Spain and Portugal Tour
Day 1 DEPARTURE to MADRID
We board our overnight flight to Madrid, with meal service en route.
Day 2 MADRID
Arrival in Madrid, and after luggage retrieval and customs, we’ll be met by our USIT tour conductor and our city guide and board the coach for our transfer to the city. Madrid is the capital of Spain, is located in the heart of the peninsula and right in the center of the Castilian plain 1800 feet above sea level, with a population of over three million. It’s a cosmopolitan city, a business center, and headquarters for the Public Administration, Government, Spanish Parliament and the home of the Spanish Royal Family. As it is too early for check-in, we’ll start with a panoramic tour of the city, ending at the famous Prado Museum (adm. Incl.) midafternoon. At 6:00 PM, we’ll leave the museum to check into our hotel, and shortly thereafter, we’ll go to dinner at a nearby restaurant (incl.)
Day 3 MADRID
After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll start our guided tour by visiting the Plaza Mayor, close by the hotel. Inaugurated in 1620, this large rectangular, stone paved plaza with its ground floor arcades underwent its last remodeling in 1853 by Juan de Villanueva. Until the last century, the Plaza Mayor was used as a marketplace on weekdays and was the scene of popular events from bullfights to public announcement of sentences during the Inquisition, religious processions, public executions and dance and theater festivals. The most striking building in the Plaza Mayor is the Casa de la Panadería (Bakery house), with its colorful fresco-adorned façade. On the opposite side of the square is the Casa de la Carnicería. This former butcher shop now houses Municipal offices. We go on to walk through the area, seeing the Palacio de Santa Cruz, Mercado de San Miguel, and the Plaza de la Villa. Lunch is on our own and time to explore in the in the area. Then we proceed to the Royal Palace, the Palacio Real for a tour. The palace is one of the most beautiful in Europe, especially its architecture and gardens. There are also excellent frescos inside the palace by Tiépolo, and paintings by Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco, Juan de Flandes and Caravaggio, among others. We’ll also see the Almudena Cathedral nearby. Dinner is on our own, with a large variety of restaurants at the nearby Plaza Mayor from which to choose. Possible concert tonight.
Day 4 MADRID/SEVILLE
After a leisurely breakfast, we transfer to Madrid Puerta De Atocha train station to take the TGV (high-speed train) to Seville’s Santa Justa Station. Seville is in the heart of Andalusia. We’ll have lunch in the area before starting our panoramic tour of Seville. First we’ll discover the architecture of 1929 in Seville when the IberoAmerican Exhibition took place in the capital of Andalusia. Next is Plaza de España, one of the country’s most spectacular. Plazas de España was the centerpiece of the 1929 Spanish-Americas Fair. It boasts fountains and mini-canals and is surrounded by a display of tile work representing all the provinces of Spain. If we need a break from the city, we’ll head into the tranquillity of the adjoining Parque de María Luisa, only a 10-minute walk east of the cathedral. On the way to the Plaza de España, we will see the city’s old tobacco factory that was the setting for Bizet’s Carmen. Today it’s a part of Seville University, and is open to the public during daylight hours. Then we coach to the Plaza de America and the Pabellon Mudejar, located by the Maria Luisa Gardens. We continue to the city center where we’ll visit the Alcazar Royal Palace, the oldest Spanish King’s residence. This was a fortress from the Muslim era (dating from AD 913), which served as a hideout of Muslim and Christian royalty for many centuries. It’s a fantastic example of the Moorish style: tiles, mosaics, ceilings, courtyards and Arabic and Renaissance gardens. We’ll see the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza. It’s well worth a visit, since Seville’s bullring is one of the oldest (1758) and most famous in Spain. The tour will finish at the Santa Cruz Quarter, the Jewish district with narrow streets and small squares with orange trees and flowers. Then we check in at the hotel. Our evening is comprised of dinner and a Flemenco Show at 7:00 PM (incl.) at a local restaurant. We’ll depart the hotel at 6:45 PM.
Day 5 SEVILLE
First we visit Seville’s immense cathedral, one of the biggest in the world: it was built on the site of Muslim Seville’s main mosque between 1401 and 1507. One highlight of the cathedral’s lavish interior is Christopher Columbus’ supposed tomb inside the south door. The tower that adjoins the Cathedral is La Giralda. It was the mosque’s minaret and dates from the 12th century. Those who wish can climb up the tower for a panoramic view, using the same ticket as for the cathedral. Then we move on to the Golden Tower. On the banks of the River Guadalquivir stands the Torre de Oro, which today represents one of Seville’s major landmarks. It houses important documents related to the nautical history of Seville. The Moors originally built it as a way to close access to the harbour by stretching a chain across the mouth of the harbor. Lunch is on our own and the afternoon is free to explore and relax on our own. Dinner is on our own. Possible concert tonight in the cathedral.
Day 6 SEVILLE/LISBON
Today is a long day on the coach, making our way to Lisbon, but there is much to see, so we’ll leave around 9:00 AM from the hotel. We travel west on the highway, passing stretches of olive groves before rejoining the Mediterranean. We’ll stop for lunch in Quarteira along the beach before continuing north towards Lisbon. We’ll take the motorway through the southwest mountains of Portugal, passing verdant forests with unique species of trees as we wend our way north. By about 3:00 PM, we arrive in Evora, which is one of Portugal’s most delightful towns. In addition to its spacious town square with shops, restaurants, and cafes, it is an “open-air museum” with a large number of well-preserved monuments, including its cathedral, a Roman temple, and the 15th century Loios Convent with Gothic church. Evora is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leaving Evora, we drive the last leg of our day, arriving in Lisbon around 7:00 PM to check into our 4* hotel on the main square in Lisbon. Dinner is provided at the hotel
Day 7 LISBON
After a late breakfast at the hotel, we’ll start our half-day walking tour of Lisbon from the hotel at 10:00 AM. We’ll walk through the medieval Alfama district, a village within the city, still made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses, and up to St. George’s Castle, dating from the 6th century, overlooking the city (adm. Incl.). There are many churches in Lisbon, foremost among them are the cathedral, the oldest building in Lisbon, dating from 1150 AD, and we will visit the cathedral this morning. Then we’ll visit the amazing Jeronimos Monastery. This monastery, dedicated to St. Jerome, is the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. King Manuel I built it in 1502 on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India. We’ll also go by the Belem Tower and the Discoveries Monument. After lunch on our own, we’ll drive through the coastal town of Cascais, with its beautiful beaches, and on to the lighthouse at Cabo Roca, with its pounding Atlantic surf. Return to the hotel. Shortly thereafter, we arrive at the royal town of Sintra, hidden in the lush mountain forests. The Romans made it a place of cult moon worship and named it “Cynthia” after the goddess of the moon. They were followed by the Moors who also fell in love with the lush vegetation and built a hilltop castle, a palace, and several fountains around the town. Later it became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and attracted a number of wealthy aristocrats who built huge mansions and villas. Dinner is on our own. Possible concert in the cathedral or the Jeronimos Monastery.
Day 8 LISBON to PORTO
This morning we board the coach early for our trip north to Porto. On the way, we’ll stop to visit to visit the Batalha Monastery (Mosteiro da Batalha), erected in commemoration of the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota, to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians. It took over a century to build, starting in 1386 and ending circa 1517, and it’s one of the most important Gothic sites in Portugal. This is one of our concert sites. We arrive Fatima around lunchtime, and we’ll have lunch on our own. We’ll tour Our Lady of Fatima Basilica, and the tombs of the visionaries. This national shrine is the site where three young peasant shepherds spied a “lady brighter than the sun,” which was, many believe, the first of six apparitions of the Virgin Mary in this region of Portugal. There is an afternoon mass in English, and we hope to participate and then sing a concert. After the concert, we board the coaches to continue to Porto, arriving for dinner.
Day 9 PORTO TO SALAMANCA
This morning, we’ll take a brief tour of Porto, including a cruise on River Douro to see the city from the water, including the city’s six bridges, before departing for Salamanca, Spain. We arrive there in the early afternoon, and after lunch on our own, we tour the city. We’ll start with the historic Plaza Major, where we’ll hear about the major historic events of Salamanca, followed by visits to the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral. The interior architecture and decorations of the New Cathedral are rich and elegant, and we’ll see three of the chapels: the Golden Chapel, the Chapel of the Veil and the Chapel of Saint Roque.
Day 10 MADRID/ HOME
We depart the hotel for the airport to arrive at least 2 hours prior to our departure time.