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      our holidays > Journeys in SlowMotion > Portugal > Cities, Palaces & Wines

Cities, Palaces & Wines

From colourful Porto to dazzling Sintra
Holiday information
Nights: 10
Accommodation: three 4-star hotels; one manor house; one historic hotel
Meals: 10 breakfasts, 2 dinners
Included extras: street plans and detailed notes for self-guided city walking tours included for cities; wine lodge visit & tasting
Starting point:

Your first two nights are spent in the vibrant city of Porto, where you stay at the Pestana Porto Hotel with its enviable riverside location right in the heart of the Ribeira district.

Day 1

Explore Porto using our self-guided city walk, then head across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia to learn about the history of port production – and indulge in a tasting or two – at one of the famous lodges.

Colourful Porto

Unpretentious, fascinating Porto sits by the River Douro, with layers of historic housing clambering up the hillside from its vibrant waterfront, the UNESCO-recognised Ribeira district. On the opposite bank, in Vila Nova de Gaia, the giant signs of Sandeman, Graham's and Cockburn emblazon the rooftops of the famous port lodges, waiting to open their prized barrels to the day's visitors. Everywhere is a maze of churches, museums, restaurants and tram lines, and we highly recommend a ride on electrico no.1 out to the pretty suburb of Foz do Douro, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Day 2

Take a scenic train journey upriver, right into the heart of the Douro’s wine country. Your hotel for the next two nights, the Casa do Visconde de Chanceleiros, is a converted manor house in a wonderful location – a real treat.

Day 3

Pay a visit to nearby Quinta de la Rosa to enhance your port knowledge with another tasting. After lunch in Pinhão, perhaps, you could take a boat trip further upriver to admire the vineyard terraces – a fabulous sight.

River of gold

Portugal's most picturesque train ride, the journey from Porto to Pinhão, follows the course of the Rio Douro (‘river of gold’) as it snakes its way up the valley towards the impossibly picturesque vine terraces that are the source of the area’s highly prized, crimson-coloured fortified wine. From Pinhão, riverside paths lead to family-owned quintas where grapes are still trodden by foot, and where flat-bottomed rabelo boats sit in calm waters, in stark contrast to the days when transporting barrels downriver was a far more perilous exercise.

Day 4

Return to Porto by rail and connect with a southbound train to Coimbra. Here you spend two nights at the Quinta das Lágrimas, a fabulous 14th-century mansion just across the river from the old town.

Elegant & studious Coimbra

Coimbra, formerly the Portuguese capital, is a fascinating if little-known city – a redoubtable seat of learning that is home to the country’s oldest and most prestigious university. Baroque palaces and churches lord it over pastel-fronted houses which tumble down the hillside towards a wonderful ‘old town’ – a maze of alleyways where elegant academic buildings are interspersed with a delightful jumble of flower-festooned balconies and hidden courtyards. Coimbra’s thriving student population helps to ensure an eclectic mix of bars and restaurants, and a lively, fun atmosphere for visitors.

Day 5

Explore the enchanting but little-known sights of Coimbra, Portugal’s former capital, then keep an ear out for an impromptu fado performance in the darkening streets and squares as night falls.

The fado tradition

A uniquely Portuguese style of folk music, fado (or ‘fate’) has different meanings for different people. For émigrés, it acts as a home-sick lament for the place they have left behind; while for outsiders, it can form a precious window into the nation’s soul. But for locals, whether listening to the exclusively male version in Coimbra or the slightly different style sung in Lisbon’s Alfama district or Bairro Alto, fado must enact the eternal themes of despair and loss, and a performance can only be deemed successful if it has moved its audience to tears.

Day 6

Continue south by train to reach Lisbon, the country’s flamboyant, modern-day capital, where your hotel, the Solar do Castelo, is built into the castle walls.

Slowly through Lisbon

Trundling along Lisbon's streets in a yellow tram built in the 1930s is a memorable introduction to Portugal's endlessly absorbing capital city. The no.28 creaks its way through atmospheric Alfama, a maze of narrow streets below Castelo São Jorge, before levelling out in aristocratic Baixo, characterised by noble squares, wide streets and monumental fountains. Then it climbs to reach the Bairro Alto, Lisbon's lovable ‘wild child’, whose tight network of bars has been the toast of this engaging and beautiful city for five centuries.

Day 7

In Lisbon, you are spoiled for choice: visit the castle, virtually next door; take a ride on one of the city’s iconic yellow trams; meander through enthralling neighbourhoods like Alfama, Chiado and Bairro Alto; and don’t forget a trip out to nearby Belém to admire the ornate Jerónimos Monastery and to taste those sensational Pasteis de Belém (egg custard tarts).

Pasteis de Belém

Chargrilled fish, cataplana (seafood stew), crisp vinho verde and 365 ways of preparing bacalhau (salted cod) – one for each day of the year. Yes, the Portuguese seem to have got simple and delicious food and wine down to a fine art. But as you approach the pastry shop in Belém, near Lisbon, any time between 8am and 11pm (midnight in summer), you will sense something special about to happen. For it is here that an ever-present queue of customers is quietly clamouring to sink its collective teeth into the revered pasteis de nata (egg custard tarts). The demand is such that they’re always warm – fresh from the oven and even tastier than you had imagined.

Day 8

Journey by train the short distance to Sintra, the former summer retreat of Portuguese nobility. Here you spend your last two nights at either Lawrence's Hotel or our upgrade option, the sumptuous Palacio de Seteais.

Day 9

Explore Sintra’s imposing Moorish Castle and its fabulous sights, including the wildly romantic Pena Palace. You could also take our walking route through the surrounding hills to the palace of Monserrate.

Sintra’s palaces & poets

The battlements of Sintra's Moorish Castle undulate across the hillsides like a European ‘Great Wall’, offering views of a landscape the Romans called 'Mountains of the Moon'. This is a world of flamboyant creations like the astonishing Pena Palace, with its fairy-tale onion domes, turrets and portcullises; and a former playground of kings and queens that became the darling of writers and poets. Lord Byron wrote of “Cintra's glorious Eden”, and it’s not hard to imagine why.

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