Portugal and Spain: Floating Jazz, Food and Wine Festival


A Floating Jazz, Food & Wine Festival with Earthbound Expeditions
Story and Photos by Sue Frause

Jazz. Food. Wine. Those three words reeled me in from the get-go. Toss in that it was a floating festival on the Douro River in Portugal, with a day trip to Spain, and I was there. I’m not a fan of big ship cruising, so being aboard a smaller vessel sounded ideal. Instead of packed into a behemoth boat with thousands of other passengers, this Earthbound Expeditions cruise aboard MS Gil Eanes included 110 passengers, along with our hosts Bubba Jackson and Jose Rizo, both on-air talent with KJAZZ radio in Long Beach, California.

On this episode of Big Blend Radio, travel writer Sue Frause shares her experience in Portugal and Spain, as part of a Floating Jazz, Food & Wine Festival with Earthbound Expeditions.

Providing the nightly onboard music was a fine group of top jazz musicians, led by Franck Ansallem of Paris. A prolific composer, he has numerous recordings to his credit, including both piano and vocal. Among the other musicians was bass player Victor Nyberg of Stockholm; drummer Gautier Garrigue of Paris; Cuban sax player Irving Acao; and vocalists Hetty Kate of Australia and Sacha Bourost of San Diego and Paris.

Our cruise commenced on dry land at the Lisbon HF Hotel Fenix, where we spent two nights with our fellow jazz lovers. My husband and I had been to Lisbon several years before, and it immediately became our favorite new city. So we were eager to do some more exploring and indulge in the city’s famous Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts). Our group tour included the Jeronimos Monastery and Monument to the Discoveries, which we had not experienced on our previous visit. The nearby seaside resort town of Cascais was our destination for lunch, returning to Lisbon for free time in the afternoon and evening. After breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we boarded buses for the 195-mile trip north to Porto, where we would embark our ship for the seven-night cruise on the Douro River. We stopped along the way at Obidos, a medieval walled village where we had lunch — followed by a very hot (100F) afternoon in Coimbra, one of Europe’s oldest university towns and the birthplace of six Portuguese kings.

By late afternoon, we arrived in Porto — a city with a quirky blend of old and new. Located three hours north of Lisbon, Porto (also known as Oporto) is Portugal’s second-largest city. Founded in 1123, it’s known for its port (three miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean) and the Douro River. We boarded MS Gil Eanes, headed to our cozy cabins (all ship cabins have outside views)  and enjoyed our first dinner and inaugural jazz performance that evening with our fellow cruisers. The next day, before departing on the river, we went on a walking tour of Porto, which included stops at the train station with its story-telling tiles — plus the 12th century Porto Cathedral and the beautiful Palacia da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace).

The next morning, before sailing east to Regua, we spent time at Cockburn’s Port Lodge on the other side of the river in Porto. The lodge is the largest wooden port cellar in the historic area of Vila Nova de Gaia, with an impressive collection of oak barrels and wooden vats. Our tour included visiting the working cooperage, followed by a port wine tasting.

Weather-wise, we couldn’t have asked for anything better. Our daily dose of September sunshine with temperatures in the 80s made for plenty of time for lounging on the sundeck of MS Gil Eanes — or maybe enjoying an afternoon libation in the ship’s lounge with its large picture windows. Life on the river took on a rhythm all its own: breakfast in the ship’s restaurant, maybe a mid-morning off-ship excursion, quiet cabin time in the afternoon, chatting with fellow jazz lovers in the lounge. Or just gazing out at the rolling hills of the Douro Valley lined with its lush vineyards. Although this was my third river cruise (the others included Ireland and France), I forgot about going through the locks. The Douro River has five locks, all about three hours apart  — a fun spectator sport for those on board.

One of the highlights of the cruise was going all the way east to Salamanca, Spain. The elegant city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to towering Gothic cathedrals and the University of Salamanca. After a group city walking tour with a local Spanish guide (which included olive, cheese and ham tastings in the Salamanca Central Market), my husband and I set out on our own and discovered the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Housed in a modernist building adorned with colorful stained glass, the displays include paintings, statues, lamps and even household furniture. There is also a small cafe in the museum, where we had a light lunch with fellow cruise mates. Afterward, we enjoyed a glass of rose’ at an outdoor cafe. Felicidades!

On one of the last days of the cruise, I decided to take a vacation from the cruise. Simply meaning that I didn’t disembark with my fellow cruisers, and asked my husband to report back on their bus trip to the Coa Museum. Situated at the top of the mouth of the Coa River, it opened in 2010 and “celebrates the meeting of the two World Heritage listings in the region: the Prehistoric Art of the Coa Valley and the Douro Wine Landscape.” He enjoyed the excursion, and I my quiet time aboard the ship.

Our last full day aboard MS Gil Eanes featured the Captain’s Gala Farewell Diner-en-Blanc (dinner in all-white attire). We dined with newfound friends, talked about our upcoming adventures, and settled in for another evening of fine jazz during a farewell concert on the beautiful Douro River. Encore!

April in Paris: A Floating Jazz Fest – Paris to Normandy: KJAZZ 88.1 on-air hosts Jose Rizo and Bubba Jackson are embarking on another musical cruise, this time to Paris and Normandy. Guests will be aboard the MS Amadeus Diamond, with four jazz performances on board and one in Paris. Shore excursions include Claude Monet’s garden and home in Giverny; D-Day Beaches and Le Mont-St-Michel in Normandy; historical walks in Paris, Rouen, and Honfleur; and wine and cuisine tastings. The 10 day / 9 night adventure is April 15-24, 2020. More at https://earthboundexpeditions.com/voyages/

Sue Frause has been a freelance travel writer and photographer since 1988. Her adventures have taken her to seven continents and 47 countries and seven continents. Still on her bucket list? Japan, Greenland and New Zealand. When asked about her favorite place on the planet, Sue is quick to reply it’s just a few miles from her home on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. Follow her adventures on her blogs: http://eatplaysleep.suefrause.com/ and http://www.closetcanuck.com/  

International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association




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About the Author:

Sue Frause has been a freelance travel writer and photographer since 1988.

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