The following itinerary lists a range of museums, and other site visits which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but some require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents. The tour includes breakfast daily and evening meals featuring the best of Portugal’s cuisine, indicated in the itinerary where: B = breakfast, L=lunch and D = evening meal.
Lisbon - 6 nights
Day 1: Friday 7 September, Arrive Lisbon
- Arrival transfer for participants arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
- Welcome meeting
- Orientation walk
Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will be transferred to the Heritage Lisboa Plaza Hotel. There will be a short orientation walk in the area of the hotel in the late afternoon and the evening will be at leisure.
Lisbon owes its historical prominence to its magnificent natural harbour. The city lies on the north bank of the Tagus River (Rio Tejo), approximately thirteen kilometres from its mouth. At this point the river is almost two miles wide. It is spanned, on the west side of the city, by the long Twenty-fifth of April Bridge. Just east of the bridge, the Tagus suddenly broadens into a bay seven miles wide called the Sea of Straw (Mar de Palha), which lies on a strategic sea route and serves as a busy port, handling much of Portugal’s and Spain’s exports and imports. (Overnight Lisbon, Hotel Lisboa Plaza)
Day 2: Saturday 8 September, Lisbon
- Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George)
- Sé Catedral de Lisboa (Church of Santa Maria Maior)
- Calouste Gulbenkian Collection
- Welcome Dinner
This morning we take a tram to the Castle of St. George and then to Lisbon Cathedral. The castle is intimately linked to Lisbon’s history, as it is here that the Phoenicians are purported to have founded the first settlement. On this salient position, successive citadels became Roman, Islamic and Christian centres of power. King Afonso Henriques captured the castle in 1147. It was rebuilt by King John I in the 14th century and has recently undergone considerable restoration. The Castle, which overlooks Lisbon on all sides, is surrounded by a wild garden from which there are views over the city’s roofs and bell towers. Lisbon’s cathedral, the Church of Santa Maria Maior, is one of the major examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture in the city. Although it was originally built in the 12th century, there were later additions from the 13th and 14th centuries (cloister, chancel, Chapel of Bartolomeu Joanes) and some less significant work in the following centuries. It has undergone several restorations since the 1755 earthquake.
After lunchtime we visit one of Europe’s finest private art collections. Calouste Gulbenkian was a Turkish Armenian who derived his great wealth from the five percent commissions he took for selling Iraqi oil. He lived much of his life in Lisbon and donated most of his fortune and his collection to create a museum and foundation. The collection’s high quality reflects a faultless eye, with masterpieces of European painting, Islamic and Asian art, and a large corpus of the work of the jeweller René Lalique. Among the European works are paintings by Dirk Bouts, Carpaccio, Van der Weyden, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Turner, Manet, Degas and Monet.
This evening we enjoy a Welcome Dinner at one of Lisbon’s fine local restaurants. (Overnight Lisbon, Hotel Lisboa Plaza) BD
Day 3: Sunday 9 September, Lisbon
- Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
- Torre de Belém (Exterior)
- Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
This morning we tour Lisbon and the district of Belém by coach, visiting the Jerónimos Monastery, a masterpiece of Manueline architecture, and the Torre de Belém (‘Tower of Bethlehem’), the robust fortress built to protect the mouth of the Tagus. Belém derives its name from the great church and monastery of the Hieronymite friars (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos), dedicated to St. Mary of Bethlehem. It is a fine example of Manueline architecture, a blend of late Gothic and Renaissance elements that was very popular in Portugal in the 16th century. The church attached to the monastery is unique in the boldness of its vaulted roof, which is supported by decorated columns that fan out as they meet it. It is richly ornamented with the navigation symbols that characterise the Manueline style. The tombs of Vasco da Gama and Camões, Portugal’s great national poet, are in the church. The monastery was begun in 1502 by Boytac (Boitaca), an architect of French origin, and was not finished until the end of the century. Four other architects worked on the project, their styles passing from the Gothic through the Renaissance to the Baroque.
The five-storey Torre de Belém was originally located at the centre of the Tagus. It now forms a type of small architectural peninsula jutting into the river (which has changed course). Built in 1515 to guard the entrance to Lisbon, it was erected in the Manueline style by Francisco de Arruda. Girt by a cable carved in stone, it has a stern Gothic interior but exhibits North African touches on its turrets and crenulations. Renaissance arches form its windows.
This afternoon, we visit the Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua, which is housed in the 17th-century Palace of the Counts of Alvor. It has an important collection of Portuguese works from the 15th and 16th centuries and Flemish and German paintings (Cranach, Memling, Hieronymus Bosch, Mabuse, Holbein, etc.). There is also a fascinating group of 16th-century Japanese screens depicting the activities of the Portuguese in Japanese waters, and a small but excellent collection of Spanish paintings of the Golden Age, including Velázquez and Zurbarán. (Overnight Lisbon, Hotel Lisboa Plaza) B
Day 4: Monday 10 September, Lisbon – Mafra – Queluz – Lisbon
- Palácio Nacional de Mafra
- Palácio Nacional de Queluz and Garden
Today we drive out to visit Mafra and Queluz, two towns and palace complexes, situated just northwest of Lisbon. The Mafra National Palace dwarfs the town and was Portugal’s attempt to rival Spain’s Escorial Palace outside Madrid. This monumental Baroque and Neoclassical palace-monastery was built in the early 18th century and was funded with the tremendous amounts of gold that where being brought to Portugal from the colonies in Brazil. The complex includes the grand palace, an enormous basilica and a major library housing 40,000 rare books. The complex was completed in a relatively short thirteen years. On average there were 15,000 workers each day employed at the site, with 30,000 towards the end of the construction and an additional 7000 soldiers required to keep order!
During the 17th century the district of Queluz was occupied by estates owned by Lisbon’s nobility. In the early 18th century it was the idyllic country setting of the royal family’s estate and hunting lodge, which the Infante Dom Pedro (later Dom Pedro III), son of King Dom João V, ordered to be converted into a Summer Palace (1747 – 1794). This Rococo conversion was supervised by the architects Mateus Vicente de Oliveira and the Frenchman Robillion, who added a new west wing to the initial plan, known as the Robillion Pavilion, and worked on the decoration of the finest interior spaces such as the Throne Room, the Music Room and the Ambassadors’ Room. Restored after partial destruction by fire in 1934, the palace is still used for official receptions. Queluz palace contains an important art collection, including Portuguese furniture, painting, carpets, porcelain and tiles. Its formal gardens are very beautiful, with sculptures and ornamental lakes, and a tiled canal along which the royal family would take boat trips. (Overnight Lisbon, Hotel Lisboa Plaza) BL
Day 5: Tuesday 11 September, Lisbon – Sintra – Lisbon
- Palácio de Pena, Sintra
- Palácio Nacional, Sintra
- Dinner and performance at a Lisbon Fado Restaurant
Today we drive to Sintra to visit the Royal palace complex. The Palácio Nacional, nestled in the verdant Serra de Sintra, was the summer retreat of the Portuguese Royal family. Founded sometime before 1415, it was largely constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its external profile is dominated by the two extraordinary conical chimneys of its distinctive kitchens. Within, you will visit these kitchens, as well as royal apartments separated by small courtyards with pretty fountains and decorated with very beautiful azulejos, artesonado (Islamic wooden panelling) and polychrome ceilings, and wood panel inlays. We shall also visit the Palácio de Pena, a palace constructed on the site of an Hieronymite monastery founded by Manuel I in 1509. To this was added an extraordinary ‘Gothick-Baronial’ fantasy palace in the 19th century. You will see parts of the old monastery, the palace that took its place, and the 19th-century additions to it.
In the evening we will experience Portugal’s haunting traditional Fado music, considered the country’s musical treasure and involving a singer accompanied by two guitarists. The songs are usually soulful and sad, about love and loss or things that were never accomplished. (Overnight Lisbon, Hotel Lisboa Plaza) BD
Day 6: Wednesday 12 September, Lisbon
- Lisbon Maritime Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
The ‘Age of Discovery’, during which the explorers of Europe sailed around Africa to Asia and across the Atlantic to the Americas, was led by the Portuguese. Superior navigation techniques and ship-building skills allowed Portugal to monopolise the newly discovered trade routes, bringing the country tremendous wealth and power. This morning we will visit the Maritime Museum in Lisbon, one of the most important museums of its kind. Here we will some of the models, maps, globes and artefacts that illustrate the glories of Portugal’s maritime history.
The afternoon is at leisure for you to further explore Lisbon. You may choose to take a taxi to visit the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (Tile Museum), or perhaps the Museu-Escola de Artes Decorativas (Museum of Decorative Arts) with its interesting display of furniture and tapestries from the 16th to 19th centuries. (Overnight Lisbon, Hotel Lisboa Plaza) B
Redondo - 2 nights
Day 7: Thursday 13 September, Lisbon – Évora – Arraiolos – Redondo
- Os Almendres
- Roman Temple of Diana, Évora
- Cathedral, Évora
- Casas Pintadas, Évora
- Convent of the Loíos’ Friars (Pousada dos Loíos), Évora
- Walking tour of Arraiolos & Castle
Our first visit today is to Os Almendres, the largest and most impressive neolithic stone circle in the Iberian peninsular. After a brief stop at this remarkable site, we proceed to Évora.
In the 15th century Évora had a population of 25,000 souls. Its present citizenry numbers only about 34,000, reflecting the fact that it is one of the least ‘developed’, and therefore most pristine, of Portugal’s historic cities. Favoured by the Romans, it became a Muslim city from 715 AD until captured by a Christian knight, Geraldo sem-Pavor (Gerald the Fearless), in 1166. It was an isolated Christian bastion until 1211 when it again fell to the Muslims. It was recaptured by Joâo I in 1382 and thenceforth became a royal residence. We shall visit the Roman Temple of Diana and a number of other monuments, including the Cathedral (begun 1186, possibly on the site of a mosque), the Roman aqueduct and the 16th-century Casas dos Pintadas decorated with unusual wall paintings of exotic animals. We also visit the Pousada do Loíos, formerly the convent of the Loíos’ friars, contains several Gothic-Manueline and Renaissance elements, and one of the most perfect Portuguese Mudéjar (Islamic) portals of the 16th century.
We next drive from Évora to Arraiolos, where we shall walk through the old town and see the castle. The castle stands atop a cone-shaped hill. Its plan is rectangular, with corner towers and a keep. Arraiolos’ clock tower is Manueline.
We stay two nights in the Convento de São Paulo. This former monastery dating back to 1182 feels more like a grand private home than a hotel. Backed by a heavily wooded hill, it faces an idyllic view of gently rolling hills covered with groves of lemon, olive, and cork trees. The convento is decorated with 50,000 azulejos, the largest private collection in Europe. Guestrooms are built into the monks’ cells. Each room is attractively decorated with antiques. The restaurant serves only produce and meat fresh from the hotel’s own farm. (Overnight Redondo, Hotel Convento de São Paulo) BD
Day 8: Friday 14 September, Redondo – Mérida – Elvas – Redondo
- Mérida: Roman Theatre, Amphitheatre, Bridge and Aqueduct
- Museum of Roman Art, Mérida
- Aqueduct of Elvas
Over the next few days we explore Portugal’s frontier with Spain, visiting grand Roman ruins and a number of small towns dominated by castles that were frontier posts guarding against Hispanic incursion. Our purpose is to gain an understanding of the general development of this area.
This morning we cross the border into Spain to visit Mérida, the capital of Roman Portugal when it went by the name Emerita Augusta. Here we will see very well-preserved ruins from this age – a theatre with an elaborate scaenae frons (stage building) dating to 16BC, the amphitheatre dating to 8BC, the Roman bridge over the Guadiana River, its 60 spans forming longest surviving bridge from ancient times, and the important aqueduct that supplied this growing city.
Whilst in Mérida we also visit the Museum of Roman Art. Began in 1979, the museum’s architecture deliberately echoes the sturdy brick construction of the Romans with arcades of semi-circular arches. It houses the artefacts found over the centuries of excavation in and around the town.
On our drive back to Redondo we shall make a brief stop at Elvas to see the extraordinary Aqueduto da Amoreira, a massive aqueduct supplying much needed water to the town, which was begun in the 15th century. So vast was this construction that it took over one hundred and twenty-four years to complete. It is 8 kilometres long and comprises 843 arches up to 30 metres in height. (Overnight Hotel Convento de São Paulo, Redondo) BD
Marvão - 1 night
Day 9: Saturday 15 September, Redondo – Castelo de Vide – Marvão
- Town and Castle of Castelo de Vide
- Town and Castle of Marvão
Today, we continue our exploration of the Portuguese frontier. First we drive on to Castelo de Vide, situated on a spur of the Serra de São Mamede. Castelo de Vide is a town of old mansions and has a well-preserved medieval Judiaria (Jewish quarter). It also has a fine castle.
After lunch we continue on to Marvão. Marvão Castle stands over eight hundred metres above sea level on one of the highest points in the Serra de São Mamede. This rugged escarpment forms a natural point of defence, to which access can only be gained from the east, the direction in which the citadel’s dependent village has spread inside defensive walls. From Marvão the Portuguese could watch the nearby frontier and the Spanish town of Valencia de Alcántara, from where invading forces would frequently set out. The castle and its walls are well preserved, with superimposed layers from different periods. For example, several sections of wall, the Romanesque doorway of the keep (Torre de Menagem), the Gates of Treason (Portas da Traição), and a small cistern, all remain from the 12th century. At this time the region was taken from the Muslims by Don Afonso II. At the end of the 13th century the fortifications were improved and strengthened, seen in the pointed-arch gates and the town wall. In the 15th and 16th centuries the various entrances were reinforced and the keep took on its present structure. A large cistern was also built, a necessity in times of siege. The other fortified gates, the Porta de Rodão, Porta da Vila, Porta do Fortim and Porta da Rua Nova were built later, in the 17th century. These were part of a campaign to reinforce defences during the Wars for the Restoration of Independence fought between Portugal and Spain (1640-68). (Overnight Marvão, Pousada de Santa Maria) BD
Ourém - 3 nights
Day 10: Sunday 16 September, Marvão – Almourol – Tomar
- Templar Castle of Almourol
- Convento de Cristo, Tomar
We begin today with a visit to the beautiful Castle of Almourol, situated on an islet in the middle of the river Tagus. One of Portugal’s most attractive castles, Almourol was built by the Knights Templar in 1171. Its romantic setting has given rise to legends of enchanted Moorish women and captured princesses saved by itinerant knights. The castle, which has a tall central keep surrounded by curtain walls and nine towers, can be reached by boat (optional).
Next, we drive to the vast Templar Convento de Cristo at Tomar. In 1157 Gualdim Pais, Grand Master of the Templars, was awarded the site of Roman Nabantia for his services against the Muslims. He built a fortress and church there but moved to an adjacent hill and here withstood a Muslim attack in 1190. In 1314 the Templars of Portugal were transformed into a new Order, the Order of Christ, thus avoiding the dissolution and persecution suffered by Templars elsewhere in Europe. Tomar became the headquarters of the Order of which Henry the Navigator became Grand Master between 1417 and 1460. In the early 16th century Joâo III transformed the Order into a monastic brotherhood, necessitating further construction. The huge complex today is built around six great cloisters. At its heart is the Charola, the sixteen-sided chapel of the Templars, a typical centrally-planned Templar church which, like its counterparts everywhere, is a free imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The complex has a good collection of Flemish paintings and interesting tombs and fine architectural detailing. Its treasure, however, is its very famous, highly decorated central window. We stay for the next three nights in Tomar. (Overnight Tomar, Hotel dos Templários) BD
Day 11: Monday 17 September, Tomar – Fatima – Nazaré – Óbidos – Tomar
- Maritime Village of Nazaré
- Old Town and Castle, Óbidos
Today we drive to the pretty fishing village of Nazaré and the Castle of Óbidos, with a short visit to Fatima en route. In the early 20th century the small village became a religious centre following a series of visions by local children. The town now has two of the largest basilicas in the world and the town’s economy is based on its religious identity.
Nazaré is one of the most beautiful of Portugal’s maritime settlements, its fishing boats have eyes painted upon them to ward off the ‘evil eye’, and are hauled up onto the beach, where the sardine catch disgorged from them dries in the sun. We shall spend the morning and lunchtime exploring the town.
In the afternoon we visit the town and Castle of Óbidos, one of the most picturesque in Portugal. The ancient fortified town of Óbidos was taken from the Muslims by Afonso Henriques in 1148. The castle, with powerful square towers, is now a pousada. Óbidos is surrounded by high walls and its urban structure is clearly defined by its salient features, the castle, its medieval gates (Porta do Vale, Porta da Cerca, Porta do Telhal, Porto da Vila) and its parade ground. Its whitewashed houses set in lovely streetscapes, act as a backdrop to brilliantly-coloured azulejo, friezes and the bright flowers which grace its balconies. (Overnight Tomar, Hotel dos Templários) B
Day 12: Tuesday 18 September, Tomar – Alcobaça – Batalha – Tomar
- Cistercian Abbey of Alcobaça
- Aljubarrota Battle Interpretation Centre
- Dominican Monastery of Batalha
Today we drive west to Alcobaça and Batalha. The Cistercian Abbey of Alcobaça is arguably the greatest medieval architectural complex in Portugal. Its huge central church is typically Cistercian, being modelled upon the motherhouse of Cîteaux (Burgundy). The complex has a number of very fine late medieval royal tombs, a great kitchen with a massive chimney (like those of the Palace of Sintra), a fine refectory and the excellent sculpture collection of the Portuguese royal house. Its Gothic architecture is graced with a number of beautiful Manueline additions.
In the afternoon we visit Batalha, site of a famous Dominican monastery founded and built by King Joâo I to commemorate his victory over the Spanish at Aljubarrota on the 15th of August 1385, which assured his accession to the throne. On our way to the monastery, we will stop at the new Aljubarrota Battle Interpretation Centre which will explain the complex politics at work in Portugal and Spain at the time, the battle itself, and how this event was so important in Portuguese history.
The monastery built to celebrate this Portuguese victory is extraordinary. From the 15th century are the church, the founder’s chapel, chapter house, two cloisters, and an octagonal chapel behind the apse. The pantheon of Portuguese kings was completed in the 16th century. Of particular note are the west front, with its innumerable sculptures (‘Christ in Majesty'; statues of the Evangelists, and saints), and fine Flamboyant-Gothic window. The profile of the complex is dramatised by extraordinarily intricate Flamboyant-Gothic entablatures, with a mass of detailed tracery and a vast number of small pinnacles. The interior is high and narrow, like Alcobaça. We shall visit all sections of the complex. (Overnight Tomar, Hotel dos Templários) B
Coimbra - 1 night
Day 13: Wednesday 19 September, Tomar – Coimbra
- Old Cathedral, Coimbra
- Old University, Coimbra (University Library subject to confirmation closer to the date)
- Convento de Santa Cruz, Coimbra
- Conimbriga Roman Site
We begin today in nearby Coimbra which was taken from the Muslims in 872, returned to Islam between 987 and 1064, and became capital of Portugal between 1139 (when Afonso Henriques was crowned) and 1385. It was the seat of Portugal’s only university a number of times between 1308 and 1537, after which it became its permanent home (until the Republic). The city is made up of a lower and upper town. In the upper town, or old city, we visit sections of the old university, of which the most imposing part is the University Library, a magnificent High Baroque ensemble in the ‘Joâo Quinto’ style (1716-1728) – note: Library visit is subject to confirmation closer to the date. We shall also visit the Romanesque Old Cathedral, one of the finest Romanesque churches in Portugal (founded c.1162), with an elaborate Gothic retable (c.1508) and a cloister (1218) in the Cistercian style. We then walk to the lower town to visit the convent of Santa Cruz (founded 1131) which was rebuilt in 1502.
Our final visit for the day is to the remarkable Roman archaeological site at Conimbriga. Here we shall see some of the most-beautiful mosaic pavements preserved in situ in all of Europe. This site is still being excavated and continues to reveal treasures of ancient Portugal. We walk the Roman streets past houses and public buildings that give an indication of the importance and wealth of this Roman province. (Overnight Coimbra, Hotel Quinta das Lágrimas) BD
Guimarães - 2 nights
Day 14: Thursday 20 September, Coimbra – Aveiro – Barcelos – Guimarães
- Barcelos Market
- Guimarães old town and castle
Today we continue our journey north to the Minho region of Portugal. After a short visit to the picturesque town of Aveiro, we drive to Barcelos, a small town with a remarkable and lively Thursday market.
We end our day with a tour of the old town and castle of Guimarães. Founded in the 4th century, Guimarães became the first capital of Portugal in the 12th century. Its landmarks include a 10th-century castle, where Afonso I was born, a Romanesque church – Nossa Senhora da Oliveira (rebuilt 1387-1400), a 14th-century monastery and church (St. Francis) and a Dominican convent now housing a notable museum of antiquities. Guimarães also boasts a magnificent suburb of 18th-century mansions. Tonight we stay in the Santa Marinha Pousada at Guimarães. Set on a hill overlooking the city, the majestic, beautifully restored Santa Marinha Pousada was originally a 12th-century Augustin convent. It has a park with small gardens, courtyards with granite fountains, cloisters, fine azulejos, and balconies and terraces overlooking the city. It boasts fine cuisine which we shall enjoy tonight. (Overnight Guimarães, Santa Marinha Pousada) BD
Day 15: Friday 21 September, Guimarães – Braga – Guimarães
- Chapel of São Frutuoso, Braga
- Monastery of São Martinho de Tibães, Braga
- Bom Jesus do Monte, nr. Braga
- Citania de Briteiros
Today we drive to Braga and the small early medieval Chapel of São Frutuoso which is one of the very few remaining from this period in Europe. São Frutuoso was founded by the bishop of Braga around 560 AD to house his mausoleum. Around the 9th or 10th century the current chapel was built. This is one of the few surviving examples of pre-Romanesque architecture in Portugal. Its plan is a Greek cross (equal arms) with rounded apses and arcades composed of horseshoe arches, Corinthian capitals and a decorative frieze. In 1523, archbishop of Braga, Diogo de Sousa, ordered the building of a monastery for the Franciscan Order of Capuchins right by the chapel. Inside the chapel, there is what is believed to be the (empty) tomb of Saint Frutuoso. This saint became particularly popular around the time his relics were removed to the extremely important pilgrimage centre of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
We then visit the nearby Benedictine Monastery of Tibães. Built on the site of a former Roman villa, the Monastery of Tibães later became the mother house of the Order of Saint Benedict for Portugal and the colony of Brazil. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Monastery was a site of considerable artistic activity and had an enormous influence in the Baroque and Rococo art of Northern Portugal and overseas colonies. We shall also enjoy a group lunch at the Hospedaria Convento de Tibaes, located within the monastery grounds.
The extraordinary site of Bom Jesus Sanctuary near Braga was selected by archbishop Martinho da Costa; he built a chapel here in 1494. In 1522, archbishop João da Guarda established a religious order to cultivate the barren landscape around it. In 1722 Rodrigo de Moura Teles decided to create a religious sanctuary here, one of the first in Europe to be properly integrated into the (now lush) surrounding landscape. The church was built later (1784) by Carlos Amarante in an Italian inspired Neo-classical design. This church perches atop a hill framed by large old trees. It is approached by an extraordinary staircase composed of seventeen landings adorned with symbolic fountains, allegorical statues and other Baroque decoration depicting such themes as the Stations of the Cross, the Five Senses, the Virtues, Moses receiving the Commandments and, at the top, the eight biblical figures who contributed to the Condemnation of Jesus. The perspective of this stairway, topped by the church, is unforgettable. The stairs between the landings zig zag up the hill, creating a dramatic image of intricate sculpture and edging against brilliant white walls.
Our final visit is to Citânia de Briteiros, a fascinating archaeological site constituting a partly reconstructed pre-Roman settlement; this was the last stronghold of the Celtibrians against the Roman armies that invaded the Iberian Peninsula. The settlement is made up of the remains of 150 circular stone huts separated by paved causeways. Two of these have been reconstructed, and we shall also see the terraces and remains of the three stone walls which originally surrounded the settlement. (Overnight Guimarães, Santa Marinha Pousada) BL
Porto - 3 nights
Day 16: Saturday 22 September, Guimarães – Vila Real – Amarante – Porto
- Solar de Mateus, Vila Real
- Ponte São Gonçalo, Amarante
- Convento de São Gonçalo, Amarante
- Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar (exterior only), Vila Nova de Gaia
Today we drive through the Douro Valley, exploring this famous historical wine-growing region as we travel to Porto. We drive first to Vila Real where we encounter the Solar de Mateus, the most famous 18th-century manor house in Portugal, not least because it appears on the rosé wine label we all know! The palace, with its white walls relieved by an extravagance of stone façade decoration and extraordinary pinnacles, is an excellent example of Portuguese Baroque architecture. It is surrounded by water, gardens, tree-covered walks, a beautiful balustraded stairway, formal box-planted terraces and allegorical statues. Inside are magnificent carved wooded ceilings, precious furnishings and artwork.
After exploring the lovely town of Vila Real we drive to Amarante, a picturesque small town with its 16th and 17th century houses built in tiers up a hillside overlooking the River Tamega. Here we visit the Convent of São Gonçalo and one of Portugal’s most perfectly preserved Romanesque bridges. Amarante is also famous for its pastries and green wine!
The monastery of Serra do Pilar at Vila Nova de Gaia, directly above Porto, has a church in the 16th and 17th-century Mannerist style. It is from here that the Duke of Wellington watched his army take Porto during the Peninsula War. Near the round church is a lookout with magnificent views of the city where we shall stop to admire the panorama.
In Porto we stay in the Hotel Pestana Vintage, a historic hotel located on the banks of the Douro River in Porto’s World Heritage listed Ribeira district. (Overnight Porto, Hotel Pestana Vintage Porto) B
Day 17: Sunday 23 September, Porto
- Igreja de São Francisco (Church of Saint Francis)
- Casa do Infante (purported birthplace of Henry the Navigator)
- Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)
- Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis
- Hospital of Santo Antonio – Exterior
- Lello Bookshop
Porto, also called Oporto, is the capital and port of the Porto district. The city lies 3kms from the Douro’s mouth. Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and is the commercial and industrial centre for the zone north of the Mondego River. The city lies chiefly on the river’s north bank, with the older district on a hill to the east. The red-tiled warehouses of the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, where vast quantities of port wine are blended and stored, dominate the south bank. The Douro River is spanned by the Dom Luís I Bridge, built in 1881-85 by the French engineer Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, with one of the largest arches in Europe; by the Maria Pia Bridge (1876-77), carrying the Lisbon railway line; and by the Arrábida Highway Bridge, which had the world’s longest arch when it was completed in 1962. Porto was the Portus Cale of Roman times when it became a flourishing settlement on the Douro’s south bank; the nomadic Alani tribe later founded the city of Castrum Novum on the north bank. The Visigoths took possession of the site in about 540 AD but yielded in 716 to the Muslims. In 997 the Christians recaptured Porto, which for a time became the capital of the counts of Portucalense during Muslim rule in southern Portugal. The Muslims again held the city briefly, but in 1092 it was brought finally under Christian domination. In the 14th century the city became an important port; Henry the Navigator was born there in 1394.
We shall spend two days exploring the city. The Church of Saint Francis is one of the few remaining medieval buildings in Porto and the only Gothic church in the city. It was part of a Franciscan convent and was constructed between the late 14th century and the early 15th century. Despite several building campaigns, its structure and exterior treatment remained unaltered. Diogo de Castilho, following the instructions of João Carneiro, built the Carneiros Chapel, or the Chapel of the Baptism of Christ, in the 16th century. The new Baroque main portal was added in the following century. In the 17th and 18th centuries the interior of the church was completely covered with gilt wood carvings, forming a sort of golden box. It is one of the most beautiful baroque interiors in the country. Although the wood carvings are not particularly stylistically coherent, they are all of great quality, the fruit of the best workshops in Porto.
The Casa do Infante (Prince’s House), also known as the Alfândega Velha (Old Customs House), was built in the 14th century as a customs house and mint, although its present condition derives mostly from its 17th-century remodelling. The name Casa do Infante comes from a popular belief that Henry the Navigator was born here in 1394. The medieval customs house (1354) was constructed under Alfonso IV who intended, by charging dues on goods carried by ships navigating Duoro, to reduce the income and therefore the power of the Bishop of Oporto. The original complex included a mint, storage house and living quarters for employees. Alterations since the 15th century have greatly altered its original structure, which once consisted of two high towers linked by a courtyard. In 1677, under Peter II, it was virtually rebuilt. The inner courtyard was retained, but its towers were greatly reduced in height, while its street façade gained two extra storeys, with a large staircase leading to the living quarters on the second floor. The storage houses were also greatly enlarged at this time. The façade gained another storey in the 19th century and now houses a city museum. Archaeologists have not only been able to reconstruct the medieval building but have also found vestiges of a Roman edifice under it; a Roman mosaic floor is now on display.
We then visit the Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace). A national monument, it is the headquarters of the Porto Commercial Association. It was built in the second half of the 19th century. Its spare Neo-classical façades give no hint of its Arabian Hall within. This vast extraordinary orientalist fantasy of a room designed by Gustavo de Sousa is sheathed in gold patterned and intricate arabesques. The core of this building is said to have been initiated by Afonso IV as the Royal Treasury Office. It was expanded in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries when storeys were added and its façades enriched.
Following time at leisure for lunch around the Cais de Ribera, the city’s stunning old port district, a UNESCO World Heritage site, we walk to the Museu Nacional Soares do Reis. This museum houses a fine collection of Portuguese art with a focus on the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum was named after the sculptor Antonio Soares do Reis and a gallery is dedicated to his work.
We continue our walk past the Hospital of Santo Antoni, a Palladian Portuguese building designed by the English architect John Carr. This is still a functioning hospital and an important teaching hospital for the University of Porto (it has a modern and well-equipped interior!), so we will pause to admire its symmetry and sombre simplicity, so typical of Palladian architecture.
Our final visit is to the nearby Livraria Lello & Irmão, a fabulous historic bookshop with an interior decorated primarily in the Art Nouveau style with Gothic Revival features. An ornate staircase dominates the ground floor and rises to a second-floor gallery under a splendid stained glass skylight. Wooden bookshelves line the walls and intricately carved ceilings recall a bygone era. (Overnight Porto, Hotel Pestana Vintage Porto) B
Day 18: Monday 24 September, Porto
- Igreja do Carmo / Igreja das Carmelitas
- Clerigos Tower & Church
- Graham’s Port Lodge
- Time at leisure
- Farewell Dinner
This morning we visit two adjacent churches, the Igreja do Carmo and the Igreja das Carmelitas. The latter, to the left, once belonged to a 17th-century Carmelite convent. It has a simple classical façade, a bell tower, and a richly gilded interior. To the right is the 18th-century Carmo Church. It is a magnificent example of late Baroque architecture with a single nave made up of elegant gilt carvings in seven altars by master Francisco Pereira Campanhã. Its extraordinary side wall is completely covered in blue and white tile panels. A house, inhabited until about 20 years ago, separates the two churches. It owed its existence to a law that no two churches could share a wall. The separation of the monks at the Carmo and the Carmelite nuns also guarded each community’s chastity.
Nearby is the Torre and Igreja dos Clerigos. The tower is an 18th-century Baroque construction by Nicolau Nasoni. From its top there is a magnificent panorama of Porto. The church’s magnificent interior is decorated with Baroque-Rococo gilt carvings and a beautiful polychromatic retable.
We then cross to Vila Nova Gaia where we visit one of the major port lodges of the city, Graham’s English Port Lodge. Here we shall take a tour of this grand old building, learn about the port trade and sample a drop of this famous local wine!
Tonight we enjoy a farewell meal at one of Porto’s fine local restaurants. (Overnight Porto, Hotel Pestana Vintage Porto) BD
Day 19: Tuesday 25 September, Depart Porto
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Today the tour ends. You may choose to continue your travels in Europe or return to Australia. Participants returning to Australia on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will be transferred to Porto’s airport. Alternatively you may wish to extend your stay in Europe. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B