Secrets of the Iberian Peninsula

An enthralling newcomer to our growing Undiscovered Europe portfolio, Secrets of the Iberian Peninsula, as its title suggests, unveils a wealth of hidden gems in a timeless corner of Europe. This is a journey that stretches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in an exploration of the intricate and ancient melting pot of the Christians and the Moors.

The tour starts in Lisbon, Portugal where we discover a city that is one of the most vibrant in Europe: where the past and future of an entire municipality was shaped by the great earthquake of 1755. We then head north to arguably the most famous city on the peninsula, Porto. This is where port wine was developed, and today charming wine lodges dot the beautiful Douro valley. It is here that we board the Linha do Douro Railway for one of Europe’s most scenic train journeys which takes us into the very heart of Northern Portugal. We then head for the medieval cradles of Braga and Guimarães, before crossing into Spain and onto the magnificent golden hues of Salamanca. A UNESCO site since 1988, this great university town, quintessentially Spanish, combines an irrepressible youthful energy with intellectual ambience and innate aesthetic beauty. Arriving into Madrid we use the great Spanish capital as a base to discover Toledo and Aranjuez, using the much-vaunted Strawberry Train. After our stay in Madrid we head south to the lands of Flamenco and Moors. Continuing south we visit the great cities of Seville and Granada, the latter home of the extraordinary Alhambra Palace. We then travel north-east to the Mediterranean and the wonderful city of Valencia, where antiquity and modernity fuse seamlessly. Finally, we continue north to Barcelona, capital of Catalunya and home to Picasso, Miró and the great architect Antoni Gaudí. Secrets of the Iberian Peninsula evokes the spirits of the untouched corners of one of the world’s greatest arenas.

Tour Fitness Level: Active

Highlights

Portugal

  • See Portugal’s ‘Glorious Eden’, Sintra
  • Explore the fairy-tale Pena Palace
  • 3-night stay in JK Rowling’s inspirational city, Porto
  • Ride the Linha do Douro Railway into the Douro Valley
  • Stay a night in Portugal’s medieval cradle, Guimaraes

Spain

  • See the golden hues of Salamanca at sunset
  • Stroll through Madrid’s majestic central square, Plaza Mayo
  • Visit one of the greatest art collections in the world at Museo del Prado
  • Wander through the architectural wonders of Toledo
  • Ride the Strawberry Train to Aranjuez
  • Hear the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo
  • Marvel at Cordoba’s Mezquita
  • See the greatest flamenco show in the world in Seville
  • Explore the magnificent Alhambra Palace in Granada
  • Stay in Valencia, the sparkling gem on the Mediterranean
  • See Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
  • Wander through Barcelona’s eclectic Las Ramblas

Inclusions

  • All flights between Australia and Portugal/Spain and Australia
  • All ticketable air taxes (may be subject to change)
  • All transfers
  • All ground transport
  • All accommodation (twin-share)
  • All meals as specified
  • Travel Directors’ tour leader throughout
  • Expert local guides
  • All entrance fees in specified sightseeing
  • All tips and gratuities

Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $3,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.

Itinerary

14/09/2019 Australia – Dubai

Depart from your chosen capital city on your flight to Dubai.

15/09/2019 Dubai – Lisbon (LD)

Depart Dubai Emirates EK 191, 07.25

Arrive Lisbon 12.25

One of the most charismatic and vibrant cities of Europe, Lisbon effortlessly blends deep-rooted heritage with an embracing liberal atmosphere, yet astonishingly is still one of Europe’s least visited capitals. In 1755 Lisbon experienced a cataclysmic earthquake followed by a massive tsunami that virtually engulfed the city. This event, which virtually decimated the city, created the first seismically protected buildings in the world and helped shape and define the stunning capital of Portugal. On arrival in Lisbon we transfer to our hotel on the edge of the historic Alfama district.

Atlis Avenida Hotel

Lisbon

16/09/2019 Lisbon (BLD)

The ancient Alfama district of Lisbon is comprised of a labyrinth of narrow streets that climb the hill from the Tejo estuary up to the great castle. Traditionally the poorest region of the capital, Alfama was originally outside the city walls and it developed into a deprived area where sailors and dock workers lived in grim squalor. Today, Alfama is a traffic free neighbourhood that has been revitalised into one of the trendiest and most captivating areas of Lisbon. This morning we take a walking tour of the Alfama district where we discover family run cafes, boutique shops and eclectic bars hidden in the maze of cobbled streets and ancient crumbling buildings. In the afternoon we jump aboard Lisbon’s Remodelado trams which date back to the 1930s. These historic yellow trams rattle and screech through the narrow streets of the city on steep undulating tracks and around tight corners. Indeed, the Remodelado’s tram tracks are the world’s steepest, while the turning circle of a single carriage only just clears the edges of the ancient overhanging buildings.

17/09/2019 Lisbon – Sintra – Lisbon (BLD)

Today we walk to nearby Rossio Station and depart for the short journey to Sintra. Located some 30 kilometres from the capital, this UNESCO World Heritage site is nestled in the lush hills close to the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by dense forests, this cool haven was the summer retreat of the Portuguese royals. British poet Lord Byron, seduced by the romantic architecture, regal gardens and cobblestone streets, once described Sintra as ‘a glorious Eden’. The town boasts the beautiful National Palace, which was built by the Moors in the Middle Ages as well as the royal residence, the Pena Palace. Impossibly located on top of a hill, this fairy-tale royal residence with its pink and yellow towers, ornamental buttresses and cartoonish gargoyles, is the epitome of German Romantic architecture.

18/09/2019 Lisbon – Porto (BLD)

After breakfast this morning we transfer to the Lisbon’s Oriente railway station for our three-hour train journey to Porto.

Depart Lisbon Train 2, 09.39

Arrive Porto 12.39

With its medieval heart, contemporary buzz, and magnificent churches laced with gold leaf, Portugal’s second city exudes a special charm. Lying on the confluence of the Douro River and the Atlantic Ocean, this inspirational fort city provides wonderful walks that take us across the city’s defining Dom Luís I Bridge and along the waterfront to the Ribeira, the magnificent medieval part of the town. Here, many rabelo boats that traditionally transported barrels of port from the vineyards upstream can be seen as well as the wonderful multi-coloured facades of houses dating from the Middle Ages. A steep incline brings us to the baroque São Francisco church. The interior is adorned with gold leaf brought back from Brazil when Portuguese power was at its zenith. Continuing our exploration of Porto we visit the wonderful food market of Mercado do Bolhão. In the afternoon we cross to the other side of the river to the port wine lodges where we sample the product that has made Porto world famous.

Pestana Vintage Hotel

Porto

19/09/2019 Porto – Douro Valley – Porto (BLD)

After breakfast we board the Linha do Douro railway for a journey that will take us through the Douro Valley, an area that conceals some of the most beautiful natural scenery of northern Portugal. The line then snakes along the meandering Douro River forming one of the most beautiful train journeys in Europe. Upon arrival in Pinhão we board a boat that will take us back to Porto via a series of high dams and through to an exquisitely beautiful stretch at the confluence of the Tua and Douro Rivers.

20/09/2019 Porto – Braga – Guimarães (BLD)

Today we head to Braga, which was known to the Romans as Bracara Augusta and was for centuries the religious capital of Portugal. On arrival we visit the Bom Jesus Sanctuary, a hilltop pilgrimage site that features one of the most glorious stairways on the Iberian Peninsula. We then continue to Guimaraes, the medieval cradle of Portugal. This was the first city of the country and its extensive history is reflected in the variety of national monuments and historic buildings found within its walls.

Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes

Guimarães

21/09/2019 Guimarães – Salamanca (BLD)

The remarkably preserved Guimaraes citadel is over 1000 years old and was built atop a hill to defend the city from the Moors and the Normans. The key battle of São Mamede took place here in 1128 and is considered the seminal event that ensured Portugal’s independence: thus the castle is now one of the greatest historical symbols of Portugal. This morning we explore the castle and its surrounds and after lunch we cross into Spain and continue onto Salamanca.

Abba Fonseca Hotel

Salamanca

22/09/2019 Salamanca (BLD)

Besieged by Hannibal, then ruled by Rome, Salamanca was defined in the early 13th century by the founding of its great university which rivals, in historic importance, that of Oxford, Cambridge and Bologna. The city strides the banks of the Tormes River, with its Roman bridge and narrow cobblestone roads bestowing a beautiful medieval appearance. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988, Salamanca’s intricately carved golden sandstone churches, palaces and plazas blaze in the sun high above the river and are magically lit through the night. This quintessentially Spanish city combines an irrepressible youthful energy with intellectual ambiance and innate aesthetic beauty. We commence our exploration of the city at the vast arcaded space of Plaza Mayor and continue across the Roman Bridge and through the labyrinth of sandstone antiquities, until sunset bathes the city in a surreal glow.

23/09/2019 Salamanca – Madrid (BLD)

After breakfast we board our coach for the 215km drive to Madrid. Spain’s capital lies in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, 646 metres above sea level. The city has a population of three million and has traditionally been the connecting point between all parts of Iberia. It is the seat of the Spanish government and the city of residence of Spanish Royal family. On arrival into Madrid we transfer to our hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure.

Hotel Paseo de Arte

Madrid

24/09/2019 Madrid (BLD)

Today we explore Plaza Mayo, Madrid’s grand central square, a magnificent combination of imposing architecture and vibrant street life. We then explore one of the world’s greatest art galleries, the Museo del Prado, which houses more than 7,000 paintings. Among these are the great Spanish paintings of Velázquez and Goya as well as sophisticated works of art from all over Europe. In the afternoon we visit the magnificent gardens of El Retiro, where marble monuments and elegant palaces sit amidst landscaped lawns.

25/09/2019 Madrid – Toledo – Madrid (BLD)

Populated since the Bronze Age, Toledo is a magnificent city that sits on top of a gorge overlooking the Río Tajo. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage as a former capital of the Spanish Empire. This morning we head south to Toledo and enjoy a tour of all the famous sights including the great cathedral, the monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, the New Gate of Bisagra and the Bridge of San Martin. We also visit the church of Santo Tome to see one of the world’s most famous paintings – El Greco’s masterpiece, ‘The Burial of Count Orgaz’. After lunch we enjoy some free time to continue exploring Toledo before returning to Madrid.

26/09/2019 Madrid – Aranjuez – Madrid (BLD)

In 1851, Isabella II opened Madrid’s first railway line, the second one on the peninsula, to connect the Royal Palace in Aranjuez with the capital. Known as Tren de la Fresa (Strawberry Train), as it originally travelled past vast fields of strawberries en route, it is pulled by a 289-015 electric locomotive, and every year in spring and autumn this classic rail excursion departs from Madrid for the 50-minute journey to Aranjuez. Walking around Aranjuez, it is easy to understand how, in 1939, the place inspired Joaquín Rodrigo to compose the Concierto de Aranjuez, which has become one of the most popular concertos in the world. Aranjuez is an elegant town that boasts a sumptuous summer palace surrounded by ornamental gardens, as well as beautiful squares, churches, convents and grand houses. We enjoy a comprehensive walking tour of this lovely town before returning by train to Madrid.

27/09/2019 Madrid – Cordoba – Seville (BLD)

This morning we drive to Seville via Cordoba. Once the largest city of Roman Spain, Cordoba later formed the heart of the western Islamic empire. On arrival we explore the medieval part of the city which is a fantastic warren of narrow streets surrounding the magnificent Mezquita. The lavishly decorated mosque evokes days gone by when Cordoba was at the crossroads of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. An infinitely walkable city the town centre is compact yet has a vibrancy that defies its size. We pass silent plazas, hidden, tree-lined courtyards and unexpected symbols of sophisticated Islamic culture. In the afternoon we make the short drive to Seville.

Casa Romana

Seville

28/09/2019 Seville (BLD)

Seville is the capital city of Andalusia in the south of Spain and is located in the valley of the Guadalquivir River. The river, with 60 navigable kilometres, was an important harbour during the Spanish conquest of the American continent. Birthplace of flamenco, this is a city that is a veritable treasure trove of monuments. Today we explore this Moorish gem starting at the world’s third largest cathedral and the astonishing palace of Real Alcazar, before heading into the magical labyrinth that is Barrio de Santa Cruz.

29/09/2019 Seville (BLD)

After breakfast we cross the Guadalquivir River to the remarkable neighbourhood of Triana. The real birthplace of flamenco dance and ceramic art, Triana is still home to celebrated bullfighters, distinguished potters, historic sailors and flamenco guitarists and singers. This inspirational neighbourhood has, and still does, embrace and encourage vocations, trades, and craftsmanship.

30/09/2019 Seville – Granada (BLD)

This morning we head to the railway station for our journey to one of Spain’s most scenic cities, the great Moorish stronghold of Granada.

Depart Seville Train 42, 11.45

Arrive Granada 15.12

Perched in a dramatic setting at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and crowned by the magnificent Alhambra Palace, Granada was the last bastion of Al-Andalus, the southern section of Iberia that was conquered by North Africans in AD711 and ruled by them for four centuries. Indeed the Nasrids had taken up residence in the Alhambra where they reigned for more than 250 years, before finally succumbing to the besieging Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, in 1492. It was the last city to fall and today the Alhambra is Granada’s – and Europe’s – love letter to Moorish culture. In the afternoon we explore this great Spanish icon and, in the evening, we actually stay within the palace complex.

Hotel Alhambra Palace

Granada

01/10/2019 Granada – Valencia (BLD)

This morning we leave Granada for our journey to Spain’s third largest city, the wonderful hidden gem of authentic Spanish culture, Valencia. As we drive north-east to to the coast we pass through changing landscapes of green pastures, mountains and red-earth villages. Huge orange groves then start to dot the panorama signalling our imminent arrival into the Mediterranean city of Valencia.

Vincci Lys Hotel

Valencia

02/10/2019 Valencia (BLD)

Walking around Valencia, we feel the pulse of many centuries in its ancient walls and quaint cobbled streets. From the remains of the Roman forum and in the Plaza de la Virgen which gave rise to Valencia, to the emblematic Arts and Sciences Centre, the city has transformed its appearance whilst rescuing monuments that are witness to past eras. Today Valencia has diverted its flood-prone river, Turia, to the outskirts of town and the land created from this diversion is now a green park that winds its way like a beautiful green serpent through the centre of the city.

03/10/2019 Valencia – Barcelona (BLD)

After breakfast we transfer to the railway station for the three-hour journey to Barcelona.

Depart Valencia Train 34, 08.30

Arrive Barcelona 11.41

Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya and as such has its own unique culture, traditions and personality. Few European cities can offer such a wide diversity of cultural experience. Many great painters and artists worked here at some time and their influence is still evident throughout the city. Picasso and Miró, for instance, both have museums dedicated to some of their more important works, and Antoni Gaudí’s unique and distinctive style of modern architecture is found all over Barcelona, including his masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia. Yet Barcelona’s architectural treasures span 2000-plus years. Towering temple columns, ancient city walls and subterranean stone corridors provide a window into Roman-era Barcino.

Jazz Hotel

Barcelona

04/10/2019 Barcelona (BLD)

Today we stroll through the city’s Middle Ages as we explore the shadowy lanes of the Gothic quarter, which are home to tranquil plazas and soaring 14th-century cathedrals. In the evening we board a boat to enjoy the rich colours of a Mediterranean sunset.

05/10/2019 Barcelona (BLD)

Among the startling and diverse architectural treasures in Barcelona, is Casa Amatller. Built for chocolate baron Antoni Amatller, this playful building is one of Puig i Cadafalch’s finest creations. Inspired by 17th-century Dutch townhouses, it has a distinctive stepped Flemish pediment covered in shiny ceramics, while the lower façade and doorway are decorated with lively sculptures by Eusebi Arnau. These include chocolatiers at work, almond trees and blossoms. Besides chocolate, Amatller’s other great love was photography. His daughter later converted the family home into an art institute and archive for her father’s vast collections. Today we explore Casa Amatller and some of the other wonderful examples of architectural brilliance in Spain’s second city.

06/10/2019 Barcelona – Dubai (B)

This morning is at leisure before we transfer to the airport for our homeward flight.

Depart Barcelona EK 186, 15.30

Arrive Dubai 00.15

07/10/2019 Dubai – Australia

Arrive Dubai 04.50

On arrival in Dubai we connect with the flight to our chosen Australian city.