For 2020 departures visit our tour of Portugal’s Douro Valley and Lisbon
Selected departures from April to October 2019
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 Porto, the second-largest city, along the remarkably unspoilt Douro Valley, visiting the most charming towns and cities including elegant Lamego, the university city of Coimbra, fortified Obidos and finally, Lisbon the captivating capital. 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.
You will be greeted at the airport by a member of the Riviera Travel team to help you check in for your flight to Porto. Upon arrival, you will be escorted to the four-star Douro Palace Hotel Resort & Spa further inland. Set in a stunning hillside location overlooking the River Douro, surrounded by vineyards and a forest reserve, this superb hotel offers all the modern comforts you would expect from a hotel of this rating. Settle in before rejoining the group this evening for welcome nibbles and refreshments - a choice of traditional port wine or soft drinks - and then a delicious dinner in the hotel’s restaurant: the perfect opportunity to meet your fellow travellers.
Following a tasty breakfast, we begin our adventure with a journey along the dramatic, winding Douro Valley. We embark on a short relaxing boat ride through the valley, one of the most naturally beautiful landscapes, enhanced by the undulating curves of man-made terraced vineyards. Interrupting the hypnotic hillside pattern are sleepy villages and traditional wine-producing farms.
Afterwards, we venture towards historic Lamego, one of the first places to be reclaimed from the Moors in the 12th century and replete with elegant Baroque mansions. Dominating the skyline on a hill is the ancient church, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Remedies, which itself is perched formidably atop an incredible ceremonial stairway adorned with attractive azulejos, the country’s famous painted tilework. Bringing relief to the pilgrimage of 600 steps are many ornamental gardens, fountains and sculptures. We then return to our hotel where we enjoy a tasting of the excellent wines produced by hotel itself, while a local enthusiast shares fascinating insights into the wine culture of the area.
Today we take the long, but rewarding, drive to visit Portugal’s second-largest city: Porto is a colourful jumble of historic buildings, precipitously crowding the scenic riverfront. Spices, silks and other fine goods funded construction of this atmospheric city. This morning we enjoy a tour of the UNESCO-listed historic centre with a local expert, uncovering its major sights including the 13th-century cathedral and the stunning Baroque tower of the Clerigos Church. Experience the splendid Praça da Ribeira square with its distinctively tiled townhouses and unhindered views of the wine lodges across the river.
Eating well is a long-standing tradition here, and there is time for an authentic lunch at one of the city’s many excellent restaurants. For atmosphere and fresh seafood, the eateries on the riverfront promenade are a reliable choice. One of the best ways to walk off a hearty meal is by browsing the many little shops dotted across the city, specialising in fine art, antiques, ceramics and all manner of goods. Try the local pastries – some of the most delicious you’ll ever taste.
Porto is synonymous with the port wine trade, so no visit here is complete without a visit to one of the city’s renowned wine lodges, so we now head to arguably the greatest one, first crossing the imposing Dom Luis Bridge which bears a startling resemblance to a famous French tower, having been completed by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. At Taylor’s Port Lodge, we learn the fascinating history of port wine and its close British connections. Taking its name from the city through which it is shipped, this fortified wine is made with grapes from the vineyards of the Douro Valley and 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 the fascinating visit to sample this wonderful drink. Later we return to the hotel in time for a final dinner at the Douro Palace.
This morning, we bid farewell to the Douro Valley and journey through dramatic landscapes comprising mountains, valleys, forests and rivers before arriving in delightful Aveiro, a real hidden gem. Set along a coastal lagoon teeming with birdlife, this traditional fishing town is reminiscent of Venice with its pastel-coloured buildings and picture-postcard canals. Enjoy a stroll through the narrow streets lined with colourful cottages or should you wish, take a relaxing boat ride on a colourful moliceiro, the gondola-like boat originally designed for harvesting seaweed.
We then continue on to the spectacular city of Coimbra, the medieval capital for over a century, crowned by one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities. With its charming Moorish quarter and pretty squares, it is not difficult to imagine the cloak-clad learned of the age wandering its labyrinthine medieval streets. Cascading down a hillside is its atmospheric old town with its multi-coloured collage of ancient buildings, and in the company of our local guide, we will discover the soul of the city.
We stay overnight at the elegant four-star Tivoli Coimbra, located just a short walk from the historic core. For dinner, why not dine in one of the city’s many superb restaurants? If you prefer to stay in, the hotel offers a cosy restaurant and lounge bar.
This morning, we drive south to the small and aptly named town of Batalha, borne from a battle between two pretenders to the Portuguese throne. To acknowledge divine assistance in defeating his challenger, King João I ordered the founding of the town and the construction of the magnificent monastery that stands dominantly like an imposing guardian. You may wish to explore the Royal Cloister or visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, providing sanctuary for the heroic soul who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
The ruggedly beautiful Portuguese coast boasts awe-inspiring views of towering waves thundering against dramatic cliffs, and today we have a chance to experience this. We take a short drive to the resort town of Nazaré, where some of the highest waves in the world have been recorded, albeit during high surf in winter. Take in the views from the lovely beach or ride the funicular railway to the clifftop for different perspectives. There is time for lunch before we continue our journey.
We call at Obidos, a fortified town surrounded by imposing medieval walls encompassing its 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. Step back in time to the days of the Moorish Arabs who once ruled from the town’s castle. Do try the local take on Ginjinha, the sour cherry liqueur – served in an edible chocolate cup!
Later, we arrive in Lisbon where we stay three nights at the four-star Olissippo Oriente in the modern ‘Expo 98’ area of traditional Lisbon. Located near an attractive marina, this contemporary hotel features beautifully appointed rooms, an elegant restaurant and a welcoming bar.
Lisbon’s eclectic charm is its unique mélange of ancient, modern, bustling and peaceful. This morning a short rail journey takes us into the historic core, where our local guide takes us on an enlightening walking tour. See the Alfama neighbourhood, once a humble fishing village and now a Moorish quarter of cobbled streets – somewhere within this maze in the 19th century, the distinctive music style of fado was born. Rising above this characterful neighbourhood is the Castle of São Jorge, and within its walls are the gardens and narrow streets of the delightful Santa Cruz quarter. See the Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s finest square bordered by grand, Classical buildings and the triumphal Baroque arch that forms the backdrop for the statue of King José I. Experience the lively Rossio square, flanked by ornate fountains and where locals gather in charming pavement cafes to watch the world go by.
The rest of the afternoon is at leisure, so enjoy lunch in one of the city’s countless fantastic eateries – an ideal chance to sample classic Portuguese classics such as bacalhau, a delicious, salt-cured cod dish. After, you may wish to visit the castle, relax with a refreshing drink in one of the many attractive squares, or return to the hotel where you can catch the nearby cable car along the lovely riverfront area. Then in the evening you may wish to have dinner to the sounds of fado, Portugal’s signature musical style (see 'Personalise Your Holiday' section below for details).
This morning, we journey inland to the wooded highlands of Sintra, once the summer residence of the kings of Portugal looking to escape the heat. The atmospheric town was beloved by Byron who described it so poetically: ‘Palaces and gardens rising in the midst of rocks, cataracts and precipices, convents on stupendous heights, a distant view of the sea and the Tagus… it unites in itself all the wildness of the Western Highlands with the verdure of the South of France.’ Marvel at the beautiful pastel-hued manors and extravagant town hall, or take the time to visit one of the magnificent royal palaces.
After lunch we return to the Tagus to visit one of Portugal’s most iconic sights, the massive Monument to the Discoveries, built in 1960 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. Lining either side dramatically are stone statues of Portuguese heroes from the Age of Discovery including Magellan. We then see the 16th-century Belém tower, commissioned by Manuel I as a fortress in the middle of the River Tagus and a proud symbol of the nation’s great era of expansion. We also visit the spectacular church of Jerónimos Monastery, the culmination of Manueline architecture and the final resting place of Vasco da Gama.
In the evening we then return to Lisbon where we enjoy an included farewell dinner at a restaurant that specialises in traditional Portuguese cuisine, the perfect conclusion to a week-long adventure shared with your newfound friends.
Today you will be escorted to Lisbon airport at the appropriate time for your return flight with the fondest memories of a most wonderful experience.
The price of this holiday is per person based on a twin room for sole occupancy. The price includes return flights, three nights’ accommodation in Lisbon with breakfast and two dinners, three nights’ accommodation in the Douro Valley with breakfast and dinner, and one-night accommodation in Coimbra with breakfast, all tours as mentioned, all local accommodation taxes, all transfers and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.
Included excursions are: a guided walking tour of Lisbon, visit to the Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower and Monument to the Discoveries, visit to Sintra, a guided tour of Coimbra, visits to Batalha Obidos, guided tour of Porto including a visit to Taylor’s Port Lodge and a boat trip along the Douro River.
Fado performance in Lisbon - from £41 per person
Nothing captures the mood of Portugal more than the haunting sounds of fado, the unique song style that tells tales of tragic love and maritime adventures. Come with us for an unforgettable night of music at one of Lisbon’s most renowned fado houses in the heart of the Alfama district, complete with 3-course menu and drinks.
Please contact the reservations team to pre-book this experience.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitabilty of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport or train station||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport or train station||Transfer time|
|Porto Airport||Santa Cruz do Douro||1 hr 45 mins||Lisbon||Lisbon Portela Airport||10 mins|
I have just returned from my first Riviera tour to Douro Valley & Lisbon. From the beginning I knew I was going to enjoy the holiday but it was even better than hoped for. Our Tour Manager Annette was superb as were our coach dri...
Barrie and Deirdre Taylor
My wife and I have just returned from a holiday to Madeira operated by yourselves (Ref 992295) and are writing to congratulate you on a superb holiday enjoyed. The arrangements ran smoothly, the weather was kind and the island it...