Sophie, from our Online Marketing Team, recently went on our Grand Designs of Portugal tour, a guided excursion through the rustic north of the country that portrays a flavour of its rich heritage and takes in its beautiful countryside. From wine tasting to hill walking, grand cathedrals to historic pousadas, Sophie was able to get a real taste of the Portuguese way of life. Here is her account of the trip:
Portugal, though small, is a diverse country blessed with vibrant culture, natural beauty and a fascinating history. Our arrival in Lisbon offered all the delights I expected from the capital, with its bright yellow trams winding their way through the streets, gothic cathedrals and majestic monasteries lining the cityscape. Lisbon proved a fascinating contrast of old and new and certainly did not disappoint.
Outside of the city as we moved onwards to our first Pousada we discovered the rolling hills and deep valleys of Portugal, dotted with stone-built villages. Pousada da Assuncao, a former convent and our accommodation for the first three nights of our visit, proved a stunning example of traditional and modern concepts of Portuguese architecture. Portugal’s Pousadas provide guests with a unique way to discover this country’s rich history, and a way to experience Portugal in the most authentic and unforgettable way possible. Our location made an ideal base to discover the local towns of Arriolos and the beautifully preserved medieval town of Evora (optional excursion) with its narrow winding lanes and elaborate architecture. We discovered the region’s famous cork and marble, most evidently displayed in Vila Viscosa’s stunning Renaissance-style Palácio Ducal with its 110-metre façade totally covered in marble. Our private guided tour through the Palace had a very exclusive feel to it and was the perfect way to discover its fascinating history. Special mention must go to our guide, whose enthusiasm and passion for the region and its history made learning about this area enthralling. Ending the day, we ventured over to a local vineyard to sample the famous wines of the region, with much of the group taking advantage of the incredible prices on offer – just under 3 Euros for a bottle of locally produced white wine and just under 4 Euros for a locally produced red wine!
Heading north we ventured further into the countryside via Coimbra, a beautiful and atmospheric university town steeped in history. Our arrival at our next Pousada, Vila Pouca da Beira, was spectacular with welcome drinks overlooking the beautiful Serra da Estrela and Serra do Acor mountain range. Our full day (optional) excursion into the Serra da Estrela Mountains proved a real highlight of the trip, with our knowledgeable guide Joachim informing us of the area’s geology whilst guiding us up to the summit of Portugal’s highest mountain – breath-taking! It is recommended to take extra layers with you for this visit, as the temperature significantly drops as the altitude increases!
With the area’s bizarrely shaped crags and gorges, mountain streams and lakes, beautiful forests and spectacular views, it came as no surprise to the group to learn that this region ranks among Portugal’s most outstanding scenic attractions. The day was topped off with a visit to our Pousada from the local villagers, who entertained the group with their traditional folk music before inviting us all to their chestnut festival the following day. We were treated to freshly roasted chestnuts and local wine, a real privilege to experience for all!
Onwards to our final Pousada, the impressive Pousada do Monte de Santa Luzia, situated on top of a hill with breath-taking, panoramic views of Viana do Castelo’s sailing port. We arrived in spectacular style to a beautiful sunset. This final pousada on our ten day itinerary served as our base to explore the local towns of Ponte de Lima, the walled town of Valença do Minho, and of course not to forget Portugal’s second largest city of Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In honour of the birthplace of port, the group was taken on a tour of the local port producers providing a fascinating insight into the making of this famous export, before being treated to a port wine tasting session against the dramatic backdrop of the Douro River. With the afternoon free to explore the city of Porto itself, the group set off discovering the beautiful cobbled street and art deco cafes in the stunning historical centre. Porto provided a memorable closure to this fascinating, leisurely-paced tour. I left Portugal with a new understanding of just why it remains one of the world’s most popular destinations to visit. Its spectacular natural beauty is matched only by its welcoming atmosphere and endearing charm.