our Captain’s farewell cocktail hour and dinner.

May 4, 2023 | At Sea, English Channel

We awoke to blue skies and calm seas as we traversed the narrow English Channel (La Manche) — the world’s busiest waterway — en route to the Thames River and London.

Despite cooler temperatures, many of us joined a final yoga and stretching session on the deck. After breakfast, we enjoyed an informative talk about the fate of the Spanish Armada by historian James Parry.

We later sat down to an oyster, shrimp and crab claw lunch. At teatime, we indulged in authentic crepes Suzette. Andrés Hernandez-Salazar continued the day with an enthralling discussion, entitled "Power & Glory.”

After much fanfare passing sister Ponant ship ‘Le Bellot,’ our photo coach had a surprise in store — a moving slideshow of our trip from Lisbon to London. As we headed up the Thames River toward our final port of call, we looked back on a marvelous voyage no one would soon forget.

A&K's Luxury Expedition Cruises