Portugal’s rich history is laid bare in the illustrious palaces of the Douro region. From Porto to the Spanish border, the colourful lands of the Portuguese north are dotted with esteemed heritage buildings that chronicle the country’s history as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, allowing curious travellers an immersive glimpse back in time.
At the peak of Portugal’s seafaring power and influence, the fertile banks of the Douro cultivated many of the country’s most desirable exports, including grapes, almonds, olives and of course, port wine. This, coupled with the lucrative trade routes of Porto, made the Douro one of the wealthiest regions of Iberia, and the ideal place for the ancient kings of Portugal to hold court – giving rise to some of Europe’s finest palaces and civic buildings.
The palaces of the Douro River showcase a vibrant blend of architectural influences, from exotic Moorish Revival to intricate Baroque and elegant Neoclassical. Their beauty, detail and significance are such that many have been designated World Heritage Sites, reflecting their importance in capturing Portugal’s national identity and heritage.
Cruise the beautiful flow of the Douro with Scenic, and experience the majesty of some of Portugal’s finest palaces – from the Palacio da Bolsa of Porto to Régua’s breath-taking Mateus Palace. Our Scenic Freechoice activities and Scenic Enrich excursions offer exclusive encounters within these timeless buildings, granting you memorable moments of wonder that go beyond those experienced by the ordinary traveller.
To whet your appetite for discovery, here we explore three wonderful palaces you can experience during a luxury Scenic river cruise on the fabled Douro River.
Palacio da Bolsa, Porto
History and Visitor Information
The Palacio da Bolsa is one of the finest landmarks of Porto, a spectacular Neoclassical gem overlooking the Douro River in the heart of this ancient port city. Built in the 19th century on the site of the former St Francis Convent, whose cloisters were destroyed by a fire in 1832, the Palacio de Bolsa was commissioned by Porto’s Commercial Association under direction from Queen Mary II of Portugal, who donated the ruins of the former convent to the merchants of the city.
Building work began in 1842, with the main exterior structure of the palace finalised by 1850. However, given Porto architect Joaquim da Costa Lima Júnior’s intricate Neoclassical design, decoration of the interior wasn’t completed until 1910. Da Costa’s design borrows heavily from the Palladian architectural style, with an emphasis on the classical symmetry favoured by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, while also staying true to the Neo-Palladian architecture which became fashionable in Porto throughout the 18th century.
After the main construction work of the palace was complete, several architects and artists were commissioned to decorate the interior, leading to the creation of unique interior spaces characterised by varying artistic styles and influences. Highlights include the Arab Room, decorated in a Moorish Revival style; the Pátio das Naçōes, or Nation’s Courtyard, whose octagonal dome and glass panels are decorated with the coats-of-arms of Portugal and its 19th-century allies; and the illustrious ceiling frescos of the central courtyard, which were added by realist sculpture António Soares dos Reis, in 1868.
Located in Infante D. Henrique Square overlooking the charming Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique, Bolsa Palace is an unmissable highlight of Porto, brought to life by our enriching guided tour.
Experience the Palacio da Bolsa with Scenic
Accompanied by an experienced local guide, who can offer wonderful insight into the culture and traditions of Portugal’s second city, you’ll discover the historic treasures of Porto, including a visit to the inspirational Palacio da Bolsa. Tour the majestic halls and courtyards of this 19th-century wonder, and uncover the legacy of the artists, architects and pioneers who poured their talent and vision into this palatial landmark. From the Arab Hall to the French Renaissance Court Room, be inspired by a showcase of Europe’s finest architectural styles from the 18th century to the present day.
Ducal Palace, Guimaraes
History and Visitor Information
Dating back to the Medieval period, the Ducal Palace of Régua is one of the finest historic monuments of the Douro Valley, perhaps Portugal. For centuries, this mighty palace, which showcases a myriad of architectural styles, was the seat of House Braganza, one of Portugal’s most significant noble houses. The palace served as the seat of the King of Portugal from 1640 to 1910, when the constitutional monarchy was deposed and the Portuguese Republic established – making it one of the country’s longest-serving royal palaces.
Construction of Ducal began in 1501 in one of the most fertile regions of the Douro, under the stewardship of Duke Jaime of Braganza. With its extensive olive orchards and abundance of fresh spring water, the palace soon became one of the wealthiest noble houses in Portugal – wealth which brought the Braganza family into close kinship with the Portuguese royal family.
By the 17th century, Ducal had become the primary residence of the King of Portugal, with its original Manueline architecture replaced by classical-style façade typical of the period. In the subsequent decades, the palace developed beyond recognition, with the addition of a tower, new floors, and the introduction of luxurious Estremoz marble and ashlar masonry along the entire façade, which added to the pomp and splendour of the building.
In the late 18th century, during the Napoleonic invasion of Iberia, Ducal Palace was abandoned by the Portuguese Royal Family, who fled to Brazil to live in exile. Their return in the mid-19th century was short-lived, with the 1910 revolution forcing the royals to once again flee the country. This led to the closure of royal residences across Portugal, with Ducal Palace not open to the public until 1984.
Today, Ducal Palace stands as one of the great former royal houses of northern Portugal, and one of the finest examples of Neoclassical architecture in Europe. The palace’s grand interior boasts a stunning collection of fine art and tapestries, while its grounds are home to a string of elegant civic buildings each with their own story to tell.
Unearth the History of Ducal Palace with Scenic
The region of Guimaraes on the banks of the Douro has been the seat of Portuguese royalty for centuries, and it’s here where you’ll enjoy an immersive Scenic Freechoice tour of the impressive Ducal Palace. In the company of an expert guide, you’ll tour the grounds of this majestic building, hearing stories about how Ducal helped shape the national identity of modern Portugal. Explore the halls, courtyards and chambers of the palace, marvelling at treasured artworks and intricate architectural details which make this one of Europe’s must-see former royal residences.
Mateus Palace, Régua
History and Visitor Information
Oozing Baroque opulence, Mateus Palace is an iconic heritage palace nestled in green pasturelands on the outskirts of Peso da Régua, one of the earliest settlements of northern Portugal. The palace was designed and built by visionary Italian architect, Nicolau Nasoni, and is considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Portugal, perhaps Europe. From its elegant exterior, festooned with gold-leaf detailing, to its miraculous interior halls, library and courtyards, brimming with wood carvings, silverware and ceramics, some of which date back to the 16th century; this is one of the most fetching historic buildings you’re ever likely to see.
Blending rusticity with eccentric grandeur, the interior halls, corridors and courtyards of Mateus offer a feast of curiosities. The library, for instance, houses a vast number of rare first editions, including Luís Vaz de Camões’ Os Lusíadas, an epic poem that’s become a cornerstone of Portuguese patriotism. Other rooms house their fair share of wonderful oddities too, including 18th-century religious relics imported from the Vatican, and presumably brought to Mateus by architect Nasoni. Mateus House also boasts a collection of fine wood carvings and imposing furniture pieces, many of which date back to the medieval period.
Perhaps the most spectacular aspect of Mateus Palace, however, is its gardens. Boxwood-hedge passageways lead you into a maze of horticultural wonders, complete with cypress tree tunnels, statues and elegant ponds. Then, of course, there’s the vineyard, whose historic old-world wine grapes have been used to produce world-famous Mateus rosé since the 1940s, with the palace appearing in illustrated form on the front of every bottle. After a guided tour, we’d wholeheartedly recommend sneaking off to the cellar door to sample the fine rosé varieties on offer – you won’t be disappointed.
Within the palace house itself, several wings are dedicated to exhibiting important historic artefacts from heritage sites throughout the Douro Valley and beyond. One of the most fascinating of these exhibition spaces is the Sacred Art Room, which houses a stunning collection of primitive religious artworks, including Diogo Álvares Muorão’s Holy Archdeacon, and a German bas-relief of Christ made in the prestigious Nuremberg School in the early 16th century.
An immersive guided tour of the grounds will introduce these fascinating archive spaces, and showcase the breath-taking Baroque architecture and details which make Mateus Palace one of the true icons of the Douro.
Explore Mateus Palace with Scenic
Choose to journey the languid Douro River with Scenic, and you’ll enjoy a guided tour within the inspirational grounds of Mateus Palace, a special Scenic Freechoice excursion which promises to be one of the highlights of your experience in northern Portugal. In the company of an experienced local guide, you’ll wonder at the stunning Baroque architecture of this 18th-century marvel, exploring its historic halls and hearing tall tales of its former residents. Outside, there’s time to stroll the beautifully landscaped grounds, and take a photo or two of the house in all its decorative splendour. Then, it’s on to the winery, where you’ll learn about Mateus’ proud viticultural heritage, and have the chance to sample some of its prestigious rosé – the perfect way to conclude your visit to this inspirational Portuguese palace.
From Porto to the Spanish border, Scenic invites you to enjoy the captivating heritage highlights of the Douro, including its wonderful palaces and former royal residences. Click here to find out more about our Unforgettable Douro and Delightful Douro river cruises, or call 0808 256 4450 to book your place today.