I recently returned from a tour of Spain and Portugal with Insight Vacations. You are in good hands with Insight Vacations as they take care of every detail for you. The Insight coaches are among the most comfortable in Europe, having had 10 seats removed to allow for more legroom. We had the pleasure of riding in this coach across Spain into Portugal.
Our tour started in Madrid, where we had the opportunity to spend some free time exploring the city alone. The historical center of Madrid is centered around three squares; Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and Plaza Isabella II. The three are located relatively close to each other and contain many of Madrid’s shops, cafés and restaurants. The squares are home to the city’s festivals, farea, theatre performances, holy week processions, street markets and café culture. Although the city dates to the ninth century, it became the capital of Spain in 1561 after Phillip II moved his court from Toledo. In Madrid, we rode past the Fountain of Cybele, showing the Greek God of fertility, riding in a carriage drawn by lions. It is in one of the most beautiful places in Madrid.
Although the city dates to the ninth century, it became the capital of Spain in 1561 after Phillip II moved his court from Toledo. In Madrid, we rode past the Fountain of Cybele, showing the Greek God of fertility, riding in a carriage drawn by lions. It is in one of the most beautiful places in Madrid. Madrid has many world-class museums, many of which are located close to the beautiful Paseo del Prado Boulevard. The mustsee museums are the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza. These museums feature masterpieces by Velazquez, El Greco, Goya and Picasso. Be sure to take the time to relax in one of Madrid’s wonderful cafés. No one can visit Madrid and not visit Retiro, Madrid’s most popular park. Make sure to take out one of the pedalo boats while in the park.
Visit the Royal Palace, with 3,418 rooms. There’s a lot of palace to explore. You will enjoy seeing Charles III’s bedroom. Each of the rooms represents a period in time and style. You will love the Chinese Room for its color, and the nearby gardens are wonderful also. Be sure to prebook your tickets because the tour is very popular. From Madrid, we took the coach to the old city of Toledo and on to Granada. Toledo was once the capital of Spain and is situated high above the River Tagus. It is famous for its burnished steel swords that have been crafted there for centuries. We were able to visit a local Damascene workshop where expert craftsmen inlay steel with gold, silver and copper thread. We walked through the cobbled streets to visit the Church of Santo Tome, housing El Greco’s famous painting, “The burial of the Count of Oraz.”
We then continued crossing over the Sierra Nevada to reach Granada. It was once the capital of the Moorish Kingdom of Spain until the Moors were defeated in 1492. We enjoyed a dinner looking over the Alhambra Palace at night. It was such a sight to see it all lit up. The next day we had the opportunity to visit the Palace and the exotic water gardens. The palace is a fantasy of stone-cut lace, arabesque gardens and fountains built as a citadel by the Moors in the 13th century. We took a side trip to visit Cordoba and visited the Mezquita, an eighth century mosque with a catholic church built inside it. When the Romans took over the mosque, they felt the building was so beautiful and important they could not bring themselves to destroy it, so they built their church within the walls of the mosque. It is a sight not to be missed.
Once we reached Seville, we visited an immense 15th century cathedral, the final resting place of Christopher Columbus. The monument to Columbus was beautiful, depicting six men carrying the casket of Christopher Columbus. Once we passed the altarpiece, dripping with gold, we came upon the tomb of Christopher Columbus. That evening in Seville, we were treated to a fiery Flamenco show during dinner. The dancers were colorful and the music was festive.
Our time in Spain was done and a new adventure had just begun. We passed through the oak forests of the plains of the Alentejo to Lisbon. The forests are the home to the black Iberian pigs. We stopped in Javugo, Spain just before crossing the Portugal border, for some insight into the history and curing process of Jamon Iberico hams. The pigs are fed a diet of acorns for the last three months before being processed. They are buried in salt and hung to cure for up to three years. We were allowed to have a tasting of the delicious hams after a brief tour of the processing. We ventured across the wide Alentejo Plateau to Lisbon. As we neared the city we came to the Christ the King Shrine on a hill above the River Turgas and overlooking the city of Lisbon. We visited the Belem Quarter in Lisbon where sailing ships set forth to discover unknown lands. We also visited the Monument to the Discoberies and the more ancient Belem Tower—a fortress originally set in the middle of the river, but now left high and dry on the riverbank. No visit can be complete without Fado Music in Lisbon. It is the musical expression of the Portuguese people. Fado, meaning fate or destiny, is Lisbon’s version of the blues. Most fadistas have traditionally cloaked themselves in black shawls and blood-red lipstick. They sing haunting poems of lost sailors, passion and broken hearts, as their voices come close to a sob. The music is beautiful and haunting. “Fado is an intimate dialogue between the artist and the audience. You may not understand the words, but if you listen, you will feel the meaning.” —author unknown. If you are wanting to experience the ultimate experience in Spain and Portugal, please give us a call and we can help you plan your trip with Insight Vacations.