Lisbon, Oporto & the Douro Valley
Lisbon, Oporto & the Douro Valley
You’ll discover the real Portugal on this tour of Lisbon, Oporto and the Douro Valley. Portugal is 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 been 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. With the discovery of 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. 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 hospitable people. They love to socialise, especially at the table and with family and, in common with most southern European people, they’re full of warmth and charm.
- Return flights.
- 7 nights in hotels (accommodation as specified or similar).
- Mixed meal plan basis.
- Guided tour of Lisbon.
- Visit to the Monastery of Jeronimos.
- Visit to the holy shrine of Fatima.
- Tour of Coimbra University.
- Guided tour of Oporto.
- Tour of the Douro.
- A visit to the 13th century walled city of Obidos
Day 1: UK Airport - Portugal
You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Lisbon from your selected airport. On arrival, you will be taken to the Tivoli Oriente Hotel. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure, allowing you time to settle into the hotel and start exploring if you wish.
Day 2: Lisbon
After a leisurely breakfast we set out to discover Lisbon’s highlights, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On our tour we’ll see the strikingly modern Monument to the Discoveries and its 16th century fortified counterpart, the Belém Tower, then visit the church of the Monastery of Jerónimos. One of the most magnificent buildings in Europe, the Monastery is a symbol of Portuguese wealth and power during the Age of Discoveries. Founded by Prince Henry the Navigator and containing the tomb of Vasco da Gama, it is an enormous, dazzlingly white edifice in classic Portuguese Gothic style, intricately decorated throughout with maritime motifs. We also see the impressive Terreiro do Paço square facing out to sea. There’s also Alfama, the Moorish quarter of timeless cobbled streets, and the wonderful garden at São Pedro de Alcântara with its expansive views across the rooftops.
Part of Lisbon’s appeal is its mix of old and modern, bustling and peaceful, and this afternoon is free to explore. You might be tempted by the chic shops of the elegant Baixa quarter, rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1755, or decide to seek out a café to enjoy a bica – an espresso – often taken with a pastel de nata, the city’s devilishly moreish custard tart. Art-lovers can savour the Gulbenkian Museum, established by an Armenian oil magnate who bought art from Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage after the Russian Revolution for bargain prices. This world-class institution has exhibits ranging from ancient Egyptian treasures to Impressionist paintings to a superb collection of Lalique jewellery and glass. And don’t forget to take a ride on one of the clanging, rattling yellow trams; seemingly well past their sell-by date, they’re still the best way to negotiate the sharp bends of the old quarter.
Day 3: Sintra & Jeronimos Monastery
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. Entrance fees to the Royal Palace are included.
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.
Day 4: Fatima & Coimbra
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 to the university, a wonderful seat of learning, with entrance fees included. Its superb library is rich in baroque gilt work and houses a staggering 300,000 volumes. Situated on a hill, the views are stunning.
Day 5: Oporto
Set on the Douro estuary and once Roman, Porto’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 Porto 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.
Day 6: The River Douro
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.
Day 7: Obidos & Pousada Overnight
Leaving Porto, 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, 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.
Day 8: Portugal - UK Airport
Today you join your transfer to the airport for your return flight back home after a memorable tour.
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