An insider's guide to Grand Designs of Portugal
European Product Manager Alison Porter gives us an insight into why she believes that our Grand Designs of Portugal tour is a must for those looking for a new European adventure filled with history, culture and good food and drink...
Tell us about this escorted tour to Portugal...
This a tour that takes you deeper into Portugal’s fascinating history and culture to explore off the beaten track. You will discover ancient towns, wild landscapes and the rugged Serra Da Estrella mountains and local culture from handmade carpet making to local costumes all topped off with Port tasting in the pretty city of Porto.
What makes Portugal such a special destination?
Everyone always remarks about the friendly Portuguese people, who have had some a struggle in the past decades, but for me it was the diversity of the regions we journeyed through.
From sleep farming towns to elegant ones dominated by glistening marble palaces and ornate buildings. Then into flat, wooded plains and up into the majestic Serra Da Estrella mountains with crisp air and rolling craggy scenery.
Then as you venture towards the coast, the towns become more modern. They boast elegant squares and narrow streets lined with small shops full of local products and bars and restaurants serving simple local food, such as freshly caught sardines - the smell wafts around the corners as lunchtime draws close.
What are your favourite highlights from this tour?
I was fascinated by the visit to the Ducal palace of Vila Vicosa. The marble building is huge and sits on a large impressive square with pretty formal gardens to explore after the tour.
The rooms were huge and the walls lined with imposing paintings and elaborate hangings but the history kept intertwining back in with our UK past and there were links to Queen Victoria and her family as well as past queens of England who had been born in the palace. The connections brought the Portuguese history to life.
Did you know that they harvest cork from cork trees in Portugal and process it into corks? As wine bottles move to using screw tops, the cork industry has adapted and now makes all sorts of products out of the material from lamp shades to wallets to handbags and sandals. A perfect, light souvenir to bring home.
What speciality dishes can people look forward to trying?
Beyond the obvious Portuguese custard tarts, which are a dream of flakey pastry, creamy custard and a wisp of nutmeg, the local specialty recommended to try was the roast black pork dish of the Alentejo region. Succulent black skinned pork, served with local greens and a tasty sauce.
“...a dream of flaky pastry, creamy custard and a wisp of nutmeg”
A traditional sweet in the Ovos Moles, a wafer type mouthful packed full of creamy custard- a traditional treat in the seaside town of Aveiro and shaped like shells as a local symbol. They will wrap a box for you to bring home and enjoy with family or friends on your return.
Do you have any tips for travellers who are thinking of taking this escorted tour to Portugal?
Go ready with layers as the warm October Portuguese weather surprised me but nearer the coast and in the evenings, it was often breezier and a jumper or light jacket was required
What would you choose to do on days where you have some free time?
In my free time I would make the most of the historic hotels we stayed in – Government owned “Pousadas”. These are former historic buildings that have been taken over and lovingly renovated to make an enchanting place to stay in whilst visiting the country- a bit more exciting than a normal hotel and known for championing local cuisine. You can relax and enjoy the facilities with many having a small pool and terrace to enjoy.
And finally, for any travellers who have already been to Portugal, why should they return on this tour?
As already said, this is more off the beaten track and uncovers the lesser-known Portugal. You get the opportunity to really understand the history of Portugal that has shaped its culture and cuisine and see so many different things, all in one trip.
Find out more about our Grand Designs of Portugal escorted tour.
Alison has worked in the travel business for more than 20 years. Her holiday highlights include a Kenyan safari, chatting with Barbadian cricket legend Sir Garfield Sobers at a match in Bridgetown, and watching baby black-tipped reef sharks chasing waves in the Maldives.
Alison | About the author
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