Porto city tour

Beautifully located on the banks of the Douro River, Porto’s history and development is inextricably linked to the river. Originally a Celtic-Iberian settlement, the city become a prosperous Roman village thanks to its natural harbour. From the 14th to the 16th centuries its fishermen, sailors, merchants and ship builders played a significant role in the success of the Portuguese Discoveries and later, during the 18th-century, Porto of course gave its name to the one of the finest wines in the world – Port.

Our introductory tour begins with a scenic drive through the city’s narrow streets to see its 16th-century arcaded buildings and Baroque churches and chapels, before crossing Gustav Eiffel’s iconic 19th-century iron bridge to reach the cathedral atop Penaventosa hill, which boasts some amazing views across the city.

Inside the Cathedral are some wonderful examples of gold carved altarpieces, alongside paintings dating from the Nasoni period. Our tour ends with a visit to a Port Wine Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, for an opportunity to see some traditional casks full of Port, before enjoying a sample of this delicious, world-famous Portuguese tipple.

Lamego

Warm and charming, Lamego is a town with a rich history, not least as home to one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Portugal: the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies. This stunning Portuguese baroque church was built during the second half of the 18th-century over the remains of a 14th-century chapel and is particularly famous for its iconic zig-zagging staircase, which is composed of 691 steps rising up through nine levels, each one lined with pyramids and statues.

In addition to the shrine of Our Lady of Remedies, we will also visit the Gothic Cathedral and the town’s museum, after which you may also like to experience some of its most famous gastronomic delicacy, the Bôla de Lamego, which loosely translates as the Lamego Meatball, although it can be made with fish. This traditional snack consists of smoked ham and chorizo roasted inside a flatbread and is widely available for sale in bakeries throughout the region. Lamego is also very well-known for its sparkling ‘Raposeira’ wine.

 

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Mateus Palace

The history of Vila Real dates back to the Palaeolithic era, but it was during the 15th to the 17th centuries that the city really flourished when many nobles chose to live here, leading to it becoming known as ‘The Court of Trás os Montes’.

Four kilometres east of the town is Mateus Palace, once described by the English art critic Sacheverell Sitwell as, ‘the most fantastic country house in Portugal,’ and recognisable from the label of Mateus Rosé wine. Built in 1745, the palace is a wonderful example of Portuguese Baroque architecture, with an impressive facade made up of beautiful pinnacles and an ornate balustraded stairway. At the rear is a delightful garden with box hedges, statues and a spectacular thirty-five-metre-long cedar tunnel.

The palace’s interior is equally as impressive: the entrance hall has a carved chestnut ceiling and plenty of 18th-century furniture; the Four Seasons Room takes its name from its large 18th century paintings; the Blue Room is home to some fine Chinese porcelain; the neighbouring Dining Room contains more stunning Portuguese China and silver, while the Four Corners Room boasts various pieces of Indo-Portuguese furniture.

Day-trip to Salamanca

Situated in the centre of the ‘Castilla e León’ region, Salamaca was founded by Celtic-Iberian tribes on the banks of the Tormes River and was first occupied by the Romans and then the Moors, until being re-taken by the Christians in the 12th-century. During the 13th-century it became home to Iberia’s first university, which greatly increased the city’s stature.

Over the centuries, Salamanca has been visited by many kings, princes, bishops and artists, most of whom have greatly contributed to its enrichment, leading to it becoming known as a something of a ‘living museum’. In 2002, the city shared the title of European Capital of Culture with Bruges and since 1988 has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This guided city tour will take you to past the University and the House of Shells to the beautiful ‘Plaza Mayor’, formerly a site of bullfighting and now a popular gathering point for locals and visitors alike. During our time here we will also visit the Gothic ‘New’ Cathedral – a name which stands as testimony to the city’s age and history – since this ‘new’ building was actually constructed between the 16th and 18th-centuries.

Of course, no visit to the region would be complete without a traditional flamenco show, which we will enjoy in a local restaurant during an authentic Spanish lunch.

 

Castelo Rodrigo

Located at about 670m above sea level, Castelo Rodrigo is one of Portugal’s twelve historical Parishes and is home to a castellated medieval village from which it derives its name. Thanks to its lofty hilltop position, the streets are steep and narrow, but there are plenty of 16th-century facades and Manuelino style windows to admire during a guided walking tour. Throughout the centuries, Jews, Muslims and Christians have peacefully coexisted in the community, helping to create a social fabric that still endures. During your time here look out for the almond trees surrounding this peaceful enclave, which give Castelo Rodrigo its colloquial name of “The White Village”.

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Pinhão

The picturesque little town of Pinhão lies at a particularly scenic bend of the River Douro, deep in the heart of one of Portugal’s most established Port wine growing regions. During the 19th and 20th-centuries the local train line was vital to the success of the community and in 1937 its station was decorated with twenty-five large hand-made azulejos (or tiled panel displays) to celebrate this legacy. Each one depicts a different scene relating to Port wine making, from the harvesting of grapes to the transportation of barrels along the Douro River, aboard traditional Portuguese flat-bottomed Rabelo boats. Over three thousand individual blue and white ceramic tiles were used to make these azulejos, which are widely considered among the best examples of their kind in the country.

Visit to a traditional Quinta (vineyard)

Perfect for wine-lovers, this excursion takes us on a scenic drive across the highest plateau of the Douro, to a traditional Quinta, or vineyard, where the sherry grape Muscat is used to produce some of Portugal’s most famous dessert wine, Moscatel. During your time at the Quinta, you will be given a guided tour of the vineyard and museum in order to learn more about the process by which Moscatel is made, before being invited to enjoy a taste of this rich golden libation, filled with flavours of oranges and honey.

Guimarães

One of the most attractive towns in Portugal, Guimarães has an excellently preserved old town filled with innumerable sights to enjoy. This tour will take you on a relaxing walk through its narrow winding streets, to see the exterior of the 15th-century Palace of Dukes, which belonged to the fourth and last Portuguese monarchy. These days Guimarães is a busy small town in which tradition and modern life coexist in perfect harmony at the foot of the forested Serra de Penha mountain, as we will discover in the company of our expert local guide. The Principality of Braganca was in power from 1640 until October 5th 1910, the day on which Portugal was declared a Republic. In 2001, the city centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2012, Guimarães was declared one of the European Capitals of Culture, demonstrating just how much this historic town has to offer

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