Portugal Journey

So, Portugal, last fall, my grand tour landed me in Lisbon, Fatima, Tomar, Sintra, Cascais, the Douro Valley and Porto.

After a 13 day Journey, to understand the importance of each area, the best routing and the VV best hotels…I feel I have a grasp on what locations can be enjoyed as a day trip and areas which necessitate longer visits.

Portugal, Lisbon

An over view, you can read more in-depth posts on city life, must see sites and touring the Douro Valley. I discovered that Lisbon and Porto, although some refer to Porto as the second great city in Portugal, are equally charming. Brimming with history, churches, important museums, and miles of narrow, often hilly cobblestone streets.

A Suggestion Excursion – tailor made to include personal preferences.Lisbon, Sintra, Porto & Douro Valley This exclusive private Portugal Journey features in-depth touring of Portugal’s wonderful art and design from the traditional to the innovative in Lisbon, Sintra and Porto and the Douro Valley. We can include private touring of cultural highlights, significant museums and engrossing architecture reflecting the complex history, as well as select visits to crafts workshops, the beautiful azulejo tile factories and chic boutiques offering the finest work by Portuguese craftspeople. The tour also includes the finest Portuguese food and wine, including private wine tasting in the Douro Valley and suites at exceptional hotels.

Lisbon, Portugal’s vibrant capital on the Tagus River, offers beautiful cityscapes, rich culture, and splendid food and wine. Experience the city as an insider during private touring with an expert local guide. Spend a few days to properly explore the historic Alfama district, the sophisticated Bairro Alto and Lapa districts and the riverside Belem district.

Wander around St. George’s Castle, the famed Mosteiro dos Jeronimos monastery, Belem Tower and other impressive monuments and understand the periods of Manueline and Moorish architecture.  Peruse chic shops offering authentic Portuguese specialties such as azulejo tiles, embroidered linens, fine handmade leather gloves, Indo-Portuguese furniture, and explore the old shops which sell gold and silver jewelry in traditional patterns.

Portuguese Tiles

Nibble local food specialties, including the yummy aspasteis de nata custard tarts, bakeries featuring sweets are on almost every block! Tour all or a select few of the many museums including the National Tile Museum, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and the Museum of Folk Art.  You might enjoy interesting contemporary architecture at the Portugal Pavilion and MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology). We will definitely include a memorable fado music performance at a local night club.  If you have an interest, we can suggest a visit to the private Ricardo do Spirito Santo Silva Foundation, dedicated to the preservation and reproduction of traditional Portuguese design and decorative art.

Next, transfer to the sunny coast for a leisurely lunch in the picturesque seaside town of Cascais, a cosmopolitan suburb of the Portuguese capital and one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. Cascais is a delightful Portuguese fishing town, which has a charming center and is located close to some of the finest beaches of the Lisbon region. Within Cascais is a range of interesting tourist attractions, including fascinating museums, historic mansions and pretty parks, along with all the facilities expected for a bustling resort town.

Surrounding Cascais is a varied region of lively resort towns and the beautiful natural scenery of the Serra de Sintra, with its numerous hiking routes and outstanding surfing. This area is perfect for golf, hilly bike riding and hiking. I passed through a beautiful forest outside of Lisbon, the Natural Park of Sintra-Cascais, near the unique surroundings of the mystical Serra de Sintra, where the narrow hilly roads were filled with bikers – who eventually disappeared into the forest on scrubby off road steep trails.

The small resort town of Cascais is on the Atlantic coast, where we can also offer a private cooking class with a market tour, learn to prepare traditional Portuguese dishes in a classic home overlooking the ocean. There is a beach hotel near Cascais, a charming Relais & Chateau property, Fortaleza Do Guincho, a seventeenth-century fortress facing the sea. Within the hotel is a one-star Michelin restaurant.

Quinta da Regaleira,

Continue the drive to Sintra, a refined town of fairy-tale palaces and elegant gardens amid pine forested hillsides. Enjoy private touring in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, stop and explore the romantic National Palace of Pena, the remarkable National Palace of Sintra and the winding cobblestone streets in the historic area the town, including the former Jewish quarter. Also visit Quinta da Regaleira, an estate classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. The grand house is split over five floors and has an ornate gothic façade, but the real attraction is the enchanting gardens. The gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira were styled to represent ancient secret orders, with hidden tunnels and concealed symbolism.

Charming Cafes, Portugal

In the misty mountains here, you should make a stop for to enjoy lunch at Tivoli Palacio De Setais.  An elegant 18th century neo-classical palace with interiors of frescoed walls, tapestries and antique furniture. Savor an elegant and light interpretation of the Portuguese table. After your glass of spirits, stroll through the manicured gardens, before continuing on your Journey.

Livraria Lello, a historic bookstore

Continue to Porto, the capital of Port wine and a city with a captivating mix of architectural styles, including Baroque and contemporary, Roman and medieval. Stay in a luxurious hotel, the Yeartman, on a hillside overlooking ancient wine cellars and the Douro River. During private touring, explore the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Highlights may include palaces and gardens, the Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange), the Se do Porto (Porto Cathedral), many of the local buildings are covered with beautiful tiles, and don’t miss the famed Livraria Lello, a historic bookstore with stunning ornate woodwork, also known for its views in Harry Potter. Also view remarkable contemporary architecture such as the Casa da Musica by Rem Koolhaas, the Serralves Museum by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. Of course, we will also arrange a private tour and Port tasting at one of the city’s most celebrated cellars.

Portugese Tiles

Add a few days to take a private excursion to the Douro Valley, a beautiful region along the Douro River. Here besides a decadent and luxurious stay at The Six Senses Douro Valley, you may visit the best local wineries, explore romantic ancient towns along the Douro River, take an exclusive private river cruise in a traditional rabelo boat and enjoy spectacular views of the hills covered with terraced vineyards. This is an area where not a trace of the terraced hillsides are wasted as open space, miles and miles of grapevines line the sloping hills. There are marvelous hiking trails to be explored, many connect through small farmlands where you can indulge in local cheese making.

The Douro River from The Six Senses Douro Valley

Upon request, we can also arrange cooking classes, walks through villages, kayaking, mountain biking and other activities in the region. We have stayed at most of the top hotels and can provide additional details for several options in each city.

This Journey can easily be extended to include time at a luxury beach resort in the Algarve or add on San Sebastian in Spain.

Search Portugal on gwenbooks.com for additional posts on all described areas in Portugal.





Portugal Reflections – Hiking & Biking

Portugal Preview: I fell under the spell of Portugal, two weeks of site inspections yielded a full Journal of touring, dining and stays at the best hotels. To begin with hiking and biking activities: beautiful hilly landscapes covered in grapevines is just one reason to visit Portugal – our elite biking team can organize exceptional bike rides in Portugal. I passed through a beautiful forest outside of Lisbon, the Natural Park of Sintra-Cascais, near the unique surroundings of the mystical Serra de Sintra, where the narrow hilly roads were filled with bikers – who eventually disappeared into the forest on scrubby off road steep trails.

We can organize biking and trekking throughout Portugal.

Hiking through the Quinta Seara d’ Ordens Vineyards in Douro Valley

If you stay in the Douro Valley at our favorite Six Senses Resort, there are quite a few day hikes of various difficulty. We can accommodate any level of fitness – if you need 10 miles a day of difficult terrain, we can organize in various areas. Need a gentle hike and a picnic, happy to design hikes for every level of activity. Family friendly hiking and tenacious trekking opportunities!

We won’t list all of the hikes, but one could stay at the Six Senses and enjoy a distinctive hike/trek every day, it might include wine or port tasting at a small family owned vineyard or lunch in a remote village. Or cheese tasting at the barns of a local goat or sheep farm.

Mind the cows and goats in the hillside villages.

You might notice the aged grape stakes are chiseled from shale or shake as they call it, not wood. Quinta Seara d’ Ordens Douro Valley

Quinta Seara d’ Ordens Vineyards. Douro Valley Vineyard hike

My three night stay in the Douro Valley included a Vineyard hike through the extensive wine and olive property of Quinta Seara d’ Ordens for a few hours – this was not a stroll; the Portuguese don’t waste a smidgen of ground – the hillsides are terraced from top to bottom and the vines amazingly flourish despite very rocky soil – we would describe the soil as shale- their term is shake. Many of the vineyards are so steep the grapes are still picked by hand. Hikes may include a stop at a locally owned vineyard for a tasting. Our guides know the vineyard owners and wisely, all the dogs roaming the vineyards. My guide, João Carlos, was a long-term Military man in special services, he could also be described as a dog whisperer. While hiking a private vineyard, a few dogs barked at us but on our approach to a large lanky dog, he whispered that is a very dangerous dog, we had already encountered a pit bull that looked menacing to me; I hesitated as he slowly knelt down and said this breed, Cão de Gado Transmontano, is a vicious sheep herding dog who will take on a wolf. The trick is to get to their eye level, thus I stooped a bit, still not wanting to get too close…I have to admit the dog had paws the size of a lion… João Carlos, extended his hand and spoke sweetly to the dog, he became a friend.

Wandering the rugged hillsides there is much to be discovered besides roaming guard dogs protecting wine and olive estates, on this particular hardy hike, to Fisgas do Ermelo you may encounter cows or goats as you pass through a small village.

The cascade of Fisgas de Ermelo is one of the largest waterfalls in Europe. As viewed from a hike near the Douro Valley

Hiking trail in the Alvão Natural Park, one of the most beautiful and preserved Portuguese landscapes.

Descriptions of just a few hikes adjacent to the Douro Valley.

Alvão Natural Park – Fisgas do Ermelo – The tour begins with a hiking trail in the Alvão Natural Park, one of the most beautiful and preserved Portuguese landscapes. It begins north of the Olo River and follows trails that provide a very privileged view over the Fisgas de Ermelo cascade. The cascade of Fisgas de Ermelo is one of the largest waterfall in Europe. 
The tour continues with a visit to the Alto Douro Wine Region, the oldest UNESCO world wine heritage site, you will visit a winery to enjoy  a private wine tasting.

Hiking Trail: (adjustable) One day program. Length: 5 miles Duration: 3 h 30 m Difficulty: Hard. Experience- Visit winery “Quinta Seara D’Ordens” and wine tasting.

Hike through the hillsides and end with a fresh cheese tasting lunch!

A second experience: Serra de Santa Comba – Passos (Mirandela)  The tour starts up toward the castle of the “Orelhão” King. The hiking trail then proceeds to the Cruzeiro viewpoint, where one may see the quartzite ridges, and the Pala’s cavern (Rock painting). The trail continues down toward a Cave Shelter and then heads to the Passos Forest old house.  After hiking, you will visit the Cheese Artisian House – “Quinta de Alvar”, in the village of Navalho. Visit the cheese farm, learn about the cheese making process, stop by the sheep and goat  stables and conclude the visit with a cheese tasting. Hiking Trail: (adjustable) One day program. Length: 9.5 miles. Duration: 5 hours. Difficulty Hard. Experience: Visit to the Cheese Artisian House “Quinta de Alvar” and cheese tasting.

My pleasurable steep hike was rewarded with a sumptuous picnic of local cheeses, freshly baked bread, sliced hams, fruit and of course, wine! Beautifully served from the roof of a water collection tank atop the vineyard hill. Oh, did I mention the hand-pumped espresso for the final note with dessert?

Pedro hand pumping Picnic Espresso ..perfect hike, perfect picnic! Only the best with our teams!

Six Senses outdoor infinity pool with a dramatic view of the Douro River and rolling vineyards.

Our bike and hike teams in Portugal go the extra mile. If staying in the Douro Valley, settle back at The Six Senses and head to the spa for sauna or steam or a few laps in the indoor pool or the outdoor pool. Heaven!

Are you ready for a Hiking and Biking Escape in Portugal?