Springtime in Lisbon
A seven night holiday based at the fine HF Fenix Lisboa hotel in the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience Portugal’s capital city and its historic trams and palaces, as well as having the chance to explore the central part of the country and travel by train to see three towns which hold important positions in Portugal’s history: Óbidos with its medieval castle, the Royal Town of Sintra with its famous tram and palaces and the Roman city of Évora, crossing the iconic 25th April Bridge by train, which is a massive suspension road bridge that was subsequently fitted with a lower rail deck. There really is something for everyone on this trip.
Tour Manager: David
Thursday 30th March Several flight options from the UK with direct flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh and Manchester. We take the airport bus from the airport to our hotel, the Hotel HF Fenix Lisboa. This hotel is next to Marques Pombal in the heart of the city and is our base for the next seven nights.
Friday 31st March (B,D) This morning we shall explore Lisbon’s historic tram system using one of the tourist tram routes now in operation, covering the bulk of routes 25 and of course the iconic 28. After our tram tour we shall join our river cruiser to first cross the River Tagus to Cacilhas where we can have lunch in one of the traditional restaurants near the pier. Later we continue our cruise down to Belém and see the city from the river. Belem is one of the most important areas of the city, with the Discoveries Monument, Belem Tower and the UNESCO listed Jerónimos Monastery. Here amongst many interesting areas we can see the Tomb of Vasco da Gama, the Cloisters and the tiled Refectory. You also have time to relax in the nearby Botanical Gardens. These were laid out on two levels in 1768 and include a 400-year-old dragon tree and geometrical box hedged gardens. Alternatively, for the tram fans, explore the modern tram system south of the river, which starts in Cacilhas.
Saturday 1st April (B) We will spend today in the Roman town of Évora, in Portugal’s Alentejo region. Sights include the Roman Temple of Diana built in the 2nd Century AD, the convent, the cathedral, the chapel of bones and the aqueduct. On arrival at Évora we walk from the station into the walled part of the city to Geraldo Square. From here the narrow streets radiate out in all directions and using the square as a reference, you can easily find the monument or museum or other point of interest that you want to see. Make sure you sample the rich Alentejo style food at lunch time.
Évora is one of Portugal’s more important cities and in 2011 the railway line was upgraded and electrified to allow 200 Km/h running. We cross the River Tagus on the famous 25th April Bridge, giving yet another view of the city.
Sunday 2nd April (B) A choice of activities today. This morning we all join our morning Regional train heading north out of Lisbon to Tomar. Tomar is one of Portugal’s historical jewels and more significantly was the last Templar town to be commissioned for construction. Tomar was especially important in the 15th century when it was a centre of Portuguese overseas expansion under Henry the Navigator, the Grand Master of the Order of Christ, successor organisation to the Templars in Portugal. In 2013, the Guardian elected the UNESCO listed Convento de Cristo in Tomar as the most spectacular place to visit in Portugal.” Founded by the Knights Templar, it’s a beautiful, mysterious and magical place, wonderful to discover and enjoy.” We will have ample time to explore this town, including a visit to the Convent. For rail fans, you may wish to alight from the train in Entroncamento to visit the much expanded and improved rail museum. Join the main group in Tomar after your visit.
Monday 3rd April (B) An opportunity today to visit the National Palace of Queluz and its historical gardens, which are one of the most remarkable examples of the harmonious link between landscape and palatial architecture in Portugal. They illustrate the evolution of the Court’s tastes in the 18th and 19th centuries, a period that was marked by the baroque, rococo and neoclassicism. Built in 1747 on the orders of the future King Pedro III, the consort of Queen Maria I, the Palace of Queluz was initially conceived as a summer residence, becoming the royal family’s preferred place for their leisure and entertainment. They lived there permanently from 1794 until their departure for Brazil in 1807, as a result of the French invasions.
Tuesday 4th April (B) Today is a free day in Lisbon. Armed with our transport ticket covering the metro, buses, trams and funiculars, we will have the whole day to explore this fascinating city. To begin, we suggest you catch the route 15 tram (normally operated by modern low-floor trams) for a journey along the waterfront to the area of Belém, whose Tower (Torre de Belém) was built between 1515 and 1521. After time for lunch in one of the local restaurants, you can take another vintage tramcar to the area of Ajuda. Here you find the Neo-Classical 19th-century National Palace of Ajuda. No expense was spared on this former royal residence, including the extraordinary Saxe Room in which every piece of furniture is decorated with Meissen porcelain.
Alternatively, from Praça da Figueira catch a vintage tram on route 12 to the Moorish Castelo de São Jorge. This castle, which dominates the city skyline, offers the best views of the city. There are also pleasant gardens within the walls and a 12th-century church. Then explore the historic Alfama area of the old city.
For transport enthusiasts consider visiting the CARRIS Tram museum at the tram depot in St Amaro (on route 15) where you will have the chance to ride on a tram dating from 1901. Don’t forget the 3 funiculars in Lisbon, all dating from more than 100 years ago, and the iconic Santa Justa Lift.
Another option is to travel on routes 25 or 28 to Estrela, with the 18th century Basilica da Estrela which can be seen from all over Lisbon. Across the road is Estrela Park, where you can mix with local families out for a stroll, and enjoy an oasis of peace and quiet in the middle of this bustling city.
Or take a train from Cais Sodré along the Estoril coast to the swanky seaside resort of Cascais. This is a very scenic line, running within sight of the sea most of the way. Indeed, the Estoril line was the first in Portugal to be electrified and for many years was operated as an independent railway.
Your tour manager will be able to advise you on these and the many other things to see and do.
Wednesday 5th April (B,L) Today we once again travel by train to visit the stunning Serra setting of Sintra. This National Park and World Heritage Site is an area of wooded ravines, fresh water springs and was a favourite summer retreat for the former kings of Portugal.
We start our day by taking a suburban train from the ornate, mock Manueline, Rossio station the full length of the line to Sintra. A short walk takes us to the terminus of the Sintra tramway where our private hire tram will be waiting to take us down through the pine trees of this high class residential area to the beach and back. This tramway was opened in 1904 and originally ran the 16 km from Sintra down to the coastal resort of Praia das Maças (Apple Beach). In recent years the tramway has been restored and the original tramcars once again operate over virtually the whole of the original route.
After our Farewell Lunch in a restaurant in the historic centre, we will visit Sintra National Palace. Of all the palaces built by the Portuguese monarchs throughout the Middle Ages, only the palace of Sintra has survived to the present day virtually intact, still maintaining the same essential features of its shape and outline since the mid-16th century. The main building campaigns that took place after the Christian Reconquest in the 12th century were sponsored by the kings Dinis, João I and Manuel I, between the end of the 13th century and the mid-16th century. These campaigns consisted of adaptations, enlargements and general improvement works that have given the palace its present-day appearance. There is also time to explore the historic centre.
Thursday 6th April (B) Late morning we return to Lisbon Airport for our flights home. You may if you wish stay additional days for your own exploration of this area of Portugal.
There is fair amount of walking on this tour, including in castles/palaces with a lot of steps and to and from railway stations. In some cases, there are steep hills. Some stations in Portugal have low platforms.