Many people told us that if we liked Spain, we would love Portugal. This is a very accurate statement. This tour agency made our 15 day trip a memorable experience. Our guides/drivers were professional, personable, knowledgeable and passionate about their country and vocation. In addition, this tour agency arranged for a tour of the Lisbon Synagogue with a member of the congregation, and a special tour guide, for the Jewish Museum and Quarter in Belmonte.
Our Destination Expert, was very hands-on. Upon our arrival, she and our guide met us at the airport and provided us with a portable WI-FI and for our return flight, she even guided us through the airport to navigate check-in, baggage tagging, and security. She was always on top of our travels, especially notifying our guide when there were unplanned changes, such as the change in the time of the mass in Belmonte from Sunday to Saturday evening.
We visited the castles and villages in the East where you could see Spain in the distance. We toured and tasted wine from the Alentejo region. Our visit to the Douro Valley included a Port wine tasting and production tour. This area had spectacular vistas which we viewed from. the highest peak and from the boat tour on the river which gives you a very different perspective of the terrace grape vines. Next, we traveled to Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, and added a tour of the Casa da Musica built in 1999 and the Serralves Museum and sculpture garden. Lello bookstore was a magnificent surprise. What a beautiful interior! From Porto to Lisbon, we visited many beautiful seaside villages. We loved our tour of St George’s Castle and the Alfama area. Our evening at a Fado House with dinner and music was a special experience. Cooking Lisbon was tasty, and we can hardly wait to make some of the dishes at home.
Over the course of our trip we visited magnificent churches from the 13th to the 19th century and we never get tired of looking at the Azulejos. The pastries throughout Portugal are exceptional, though we are glad we waited until Belem to try the pasteis de nata, a delicious warm custard pastry. Of course, we sampled other treats during our travels.
The guides truly listened to us. When we expressed a delight in seeing the Roman Temple of Diana in Evora, our guide asked if we would like to take a short side trip to see a small Roman excavation, Ammaia. It was delightful. Also, when visiting Sintra. Our guide gave us a choice with the pro and cons about visiting Queluz National Palace rather than the Pena Palace. We decided on the Queluz National Palace. It was a wonderful and a relaxing tour.
If we attempted to tour Portugal on our own, we would not have visited the great range of sites that the agency provided. Moreover, without the expert commentary of our guides, we would not have understood the subtleties of Portuguese culture and history as well as we did. This agency is an excellent resource and should we re-visit Portugal, we would not hesitate to use it again.
There were exciting and memorable experiences literally every day of our trip. We loved the bustle of Portugal’s major cities, but were also entranced by the beautiful land and seascapes and the myriad of castles and churches. So, it is quite difficult to single out particular visits as being especially memorable or enjoyable as compared to the others.
Still, three activities were especially moving and worthy of special mention. Our trip to Marvao, with its incredible vistas and serpentine paths is an adventure we will never forget. Understanding how close we were to Spain was powerful. It was an effective history lesson!
The Fado House evening was spectacular. We were treated to a sumptuous meal, highlighted by warm, homemade bread and a rich fish stew cooked in a cataplana pot. That alone would have been memorable. But then to see our hosts change roles from waiter and cook to guitar player and singer(s), introducing us to the Fado music, was a true emotional highlight. Their technical virtuosity and raw expressive power were a special treat.
Lastly, our trip to Trancoso was emotionally riveting. The Isaac Cardoso Centre for Interpretation of Jewish Culture explained the history and fate of the Jewish Trancoso community in a straightforward and sympathetic manner. We were touched by the many markings on buildings that indicated the presence of “New Christians.”
Our trip was beautifully planned to capture the essence of Portugal and it clearly exceeded expectations.
The one thing we would do differently was the Sunday trip to Fatima. The intention was to combine our trip to Fatima with Sunday mass. It was a wonderful idea. It was a very moving experience, but the Sunday crowds were overwhelming. If we did it again, we would visit earlier in the week. We knew intellectually that there would be large crowds, but we felt uncomfortable in this situation.
If we did the trip again, we would add a few more days and visit the Algarve region and the Azores or maybe that is for another trip.
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