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 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, lunches and dinners featuring the best of Portugal’s cuisine, indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.
Lisbon - 5 nights
Day 1: Friday 6 September, Arrive Lisbon
- Tour commences at 2.00pm in the foyer of the Heritage Lisboa Plaza Hotel
- Welcome Meeting
- Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George)
- Sé Catedral de Lisboa (Church of Santa Maria Maior)
- Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 2.00pm in the foyer of the Heritage Lisboa Plaza Hotel.
Lisbon owes its historical prominence to its magnificent natural harbour. The city lies on the north bank of the Tagus River (Rio Tejo), approximately 13km 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 25 de Abril Bridge. Just east of the bridge, the Tagus suddenly broadens into a bay eleven kilometres 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.
After our welcome meeting we visit the Castle of St. George and the 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. 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 and some less significant work in the following centuries. It has undergone several restorations since the 1755 earthquake.
This evening we enjoy a Welcome Dinner at one of Lisbon’s fine local restaurants. (Overnight Lisbon) D
Day 2: Saturday 7 September, Lisbon
- Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
- Torre de Belém (exterior)
- Lisbon Museu de Marinha
- NARC: Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros
This morning we tour the district of Belém by coach, visiting 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 crenelations. Renaissance arches form its windows.
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 afternoon we visit the Maritime Museum in Lisbon, one of the most important museums of its kind. Here we discover some of the models, maps, globes and artefacts that illustrate the glories of Portugal’s maritime history.
We drive back to the city centre to visit NARC, a remarkable archaeological site hidden under the Millennium BCP bank headquarters. The layers of ruins dating from the Iron Age were discovered in 1991 and have been designated a National Monument. We descend a series of tunnels to view the remnants of a Roman sardine factory dating from the 1st century AD. Highlights include a Roman mosaic dating to the 3rd century, numerous frigidaria and fish-preservation tanks, and a Visigoth burial site with a remarkably preserved 30-year-old male skeleton. (Overnight Lisbon) B
Day 3: Sunday 8 September, Lisbon
- Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
- Museu Nacional do Azulejo
This morning 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.
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo is a fascinating museum, housed in a former 16th-century convent, dedicated to the art of azulejos, the traditional Portuguese ceramic tiles. These intricate tile panels depict scenes from mythology, religious motifs, and everyday life, all beautifully crafted with vibrant colours and complex details. (Overnight Lisbon) BL
Day 4: Monday 9 September, Lisbon
- Calouste Gulbenkian Collection
- Afternoon at leisure
This morning 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.
The rest of the day is at leisure for you to further explore Lisbon. You may choose to visit 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) B
Day 5: Tuesday 10 September, Lisbon – Sintra – Lisbon
- Palácio de Pena, Sintra
- Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Today we drive to Sintra where we begin with a visit to 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.
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, we 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), polychrome ceilings and wood panel inlays. (Overnight Lisbon) B
Redondo - 2 nights
Day 6: Wednesday 11 September, Lisbon – Cabo Espichel – Sesimbra – Redondo
- Cabo Espichel: Pedra da Mua and Lagosteiros Dinosaur Footprints
- Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel
- Lunch at leisure in the coastal town of Sesimbra
This morning we depart Lisbon for the Setúbal Peninsula. Known for its breathtaking natural beauty, the peninsula boasts pristine sandy beaches, rugged cliffs and crystal-clear waters. One of the most notable landmarks in the area is Cabo Espichel, a dramatic headland that offers panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. Cabo Espichel is home to a historic sanctuary and a picturesque lighthouse which adds to its charm and allure.
Pedra da Mua and Lagosteiros dinosaur footprints are two fascinating geological sites. Pedra da Mua footprints are a set of fossilized dinosaur footprints preserved in the coastal cliffs and dating from the late Jurassic. Within the tracks are a total of nine different dinosaur pathways, with an estimate of 37 individual animals, mostly four-legged Sauropods. On the other hand, Lagosteiros is an impressive rock formation that resembles a giant footprint, perched on a hilltop overlooking the stunning coastline. Dating from the Cretaceous, the tracks belong to two-legged Theropods. These two sets of prints are separated by a distance of less than 500 metres but span a time of almost 50 million years.
We then drive to the charming coastal town of Sesimbra, nestled between the stunning Serra da Arrábida mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. There will be time at leisure to explore the town’s historic centre; its narrow streets feature colourful houses with traditional Portuguese architecture. Overlooking the town is the medieval Castelo de Sesimbra which offers panoramic views of the town and the surrounding coastline.
In the afternoon we drive through the Alentejo region to Redondo where 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. Each room is attractively decorated with antiques. The restaurant serves produce and meat fresh from the convento’s own farm. (Overnight Redondo) BD
Day 7: Thursday 12 September, Redondo – Évora – Reguengos de Monsaraz – Monsaraz – Redondo
- Évora: Roman Temple of Diana, Cathedral, Casas Pintadas & Convent of the Loíos’ Friars (Pousada dos Loíos)
- Fábrica Alentejana de Lanifícios, Reguengos de Monsaraz
- Walled town of Monsaraz
- Dinner at São Lourenço do Barrocal
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 visit the Roman Temple of Diana and several 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 dos Loíos, formerly the convent of the Loíos’ friars, which contains several Gothic-Manueline and Renaissance elements, and one of the most perfect Portuguese Mudéjar (Islamic) portals of the 16th century.
The Alentejo region has a rich textile tradition and is well-known for producing wool since the 16th century. Alentejo woollen blankets were initially used to protect shepherds from the cold and later became an essential household item. Due to their magnificent patterns and colour combinations they are now used as bed throws or rugs and are sought after by many collectors. Fábrica Alentejana de Lanifícios, located in Reguengos de Monsaraz, was founded at the end of the 19th century. It won awards in international exhibitions in the 1950s and, since 1975, is in the hands of Mizette Nielsen, a dedicated Dutch entrepreneur. Her factory, which we visit, is the last to make these covers, exclusively using Portuguese wool and old semi-manual looms.
We drive to the picturesque medieval walled town of Monsaraz, perched high above the River Guadiana and overlooking the frontier with Spain. The town was an important strategic fortress which was constantly under siege by the Moors. In 1232, King Sancho II definitively retook the citadel and town, placing it under the control of the Knight Templar who had supported him. The Knights were obligated to establish a garrison that would protect the border. There will be time at leisure to explore its narrow streets lined with white-washed houses which lead to its well-preserved 14th-century castle. From the ramparts you can gaze east over the Guadiana to neighbouring Spain, or west across the great plains of the Alentejo.
Tonight we dine at the beautifully restored farming estate of São Lourenço do Barrocal. Its charming white-washed buildings sit within vast stretches of organic vineyards, ancient olive groves and wildflower meadows. Officially certified as an organically working farm, the restaurant’s menu features traditional Alentejo cuisine showcasing locally sourced ingredients and regional specialties. (Overnight Redondo) BD
Marvão - 2 nights
Day 8: Friday 13 September, Redondo – Elvas – Mérida – Marvão
- Aqueduct of Elvas
- Mérida: Roman Theatre, Amphitheatre, Bridge and Aqueduct
- Museum of Roman Art, Mérida
Over the next few days we explore Portugal’s frontier with Spain visiting grand Roman ruins and small towns dominated by castles that were frontier posts guarding against Hispanic incursion.
This morning we 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 124 years to complete. It is 8 kilometres long and comprises 843 arches up to 30 metres in height.
We then 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 the 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 whose 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. (Overnight Marvão) BD
Day 9: Saturday 14 September, Marvão – 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 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 return to Marvão. Its 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 the 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) BD
Tomar - 2 nights
Day 10: Sunday 15 September, Marvão – Vila Nova de Barquinha – Almourol – Tomar
- CITA: Almourol Templar Interpretation Centre
- Templar Castle of Almourol
- Convento de Cristo, Tomar
We begin today with a visit to CITA, the Almourol Templar Interpretation Centre in Vila Nova de Barquinha, which offers visitors a glimpse into the history of the Knights Templar.
The castle of Almourol, which has a tall central keep surrounded by curtain walls and nine towers, can only be reached by boat. Situated on an islet in the middle of the river Tagus, Almourol was built by the Knights Templar in 1171 and served as a stronghold during the Reconquista. Its romantic setting has given rise to legends of enchanted Moorish women and captured princesses saved by itinerant knights.
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, interesting tombs, and fine architectural detailing. Its treasure, however, is its very famous, highly decorated central window. (Overnight Tomar) BL
Day 11: Monday 16 September, Tomar – Alcobaça – Tomar
- Cistercian Abbey of Alcobaça
- Afternoon at leisure in Tomar
This morning we visit the Cistercian Abbey of Alcobaça, 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 several 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.
We then return to Tomar where the rest of the day is at leisure to explore the historic centre of this small town. The Nabão River provides a picturesque backdrop for a leisurely walk or a relaxing boat ride. (Overnight Tomar) B
Coimbra - 2 nights
Day 12: Tuesday 17 September, Tomar – Batalha – Conimbriga – Coimbra
- Dominican Monastery of Batalha
- Conimbriga Roman Site
This morning 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. 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.
After lunch, we head to the remarkable Roman archaeological site at Conimbriga. Here we view 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) BD
Day 13: Wednesday 18 September, Coimbra
- Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra
- Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro
- Old University, Coimbra (University Library to be confirmed 2024)
- Old Cathedral, Coimbra
Coimbra was taken from the Muslims in 872 and returned to the Caliphate between 987 and 1064 It became the 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 the Botanical Garden as well as the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, then 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). We 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. (Overnight Coimbra) BL
Pinhão - 2 nights
Day 14: Thursday 19 September, Coimbra – Viseu – Lamego – Pinhão
- Museu Nacional Grão Vasco, Viseu
- Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, Lamego
Today we journey north to the Douro Valley. Our first stop is the city of Viseu. Nestled in the heart of Portugal’s central region, it is known for its rich history, architectural beauty, and as a regional economic hub for the surrounding wine industry. Here we visit the Grão Vasco Museum which houses an impressive collection of Portuguese art from the 16th and 17th centuries including works by local-born Vasco Fernandes, aka Grão Vasco (the Great Vasco; c 1475–1543), one of Portugal’s seminal Renaissance artists.
After lunch we visit one of the country’s most important pilgrimage sites, Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. The twin-towered, 18th-century church is reached via a grand zig-zagging stairway. Considered one of the greatest works in Portuguese rococo style, this monumental staircase is decorated with blue and white azulejos, urns, fountains and statues.
We continue to Pinhão, a picturesque village located in the heart of Portugal’s Douro Valley, surrounded by terraced vineyards where the famous grapes for port wine are grown. The village features white-washed houses, colourful azulejo tiles, and a beautiful train station adorned with tilework depicting scenes from the Douro Valley. (Overnight Pinhão) BD
Day 15: Friday 20 September, Pinhão – Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa – Pinhão
- Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa: UNESCO World Heritage site
- Museum of the Archaeological Park
- Penascosa rock art site
The Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains more than a thousand rock art depictions of animals and human figures. Discovered in 1991, this is the largest outdoor collection of Palaeolithic images and the only known place where rock art from the Upper Palaeolithic through to historical times is found together. Following a visit to the park’s museum, we drive out to the Côa Valley in all-terrain vehicles to explore the archaeological sites of Canada do Inferno and Penascosa.
The first rock art site was identified at Côa in 1991. Penascosa is a hill forming a natural amphitheatre on top of the river. The slope presents 36 engraved outcrops, 30 of them with Paleolithic motifs, of which five can be visited. (Overnight Pinhão) BLD
Porto - 2 nights
Day 16: Saturday 21 September, Pinhão – Penafiel – Porto
- Solar de Mateus, Vila Real
- Lunch at Quinta da Avelada, Penafiel
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.
Quinta da Aveleda, whose estate dates from the 17th century, is one of the main producers of vinho verde in the country and enjoys an unusual built heritage surrounded by beautiful gardens. We enjoy lunch before touring the vineyard and historical garden. (Overnight Porto) BL
Day 17: Sunday 22 September, Porto
- São Bento Station – tile panels painted by Jorge Colaço
- Casa do Infante (purported birthplace of Henry the Navigator)
- Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace)
- Time at leisure – optional visit to Lello Bookshop
- Tour of Cockburn’s Port Lodge
- Farewell Dinner at Vinum Restaurant – Graham’s Port Lodge
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 begin our exploration of the city with a walk to the São Bento Railway Station, which was built in 1900 by architect José Marques da Silva and designed in the French Beaux-Arts architectural style. It is decorated with 20,000 azulejo tin-glazed ceramic tiles depicting Portugal’s royalty, warfare and transportation history along with landscape, ethnographical and allegorical scenes that were painted in blue and white by the artist, Jorge Colaço, over an 11-year period between 1905 and 1916. This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of this important azulejo painter’s birth. Above the monochromatic tiles are two friezes; one of stylised flowers in blue, gold and white, and the other a polychromatic depiction evoking the history of the road in Portugal. The railway station obtains its name from a Benedictine monastery that once occupied the site back in the 16th century but was destroyed by fire in 1783. It had been rebuilt but then was torn down in the 19th century to make way for the expanding railway system.
We then transfer to the Cais de Ribera, the city’s stunning old port district, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we visit the Casa do Infante (Prince’s House), also known as the Alfândega Velha (Old Customs House). It 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 the Douro, 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 Pedro 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.
The nearby Igreja de Sao Francisco (Church of Saint Francis), established by the Franciscan Order around 1244 is the most prominent Gothic monument in Porto, being also noted for its outstanding Baroque inner decoration. A fire, caused by the siege of Porto in 1832, destroyed the old cloisters. In its place was built the Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa), which we visit afterwards. Classified as a National Monument since 1982, it holds the headquarters of the Porto Commercial Association. 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.
There will be time at leisure and you may wish to visit the nearby Livraria Lello & Irmão, a 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. Tickets to visit the bookshop can be obtained from a nearby kiosk and the cost refunded on the purchase of a book!
In the late afternoon, we meet up again and cross to Vila Nova Gaia where we shall take a tour of Cockburn’s Port Lodge. Here we shall learn about the port trade, sample a drop of this famous local wine. We transfer to one of the major port lodges of the city, Graham’s English Port Lodge, to dine in the award-winning Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar, which enjoys spectacular views of the Douro and the city of Porto. (Overnight Porto BD
Day 18: Monday 23 September, Porto
Our tour ends in Porto after breakfast. In the morning you will be required to check out of the hotel. Please contact ASA if you require assistance with a transfer to Porto Airport. B