By Marion Bunnik
Spain, Portugal & Morocco are three fantastic countries to combine in a tour of Europe as the geography makes the travelling fairly easy.
On visiting them all I was really pleased to find that each country is very different as they all have their own unique history, culture and traditions.
Our Spain, Portugal and Morocco itinerary is really well balanced as you get to spend a great deal of time in each country. In my research I found that many other tours to these countries seem to rush through Portugal and only really visit Lisbon which doesn’t really give you an opportunity to experience the true Portugal. I think this is a shame as Portugal, a country rich in history, has so much more to offer. So I thought I would relive my recent trip to Portugal and share with you some of the highlights.
Located on the North Sea, Portugal has a long coastline, some of the coast is quite rugged whereas the southern coast is full of beaches and is especially popular with Northern Europeans as they come here for beach holidays, this part of Portugal is called the Algarve. We’re very lucky here in Australia as we have some of the world’s best beaches all around us so our reasons for visiting Europe are very different we look for the culture and the history. So often here you find the historical and cultural sights are not that busy with the Europeans as they are all on the beaches!
On our tour we visit Spain first and then cross the border from Seville in to Portugal where our first stop is Lisbon. Here the language is Portuguese rather than Spanish. Lisbon is famous for its FADO melancholic singing, soulful and haunting (fado means ‘fate’ in Portuguese) it captures something essential about Portugal.
The songs are often about love and loss. The genre can be traced back to the 1820s and has recently been awarded World Heritage Status by UNESCO meaning it’s protected as “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”, joining other unique cultural expressions such as the tango and flamenco. This musical style (which is actually more like a poetic recital) is strongly connected to the streets of Lisbon where it was born and has come to be symbolic of the Portuguese soul. Those interested in listening to Fado should look for one of the greatest Fado diva’s of all time, Amalia Rodrigues. She defined the style of the genre and has influenced an entire generation of young singers. In many of the small restaurants, especially in the old part of the city, you can hear the FADO singing.
From Lisbon we head north to Coimbra this ancient city was once the capital of Portugal and is home to what is believed to be the oldest university in Europe, dating back to 1290. The old city is full of small, narrow steep streets, built against the hill, that lead up to the University. The University buildings are as historic as the city and are extremely well-kept, making this a great place to visit, especially the Library which is home to more than 300,000 books, some dating back to the 12th century. The city is built on the banks of a river, with historical government buildings located on either side. A relaxing cruise on the waterway is a great way to see the city, or for the romantics a stroll along the river by sunset can definitely be recommended!
Crazy Parking and Great Souvenirs!
The narrow streets of the old city are home to most of the people living in Coimbra and here you’ll find cars are parked literally everywhere! You’ll also find many small shops selling lovely hand-made souvenirs – which are perfect for gifts to take home. In Coimbra, like many other European cities, you’ll find a number of squares. The beautiful Cathedral in the old city is on one of the squares and is definitely well worth a visit. During the summer months the city squares are home to many free open air concerts which are held for various celebrations. During my time in Portugal I found the Portuguese people to be very hospitable and if you happen to be there during the celebrations they invite you to join in and share their wine and beer. Even though Portuguese is the only language they speak, a smile goes a long way.
Step back in time in Oporto
From Coimbra we go North to Oporto, or Porto which is how this medieval city is known locally. As the second largest city in Portugal, Oporto and Lisbon enjoy a friendly rivalry. Built on the river Duero it is another fantastic city so rich in history so well maintained. Larger than Coimbra, Oporto is a port city and you’ll see that many of the buildings here have beautiful ceramic tiles on the outer facades. The colourful houses here really just add to the overall atmosphere of the city which is amazing. Here there are many excellent fish and seafood restaurants to try, where you can sit back and sample the quality local food while enjoying the local wine or port. The port you can buy here actually originates from Oporto.
A highlight not to be missed is a visit to the Carmo Church with its amazing panels of tiles on the exterior wall, these represent the Carmelite Order. Next to the Carmo Church you will find the Clergyman Monument and Tower, where if you are feeling energetic you can climb the 225 steps on the spiral staircase to the top. If you do manage the climb then trust me, you will find that the view is well worth the effort!
Discover Portugal on our Spain, Portugal & Morocco tour. This 26 day tour travels from Barcelona via the sun drenched Mediterranean coastline to Morocco where you spend 6 nights before returning across the Strait of Gibraltar to Seville, from where you cross the border for 6 glorious nights in Portugal.