Long a destination for European package travellers drawn to the sandy beaches of the costas, visitors are increasingly drawn to the culturally rich cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Bilbao, Valencia and Granada. The country’s scenic landscapes, from the Pyrenees across to Galicia in the north and down to Andalucia in the south, provide tranquil retreats away from the crowds.
Like Spain, Portugal is a country of contrasts, from the traditional wine and port country of the north, through to the cosmopolitan capital of Lisbon and the beach and golf resorts of the Algarve. Portugal has a very pleasant climate, with warm summers and mild winters making it a good year round destination. The island of Madeira lies off the North African coast where the warm winds support tropical plant life. The wilder Azores offer nature lovers the opportunity to whale watch and explore extinct volcanoes.
Spain is a large landmass influenced by the Atlantic in the north and the Mediterranean in the south, with a vast central interior. Spain is best visited in the springtime, when the temperatures are generally warm and comfortable, the landscapes are in full bloom and the best of the fiestas take place. Autumn is equally comfortable, though less green and the landscapes are drier. July and August are very hot, particularly in central Spain where temperatures can soar. August is especially busy as international visitors line the beach resorts and the Spanish take their annual holidays. The winter climate varies from freezing in the central regions to pleasant on the southern coast and in the Balearic Islands.
Portugal’s climate is also influenced by the sea. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant times to visit. July and August can be very hot, especially in the sheltered bays of the Algarve in the south, though this region is especially pleasant and mild during the winter months when it is popular with Europeans taking second holidays and short breaks. Madeira and the Azores benefit from the warming influence of the Gulf Stream and so are pleasantly warm year round.
Madrid, Toledo, Burgos, Leon, Santiago de Compostella, Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon
DAY 1: Arrive Madrid
Upon arrival at Madrid airport you will be welcomed to Spain in the arrivals hall by your local representative, and transferred to your hotel where you will be assisted with check-in procedures.
DAY 2: Madrid
Enjoy a full day sightseeing tour with your local English-speaking guide and private vehicle in Madrid. Visit the Prado Museum, which for many visitors is one of Madrid's main attractions. Here you can view works by Spain's three great Masters: Goya, Velazquez and El Greco. After touring the Prado, visit the Royal Palace whose rooms are filled with art treasures and antiques. This afternoon, visit the magnificent Thyseen-Bornemisza collection which boasts 800 paintings and is regarded as one of the most important privately assembled art collections in the world. Also visit the Reina Sofia Art Centre, which concentrates on 20th century art, and its most famous work Picasso's "Guernica".
DAY 3: Madrid - Toledo – Madrid
Today you will enjoy a full day excursion with your private vehicle and English-speaking guide to Toledo. Toledo is a fortified city dating from Roman times, which in the Middle Ages was the crucible of the three cultures of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Sightseeing will include the Cathedral, a blend of 13th, 14th and 15th century architecture, and the Church of Santo Tomé, housing El Greco's most famous painting "Burial of Count Orgaz". You will also visit the city's oldest synagogue, the 12th century Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue which subsequently became a convent.
DAY 4: Madrid - Burgos – Leon
This morning meet your English-speaking guide and driver for the start of your touring to Santiago with an overnight stop in Leon. Travel from Madrid to Burgos for an overview visit, after which continue to Leon to get a better feel for the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route. The section from Burgos to Leon traverses the sweeping meseta of Castille, passing through important resting places along the Camino with magnificent churches and monasteries such as Fromista, Carrion de los Condes and Sahagun. Arrive in Leon in the late afternoon, the perfect time to visit the cathedral as it illuminates the superb stained glass in all its glory.
DAY 5: Leon - Santiago de Compostella
Continue the pilgrim route via Astorga to visit the amazing Bishop's Palace built by the Catalan architectural genius Antoni Gaudi. Follow the Camino, climbing into the mountains, and stopping briefly at Villafrance del Bierzo. Continue over the pass of El Cebreiro driving through the ancient thatched-roofed 'palloza' cottages that are typical of this austere region. Follow the pilgrim road, stopping in Lugo, the smallest of the capitals of Galicia to see the unique Roman walls which completely surround the city. Continue to Santiago from here.
DAY 6: Santiago de Compostella
Today enjoy a guided tour with your English-speaking guide visiting the magnificent Cathedral, over the centuries and still today the culmination of the greatest pilgrimage in Europe, the Archbishop's Palace, the arcaded streets and the baroque splendours of San Martin Piniero. Also visit the market which is one of the most interesting and picturesque in Spain, with old ladies selling their homemade cheeses.
DAY 7: Santiago de Compostella – Porto
Continue touring with your English-speaking guide, driver and private vehicle south to Oporto. Follow the winding coast road along the beautiful Ria (estuary) of Arousa, with fishing villages and picturesque mussel and oyster beds the major feature of this region. You may also like to visit the village of Cambados before continuing to the Portuguese frontier, stopping in one of the frontier towns, Tuy, with sweeping views over the Mino estuary. Continue to Ponte de Lima with its churches and mansions. Time permitting also visit Braga with its austere fortified cathedral and the dramatic sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Mont, which is reachable by a massive granite staircase punctuated with fountains and statuary.
Upon arrival in Oporto, your local representative will meet you in your hotel to welcome you to Portugal and to assist you with check in procedures.
DAY 8: Porto
Today enjoy a half day sightseeing tour with your private vehicle and a local English-speaking guide in the city of Oporto, which has a glorious location on a steep hillside above the River Douro. You will visit the Cais da Ribeira, the quayside of the fascinating Ribeira district, with views across the river to the port wine lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia,and some of the city's most beautiful monuments including the opulent 19th century Stock Exchange, the cathedral and Bishop's Palace. This afternoon is at your leisure.
DAY 9: Porto - Douro Valley – Porto
Today you will enjoy a full day sightseeing tour with your private vehicle and English-speaking guide to the breathtakingly beautiful Douro Valley, covered with steep terraces on which the vines which produce the grapes for port wine are grown. You will visit the sumptuous palace of Solar de Mateus with its 18th century interior and carefully manicured lawns and experience a short cruise on the River Douro.
DAY 10: Porto - Coimbra – Lisbon
This morning you will meet your private vehicle and English-speaking driver for your transfer to Lisbon via Coimbra. You will enjoy a 3 hour stop in Coimbra the oldest university town in Portugal where you have time to explore the old streets and visit the University with its sumptuous Baroque library. After lunch at leisure in Coimbra transfer to Lisbon.
DAY 11: Lisbon
Today you will enjoy a full day sightseeing tour in Lisbon with your private vehicle and English-speaking guide. Lying north of the River Tagus estuary and spread over a string of seven hills, Lisbon has much to offer the visitor. Your tour today will include a visit to the magnificent Jeronimo's Monastery, the splendid Coach Museum in the Belem Royal Palace and the priceless treasures of the Gulbenkian Museum.
DAY 12: Lisbon - Sintra - Queluz - Cascais – Lisbon
Today you will enjoy a full day sightseeing tour with your private vehicle and English-speaking guide to Queluz, Sintra and Cascais. Take a short drive to the sumptuous 18th century Queluz Palace, the summer residence of the former Portuguese Royal Family. You will then continue on to Sintra where you may take lunch before you visit the National Palace with its conical chimneys and exquisite azulejos tiles. Before returning to Lisbon, visit the former fishing village of Cascais with its old streets, lively street cafés and squares.
DAY 13: Depart Lisbon
Today you will be privately transferred to Lisbon airport for your flight home.
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