Northern Spain and Portugal have distinctive cultures and preserve the keystones of Europe’s history. This 19-day tour explores these regions in depth, from the Romanesque chapels, cathedrals and cloisters in Castilla, Leon and Asturias that bear witness to the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula, to the devotion of pilgrims on the Camino. We continue to the Age of Discovery in Lisbon – once the centre of the world’s first global trading empire – and the modern revival epitomised by Bilbao’s stunning contemporary architecture. The tour is complemented by visits to premier wine regions and dining in some of Spain’s finest restaurants.
Frank Gehry’s extraordinary design at the Guggenheim in Bilbao
Wine-tasting at the avant-garde Bodega Ysios winery in the Rioja
The exquisite Romanesque and Gothic churches and cathedrals along the Camino
A mountain walk and lunch in the clear air of the majestic Picos de Europa in Asturias
Fine tapas in San Sebastian, and Spain’s most renowned seafood restaurant in Galicia
An exceptional range of museums and galleries in Lisbon
A visit to Sintra exploring exquisite palaces decorated with tiles
Days 1–3: In Bilbao, visit Gehry’s Guggenheim, the Museum of Fine Arts and San Sebastian.
Days 4–7: Explore the Rioja wine region, plus Burgos and Leon on the Camino trail: their Gothic cathedrals and Romanesque churches.
Days 8–10: Discover elegant Oviedo, walk its well-preserved old town and sample the local cider. Excursion to Picos de Europa.
Days 11–13: Arrive in spectacular Santiago de Compostela and enjoy seafood and wine in Rias Baixas.
Days 14–19: Travel to Portugal, with two nights in Porto and ample time in vibrant Lisbon, surveying leading art galleries and the Age of Discovery.
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 May 6: Bilbao
Our tour starts in Bilbao today. We recommend taking an early evening flight from Barcelona to Bilbao with Vueling airlines which connects with flights arriving from Australia. The group airport transfer will coincide with this flight. If you wish to arrive prior to the tour to recover from jetlag, we recommend a few nights in Barcelona. After settling in to our hotel across the river from the Guggenheim, we meet for a welcome drink in hotel reception and then walk to dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Bilbao (B, D)
Saturday May 7: Guggenheim and Casco Viejo
Today we explore the striking Guggenheim museum by Frank Gehry. In 1991 the Basque government commissioned Gehry to build a work to enliven Bilbao’s decrepit port area and the result was a work that has been celebrated by critics and the general public alike. 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 May 8: 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 on the way. Overnight Bilbao (B, Tapas)
Monday May 9: La Rioja – To Castilla-Leon
Departing the Basque country, we head by coach to the wine growing region of La Rioja. We stop in Laguardia for coffee, a medieval walled city perched on a rocky outcrop and have time to explore here before a visit to the contemporary architect Santiago Calatrava’s extraordinary Bodega Ysios winery. This impressive building, with its Gaudí inspired roof and superb mountain backdrop, is an excellent location for our wine tasting. Lunch will be a typical bodega (winery) lunch at a smaller more intimate family owned vineyard. We arrive at Burgos in the late afternoon, our destination for the next two nights. Overnight Burgos (B, L)
Tuesday May 10: Explore Burgos
We set off on foot to explore the historic centre of a city at the heart of Spain’s history and a principle crossroads of the Camino de Santiago. Amongst other sites we pause outside the Casa del Cordόn, where Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, the ‘Catholic Monarchs’, met with Colombus and endorsed his voyages to the New World, and the world heritage Gothic cathedral, built on the pilgrim’s route and inspired by the cathedrals of Paris and Reims. In the afternoon, we pay a 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- ask the tour leader for a restaurant recommendation. Overnight Burgos. (B)
Wednesday May 11: Pilgrim route and Roman mosaics
Departing Burgos for Leόn we witness sections of the Camino from our coach, passing pilgrims with their iconic staffs and scallop shells tied to their packs. We pause at Frόmista to admire its eleventh century Romanesque church with fine carved capitals, built for the devotion of passing pilgrims. Closer to León, we stop at the Roman Villa of Olmeda where we can view superb Roman mosaics; hidden for centuries under the rural landscape. Today for lunch we sample one of the simple pilgrim meals that hostelries provide on the Camino for the hungry walkers. On arriving at our hotel, the converted monastery of Real Colegiata, in the historic centre, we have time to explore its cloisters, basilica and museum before dinner at Los Delirios, an experimental and highly regarded local restaurant. Overnight Leόn (B, L, D)
Thursday May 12: Explore Leon
Today we enjoy a walking tour of the well preserved medieval centre of Leόn. Our first stop will be the glorious French-style Gothic cathedral with its fine carvings and huge rose windows. Widely considered the finest Gothic building in Spain, it has earned its nickname, the ‘House of Light’. We also stop at the Pantheon of San Isidoro to relish some of the best-preserved Romanesque murals in Spain. After lunch- we suggest tapas in the Barrio Húmedo, or ‘wet quarter’- there is free time to further explore the town: either the Archaeological museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art. In the early evening we gather for a talk in the hotel. Overnight Leόn (B)
Friday May 13: To Asturias
Today we head over the mountains to the enchanting city of Oviedo, where peacocks roam the Campo de San Francisco, and the well-tended parks and squares are lined with Baroque palaces. After lunch and a walking tour of the centre we venture to the edge of town to survey the beautiful ninth century ‘pre-Romanesque’ architecture of the churches of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco, which have been granted UNESCO world heritage. Set at the foot of the surrounding mountains the countryside sets off their simplicity and austere design. We enjoy an early evening meal in the Bulevar de la Sidra, ‘cider boulevard’, a superb place to people watch and marvel at the waiters pouring this local speciality, in the traditional way – from a great height. Overnight Oviedo (B, D)
Saturday May 14: The Picos de Europa
For some of Spain’s finest mountain scenery we take a day trip to the dramatic Picos de Europa, one of Spain’s most visited National Parks. We take 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 (good walking shoes required as the terrain is sometimes uneven). Overnight Oviedo (B, L)
Sunday May 15: Into Galicia
We leave the hotel early today to drive the last leg of the Camino route to Santiago de Compostela. En route we visit Castro de Viladonga, an excavated Celtic village over 1500 years old, with an interesting museum attached. 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 – over 2 kilometres of them if you wish to do the full circuit. On arrival in Santiago we check into our historic hotel, just off the main square. Tonight, we enjoy fine tapas at Abastos 2.0, a cutting-edge extension of the local market which uses excellent regional produce. Overnight Santiago (B, D)
Monday May 16: Santiago de Compostela
Today we explore the beautiful urban area of Santiago de Compostela and witness the emotion of the 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 May 17: 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 wine tasting at the stately home of Pazo de Rubianes, and a walk through their camellia gardens before a leisurely lunch at the excellent seafood restaurant Yayo Daporta which is Michelin star rated. After lunch, we take a stroll along the coast to view the mussel platform farms, before returning to our hotel. Overnight Santiago (B, L)
Wednesday May 18: Into Portugal
Departing Galicia, we head south into Portugal and stop at Porto, a world heritage listed site and nicknamed the ‘City of Bridges’. We take a short cruise along the Douro River and stop for a port tasting at the prestigious Ferreira cellars. Dinner tonight is at a popular restaurant close to our hotel. Overnight Porto (B, D)
Thursday May 19: Porto
This morning we do a walking tour of the interior of Porto away from the river, stopping at the rail station with its vast tile mosaics and looking into the spectacular cathedral cloisters and the Stock Exchange building, all famous for their tiles. In the afternoon we have free time to enjoy this beautiful city. Overnight Porto (B)
Friday May 20: Sintra
We leave Porto for the capital Lisbon, visiting Sintra on the way. Sintra is 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. Inside, a series of interconnecting courtyards, galleries and corridors join a cohesive set of rooms many decorated with magnificent azulejos. Another treasure of the region on our itinerary is the Convent of the Capuchos; seeming to emerge from the surrounding woodland the Franciscan convent’s philosophy of austerity and poverty is shown by the architectural and decorative simplicity of the tiny cells carved out of the rock. Overnight Lisbon (B)
Saturday May 21: Lisbon
This morning we pay homage to the Golden Age of Discovery and explore the bairro (borough) of Belém. Our touring commences at Belém Tower, a 16th century fortification commissioned by King John II at the mouth of the Tagus River and which formed a vital part of Lisbon’s defences. We continue up the river to the Discovery Monument, celebrating the location where explorers departed to the Far East to open up important trade routes. After a break for one of the finest Portugese tarts in town, we visit the Jerónimos Monastery with its superb Manueline cloisters, where seafarers came to pray before leaving or entering port. In the afternoon we enjoy the Berardo Collection Museum which houses an extraordinary collection of abstract, surrealist and pop art amassed by Portuguese billionaire, José Berardo. This afternoon, there is a talk in the hotel on the history of Portugese decorative tiles, or azulejos. Tonight we enjoy a performance of Fado in a local restaurant. Fado is a Portuguese musical genre dating from the early 19th century, characterized by its mournful tunes and lyrics. Overnight Lisbon (B, D)
Sunday May 22: Lapa
Our first visit today is to one of Europe’s great unsung treasure houses, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, a fine private art collection featuring works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Dyke and Renoir. This is followed by an excursion to the Tile Museum to view its 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 May 23: 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. The citadel dates from the 6th century when it was fortified by the Romans but later served as a Moorish royal residence until captured by Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques in 1147. From here we meander down through the labyrinthine Moorish bairro of Alfama, a truly emblematic part of the city. Alfama was largely spared in the earthquake of 1755 and is still a maze of narrow streets and steep steps, flower-laden iron balconies and small squares. Before pausing for free time, we visit the Núcleo Arqueológico, an extraordinary archeological 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 May 24: Depart
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:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
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 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.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity