This itinerary in Spain and Portugal starts from the medieval town of Carcassonne and continues in the pilgrimage center of Lourdes in France will take us to visit some cities in northern Spain such as Burgos, Palencia and Valladolid. We will then enter northern Portugal where we will cross the wonderful Duoro valley, we will visit the city of Porto and along the coast we will enter Galicia to visit the Cabo Finisterre and Santiago de Compostela. We will then return to Portugal to visit Braga, Guimarães and Coimbra.
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: CARCASSONNE – LOURDES 260 km
By 5pm we arrive in Carcassonne, a beautiful medieval city with a double circle of walls and with 53 towers, an interesting Gothic cathedral and a beautiful castle, since 1997 on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Then we arrive in Toulouse, we have seen the Garonne river and in the distance the Pyrenees, our today’s destination is Lourdes, which we reach at 20.30 after a hard journey. In Lourdes we are staying at the excellent Resid & Co la Closeraie. We spend the evening walking through this town, destination of pilgrimages from all over the world. We see the Sanctuary and the cave where the Madonna appeared. Lourdes is located on the slopes of the Pyrenees, the area is very green with dense woods and many streams.
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: LOURDES- SAN SEBASTIAN (DONASTIA) – BURGOS – PALENCIA 500 km
Early in the morning we go to photograph the cave where the Madonna appeared with the light of day. Then we leave for Spain, the day is excellent, there is the Sun and there is no shadow of a cloud. Around 9.30 we sight the Atlantic ocean, there are a few km to the border with Spain and San Sebastian, the area where is this town is very beautiful, probably, from what we have seen, it would be worth stopping for a few days, the city is located in a beautiful bay with an island in the center. We, however, continue because our goal is to reach the city of Burgos, we take the road in the direction of Vitoria (Gasteiz), we cross the Cantabrian mountain range, then huge expanses of wheat appear, more we enter the interior the trees decrease, we are heading towards the Spanish Meseta.
For lunch we stop in Burgos, the city has a beautiful Gothic cathedral built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, which since 1984 has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The portal called “Puerta del Sarmental” and the cloister are very beautiful. Noteworthy inside is the 15th century chapel called “Capilla del Condestable”. The city walls with the Puerta de San Esteban, the Puerta de Santa Maria and the Paseo de los Cubos are also worth a visit. Other places to visit are : the Monasterio de las Huelgas, the Casa del Cordón and several other churches.
THE SURROUNDINGS OF BURGOS: ATAPUERCA
Burgos can be used as a base for several interesting excursions: just 20 kilometers from Burgos to those who love Prehistory it is possible to visit the archaeological site of Atapuerca, this site has also been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Excavations in the Sierra de Atapuerca have unearthed the oldest remains of human beings found in Europe, they date back almost a million years ago. The visit is done through guided tours that last about 3 hours.
THE SURROUNDINGS OF BURGOS: ALTAMIRA
Always for prehistoric enthusiasts about 160 km from Burgos, the splendid Caves of Altamira, also included in the UNESCO list, should be mentioned. Unfortunately for the poor state of conservation of the paintings, a severe limitation on visits has been decided for some years, however a perfect copy of the caves inside the Museum of Altamira has been recreated.
Another UNESCO site that is located less than 100 km from Burgos, almost halfway between Burgos and Logroño is San Millán de la Cogolla where the Yuso Monastery and the adjacent Suso Monastery (beautiful Romanesque church) are located. It was here that the first Castilian literature was born.
After the stop in Burgos we get back in the car, and while we are traveling in a truly desolate part of Spain, it seems to be in the middle of the desert, it happens that we come across an endless queue of cars, under a suffocating heat, after a few hours of queuing and a detour along an alternative road we reach the city of Palencia, where we stay at the excellent Hotel Eurostars Diana Palace.
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: PALENCIA – VALLADOLID – BRAGANÇA – CHAVES 330 km
The final destination of this day is Portugal. Along the way we stop in Valladolid, a beautiful and ancient town, here we visit the Cathedral, the Plaza Mayor and the market in the historic center, the Church of Santa Maria la Antigua, that of San Pablo and the Monastery of San Benito. Valladolid was the ancient capital of Spain until 1561.
In the vicinity of Valladolid worth a visit: the Castillo de Penafiel; the Castillo de Iscar; the Castillo de la Mota in Medina del Campo and the Castillo de Villafuerte.
Around 10.30 we start again, the landscape outside Valladolid is again semi desert, we are still in the Duero valley (or Douro, as they say in Portugal), then we arrive in the characteristic village of Simancas, with a beautiful castle and alleys and very typical houses. In Simancas, there is an important archive: the General de Simancas Archive, which preserves ancient manuscripts.
Another stop is made in Tordesillas, famous for the homonymous treaty, with which, in 1494, Spain and Portugal divided the world. In Tordesillas, the Plaza Mayor and the places and buildings where the treaty was signed are worth a visit.
In the vicinity of Zamora, a town surrounded by beautiful walls and with a beautiful medieval bridge, we pass the 2000 km from home, here the land is very red. Then after about 20 km we reach Mueles del Pan, a lunar village: rocks and the lake where the Rio Esla and the Duero meet in the valley. Is gorgeous! We stop to eat in Mueles del Pan, with a wonderful view of the river and the mountains.
At 13.30 we leave, now there are only 60 km left to the border with Portugal. We enter Portugal, we have to change the time, in Portugal there is one hour less.
We stop in Bragança, a beautiful ancient village where we visit the huge 12th century castle with the Torre de Menagem that characterizes the town and where there is a military museum inside, then we visit the “Domus Municipalis”, an example of Romanesque civil architecture of the fifteenth century and the monument of Pelourinho. We are here in the extreme north-east of Portugal, in the Tras-os-Montes region, there are many forests and the area is mountainous. Bragança owes its importance to the fact that it gave its name to the royal dynasty that reigned over Portugal for centuries. If you have time, I recommend a stop for a couple of nights in Bragança.
We head towards Chaves, where we will spend the night, the road between Bragança and Chaves presents, in addition to green woods, interesting rock formations, which recall prehistory, the most characteristic of which is the Pedra Bulideira, which is located just before Aguas Frias, a few tens of km before reaching Chaves. In Aguas Frias we stop to drink at the fountain, which probably gives the village its name. Arrived in Chaves after a nice refresh in the hotel (Forte De Sao Francisco Hotel), we have dinner and then we make a visit to the illuminated castle. Chaves has valuable monuments including: a Roman bridge, an interesting medieval quarter and a beautiful castle, some forts and ancient churches.
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: CHAVES – MATEUS – DOURO VALLEY – PORT 220 km
Today we are headed to Vila Real, but on the map we are attracted by a sign indicating a castle nearby, shortly after we find the castle on our right, it is placed on a giant stone, we decide to try to admire it closely.
We deviate from the main road, go up through a very poor country village, we ask some inhabitants how to better see the castle and they tell us to climb over another stone that dominates the small town and here we can admire the castle from up close they tell us dating back to the Arab domination (they tell us they call it Castelo de los Mouros).
Near Vila Real we visit the beautiful palace or Solar de Mateus, an 18th century work by the Florentine architect Nicola Nasoni, a typical example of Portuguese Baroque. The palace gardens are very beautiful, in particular the characteristic tunnel of plants.
THE DOURO VALLEY
We then head towards Porto, the green becomes intense and the view sweeps over the Douro Valley (inscribed on the UNESCO list since 2001), a unique sight to see with terraces and vineyards (which produce the famous Porto) and the deep bends of the river.
The Douro is one of the most important rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, it crosses Spain and Portugal and after almost 900 km it flows into Porto in the Atlantic Ocean. We stop for packed lunches at a rest area where there are spas, a very nice area shaded by huge pine trees. We follow the road that runs alongside it from Peso da Regua to Entre os Rios, then we turn towards Penafiel.
Finally we reach Porto, a beautiful city, the second largest in Portugal. Where we stay at the Eurostars Das Artes Hotel. The ancient part of Porto was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.
The city is located in a scenic location at the mouth of the Douro, it is also known as the city of bridges. The most famous of which are: the Ponte de Dona Maria Pia, a work of great architectural beauty, built by Gustave Eiffel as a railway bridge between 1876-1877 based on a project by the engineer Théophile Seyrig. The Ponte de Dom Luís I, built in 1886 also on a project by the engineer Seyrig, this bridge is one of the symbols of Porto and finally the Ponte da Arrábida, of more modern construction (1957-1963).
AROUND THE CITY
Porto is a city of Roman origin. Interesting monuments are: the cathedral (Sé), a XII-XIII century building originally in Romanesque style, but renovated in the XVII-XVIII centuries, the interior is baroque, interesting is the Romanesque choir, while the 14th century cloister is lined with Azulejos with scenes from the song of songs. Not far away, in typical Manueline style is the church of the ancient convent of Santa Clara (15th century).
Not far from the cathedral is the 19th century Neoclassical Palacio da Bolsa and the Igreja of São Francisco, a 13th century Gothic Roman church. The baroque Igreja dos Clérigos with the 75m high tower of the same name, the work of the 18th century by the Florentine architect Nicola Nasoni, who is the symbol of the city, from the tower you can admire a splendid panorama of Porto. Another example of Baroque is the facade of the nearby Igreja do Carmo.
Among the museums worth mentioning are the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis with the most famous works of the Portuguese sculptor António Soares dos Reis (1847-1889) and a collection of archaeological finds, paintings, sculptures and sacred art. After visiting the city, we go to dinner in a typical Porto restaurant.
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: PORTO – VIGO – O’GROVE 180 km
Today we head north along the coast that leads from Porto to the border with Spain, pass through the seaside towns of Vila do Conde, Povoa de Varzim and reach Viana do Castelo where we admire the Basilica of Santa Luzia (similar 20th century work at the Sacré Couer de Monmartre in Paris) and the Castle of Santiago da Barra.
We then cross to the town of Caminha where we see the Forte da Insua, located on a small island near the mouth of the Minho river, a fort with 5 bastions that was built between 1649 and 1652 by D. Diogo de Lima. Instead of taking the shortest road to Spain we cross the Minho river and the border between Portugal and Spain in Moncão, where there is no bridge*, but a barge service, we load the car on the barge and cross the border. We change the time, let’s go back to European time. (* Now the bridge has been built)
Direction Vigo, where we visit the castle of San Sebastián. For the overnight stay we chose the seaside town of O’Grove where we stay at the Hotel Norat O Grove – La Toja. We have dinner based on fish and then in bed. Interestingly, the time zone change allows us to have the sunset around 22-22.30!
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: O’GROVE – SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA – CAPO FINISTERRE – O’GROVE 360 km
Today we visit one of the most important centers of the medieval pilgrimage, the city of Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia and the final destination of the “Camino de Santiago”. Destroyed by Muslims at the end of the tenth century, the city was completely rebuilt in the following centuries, full of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque palaces and churches, its old part has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and undoubtedly deserves without anything else a visit.
The most impressive building is the cathedral, in a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles, overlooking the Plaza do Obradoiro. Its entrance is the wonderful Pórtico de la Gloria built by Maestro Mateo in 1188 with figures representing the apocalypse. Inside the cathedral is the tomb of St. James (Santiago). Another extremely interesting building is the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos (Hospital Real de Santiago de Compostela) located on another side of the Plaza do Obradoiro, in Gothic style, built in 1499 by the Spanish monarchs as an inn for pilgrims.
Other buildings worth a visit are: the Arco de Mazarelos, which is the only medieval wall gate left. The Casa do Cabildo, with a beautiful baroque facade from 1758. The 13th century Convento de Santo Domingo de Bonaval. La Facultad de Geografía e Historia de la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, building built in the 18th century with beautiful rooms decorated with frescoes. The Monasterio de San Martín Pinario, a Baroque monastery dating from the 16th-17th centuries. The Palacio de Gelmírez, this palace built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is considered one of the most beautiful examples of Spanish Romanesque. The Palacio de Rajoy is today the seat of the Galician government, the palace is from the 18th century and has a spectacular neoclassical facade.
THE COAST OF GALICIA
After the visit to Santiago de Compostela, we continue towards the coast in the direction of Cabo Finisterre, we stop to have lunch on the beach, here the coast is really particular, there are real fjords called Rias where beautiful unexpected beaches open, the sea water is blue tropic style and the beach is white, the water is not very hot it is Atlantic ocean! This stretch of road is really beautiful on the land side there are also some beautiful mountains.
We reach Cabo Finisterre where there is a lighthouse, after having covered a fairytale coast road. Upon arrival in Cabo Finisterre we had traveled 2949 km from home. In front of us we have the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, our gaze sweeps over the ocean where Christopher Columbus sailed, it is exciting to see the foam of the sea beating on these rocks. On the way back we notice the great excursion of the tide that takes place along this coast, in fact, the beach where we had lunch is gone, even of a soccer field with the football goal only the football poles that come out of the water remain, the rest is all submerged by the sea. Tonight we have dinner at O’Grove with delicious calamares!
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: O’GROVE – BRAGA 180 km
We start around 9, today we will cross the border with Portugal again, our stop is the city of Braga. This time we cross the border with the bridge located between Tuy and Valença then continue to Braga, where we stay at the Hotel Albergaria Bracara Augusta located in the historic center.
In the afternoon we visit Braga one of the oldest cities in Portugal, founded by the Romans with the name of Bracara Augusta (and hence the name of our hotel). After a period of decline following the invasions of the Visigoths and the Moors, in the twelfth century it was transformed into an episcopal see and therefore experienced a period of splendor especially in the eighteenth century when it became the center of Baroque art and was nicknamed Portuguese Rome.
To visit: the XII century Cathedral (Sé) in Romanesque and Manueline style, inside the cloister are the chapels with the tombs of the parents of the first king of Portugal and a museum of sacred art. Also interesting are the Igreja da Misericordia, the Casa dos Coimbras, the Capela dos Coímbras (16th century), the Arco da Porta Nova which is the eighteenth-century entrance to the city walls and the Igreja of São João de Souto. Very beautiful is the Antigo Paço Arquiepiscopal Bracarense in Gothic and Baroque style with the garden of Santa Barbara. The Torre de Menagem is the only surviving construction of the ancient Braga castle, demolished in 1906. The city has many buildings covered with Azulejos. Near Braga is the sanctuary of Bom Jésus do Monte, built on a hill between 1784 and 1857 from which you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of the city.
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: BRAGA – GUIMARÃES 20 km
This morning at 8.30 we leave from Braga, where yesterday we spent a pleasant day, the first stop today is the nearby (20 km) city of Guimarães, another UNESCO World Heritage Site (probably having time it is advisable to stop one more day in Braga or Guimarães to see these two beautiful cities in more detail). This town is considered the cradle of Portuguese nationality, it was here that the first king of Portugal was born, Afonso I. Guimarães is an ancient city well preserved, with medieval palaces and churches. The architecture of the XV-XVIII centuries is particularly represented.
The oldest monument is the 10th century castle. In its vicinity is the Romanesque church of São Miguel do Castelo and the Paço dos Duques (the palace of the dukes). The latter is a stunning 15th-century royal residence. Externally the building is characterized by an incredible number of fireplaces, inside some rooms reserved for the Portuguese president and a museum with furniture, porcelain and tapestries. Some churches such as the 10th century Nossa Senhora da oliveira and the 15th century baroque church of São Francisco are also worth a visit. In the surroundings of Guimarães you can visit the belvedere de la Penha at 575 meters above sea level.
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: GUIMARÃES – FEIRA – AVEIRO – COIMBRA 230 km
After visiting Guimarães, we head south. We cross the city of Porto and continue to Feira, a small town important for its 11th century castle. An impressive defensive work, very beautiful, we visited it admiring the underground, the walls and the towers. The exhibition visit was very welcome, the keeper of the castle accompanied us and welcomed us with sympathy.
After visiting Feira we head towards Aveiro, the home of the Azulejos and famous because it is called the Venice of Portugal. Indeed Aveiro is like Venice crossed by canals and ponds and is located on a large lagoon at the mouth of a river. To visit: the 15th century convent de Jésus and the 16th century cathedral. We also buy a typical Azulejo.
We continue south along the coast passing through Praia de Mira until reaching Figueira da Foz, both seaside resorts with beautiful beaches.
Today’s final destination is the historic city of Coimbra. However, first on the road from Figueira da Foz to Coimbra we visit the beautiful walled village of Montemor-o-Velho.
Finally we arrived in Coimbra where we stay at the Hotel Tivoli Coimbra, an excellent hotel. After relaxing for a moment in the room we start to discover the city, the historic center, with the churches, the museum and the university is located at the top of the hill above the river. We walk through the historic center and stop for dinner in a characteristic little place.
Itinerary in Spain and Portugal: COIMBRA
Today we dedicate the morning to visiting Coimbra, the ancient Aeminium of the Romans. We decide to visit the famous university, which is located in the heart of the upper city: especially the Baroque Biblioteca Joanina (one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, contains about 300,000 volumes) and the Aula Magna are beautiful. The university was founded in 1290. In addition to the university, the ancient Romanesque cathedral (Sé Velha), one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture in Portugal, built in 1170, is worth visiting.
The Mosteiro de Santa Cruz with its 16th-century Manueline-style church inside azulejos and the tombs of the first two kings of Portugal: Afonso I and Sancho I. Finally, the Museu Nacional Machado de Castro, housed in the rooms of the former episcopal palace, it has one of the most important collections of Portuguese sculpture from the 15th and 16th centuries. For those who have time, I recommend at least two nights of stay in Coimbra.
Excursion to do nearby: a visit to the Roman remains of Conimbriga (15 km south).
Continue to the itinerary in Lisbon and the Algarve —->