Lisbon, Oporto and the Douro Valley
You’ll discover the real Portugal on this tour – a rich and varied country with a proud history that’s admirably reflected in the many fascinating places we visit. Inland Portugal, long overlooked on European itineraries, has only recently being brought to the discerning traveller’s attention. It’s one of the world’s oldest countries, Britain’s longest ally and has been ruled by the Romans, Visigoths, by the remarkable Moors and almost every other race of invaders ever since, with all leaving their legacies. Without doubt the country’s most defining period was the Middle Ages. A succession of maritime explorers pioneered by Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India, thus passing the Ottoman Empire. They created hugely profitable links with today’s Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and even Japan – then the most closed of societies. Returning with gold, silks, spices, fine furniture and exquisite porcelain, selling it to Europe’s aristocracy for a fortune they created the world’s richest country. With the discovery of yet more gold in Brazil, huge newfound wealth financed the building of palaces, fine monasteries and cathedrals - many of which we visit on this thought provoking tour. This Golden Age lasted until its eclipse by greater powers during the late 17th century, at which point Portugal slipped into centuries of relative obscurity as the world’s political centre moved first to northern Europe and then to other continents. Portugal today is a country of great contrasts; it’s modern in many ways, yet still has one foot very firmly set in its traditional past. Full of history and appeal, and spared from large-scale industrialisation or re-development, its remarkably well preserved medieval towns with their tiny cobbled streets are truly delightful. Set on the very edge of Europe, its scenery is just as stunning and dramatic. You’ll experience it in full - from its coastal forests, wild seascapes, fertile fields and dramatic valleys to sweeping biscuit-coloured hillsides covered with olive trees, fragrant pine forests and lush meadows. The Portuguese themselves are a wonderfully well-mannered people. They love to socialise, especially at the table and with family and in common with most southern European people, they’re so full of warmth and charm.
You’ll fly to Lisbon, then transfer to your centrally located four-star hotel for a three night stay with breakfast. The tranquil Lisboa Plaza Hotel has the feel of an aristocrat’s town residence with its fine antique furniture, atmospheric bar and wood-panelled restaurant. On certain dates we will stay at the equally comfortable but contemporary four-star Inspira Santa Marta Hotel- designed by one of Portugal’s leading architects to be in perfect harmony with its surroundings.
Our morning tour of Lisbon takes in the iconic Terreiro do Paco, graceful 17th century Baixa quarter, majestic castle, 12th century Romanesque Se cathedral, timeless Moorish quarter of Alfama and wonderful belvedere at Graca. This afternoon you can explore Lisbon’s delightful mix of ancient, modern, bustling and peaceful. You’ll be tempted by the chic shops of the Baixa, and the tiny cafés servig “bica” (espresso) and “nata” (delicious custard tart). But an absolute must is a ride on a clanging, rattling, yellow tram - seemingly well past its sell-by date but still the best way to see the delightful historic quarter.
A short drive takes us to the lovely town of Sintra, perched on a spectacular hillside with panoramic views. It’s famous for its Royal Palace - a wonderful museum with priceless collections – and the 19th century fairy tale Pena Palace. We visit the 16th century Jeronimos Monastery with its wonderfully preserved wood and stonework. In the evening you’re free to wander through Lisbon’s amazing old quarter, lined with ancient bars and tiny restaurants buzzing with the infectious musical ‘fado’ mix.
Driving north through olive groves and wheat fields we visit the national shrine of Fatima. Then on to Coimbra - renowned for its Roman aqueduct, charming Moorish quarter, pleasant squares, stunning views and historic university. We enjoy a visit to this wonderful seat of learning with its superb library of 300,000 leather-bound volumes. Then we stay three nights with dinnerin Oporto at the prestigious five-star Sheraton hotel - just two miles from the historic centre - with its own landscaped gardens, marble reception and superbly appointed rooms.
On our tour of Oporto you’ll experience the splendid Praca da Ribeira square, the imposing Dom Luis Bridge, the tangled lanes of the medieval quarter the city’s imposing fortress, its fine cathedral and baroque Clerigos Tower. You can spend time among the antiquated shops specialising in fine art, antiques and wonderful cakes. And you’re sure to enjoy our visit to Taylor’s famous port wine lodge, learning the fascinating history of port wine and sampling its delights on the lodge’s magnificent riverside terrace.
River Douro – the river of gold. We explore its delights and peaceful villages as we travel a spectacular winding road with stunning views of the shimmering river and vine-clad terraces. At Peso da Regua there’s time to wander the quayside, while a little further upstream is the small town of Pinhao, the heart of the port wine producing region. This is truly one of Europe’s most beautiful yet undiscovered valleys.
We head south to Obidos, a fortified town of narrow streets, whitewashed houses, bright flowers and medieval walls. Step back in time to the days of the Moorish Arabs who ruled from the town’s castle. Take the daring walk around its fortifications. Try southern Portugal’s favourite cherry liqueur Ginjinha, served in an edible chocolate cup. Continuing to the chic coastal town of Cascais we stay at the superb fivestar “Pousada,” hotel. Converted from ancient buildings within the walls of a 16th century citadel, it combines historical legacy with modern comfort, art and stunning style.
You join your transfer and fly back home.