Land Tours Included In Your All-Inclusive River Cruise Holiday!


Jewish Quarter
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Porto, Belmonte, Trancoso, Regua, Pocinho, Castelo Rodrigo, Barca d’Alva, Pinhão, Vila Real

The Journey: The Douro is one of the major rivers flowing through the Iberian Peninsula. This sun-kissed waterway starts its journey in northern-central Spain before passing through mainland Portugal to its final outlet in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Porto. 

Once a great, conquering seafaring nation, Portugal has a history and culture as proud and as intrepid as any in Europe. Large tracts of it remain unchanged even today, almost like a land out of time, where beautiful traditions survive the ravages of progress.  From rolling vineyards to grand historic structures, magic waterscapes to endlessly engaging vistas, Portugal’s lazy charm tends to seep into your consciousness, slowly seducing you without you realizing it. However, by the time you’ve fully explored its wondrous valleys and friendly village communities, you’ll find yourself thoroughly and hopelessly in love with this land. 

Jewish Portugal: At the height of Jewish culture in Portugal there were more than 150 Jewish communities throughout the nation. Every major town, village and port had a Judiaria (Jewish quarter) with its own institutions and places of worship. With the banning of Judaism in 1496 during the Inquisition, these communities ended, as Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave Portugal.  

While it is true that some Jews converted to Catholicism, becoming New-Christians, and that many left the country, many others stayed and maintained their faith in secret. From those days, symbolic features and engravings can still be seen in the old Jewish quarters throughout this region. Many walls, gates, carvings, and religious sites may have vanished in the last five centuries, but in most cases, the memory of those once-thriving Judiarias is recalled in place names, historic markers and subtle signs such as Mezuzot door slots, inscriptions, and local tales of the Jewish presence. 

Day 1: Tuesday: Porto – Welcome Aboard – Bem-vindo! Enjoy a welcome reception, orientation, and welcome dinner aboard the luxurious Douro Serenity as we set sail to Entre-os-Rios for a magical start to your cruise!  

Day 2 Wednesday: Entre-oe-Rios to Pocinho
Enjoy a leisurely day soaking up the beauty of the Douro River as we spend the day cruising to Pocinho. Sailing east along the Douro, we will see dramatic, sheer rock formations, picturesque, terraced vineyards, and graceful bridges and trestles along the way; we will also pass through two of the river’s famous locks at the Valeira and Pocinho Dams. On board activities include engaging lectures, Portuguese lessons, and cooking demonstration plus so much more! 

Day 3 Thursday –Belmonte and Trancoso, Barca D’Alva

After a restful day on board, we set off to see the sights of one of the most unique Jewish regions and communities in the world in Belmonte and Trancoso (two of the “12 Historical Villages of Portugal” – a program created by the Portuguese government in 1991 to restore and enhance a series of villages in the Beira Interior region, older than the country itself) – as we  explore the hidden Jews of Portugal. 

In the morning we explore the hilltop village of Belmonte; this small community, population under 7,000, is home to hundreds of Jews who survived the Inquisition by practicing their Judaism secretly. These brave souls are the only “hidden Jews” (formerly known by the pejorative name, “Marranos,”) known to live in the Iberian Peninsula. Until 1990, they continued to maintain their privacy and secret faith. Now, they openly proclaim their Jewishness and have been received warmly by the Portuguese. (Spain, taking notice, is currently welcoming all hidden Jews of its past to return – and gain full citizenship!). The Jews of Belmonte live in carefully preserved stone houses, as we will see on a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter. Our tour includes a visit to the Synagogue and the Museum of Portuguese Jewish History, located in a re-purposed 18th century Catholic schoolhouse; here we will also meeting with members of the existing community. 

After free time to explore on our own and buffet lunch, we continue to the village of Trancoso.   This medieval hilltop town is very strongly marked by its Jewish past. Indeed, throughout the Middle Ages, the community of this city in northern Portugal had experienced an economic and social expansion almost unique in Europe thanks to its importance as a city of passage and exchange.  In the fifteenth century, the Jewish population rose to more than 500 people, which forced the community to settle outside the boundaries of the Judaria. Even today, there are many traces of this past, and as we walk through the town we will find an abundance of Hebrew inscriptions, stars of David, sign of Mezuzot and many other symbols of this once thriving Jewish community.   

We complete our tour of Trancoso at the Isaac Cardoso Interpretation Centre for Jewish Culture, situated in the former Jewish quarter. It pays tribute to the Jewish doctor born in Trancoso in the early 17th century, who became Chief Physician of the Court of Madrid and sought refuge in Verona, Italy due to religious persecution.  This center’s mission is to preserve the Jewish legacy in the region and is a place of study, reflection and evidence of the area’s Jewish presence.  The center has temporary exhibition rooms, a memorial to the victims of the Inquisition with 515 names of the prisoners of Trancoso, and a Synagogue.  In 2013, the Isaac Cardoso Interpretation Centre for Jewish Culture received a Sefer Torah, which was returned to Trancoso 500 years after the expulsion of the Jews that was ordered by King D. Manuel I in 1496 and the forced conversion by the Inquisition, a tragic era which decimated the Jewish community of Trancoso. 

Afternoon we return to our ship and set sail to Barca D’Alva

Day 4 Friday Barca D’Alva, Castelo Rodrigo & Pinhao

This morning we visit Castelo Rodrigo, one of the 12 historical villages of Portugal, about 670 meters above sea level, located close to the Spanish border. We explore this quaint village, its castle ruins, picturesque streets, and thousands of years of its history and Jewish heritage. 

For centuries, Jews, Arabs and Christians lived together here in peace. Visit with us the ruins of the castle and the palace, wander through its cobblestone streets, and discover 16th century facades and window ornaments in the famous Manuelino style. 

Like other historical villages, the area where Castelo Rodrigo is located today was inhabited for thousands of years, as paleolithic and megalithic remains were found. In fact, the archaeological excavations found not only prehistoric artifacts, but also pre-Roman, Roman, and Arab occupation!  During the Christian Reconquista, Castelo Rodrigo was conquered from the Arabs – but it became a territory of the Kingdom of Léon. The old town only passed to the Portuguese side when King Dinis signed the Treaty of Alcanizes, on September 12th, 1297. 

Castelo Rodrigo had been a sanctuary city for Jews during the Spanish expulsion. Many of the houses in “Synagogue Street” still carry markings from the 15th century and the still standing “cistern” was originally a synagogue and mikveh with two doorways – one Gothic, the other Arabic.   The area was inhabited before the Common Era, due to its secure position high over the valley; this has led many to believe that Jews pre-dated occupation by the Romans and the Moors who came later; and all lived in relative harmony. Interstingly, the mikveh was used by Christians for baptisms while the Arabs and Jews used it for ritual cleansing.   

We return to our ship for lunch via a scenic drive through the Douro Valley.   Afternoon we sail from Pocinho to Pinhao where we dock for a magical Shabbat onboard. 

After Kabbalat Shabbat services, we will enjoy a Festive Shabbat dinner,

Day 5 Shabbat: Shabbat in Pinhão

Shabbat is at leisure in Pinhão. This location is perfect for a relaxing Shabbat, as it is spectacularly located at the confluence of the Douro and Pinhão rivers, just 22 km upstream from Peso da Régua. The pretty town of Pinhão lies at the very heart of northern Portugal’s famous Port wine-making region. 

Shabbat programming includes Shabbat services, engaging shiurim with Rabbi Stewart Weiss; lectures with Dr. Abramson and an afternoon walking tour of Pinhao. 

One of the highlights of our afternoon walking tour is Pinhão’s railway station.  The walls are liberally decorated with lovely azulejo tiles, with several large, very well-preserved panels portraying historic scenes of the surrounding area, thus giving visitors a good idea of how the Douro looked before the dams were built and the river made navigable. 

Day 6 Sunday –Pinhão, Mateus Palace Vila Real, Regua, Porto

This morning, we take an excursion to the town of Vila Real to visit the baroque Mateus Palace & Gardens, where between the 15th and 17th centuries numerous members of the nobility settled. The main attraction of the town is Mateus Palace, the mansion of the last count of Vila Real. The baroque building is located in a beautiful park, with uniquely trimmed hedges and ancient trees. The gardens of the count are among the most beautiful places in Europe.  

Vila Real, like the surrounding areas we visit during our tour, became a Crypto-Jewish center after the forced conversions of 1497. The crypto Jews there maintained their separate identity for four centuries, surviving the Inquisition. Their survival was due in part to the character of the region – grapes for Porto’s port wines are still grown there – which contributed to an independence of spirit and secretiveness. 

We continue to Regua where we meet our boat for our afternoon sailing to Porto.

Day 7 Monday : Porto

Our last full day on the Douro we spend a discovering the magical city of Porto.  Its historical center has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and preserves many beautiful monuments.  We walk through the narrow streets and UNESCO center from the Sé Cathedral, where the first synagogue was built, to Montes dos Olivais where the Jewish Quarter was situated, witnessing the beauty of one of the world’s most romantic cities.  

Our morning excursion explores the history and heritage of Porto with a walking and bus tour.  In the afternoon we continue our Jewish exploration of Porto with a visit to its synagogue; the largest synagogue on the Iberian Peninsula, “Kandoorie Mekor Haim,” founded by Captain Arthur Barros Bastos in 1938.  We conclude with a meeting there with members of the local Jewish community.  

Once, a major community of Jewish merchants thrived in this great city of the north. The city’s first Jewish area was along the Rua de Santa Ana. In 1386 King D. John I gave the community land near church of Nossa Senhora da Vitûria. The main synagogue stood on the Escadas da Vitûria; a place still locally called “Escadas da Esnoga.” A plaque marks the site. Nearby, there is an ancient Jewish cemetery at Passeio das Virtudes. Many Jewish merchants had their offices along the famed Porto riverfront in the Ribeira area along the Rua da Alfandega. Another Jewish community once flourished at the Rua Monte dos Jude’s, where in 1826 an important ancient Hebrew plaque was unearthed. Recently, the main synagogue for the Jewish quarter was discovered during the renovation of an ancient building. Behind a false wall, workers stumbled upon an ark thought to be from the 15th century. This important discovery is being carefully preserved and researched in order to learn more about the once sizable Jewish population of Porto. 

Late afternoon we return to our ship for our farewell celebration, dinner, and entertainment. 

Overnight Porto 

Day 8 Tuesday – Porto – Disembark 

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