Lisbon, Oporto and the Douro Valley

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You’ll discover the real Portugal on this tour – a rich and varied country with a proud history that’s admirably reflected in the many fascinating places we visit.Inland Portugal, long overlooked on European itineraries, has only recently being brought to the discerning traveller’s attention. It’s one of the world’s oldest countries, Britain’s longest ally and has been ruled by the Romans, Visigoths, by the remarkable Moors and almost every other race of invaders ever since, with all leaving their legacies.

Without doubt the country’s most defining period was the Middle Ages. A succession of maritime explorers pioneered by Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India, thus passing the Ottoman Empire. They created hugely profitable links with today’s Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and even Japan – then the most closed of societies. Returning with gold, silks, spices, fine furniture and exquisite porcelain, selling it to Europe’s aristocracy for a fortune they created the world’s richest country.

With the discovery of yet more gold in Brazil, huge newfound wealth financed the building of palaces, fine monasteries and cathedrals - many of which we visit on this thought provoking tour. This Golden Age lasted until its eclipse by greater powers during the late 17thcentury, at which point Portugal slipped into centuries of relative obscurity as the world’s political centre moved first to northern Europe and then to other continents.

Portugal today is a country of great contrasts; it’s modern in many ways, yet still has one foot very firmly set in its traditional past. Full of history and appeal, and spared from large-scale industrialisation or re-development, its remarkably well preserved medieval towns with their tiny cobbled streets are truly delightful.

Set on the very edge of Europe, its scenery is just as stunning and dramatic. You’ll experience it in full - from its coastal forests, wild seascapes, fertile fields and dramatic valleys to sweeping biscuit-coloured hillsides covered with olive trees, fragrant pine forests and lush meadows.

The Portuguese themselves are a wonderfully well-mannered people. They love to socialise, especially at the table and with family and in common with most southern European people, they’re so full of warmth and charm.

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