Discover the delights of northern Spain and northern Portugal with this fabulous two week tour. Starting and finishing in Santander, the tour will head south to the enchanting city of Salamanca, before crossing into Portugal. Drive along lanes lined with olive groves, along the border towns, guarded by centuries-old castles. Discover the enthralling Serra da Estrela mountains, before turning north to the Douro Valley, where you can learn all about port wine production. Spend time in the wonderfully Dickensian city of Porto before spending a couple of days wending your way gently through the very north of Portugal and back into Spain. The final night of the tour will be in the awe-inspiring Picos de Europa mountains.
May be subject to change.
Leave Portsmouth on the overnight ferry to Santander. Ferries depart Portsmouth three times a week at 08.45, 17.00 or 17.15, depending on the day of the week or time of year. See www.brittany-ferries.co.uk for more information and bookings. The 08.15 departure is best for this itinerary.
Day 2 120 miles
Arrive in Santander (at 14.15 if the early ferry was taken from Portsmouth) and drive south to Palencia. Stay in a fabulous converted monastery on the Camino de Santiago pilgrims’ way.
Day 3 125 miles
Drive across country to Salamanca, one of Spain’s most fantastic cities. Salamanca is built almost entirely of the local sandstone, and dominated by its two cathedrals and university – the oldest in Spain, founded in 1215, and for four centuries the most important in the world. Stay in a superb hotel, right next to the old cathedral. There is secure underground parking. There are many restaurants in the city to choose for dinner.
Day 4 158 miles
Head west for Portugal, and wind your way up from the river frontier through steep terraces of olive groves. Visit the lovely citadel of Almeida and take a stroll along the castle walls. Continue south, past Guarda to Belmonte. Stay for the next two nights in a superb Parador, a former monastery, with lovely views across the valley.
Day 5 94 miles
A ‘must do’ drive today around part of the Serra da Estrela mountains. It is a wonderfully twisty road up to Manteigas, which then flattens out as you climb eventually up to Torre, Portugal’s highest mountain at a shade under 2000 metres. It is then a truly outstanding drive back, down Europe’s largest glacial valley. The lower reaches of the valley still have traditional thatched barns and farms and the views are wonderful.
Distance: 94 miles
Day 6 143 miles
Leave Belmonte and drive across the Serra da Estrela again. Enjoy a wander around the enchanting hillside village of Linhares, with its 12th century castle and pretty houses. Continue northwards to Trancoso, yet another charming village, encased in think, ancient walls, and while away some time over lunch and take a stroll round the medieval streets. In the afternoon drive to the Douro Valley, to Pinhao. Spend the next two nights at a idyllic riverside hotel.
A day off from driving today so try a short river cruise in a traditional boat up the Douro, which can be organised by the hotel. After visiting the gardens you will go to the vineyards to see the grapes being harvested (and take part). After a wine tasting there is a traditional lunch at a quinta (vineyard) and afterwards learn all about port wine production, from the picking and ‘smashing’ of the grapes right through to bottling. There will then be plenty of chance to indulge in some port sampling, and finish the day with a picnic in the gardens, before returning to the hotel.
Day 8 78 miles
Drive along the Douro Valley to Porto, on the coast. We shall be staying in another riverside hotel, this time a former palace, with room in an adjacent warehouse. The buildings have recently been converted into an incredibly stylish hotel.
Spend the day wandering around the beguiling city of Porto, one of Portugal’s oldest cities. Discover more about its history and culture by walking its well-signposted guide route, or experience a nostalgic journey with an old-fashioned tram ride to Foz, where the River Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Explore the riverside neighbourhood of the Ribeira Circuit and discover the Casa do Infante, the Trading Palace, or the renowned Rua Ferreira Borges and the well-preserved Rua de Miragaia. And, of course, take time to visit the Port wine lodges on the south bank in Gaia, home to famous names such as Grahams, Dows, Taylors and Cockburns.
Day 10 54 miles
Leave Porto and head north to Braga, Portugal’s ecclesiastical capital. The journey will then take you to the Baroque stairway and pilgrim church of Bom Jesus do Monte, one of Portugal’s best-known images. Then drive to Citania de Briteiros, an impressive archaeological area. Continue to Guimaraes, with its medievel centre, and birthplace of the first king of Portugal. Stay overnight in a modern, comfortable hotel, with garage parking, and also within walking distance of the old town. There is a spa and swimming pool here too.
Day 11 136 miles
Drive some superb roads to Vinhais and Braganca. On a hill above Braganca, the remote capital of Trás-os-Montes, stands a circle of perfectly preserved walls, enclosing a white medieval village and rising to a massive keep and castle. Known as the Cidadela, this is one of the most memorable sights in Portugal. Stay overnight in a lovely pousada overlooking the castle.
Day 12 223 miles
Leave Portugal behind and start the northwards journey home. However, the best is far from over. The entire drive today is lovely, but culminates in the amazing Picos de Europa mountain range. The Picos are a compact mountain range, no more than 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, and not far from the coast, but the limestone mass gives the area a ‘violent’ topography, with dramatic canyons, caves, and superb mountain rock folds. Stay at a fabulous mountain-top parador.
Day 13 82 miles
A lovely drive to Santander, firstly through the incredible gorge of Hermida and then down to the sea. Meander through the fishing village island of San Vicente, the pretty cobbled streets of Comillas, and wander the narrow streets of the chocolate-box village of Santillana del Mar, with its picturesque houses and stunning Romanesque church. The home-bound ferry departs from Santander at 14.15, 15.15 or 20.30, depending on day of the week or time of year.
Arrive in Portsmouth and depart for home.
We have hand-picked some really delightful and charming hotels, each with unique character. There are converted monasteries, old palaces, former riverside warehouses, Pousadas and Paradors – with a great history and story to tell. Each hotel has good parking, lovely rooms and that ‘something special’ about it, yet all giving you an excellent flavour of northern Portugal and Spain.
- Each person must have a passport (and any necessary visas for non-EU passport holders) valid for Spain, and Portugal and any other countries you may visit to participate on the tour. All passports must be valid for six months after the end of the tour
- You will also need your vehicle registration documents, driving licence (a photo-card licence or international permit is best), and international insurance cover.
- Please check your travel and motor insurance that you are covered for travel in the required countries.
- You are also required to safety equipment: carry a warning triangle, first-aid kit, fluorescent jackets, set of replacement bulbs and a national identification sticker.