New for 2015: Exploring Portugal on a royal barge

By Bob Schulman

Vacationers can now cruise on ‘The Queen’s boat.’

 If you watched TV on June 3, 2012, chances are you were among the millions of people who enjoyed the eye-popping sight of a flotilla of 1,000 boats on the Thames River in England. The event was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant, and the flotilla was led by a gilded, 210-foot-long boat carrying Queen Elizabeth II and her family in the splendor of an 18th century royal barge.

The ship, called The Spirit of Chartwell, was sold after the pageant and converted into a luxury, 28-passenger river cruiser – but still with the regal aura of the centerpiece of the Queen’s 60th anniversary flotilla.

Among sailings set for 2015 on the modern-day royal barge will be two 11-night adventures in Portugal. Participants will start their trips in Lisbon, then transfer up the coast to Porto, where they’ll board the ship for a cruise of the Douro River Valley. Offered by Boston-based Tom Harper River Journeys, the voyage will spotlight “breathtaking architecture and pristine natural scenery” as the river winds between steep, terraced vineyards and ancient villages.

Tom Harper’s Portuguese adventures start in Lisbon.

The trips are set for Oct. 15-26 and Oct. 22-Nov. 2. Prices start at $4,799 per person.

Suite on The Spirit of Chartwell. Highlights of the adventure will include: dining at the 14th century Alpendurada Monastery, touring the Palacio de Mateus manor house in Vila Real, dining at a 17th century mansion in Pinhão, checking out the wine-making process at a traditional Portuguese vineyard and tasting a bit of medieval Spain at Salamanca and Ciudad Rodrigo. Back in Porto, guests will have a free day to explore this ancient Roman outpost and today Portugal’s second largest city.

The Spirit of Chartwell (named after a home once owned by Winston Churchill) “combines state-of-the-art comfort with lovingly restored antique touches inspired by the Rene Lalique 1929 Pullman car Cote d’Azur,” said Tom Harper River Journeys CEO Bret Gordon.

The ship’s staterooms feature rich cream mahogany finishes and restored antique details such as Royal Navy Ships badges. All are air-conditioned and have private bathrooms including a shower. There is one Royal Suite on the Saloon deck, where the Queen stayed.

Tom Harper River Journeys was launched in early 2013 by a team of executives from across the river cruising and travel sector. The company says it is “obsessively passionate about simplifying the upfront service aspect of buying a river cruise and delivering the most comprehensive and immersive in-destination experience for the money.”

Cover and text photos courtesy of Tom Harper River Journeys.

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