Explore the spectacular landscape of the Douro Valley on an exclusively-chartered journey with award winning Titan Travel, complete with Titan’s door-to-door VIP Home Departure Service®
Discover Portugal’s outstanding scenery in regal style on board The Spirit of Chartwell, also known as the ‘Royal Barge’ because it was the ship used by HM The Queen during the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames. Since then, the vessel has been transformed into an intimate river cruise ship, chartered exclusively for small groups of Titan travellers on leisurely journeys along the incredible River Douro.
The Spirit of Chartwell Ship
Cruising between the coastal city of Porto and the Spanish border, you’ll enjoy included visits to historic towns, monasteries and palaces along the way, as well as a full day’s tour to Salamanca in Spain. Your holiday experience will be enhanced by folk shows, cooking demonstrations and talks by Titan’s guest lecturer.
You’ll also enjoy two nights in the country’s vibrant capital, Lisbon, and on select autumn departure dates there is the chance to spend a special day celebrating the grape harvest with the local people.
With all flights and excursions included, it’s easy to see why Titan was named Best Cruise Agent at the Cruise International Awards 2015.
Titan’s VIP Home Departure Service® ensures a relaxed and stress-free start to your travels, taking you from your front door to the airport and home again after your cruise in total comfort.
A Sylvan Setting for a Pleasure Palace Turned Hotel
The secluded Bussaco Forest (Floresta do Bussaco) isn’t really a forest, but an enormous walled arboretum carefully tended by local monks for centuries. As the Portuguese empire grew, exotic trees were brought from all corners of the globe, and eventually the monks achieved a botanical splendor of such renown that a 17th-century papal bull threatened excommunication to anyone who tampered with the trees.
Not long after religious orders were supressed in 1834, King Carlos I commissioned an Italian theater set designer to create a summer pleasure palace—the last summer residence built by the Portuguese monarchy—in the midst of the 250-acre forest.
The result is an extravagant pastiche bristling with pinnacles, turrets, and arched windows. Inside, the fantasy continues with stained- glass windows, hand-painted murals and tiles, suits of armor, and views that once seduced royalty.
It was the Portuguese monarch’s last hurrah: it was completed in 1907 and King Carlos was assassinated in 1908. His son used the palace before fleeing to England and a life of exile after his 1910 abdication.
The palace’s latest incarnation is as the Palace Hotel do Bussaco, one of Europe’s most special hotels, a tum-of-the-century jewel of romance and royal luxury.
A Billionaire’s Art Collection in Its Own Museum
When Calouste Gulbenkian, an unashamedly rich Armenian oil tycoon, died in 1955, he bequeathed one of the world’s greatest private art collections to Portugal, which had been his home since WW II.
Art Nouveau jewelry and objets by Gulbenkian’s friend Rene Lalique are some of the highlights of this remarkable collection of more than 6,000 pieces amassed during fifty years of astute and passionate collecting.
Many of these spectacular works were purchased from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg in the 1920s, when the Soviet Union needed hard currency. The collection spans the period from 2700 B.C Egypt to the early 20th century and represents Gulbenkian’s wide interests and deep pockets.
Star works by Ghirlandaio, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Manet are displayed cheek by jowl with countless exquisite objects that captivated this connoisseur’s eye—including illuminated medieval manuscripts, ancient Greek coins, and Middle Eastern carpets.
Summer Resort of Portuguese Royalty
Lord Byron had already seen his fair share of the Continent when he wrote to his mother from Sintra, calling it “perhaps the most delightful [village] in Europe.”
Today the same cool, gentle climate and garden setting that made this a favorite summer residence for the Portuguese kings for more than 500 years provides city dwellers and tourists an idyllic respite from the heat and hustle of Lisbon.
Commanding the highest peak are the dramatic 8th-century ruins of a Moorish citadel, the Castelo dos Mouros, with a heavenly view to the sea.
Stay in a castle of your own at the Palacio de Seteais, a dreamy 18th-century palace built by the Dutch consul to Portugal that looks down across vineyards and orange groves to the sea mist.
Common areas and some of the older guest rooms are graced with antiques; gold leaf and crystal chandeliers anchor ballroom-high ceilings. The name Seteais refers to the seven sighs said to have been the reaction to a peace treaty signed here during the Napoleonic wars—a reaction shared by many guests today, enthralled by the palace’s spell.
Pearl of the Atlantic
With a subtropical climate warmed by the Gulf Stream, this volcanic outcrop off the coast of Africa is Portugal’s own floating garden. The early 15th-century discovery of Madeira by Prince Henry the Navigator launched Portugal’s golden age.
It was “discovered” again by the vacationing winter- weary British in the 19th century, Anglo loyalty became almost legendary, so taken were terrain terraced and farmed by gentle people; the dark, sweet wine—and “days of perpetual June.”
Dramatic peaks and a crisscross network of signposted walking paths encourage forays into the verdant countryside. A longtime favorite hike follows the old levadas—a manmade web of irrigation channels that carried water from the mountaintops down through the farms to the fields and villages below.
The 36-by 14-mile island (70 percent is national park) packs more into its chaotic terrain than most areas five times its size. A corkscrew drive into the dramatic interior up and over its razorback spine, the Serra de Agua, is a white-knuckle thriller, with rewarding views of Pico Ruivo— at 6,109 feet, Madeira’s highest mountain.
The distinguished Reid’s Palace is the undisputed queen of Funchal, Madeira’s capital, created to accommodate every visiting aristocrat’s need since opening in 1891. High on a promontory that commands a sweeping panorama of the harbor city and the craggy, verdant mountains beyond, Reid’s is enveloped in acre upon flowering acre of tended gardens, a fragrant riot of flowers, palms, and birds of paradise.
Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and countless other dignitaries and celebrities have made this tum-of-the-century hotel the roosting spot of choice. The hotel’s Les Faunes restaurant is considered the best on the island, and late-afternoon high tea—like most things at this Mediterranean villa—is something of an island institution.
The Town That Belonged to the Queens of Portugal
Wrapped in a Moorish wall, the tiny whitewashed village of Obidos was deemed so lovely that it became a queen’s dowry. In 1282 King Dinis presented Queen Isabel with the fief as a wedding present, and for the next 600 years, every Portuguese monarch would do the same, perpetuating its name, Casa das Rainhas, the House of Queens.
Obidos is a museum of a town, a national monument so picturesque it can convince any visitor—and they are legion—that he or she can be a great photographer. The town features ramparts built by the Moors as crenellated battlements, which are almost 3/5 of a mile in circumference, and a stroll along the wide walkway at the top provides spectacular views of Obidos and the countryside beyond.
The imposing 15th-century castle was built as a fortress, and converted into a royal palace in the 16th century. Now one wing has been transformed into a nine-room pousada, and you can be a knight for a night in one of Portugal’s most atmospheric hotels.
The baronial hall is filled with suits of armor, and one can imagine the visiting queens of the past and their royal retinues. The restaurant serves food for a more plebeian palate, but you can feast on the views alone, and best of all, overnight guests have the town to themselves before the tour buses arrive and after they depart.
A Medieval Castle and Cozy Inn That Looks Down on Eagles
Three thousand feet below the hilltop town of Marvao spreads the Alentejo heartland of Portugal. Huddled within fortified 13th-century ramparts, Marvao is one of the country’s most charming castle towns, with a population of just 300. It is intimate enough for you to quickly absorb its strong medieval character and small-town quaintness.
Check into the cozy Pousada de Santa Maria. It doesn’t pretend to have the landmark grandeur or imposing facade of other pousadas, and that is much of its charm. It has been converted from adjoining 18th-century village houses, with red-tile floors, beamed ceilings, and stone fireplaces decorated with azulejo tiles.
Spectacular views from the restaurant over the distant mountains to Spain, nearly 4 miles away, explain why Marvao was such a vital piece in the military chess game played out over the centuries between Spain and Portugal. This enchanting castle-inn is a good place to be alone with your thoughts and “look down on the eagles,” as one Portuguese poet put it.
An Open-Air Museum of Portuguese Architecture
Each age has left its trace on Evora. Today it is protected as a national treasure. A panoply of mansions and palaces whose architecture ranges from medieval to the local Gothic-to-Renaissance transitional style called Manueline to the Renaissance, Evora is especially evocative when floodlit at night. Although it has been compared to Florence and Seville, the town is wonderfully Portuguese, with Moorish overtones in its pierced balconies, attractive whitewashed homes, and cool tiled patios.
When the Moors were ousted in the 12th century after 450 fruitful years in residence, Evora became a favored destination of the kings of Portugal and flourished as a center of learning and the arts in the 15th and 16th centuries, after which it lapsed into obscurity.
The core of the Old City within the medieval walls contains most of the places of interest, including the Gothic cathedral and the 16th-century Church of dos Loios, dedicated to Sao Joao and famous for its azulejos, the traditional hand-painted blue-and-white tiles of Portugal.
Adjacent to the church, and next to the ruins of a 2nd-century Roman temple dedicated to Diana, is a former 15th- century baronial mansion (later the Convent of dos Ldios) that is now the Pousada dos Loios.
Following in the footsteps of the monks who offered hospitality to many a passing monarch, it is now one of Portugal’s more luxurious state-owned inns. The former refectory serves as the dining room, but hope for pleasant weather, when meals can be enjoyed in the vaulted cloister.
Queen—or King—for a Day
Of the forty-six government-owned pousadas (inns) scattered throughout the Portuguese countryside, the Rainha Santa Isabel, luxuriously housed in a historically significant edifice, is one of the most highly rated.
Sensitively integrated into this hill town’s 13th- century Estremoz castle (largely rebuilt in the 18th century, following a fire), the pousada was originally the home of King Dinis and his wife, the sainted Queen Isabel.
Vasco da Gama came here in 1498 to accept gifts from King Manuel for the ruler of Calcutta before sailing for India. The views that entranced Portuguese royalty remain, and visitors will find museum-quality antiques and tapestries and grandiose public areas with 22-foot ceilings, monumental staircases, wide marble corridors, and massive furniture.
The banquet hall is cavernous, warmed up by an attentive staff and the promise of an excellent meal of regional specialties, accompanied by offerings from the pousada’s well-known wine cellar. Rugs from nearby Arraiolos and canopied four-poster beds lavishly decorate the thirty guest rooms. The room where Saint Isabel died in 1336 escaped the fire and is now a small chapel open to the public.