In many ways, Northern, or “Green” Spain, as it’s known, feels like a country apart. Lush and green, its oceanic climate differs significantly from the inner plateau of Spain. This region was also relatively less influenced by Moorish rule than the rest of Spain, and so many of its cultural influences are northern European – exemplified by its fine, well-preserved pre-Romanesque, Romanesque and Gothic art and architecture. Portugal shares a similar language, culture, and history; but its strong ties to the sea and the charming culture found in the cities of Porto and Lisbon distinguish it from its bigger neighbour.
Our 19-day tour roughly follows the route of the pilgrims on the Camino Francés, from the forward-thinking port city of Bilbao in the Basque country to Burgos and León, high on the plains of Castile. We’ll cross the mountains outside picturesque Oviedo and travel on to the Atlantic via the green fields of Celtic Galicia to the celebrated city of Santiago de Compostela. From here we leave Spain and journey south via Porto, with its stately bridges and fine port wine, to Portugal’s fascinating and often overlooked capital, Lisbon.
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Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
See the stunning titanium curves of architect Frank Gehry’s huge contemporary art gallery, which boasts both permanent and rotating exhibits.
The Bodega Ysios Winery
Visit this ‘temple dedicated to wine’ in the world-renowned Rioja wine region. Santiago Calatrava’s aluminium wave is superbly set against the rugged backdrop of the Sierra de Cantabria.
The Pilgrim’s Trail
Walk a section of the 800-km Camino Francés, a pilgrimage that ends at Santiago de Compostela, the burial place of the apostle St James. Meet pilgrims who are completing the trail, and explore the cities of Burgos and León on its route.
Outside Oviedo, explore two 9th-century pre-Romanesque churches that tell of over a millennium of worship. Set at the foot of the Naranco mountain, the countryside highlights their simplicity and austere design.
Admire the distinctive blue tin-glazed ceramic tiles or azulejos, which adorn buildings in Lisbon, Porto, and Sintra. At the National Tile Museum, marvel at a work of some 1300 tiles that depicts Lisbon prior to the 1755 earthquake.
The tour begins at our hotel in Bilbao and ends at our hotel in Lisbon. Emirates offer a service into Barcelona and home from Lisbon. A connecting flight with Vueling airlines is necessary from Barcelona to Bilbao to start the tour. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Friday 21 April – Arrival in Bilbao
If you wish to arrive prior to the tour to recover from jetlag, we recommend a few nights in Barcelona on our pre tour excursion (see separate sheet). After settling into the hotel, we convene for a welcome drink in the hotel reception before dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Bilbao (B, D)
Saturday 22 April – Guggenheim and Casco Viejo
Today we begin by exploring the striking Guggenheim Museum. Commissioned by the Basque government in 1991 to enliven Bilbao’s decrepit port area, the Guggenheim is known as much for its thrilling sculptural architecture as it is for its art exhibits. We also pay a visit to Bilbao’s renowned Museum of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes), before a mid-afternoon walking tour along the Nervión river to the Casco Viejo (old heart of the city) via the famous Calatrava bridge. Overnight Bilbao (B)
Sunday 23 April – San Sebastián
This morning we take a leisurely excursion by coach to discover the picturesque resort town of San Sebastián. We sample some of the famed local tapas and Txakoli wine before exploring the centre on foot with a local guide. After some free time to walk along the waterfront of the famed Bahia de la Concha, we join our coach trip back to Bilbao, admiring the sculpture of Eduardo Chillida en route. Overnight Bilbao (B, L)
Monday 24 April – La Rioja – To Castilla-León
Departing the Basque country, we head to the wine growing region of La Rioja. We stop for coffee in Laguardia, a medieval walled city perched on a rocky outcrop before our visit to the extraordinary Bodega Ysios winery. Designed by contemporary architect Santiago Calatrava, its Gaudí-inspired roof and mountain backdrop makes an excellent location for wine tasting. Afterwards we enjoy a typical bodega (winery) lunch at a smaller, more intimate, family-owned vineyard. Overnight Burgos (B, L)
Tuesday 25 April – Explore Burgos
This morning we explore the historic centre of a city at the heart of Spain’s history and a principal crossroads of the Camino de Santiago. Amongst other sites, we pause at the Casa del Cordón, where Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, the ‘Catholic Monarchs’, met with Columbus to endorse his voyages to the New World. We also see the World Heritage-listed Burgos Cathedral, built on the pilgrim’s route and inspired by the Gothic cathedrals of Paris and Reims. In the afternoon, we visit to the Abbey of Las Huelgas, a beautiful Cistercian monastery just outside the city centre. In the evening, after a talk in the hotel, you might like to sample the hearty local specialty, “Lechazo”, suckling lamb. Overnight Burgos. (B)
Wednesday 26 April – Pilgrim Route and Roman Mosaics
On our way to León, we pass pilgrims with their iconic staffs and scallop shells tied to their packs. We pause to admire the 11th-century Romanesque church at Frómista, with its fine carved capitals, built for the devotion of passing pilgrims. Closer to León, we stop at the Roman Villa of Olmeda to view superb Roman mosaics, buried for centuries. For lunch we sample one of the simple meals that hostelries provide on the Camino for hungry pilgrims. We’ll have time to explore the cloisters, basilica and museum of our hotel, the converted monastery of Real Colegiata, before dinner at Los Delirios, an experimental and highly regarded local restaurant. Overnight León (B, L, D)
Thursday 27 April – Explore León
Today we enjoy a walking tour of the well-preserved medieval centre of León. Our first stop will be the glorious French-style Gothic cathedral known as the ‘House of Light,’ with its fine carvings and huge rose windows. We also admire the well-preserved Romanesque murals of the Pantheon of San Isidoro. After lunch there is time to further explore either the Archaeological Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art. In the early evening we gather for a talk in the hotel. Overnight León (B)
Friday 28 April – To Asturias
This morning we cross the mountains to the enchanting city of Oviedo, where peacocks roam the well-tended parks and the squares are lined with Baroque palaces. After a walking tour of the centre, we venture to the edge of town to survey two beautiful 9th-century ‘pre-Romanesque’ churches. We enjoy an early evening meal in the Bulevar de la Sidra, ‘cider boulevard’ -and marvel at the waiters pouring this local speciality from a great height. Overnight Oviedo (B, D)
Saturday 29 April – The Picos de Europa
For some of Spain’s finest mountain scenery, we take a day trip to the dramatic Picos de Europa. We make the spectacular drive up to the Lakes of Covodonga and enjoy a rustic lunch in a mountain refuge. There is the option of a short walk around the lakes in the company of a local guide. Overnight Oviedo (B, L)
Sunday 30 April – Into Galicia
We drive the last leg of the Camino route to Santiago de Compostela. En route we visit Castro de Viladonga, a 1500-year-old excavated Celtic village that also features an interesting museum. We stop for lunch in Lugo, the only city in the world still surrounded by fully intact Roman walls, and work up an appetite by walking the fortifications. After our arrival in Santiago, we enjoy fine tapas at Abastos 2.0, a cutting-edge extension of the local market that uses excellent regional produce. Overnight Santiago (B, D)
Monday 1 May – Santiago de Compostela
Today we explore the beautiful urban area of Santiago de Compostela and witness the emotion of pilgrims arriving at the cathedral after a journey of over 800 kilometres. The Portico de la Gloria, the main facade, has carvings of 200 figures referring to the Apocalypse, and St James welcomes the pilgrims to their final destination. In the afternoon, there is the option of a leisurely walk along a pretty section of the Camino just outside Santiago. Overnight Santiago (B)
Tuesday 2 May – The Atlantic Coast
On our last full day in Spain we take an excursion to the beautiful coastline of the Rias Baixas (low estuaries), an area highly renowned for its albariño wine and seafood. We enjoy a tasting at the stately home of Pazo de Rubianes, and a walk through its camellia gardens before lunch at a Michelin-star-rated seafood restaurant. To aid digestion, we take a stroll along the coast to view the mussel farms. Overnight Santiago (B, L)
Wednesday 3 May – Into Portugal
Departing Galicia, we head south into Portugal to the World Heritage-listed city of Porto, also known as the ‘City of Bridges’. We take a short cruise along the Douro River and stop for a port tasting at the prestigious Ferreira cellars before dinner at a popular local restaurant. Overnight Porto (B, D)
Thursday 4 May – Porto
The day begins with a walking tour of the interior of Porto away from the river. We stop at the rail station to admire its vast tile mosaics, then explore the tiles of the spectacular cathedral cloisters and the Stock Exchange building. In the afternoon we have free time to enjoy the city. Overnight Porto (B)
Friday 5 May – Sintra
Today we depart for Lisbon, stopping to explore the city of Sintra, a unique combination of natural mountain beauty and fairytale palaces. The National Palace is easily distinguished by its two large conical chimneys, while the rest of the building consists of Manueline, Gothic and Moorish architectural styles with magnificent azulejos. Another treasure on our itinerary is the Convent of the Capuchos; appearing to emerge from the surrounding woodland, the Franciscan convent’s philosophy of austerity and poverty is visible in the simplicity of the tiny cells. Overnight Lisbon (B)
Saturday 6 May – Lisbon
This morning we pay homage to the Golden Age of Discovery and explore the borough of Belém. Commencing at Belém Tower, a 16th-century fortification at the mouth of the Tagus River which formed a vital part of Lisbon’s defences, we continue to the Discovery Monument, celebrating the location where explorers departed to the Far East to open up important trade routes. After a break for some fine Portuguese tarts, we visit the Jerónimos Monastery, where seafarers came to pray. In the afternoon we enjoy the Berardo Collection Museum which houses an extraordinary collection of art amassed by Portuguese billionaire José Berardo. There is a talk on the history of tiles before we enjoy dinner and a performance of Fado, a Portuguese musical genre dating from the early 19th century. Overnight Lisbon (B, D)
Sunday 7 May – Lapa
Our first visit today is to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, a fine private art collection featuring works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Dyke and Renoir. Next we make an excursion to view the National Tile Museum’s exquisite collection of azulejos, dating from the 15th century. The museum is housed in the monastic buildings of the Madre de Deus Convent, whose interiors are amongst the most magnificent in the city. Overnight Lisbon (B)
Monday 8 May – Alfama
We take an iconic yellow tram up to Alfama to view the Castle of São Jorge and enjoy its outstanding views over the city. We then meander down through the labyrinthine Moorish quarter, a truly emblematic part of the city. Alfama was largely spared in the earthquake of 1755 and is still a maze of narrow streets. We visit the Núcleo Arqueológico, an extraordinary archaeological site with remains dating from the Iron Age, hidden under a modern-day bank. We finish our trip with a farewell dinner in a prestigious local restaurant. Overnight Lisbon (B, D)
Tuesday 9 May – Departure
The tour concludes this morning after breakfast. Airport transfers are provided for anyone who has booked their flights with Academy Travel. (B)
Dr Jeni Ryde
A linguist and art history specialist, with a PhD focusing on Tourism, Heritage and Renaissance Studies.
Dr Jeni Ryde is a linguist and art history specialist with over fifteen years experience leading tours to Italy, Spain and Portugal. She is passionate about art, design and architecture both ancient and modern and particularly enjoys how both complement each other. Her special interests are the simplicity of the Romanesque and the breadth and depth of the Renaissance. When she is not traveling with Academy Travel she is able to indulge her interests in drawing, music and teaching the less fortunate.
Jeni holds two undergraduate degrees with majors in Anthropology and French and Interpreting and Translation with NAATI qualifications, two Masters degrees in Italian Linguistics and TESOL and a cross disciplinary PhD in Renaissance Art History, Tourism and Museum Management.
After an early career as an assistant director in film and television both for the ABC and BBC, she worked as an interpreter and translator and then as a senior lecturer at Western Sydney University with a focus on Italian language, history and culture. She was also head of the postgraduate programs in Languages and Interpreting and Translation. Teaching in Adult Education has included several courses in Renaissance Art History, the Italian language and Italian Cinema for U3A and other community organizations. Jeni speaks fluent Italian and Spanish and has an understanding of French and Portuguese.
Jeni first began designing and leading tours to Italy with her own company in 2002 in response to requests from travelers searching for small group tours with specific themes. She joined Academy Travel in 2009 and has since led many tours to various regions of Italy as well as Spain and Portugal.
We asked Jeni, what motivates you as a tour leader?
“I delight in being the catalyst for showing our travelers beautiful places and works of art and especially seeing their reactions – a tear in the eye before a moving painting, a sigh of wonder on entering a beautiful building, a gasp at the beauty of an exquisite landscape. This for me is the great privilege and reward of being an Academy Tour Leader.”
“Many travelers comment on my boundless energy and curiosity for paths less travelled. I like to think that people who travel with me are swept along by my waves of enthusiasm and are inspired to go beyond the obvious to explore and learn with me. I’m known for introducing many little surprises along the way! An added bonus for me is the shared experience of like-minded people enjoying each other’s company while traveling together.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.