Ultimate Spain & Portugal
Day 1 Lisbon
Welcome to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal since its conquest from the Moors in 1147, and a fascinating city with over 20 centuries of history. We recommended arriving a day or two early to fully explore this vibrant city. As your fellow travellers are arriving throughout the day, there are no planned activities, so check-in to the hotel (check-in time is approx. 3pm) and enjoy the city. In the evening meet your fellow group members at 7pm to go over the details of your trip. Check the notice boards or ask at reception for the exact location of this group meeting. After the meeting, you have the chance to head out for a meal at a local restaurant with the group (optional). Please make every effort to arrive on time for this important welcome meeting. If you are delayed and will arrive late, please contact the hotel or inform us - contact numbers are provided in these notes. Your Tour Leader will then leave you a message at the front desk informing you of where and when to meet up.
Day 2 Lisbon (1B)
This morning you will enjoy an orientation walk of central Lisbon with your CEO. Afterwards, you will have time to explore at your leisure. The Alfama is one of the oldest quarters in Lisbon, it largely survived the great earthquake of 1755, so it is well worth a visit as the area still retains much of its original layout. Along the narrow medieval streets lined with typical tile-covered façades, you can listen out for Portugal's traditional music, fado, being played and sung at night. Adjacent to the Alfama are the Castelo and Mouraria quarters, found on the western and northern slopes of the hill where Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle) is found. The Graça quarter and the churches of São Vicente de Fora and Santa Engrácia are within walking distance of this area. Laid out in the 16th century, the Bairro Alto (literally "high quarter") is one of the most picturesque quarters in the city. Its architecture, traditional shops, restaurants, bars, and fashionable boutiques give it a unique feel. It is also a good area to experience Lisbon's nightlife. At the top of the Gloria Funicular are the gardens and belvedere of S. Pedro de Alcantara. Continue past them along Rua D. Pedro V until you come to the Principe Real Gardens, under which there is a water cistern, built in 1864 that can be visited on weekdays. You might choose to take the Santa Justa Elevator up to the ruins of the Carmo Convent, destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and the only remaining example of early gothic architecture in Lisbon. Belem is linked to Portugal’s Golden Age of Discoveries as the site where the famous navigators set sail to discover the world. This western suburb has some sights worth checking out such as the Estrela Prazeres, Estrela Gardens, Estrela Basilica, Mouraria Castelo, and the Church of Senhora da Sade, with its beautiful tiles and carved wood altar. If you have already been in Lisbon for a couple of days, you may wish to make a half day trip out the beautiful hilltop town of Sintra.
Days 3-4 Evora/Algarve (2B)
This morning we travel by public bus to Evora. Your CEO will take you on an orientation walk including the ghoolish "Chapel of Bones" which is constructed almost entirely from the bones of thousands of people, and the centrally located ruins of the Temple of Diana. Erected in the 2nd century, it was transformed into a fortress during the Middle Ages and even a slaughterhouse in the 19th century. There will be some free time to explore this lively student city of medieval alleyways and quaint architecture. You might want to make a stop at Evora's magnificent Cathedral. Afterwards we make our way to the Algarve region, and the coastal town of Lagos, our stop for the next two nights. Lagos is an attractive, cobblestoned town with fabulous, accessible beaches. Make sure to visit the daily fish and veggie market and trek to the Ponte da Piedade (in front of the lighthouse) for fantastic views of Lagos bay as the Monchique hills rise up in the distance. On Day 4 enjoy an included hike along the famous golden cliffs and sandy coves of the Algarve. The coastal walk is about 7km long. Estimated Travel Time:Lisborn to Evora by public bus or train, 2 hours. Estimated Travel Time: Evora to Lagos by public bus or train, 5 hours.
Days 5-6 Seville
This morning we will head south by public bus to Seville, one of the most colourful and exciting cities in Spain. We spend our time here exploring Muslim monuments, parks and gardens at our leisure, getting a feeling of Seville's energetic pulse while savouring some tapas at the city's many bars and cafés. This evening we will head out to an evening flamenco performance. After your CEO has taken you on a short orientation walk to get your bearings, you will have time to take in all this great city has to offer. Be sure to explore the wonderful interiors and gardens of the Alcázar, a magnificent palace dating from Moorish times. During Seville’s warm summer nights (until mid-September) you can enjoy a series of concerts in the beautiful setting of the Reales Alcazares. The true heart of Seville lies in the Santa Cruz quarter a charming area with its winding alleys, picturesque lime-washed houses,flowery patios and small squares. Seville is home to the world’s largest gothic cathedral. The climb to the adjoining tower, known as La Giralda, is well worth the effort for the great views of the city. The 76m Giralda was constructed by the Moors as a mosque between 1184 and 1197; after the reconquest Christians fitted the minaret with its bell tower in 1568. Other attractions include the Museo Arqueológico, the Casa de Pilates and the Parque de María Luisa, which has a maze of paths, garden beds, pretty little patios, fountains and shaded lawns. Estimated Travel Time: Lagos to Seville by public bus 6 hours.
Day 7 Cordoba/Granada
This morning we travel from Seville to Granada making a worth-while stop in Cordoba. We will visit Cordoba's most famous monument, it's extraordinary Mezquita. Built as a mosque in 785 by the Moors, the Mezquita was converted in the 16th century by the remarkable addition of a Christian cathedral inserted into the centre of the building. Afterwards, we will stroll Cordoba's historic medieval Jewish quarter, full of narrow winding lanes and traditional houses. Cordoba’s gastronomy features a cuisine steeped in Roman, Moorish, Christian and Jewish traditions. Why not head out tonight and sample some such as the thick, hearty stew called "caldereta de cordero" or cool off with "ajo blanco," a hearty white gazpacho soup. After exploring Cordoba we will continue on our journey to Granada. Estimated travel time: Seville to Cordoba by public bus 2 hours. Estimated travel time: Cordoba to Granada by public bus 3 hours.
Day 8 Granada
Today we include a visit to the Alhambra, one of the greatest accomplishments of Islamic art and architecture, and the highlight of the trip for most visitors. During the Muslim rule of Spain, Granada was one of the region’s most regal cities. The greatest Muslim legacy in Europe, the Alhambra, is located in Granada. The Alhambra has captured the imagination of visitors for years, and much has been recorded about the history and purpose of this area. No amount of reading or study can truly prepare you for your first visit—it is simply breathtaking. The Alhambra is divided into three sections: the Alcazaba, the Palacio Nazaries and Generalife. The Alcazaba is the Alhambra's Muslim 11th century wing, offering spectacular views of the city from the tops of its towers. The Palacio Nazaries is the center of the Alhambra, and is most famous for its detailed works and gardens. The Generalife was the summer palace of the sultans. We include a full guided visit of the Alhambra to help you make the most of this truly memorable experience. Granada, however, has so much more to offer than the Alhambra, magnificent as it is. Take a wander through the whitewashed historic quarter of the Albaicin, with its narrow lanes and fantastic views back to the Alhambra - this is a great place to go for sunset. A trip to Granada wouldn't be the same without a night on the town, the city is filled with trendy tapas bars and has a lively music scene.
Days 9-10 Madrid
Madrid, the grande dame of European cities, has it all — history, architecture, museums, galleries, beautiful parks and a wild nightlife. The capital's most exciting street is the Gran Vía, but be sure to visit the Plaza Mayor –the true heart of Madrid. Enjoy a coffee in one of the plaza’s many cafes and watch the world go by. In the evening, we head out on a tapas and wine bar stroll- a real must do in Madrid. A trip to the Museo del Prado, one of the greatest art galleries in the world, is a definite highlight. The main emphasis of the museum is 15th to 19th century Spanish, Flemish and Italian art. There is plenty of Goya and you'll find a wealth of paintings by Diego Velázquez. For a more modern take and one of the best art history lessons you'll ever get, check out the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, a private assembly of paintings from Titian to Picasso. The beautiful Real Jardin Botánico, near the Prado, is a good spot to recover from an art overdose. To see what style the kings and queens lived in, visit the Palacio Real, where you'll get a chance to see some of the most elaborately decorated and furnished rooms. The epicenter of Madrid's nightlife is Plaza del Dos de Mayo, in the area known as Malasaña – head here after hours to have a taste of Sangria and dance to the latest music! The Escorial, a magnificent palace and mausoleum constructed by Felipe II is also a major tourist attraction within the capital area. The building’s magnificent style is a worthy monument to the power and wealth that was Spain during the 16th century. The Escorial also became a great center for learning and has an outstanding library. Estimated travel time: Granada to Madrid 6 hours.
Days 11-12 Valencia
A long travel day today as we head to the shores of the Mediterranean and the vibrant city of Valencia. Spain's third-largest city, historical yet cosmopolitan, Valencia is the home of paella, the Holy Grail, the birthplace of the inimitable architecture of Santiago Calatrava and one of Europe’s newest and most impressive science museums. Valencia is a fun and fascinating study in contrasts. Established in the fertile terrain on the shores of the Mediterranean, close to the mouth of the river Turia, the luminous city of Valencia comes as a pleasant surprise to many. At night people fill the bustling open terraces and street cafés in the Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo, the cobbled streets of the Carmen district, or the romantic dance clubs with live music on the Malvarrosa beach. Everywhere, world class restaurants, discos, nightclubs and pubs provide the scene for enjoying a night out in Spain's "fiesta" capital. You'll almost certainly want to try Valencia's famous dish, Paella - your CEO will arrange an optional evening out to a local paella restaurant where you can eat your fill. Don't forget to try a few of the great Valencian wines! Estimated Travel Time: Madrid to Valencia by public bus 7 hours.
Days 13-15 Barcelona (2B)
We take a morning bus to Barcelona. Upon arrival your CEO will take you out for an orientation walk to familiarise yourself with the city's layout. Spend the rest of today and Days 14 and 15 at your leisure exploring the city’s museums and cathedrals, or feel free enjoy some of the best shopping in Europe. Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city, but it is the capital when it comes to fashion, architecture, food and music. Known worldwide for its dynamic atmosphere and exciting style, Barcelona never disappoints. There is plenty of history too: visit the old Gothic Quarter with its maze of dark streets, historic cathedral, medieval buildings, bars and cafes. Stroll the Rambla, a large tree-lined pedestrian boulevard perfect for people-watching and window shopping, ending at the harbourfront facing the Mediterranean Sea. Make sure to view Gaudi’s most famous life work, the cathedral La Sagrada Familia, an inspiring yet bizarre testament to the artist’s unique vision. On Day 14, we find some quiet time away from it all with a visit to the imaginative Park Guell, to stroll the tree-lined paths and admire more of Gaudi’s creative genius at play. Find time to tour the beautiful Palau Musica, built between 1905 and 1908 as a home for catalan music, it is full of light and of colour. For nightlife, the highest concentration of beautiful young locals dancing, both in the bars and on the street, can be found near the intersection of Santaló and Mariano Cubi streets. Here you can always find good music, good drinks and lots of fun. Another good nightlife spot for meeting the fashionable locals of Barcelona is on the Plaza Francesc Maciá. On Day 15, some members of the group may depart and new travellers may join the tour to continue on through Northern Spain. Estimated Travel Time: Valencia to Barcelona by public bus 4 hours.
Days 16-17 Pyrenees (2B, 2D)
For two nights stay in a "casa rural", or converted farmhouse in the Pyrenees. Enjoy home-cooked meals and some optional hiking in the area.
Days 18-19 Bilbao/San Sebastián (2B)
Take a public bus to San Sebastián, the first stop in the unique Basque region of Spain. Opt to take a Pintxo (tapas) tour and learn the different food, dialect and culture of the area. On Day 19, take a day trip to Bilbao, known for the stunning Guggenheim museum. San Sebastián is a scenic and historic city in the Basque region of Spain. It has a gorgeous beach bumping up against buildings and churches that give this city such character. The city has a cozy feel with many restaurants, bars and shops. Getting around this city by foot or by bike is easy and a great way to get the true flavour of the area. Bike rentals are available around the city. Opt to take a funicular or walk up Monte Igueldo for a stunning view of town. Don't miss checking out the sculpture called The Wind Comb, it was made by a local artist and has become a symbol for San Sebastián. There are tons of other optional activities for anyone spending time in this unique city. Check out the beaches, go surfing or hiking- either short or long depending on what you're up for! Visit the aquarium, rent some kayaks or even go waterskiing! The real treat in this part of the country is the eating. Basque cuisine is famous in Spain and around the world, with many believing this is the best food in the country. While San Sebastián didn't invent tapas, they are well-acknowledged to have perfected them. Wander through the streets before lunchtime or int he evening and check out what each bar has on offer. Stop in each place for some wine or beer and sample their tapas (pinxtos in Basque) selection. Move on to the next bar and repeat! Delicious seafood abounds here as well, so if yuo're looking for more than just pinxtos, head to the harbour and hole up in a traditional simple tavern. Don't leave San Sebastián without trying the famous Jamon Iberico. The speciality drink in this area is call the Kalimotxo- half wine (usually red table wine) and half coca-cola! About 1 hr from San Sebastián is Bilbao, a bigger city nestled amongst green hills and the Nervión River. The Guggenheim Museum is a must see- even if just to marvel at the outside of the building. Frank Gehry designed this titanium-clad twisting, curving and angular building to much praise in the 1990s. The building has a maritime theme, supposedly representing the ships along the docks of the city, with titanium squares acting as fish scales and the skylights inside designed to look like fish fins. There are also many churches of interest, in particular the Basílica de Begoña. Take some time to wander through the piazzas and the Casco Viejo, marvel at the buildings and spot the art sprinkled throughout the city. Climb the Mallona stairs to Parque Etxebarria for beautiful views over Bilbao. And, as always, try the pinxtos!
Day 20 Logroño (1B)
Travel to Logroño and enjoy an included wine tasting in the Rioja region. Logroño is located on the Ebro River and is the capital of the Rioja region. Originally settled by the Romans and then the Celts, this region is overflowing with history and charm. Most famous for its Rioja wine, Logroño has made a name for itself in the culinary world as well. There are over 50 tapas restaurants located in a 4 block area in the centre of town and visiting these establishments is an excellent way to get your Rioja wine fix, too. With tons of churches, roman bridges, parks, plazas and ancient buildings, there's no shortage of sights to be seen by wandering around this city. Enjoy an included wine tasting where you can indulge in the local specialties like Tempranillo.
Day 21 Madrid (1B)
Travel back to Madrid by bus and enjoy some free time in the capital.
Day 22 Madrid
Depart at any time.