Culture

Vintage Central Portugal

11 to 18 June 2019
Portugal

You are invited to join us on an exclusive rail-based holiday to the central Beiras region of Portugal. Our tour will be at a leisurely pace with plenty of time to see each place that we visit. We are based for all seven nights in the fine 4-star Hotel Vila Galé located close to Coimbra’s historical quarter with views of the Mondego River. Highlights of the holiday include the Roman city at Conimbriga, Mondego river boat trip, a Peninsular Wars 12-pointed star fort, the funicular and stunning beach at Nazaré, scenic Beira-Alta railway line, National forest at Buçaco, the Vale do Vouga narrow-gauge lines and narrow-gauge railway museum, and a boat trip around the Ria de Aveiro lagoon. If you want “off the tourist track” then this one has it all. A no-fly option using Eurostar and the Sud-Express with an early morning arrival in Coimbra is also possible.

Your Tour Manager for this trip is David, who lives in Lisbon. Should you have any queries about the itinerary or if you wish to have a chat with him about the trip, please feel free to e-mail him on david@ptg.co.uk.

Highlights

  • No-fly option
  • Unspoilt and untouristy
  • All seven nights at the same hotel
  • Swimming pool
  • Great food
  • Historic train
  • Scenic rail journeys
Itinerary

Day 1 Tuesday 11 June Flight options from the UK with direct flights from several airports to Porto. From Porto Airport we transfer to the city of Coimbra. It is also possible to travel overland from St Pancras via the Eurostar and Sud-Express direct to Coimbra.  Evening free to relax.

Day 2 Wednesday 12 June (B,D) Coimbra is the Oxford or Cambridge of Portugal, with the best and oldest University in the country dominating the skyline. The city holds an affection with the Portuguese people like no other. The name Coimbra coming from the nearby Roman city of Conimbriga. Finally freed from Moorish occupation in 1064, Coimbra became the capital of Portugal when King Afonso Henriques moved it south from Guimarães in 1139. For visitors, it still holds a wealth of historic interest. We will have a local guide for our walk around the historic centre. Coimbra’s two cathedrals lie in the shadow of the hilltop university. The Sé Velha (old cathedral) is regarded as one of the finest Romanesque buildings in Portugal, celebrating in stone the victory over the Moors in 1064. The Sé Nova (new cathedral) was founded in 1598. The Museu Machado de Castro is based around the lovely courtyards of the former bishops’ palace and contains some of Portugal’s finest sculpture, including medieval pieces. Also present are furnishings, paintings and vestments from the 12th-20th centuries. An interesting feature is a maze of underground Roman passages containing Roman sculpture and artefacts. The afternoon is free for your own exploration when we recommend the fine Botanical Gardens in the shadow of a section of the 16th century aqueduct. The gardens cover 50 acres and were created in 1772 by the Marquês de Pombal and include a large tropical glasshouse. Tonight, we will have our welcome dinner in the hotel.

Day 3 Thursday 13 June (B) Leaving Coimbra after breakfast, we take the Linha do Oeste line and head south to pass through the important regional town of Leiria. This line is a quaint country line retaining a lot of its un-modernised charm. Our destination is the inland station of Valado-Nazaré-Alcobaça. We will be met by our luxury coach which will take us the short distance to the town of Alcobaça and the stunning UNESCO World Heritage monastery. After free time to visit this spectacular monument, we drive down to the coast and the fine beach resort of Nazaré with its glorious sandy bay backed by steep cliffs. High above the town is the Ermida da Memória, reached by a funicular railway dating from 1889. Local legend has it that here is the site where the Virgin Mary saved the King from falling off the cliff during a deer hunt in 1182. We will have time in Nazaré for our own exploration, lunch or relaxing on the beach. We return to Coimbra by train arriving back at the hotel in time for dinner.

Day 4 Friday 14 June (B) In keeping with our leisurely pace we leave today at 10.00 and catch an electric loco hauled inter-city train (first class seats) for our journey along the fine Beira-Alta railway line – one of the finest in Portugal – as we climb up into the Serra da Estrela mountains. Our destination is the old frontier town of Guarda. From here we travel by coach (approx. 25 miles) to the delightfully preserved border town of Almeida. The formidable defences of this town are in the form of a 12-pointed star. In 1810 this town featured heavily in the Peninsular Wars and was seized back from the French by the Duke of Wellington. We have plenty of time for lunch and for our own exploration of the town which includes a fine 17th century church, one of Portugal’s oldest alms-houses and military history including soldiers’ barracks and the armoury. In mid-afternoon, we have a shorter coach transfer to the border station at Vilar Formoso for a local train back to Guarda. From Guarda we return to Coimbra on the Inter-City service.

Day 5 Saturday 15 June (B) Today we head north by train to the Vouga narrow gauge rail line. After being stored in Regua for many years, the metre-gauge Vintage Train has been brought back into service on the Vouga Line, and today we will take a step back in time to travel on the original rolling stock along this scenic, but often forgotten, line. For so long threatened with closure, it managed to hang on, and is now having a renaissance due to the presence of this train. A visit to Macinhata museum is included. At the time of going to print, the train was being hauled by diesel loco 9004. However, steam loco E214 was being restored and we are hopeful that she will be ready to haul our train today. Note: if for any reason the historic train is not running today, we will still visit the line, but use the service trains instead.

Day 6 Sunday 16 June (B,L) In the morning our coach takes us the short distance to visit the Roman remains at Conimbriga – the largest and most excavated Roman site in Portugal. Remains include one of the largest houses discovered in the Western Roman Empire. This opulent villa, known as the Casa de Cantaber, is built around ornamental pools in superb colonnaded gardens, with its own bath complex and sophisticated heating system. You will also get to see some of the finest mosaics anywhere in Europe. We then travel to the small town of Mealhada, famous for its “Leitão” (suckling pig) restaurants for lunch in one of the oldest and most traditional restaurants there before joining a river boat for a cruise along the Mondego River. Remainder of the day is free for your exploration of Coimbra.

Day 7 Monday 17 June (B,L) A rail free day today as we visit an ancient forest, have a farewell lunch at a historic hotel and then end the day with a leisurely cruise. First our coach will take us north (about 20 miles) to the National Forest of Buçaco. This is a magical place which was a monastic retreat as early as the 6th century. In 1628 the Carmelites built a house here, walling in the forest to keep the world at bay. In the secluded forest, the monks established contemplative walks, chapels and a unique collection of over 700 species of tree. Today the forest remains pretty much untouched with the fabulous Buçaco Forest Hotel at its centre. We can visit the forest, the remains of the Carmelite monastery (including a cell that Wellington slept in) and see the Fonte Fria cascade. We will have our fine “farewell” lunch at the hotel.  Mid-afternoon we re-join our coach to travel to Aveiro, also known as the Venice of Portugal. The town has a series of canals and fine Art Nouveau mansions. At the Ria de Aveiro lagoon, which covers 25 square miles, we join a boat trip to explore this unique backwater. This is known as the Rota da Luz “route of light” running between gleaming salt flats, pale beaches and sparkling ocean. We return to Coimbra early evening. Those travelling back to London St Pancras by rail depart this evening on the Sud-Express sleeper train.

Day 8 Tuesday 18 June (B) This morning we return to Porto Airport for our flights home. You may if you wish stay additional days for your own exploration of this area of Portugal.

This tour does have a reasonable amount of walking, including hills and steps. Some Portuguese railway stations still have low platforms.

Hotel

Hotel Vila Galé, Coimbra (7 nights)

Outward Flights

EZ1989 06.45 Manchester to Oporto
FR8343 09.25 Stansted to Oporto
EZ6147 10.15 Bristol to Oporto
TP331 13.00 Gatwick to Oporto
TP353 14.45 London City to Oporto
KLM 06.15 Birmingham to Oporto (via Amsterdam)

Overland Travel

07.55 St.Pancras to Paris
12.48 Paris to Hendaye
18.35 Hendaye to Coimbra (Sleeper)

Place(s) available
Holiday prices per person
  • Full 8 day holiday including flight from London Gatwick: £1,299 *
  • Full 9 day holiday overland from St Pancras: £1,599
  • Own travel to and from Coimbra: £1,099
Options
  • Single room Supplement (fly): £235
  • A supplement might apply to flights from airports other than London Gatwick
  • * with flight price might increase for late bookings
Deposit
  • £600 with flights, £300 joining in Portugal
Your holiday price includes
  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • Good quality en-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted from Lisbon
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