The best of what was once the world’s richest country; its monasteries, cathedrals, wonderful undiscovered Lisbon. Experience the unique ‘Fado’, amazing wines and sublime natural beauty.
Selected departures April to October 2017
Fly to Lisbon, then transfer to your outstandingly located central four-star superior hotel for a three night stay with breakfast. Some dates stay at the fine Lisboa Plaza Hotel, a member of the well-regarded family-owned Heritage chain of properties. Crammed with beautiful antique furniture, it resembles an aristocrat’s town residence from yesteryear. A wonderfully tranquil ambience pervades its marble public areas, enhanced by a traditional concierge in reception, atmospheric bar full of 19th century character and wood panelled restaurant. The rooms are extremely comfortable and have all the facilities you would expect of such a rating. Some dates stay at the equally comfortable Inspira Santa Marta Hotel whose management are really committed to sustainability. Very modern in design with large public areas, with an excellent restaurant, the whole experience has been designed by one of Portugal’s leading architects to promote outstanding harmony within the surroundings; particular attention has been paid to the matching of colour to both modern and traditional building materials. The rooms are large even for this high hotel category and are beautifully appointed. In short, in either hotel your comfort is assured.
After a leisurely breakfast, we start with a fascinating tour taking in Lisbon’s magnificent sights such as the impressive Terreiro do Paco, its wide tree-lined boulevards, the characteristic architectural style of the splendidly graceful 17th century Baixa quarter, the majestic castle and Sé - the 12th century Romanesque cathedral. Plus Alfama, the Moorish quarter of timeless narrow cobbled streets and the wonderful belvedere at São Pedro da Alcântara with its expansive views across the rooftops to the broad River Tagus beyond. We will stop at the famous riverside Monument to Discoveries then visit the superb 16th century Jeronimos Monastery with its astonishing wood and stonework wonderfully preserved. Founded by Henry the Navigator, fittingly it contains the tomb of Vasco da Gama, one of the finest ever maritime explorers. Today’s enormous edifice in classic Portuguese Gothic style looks like a giant wedding cake with its white stone facades reflecting the bright sunlight.
Lisbon’s eclectic charm is its mix of ancient, modern, bustling and peaceful, so this afternoon is free to explore, discovering this delightful contrast for yourself. You might be tempted by the chic shops of the Baixa. You might want to seek out a tiny café and enjoy a “bica” - a strong espresso often taken with a “nata”, the city’s famous, monumentally delicious and dangerously moreish custard tart. For the culturally-minded, discover the incredible Gulbenkian Foundation founded by an Armenian oil magnate who famously bought art from St Petersburg’s Hermitage after the Russian Revolution for bargain prices. This truly world-class but surprisingly little known institution displays extensive exhibits from Ancient Egypt and Rome, Mesopotamia, Chinese porcelain, fine art from throughout the ages, priceless furniture and the finest antiques. But an absolute must is a ride on one of the city’s clanging, rattling, yellow trams, seemingly well past their sell-by date, they’re still the best way to negotiate the sharp bends of the delightful historic quarter.
We take a short drive to the lovely town of Sintra. Perched on a spectacular hillside with panoramic views towards the nearby Atlantic coast, where Henry the Navigator grew up and doubtless gazed out to sea not knowing where his destiny was eventually to lead him. Famous for its Royal Palace, once the residences of the Portuguese monarchy, today it’s a wonderful museum with grand rooms, priceless collections including portraits of Charles II of England, and reflections of its Moorish ancestry plus more modern styles. You can also see the 19th century romantic Pena Palace, built as a summer residence, is a living fairy tale. Its turrets, ramparts, gargoyles and domes are a mystical mix of styles, while the interior is extravagantly decorated with a superb ballroom and a magnificent Arab Room. The surrounding park displays exotic plants from the former Portuguese colonies. Returning to Lisbon late in the afternoon, you have time at your leisure to explore this fascinating city. Lisbon has an amazing old quarter; still following the centuries old Phoenician street grid, so spend this evening wandering through its charmingly tangled, cobbled lanes, lined with ancient bars and tiny restaurants. Many will be buzzing with the sound of ‘fado’ – a unique and infectious musical mix evolved from traditional folk, colonial African and Brazilian styles. Don’t leave Lisbon without experiencing this.
This morning we drive north through olive groves and wheat fields to Fatima, once an unremarkable small town, until three children experienced an apparition of the Virgin Mary, it suddenly became one of the most important of Catholic pilgrimages and a national shrine. Whatever your religious views, the extraordinary sanctuary complex is certainly impressive and well worth the visit.
Continuing north, we reach Coimbra, renowned for its impressive Roman aqueduct striding across the city. But it’s most famous for its historic university, one of Europe’s oldest along with Salamanca, Bologna and the Sorbonne. Once Portugal’s capital, Coimbra became a major cultural centre in the Middle Ages with the university at its heart and it’s not hard to imagine the cloak-clad learned of the age wandering its tiny medieval streets little changed since that time. With its charming Moorish quarter and pleasant squares, Coimbra is a lovely place in which to immerse yourself in the old city’s labyrinth-like lanes. This afternoon we’re privileged to enjoy a visit of the university - a wonderful seat of learning. The huge walls of its superb library, rich in baroque gilt work and exotic woods are lined with a staggering 300,000 leather-bound, centuries-old volumes. Gaze up at the amazing gold leaf ceiling, then wonder at the contrast between the prison and the chapel - so exquisitely decorated that it could count as a cathedral in most places. Situated on a hill, the views are stunning.
We stay three nights with dinner in Oporto at the five-star Sheraton hotel - just two miles from the historic centre set in its own landscaped gardens, ideal to enjoy a drink in after a hard day’s sightseeing. As well as an impressive marble reception, it has superbly appointed rooms and all the other facilities you’d expect of a prestigious five-star hotel.
Set on the Douro estuary and once Roman, Oporto’s wealth derived from its knowledge of the sea routes to India. Spices, silks and other fine goods made the fortunes used to build today’s city – Portugal’s second largest. Our tour unveils its surprising, as well as the major sights. You’ll experience the splendid Praca da Ribeira square, with its characteristic tiled town houses and fine views to the wine lodges across the river. You’ll see the imposing Dom Luis Bridge and the tangled lanes of the medieval quarter. You’ll gaze up at the city’s imposing fortress, its fine cathedral and baroque Clerigos Tower. One of the six bridges over the river was designed by Gustav Eiffel - and you can immediately see the connection with his more famous Parisian creation! Free of the chain shops dominating other countries, you’ll enjoy the tiny antiquated shops specialising in fine art, antiques, ceramics and some of the most wonderful cakes you’ll ever taste.
But no visit to Oporto is complete without seeing one of the city’s world famous port wine lodges. So we are guests of Taylor’s - perhaps the greatest of all them all. You’ll learn the fascinating history of port wine, and its close British connections. Taking its name from the city through which it’s shipped, this fortified wine, is made with grapes from the terraced vineyards along the Douro valley which are still staggeringly trodden by foot! The wine is lovingly tended and matured, sometimes for decades, before you can enjoy its subtle flavours. Of course you’ll get the chance at the end of a fascinating visit to sample this wonderful drink.
You're free to spend the rest of the day exploring at your leisure.
Today we explore the sinuous and scenic River Douro – the river of gold, spending a leisurely day exploring its delightfully peaceful villages and intricately terraced valley sides. After leaving the Atlantic’s influence behind, the climate becomes noticeably warmer and dryer, and the landscape changes from verdant greens to Mediterranean sun-kissed ochre. The route is nothing short of spectacular! The winding road, sometimes almost in the water, sometimes hugging the lofty valley sides, gives us wonderful views of the shimmering ribbon of the river and its classic vine-clad terraces. At Peso da Regua, you’ll have time to wander along the quayside, watching the occasional river traffic or enjoying a refreshing glass in one of the many cafés. The overwhelming feeling here is one of wonderful isolation in one of Europe’s most scenic and as yet undiscovered valleys. Winding our way round the twisting roads, every bend gives us another stunning view. Just a few kilometres further upstream is the delightful small town of Pinhao, the heart of the port wine producing region. Port truly dominates the life here, with even the station tiles depicting the wine harvest. We also visit one of the local Quintas and sample some of the wines that are produced in this region.
Leaving Oporto, we head south, past olive groves to remarkable Obidos, a fortified town surrounded by imposing medieval walls encompassing a maze of narrow streets and alleys. With its whitewashed houses, abundant flowers and splashes of bright paint, this is a delightful place to just lose yourself. Feel yourself stepping back in time - to the days of the Moorish Arabs who once ruled from the town’s castle. If you’re feeling brave, take the somewhat daring walk around the fortifications themselves. But do try the town’s own special way of serving southern Portugal’s favourite cherry liqueur Ginjinha– in an edible chocolate cup.
Continuing to Cascais a chic coastal town near to Lisbon, for our final night's stay with dinner, at the five-star “Pousada”, one of Portugal’s classic hotels. Converted from historic buildings (similar to Spain’s Paradores) the hotel is set within the impressive walls of a 16th century coastal citadel overlooking the famous marina. Some buildings were actually a royal residence and a stylishly sympathetic restoration of centuries-old buildings and stone work - completed at a cost of 18 million Euros in 2013 - combines historical legacy with modern comfort, art and stunning style. The public rooms are very stylish, the rooms contemporary and there is a pool too.
Today you join your transfer in time for your return flight back home.
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.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at a supplement of £239 per person. The price includes return flights, three nights at the four-star superior hotel Lisboa Plaza or Inspira Santa Marta with breakfast, three nights at five star hotel Sheraton Hotel Porto with breakfast and dinner, and one night at five- star Pousada Cascais with breakfast and dinner; all tours and transport as mentioned, entrance to Sintra’s Royal Palace, entrance to Coimbra University and Jeronimos monastery, visit to Taylor’s Port Lodge; the services of a Riviera Travel Tour Manager.