The Douro Valley presents a landscape of immense beauty and serenity; its river flows erratically yet somewhat rhythmically across northern Portugal before meeting the Atlantic near Porto. Soaring steeply into the sun-kissed hills are riverbanks dappled with terraced vineyards, charming villages and beautiful quintas where some of the best wines are produced: deliciously sweet port and refreshing vinho verde. The latter, which originates in the cooler climate of the hilly north, literally means ‘green wine’ and refers to the verdant region.
The Portuguese are proud of their seafaring heritage and rightly so; formidable mariners such as Vasco da Gama spearheaded the discovery of sea routes to India, Africa and the New World. This opened up new possibilities and for more than a hundred years from the 15th to 16th centuries, Portugal was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. During the Age of Discovery, its empire encompassed Brazil in the west to Macau in the east. The unearthing of even more gold in Brazil financed the building of superb palaces, monasteries and cathedrals, many of which we visit on our fascinating tour. Changing markets and over-indulgence reduced its financial clout, and in the mid-18th century, the once-great nation sank into economic obscurity.
This glorious past has inadvertently created the unique emotion known as saudade, an aching nostalgia for the past or something absent. This is perfectly captured through fado, the distinctive Portuguese style of music; its mournful melodies echo South American influences, a result of the nation’s close maritime ties.
Today, Portugal is a country of wonderful contrasts: modern in so many ways yet with one foot set firmly in history and tradition. Discover the real Portugal on our eye-opening tour as we journey from its captivating capital Lisbon, visiting the most charming towns and cities including elegant Sintra, the university city of Coimbra and finally, Porto the vibrant second city. We venture off the well-trodden tourist trail to uncover concealed gems, including Baroque Lamego, Aveiro the ‘Venice of Portugal’ and utterly charming Obidos. We will experience the very best of Portugal’s breathtaking landscapes: coastal forests, wild seascapes, fertile fields and biscuit-coloured hillsides covered with olive trees, dramatic vineyards and lush meadows.
Savour the local flavours of Portuguese cuisine: grilled fish, smoked meats, freshly baked bread, piping-hot pastel de nata their unique custard tart, and an impressive selection of delicious wines to complement any dish. The Portuguese have truly perfected the art of cooking simple yet mouthwatering meals.
By the end of our insightful tour, you will have immersed yourself in one of the most fascinating and inviting cultures, and learned to discern the different personalities of each colourful city; as the Portuguese saying goes: Porto works, Coimbra studies and Lisbon plays. Upon returning home you may just experience a touch of saudade for this magical destination.