Explore the mosaic of diverse regions and cities of the north on this most unique of Spain tours that includes a taste of Portugal. Discover Catalonia’s distinct culture and proud traditions; the fiercely autonomous Basque region, with its own unique culture and language; and Castile, central to Spain’s medieval history. Enjoy overnight stays in historic Paradors – restored palaces, monasteries and castles – and special experiences including a choice of spa treatment or cooking demonstration at El Castell de Ciutat; a visit to the monastery atop Montserrat; a wine tasting and dinner at a Porto winery, and a cruise aboard a Rabelo boat.
Day 1 – Welcome to Spain
Your unforgettable tour begins in Barcelona.
Day 2 – Beautiful Barcelona
Barcelona, capital of the unique Catalonia region of Spain, beguiles at every turn of your walking tour with a local guide. Highlights include the Barrio Gótico, which dates from medieval times, and la Sagrada Familia, architect Antonio Gaudí’s famous Gothic-yet-modern cathedral.
Day 3 – Captivating Catalonia
Admire delightful rural vistas of Catalonia when you travel to the amazing mountaintop monastery at Montserrat en route to Cardona, where an ancient castle stands guard over the village. Savor a taste of Catalan cuisine when lunch is served in the medieval ambiance of the dining room of the Parador de Cardona, a 9th-century castle; visit the Romanasque Church of San Vincente. Journey on to the small towns of Castellciutat and La Seu d’Urgell in the Pyrenees, where you’ll spend the next two nights at an elegant resort. Enjoy dinner à la carte at your hotel tonight; most dinners at the paradors will be full à la carte on this ultimate of northern Spain tours.
Day 4 – Pyrenees Pleasure
You’ll be inspired by your visit to the 12th-century Cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell, the only Romanesque cathedral that has been preserved in the Catalonia region of the Pyrenees. After lunch, choices of activities for the afternoon include a cooking demonstration focusing on Catalan cuisine, a round of golf, or a spa treatment. A highlight of your most memorable of Spain tours awaits this evening at a special 7-course dinner at the hilltop 9th-century castle located on the grounds of your hotel.
Day 5 – Beguiling Basque country
Today takes you through the marvelous mountains of the Basque country to Pamplona, the city best known for the annual running of the bulls. Explore on your own before continuing on to the charming seaside town of San Sebastián; feast your eyes on this popular resort for the first time from the summit of Mount Igueldo, offering perfect vistas of the town. Your home for the next two nights is the Hotel Maria Cristina, among the most fabulous Belle Époque hotels in all of Spain.
Day 6 – Seaside San Sebastián
Join your local guide on a walking tour of the Old Town of San Sebastián; the rest of the day is yours to enjoy as you please in this lovely town set on a shell-shaped bay. Further explore Old Town’s medieval streets while sampling some tasty Basque specialties, or enjoy the city’s many waterfront attractions – not the least of which is the famous beach popular with the international surfing set.
Day 7 – Bilbao and the Guggenheim
Modern art is flourishing at the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, as you’ll see during a visit to this extraordinary achievement by architect Frank Gehry and its eclectic collection. Continue on to medieval Santillana del Mar, then up into the magnificent Picos de Europa (“Peaks of Europe”); admire the scenic views of rural villages, gorges and valleys en route to Fuente Dé. Enjoy dinner à la carte this evening at your parador, set in the foothills of the Picos mountains.
Day 8 – Castile and Gothic León
Make your way through the Cantabrian Cordilleras en route to central Spain’s Meseta Plateau, leaving the mountains behind and journeying across the flat lands of Castile. Once the capital of the Kingdom of León, the city of León was an important pilgrimage site. A guided city tour, a visit to its magnificent Gothic Cathedral, and an overnight stay in at the Parador de León, one of the most luxurious in Spain, reveal the fascinating history of this venerable city.
Day 9 – In the Footsteps of Pilgrims
When the grave of Saint James was discovered in this region in the ninth century, hundreds of thousands began making the arduous pilgrimage along El Camino de Santiago – the Way of St. James – on foot to visit it and the cathedral dedicated to the saint in Santiago de Compostela. Enjoy a guided walking tour of the town’s historic quarter and a visit to the world-famous cathedral – home to the relics of the saint – prior to an overnight stay at a remarkable parador that began accommodating travelers in the 15th century; set on the same square as the cathedral, it’s one of the oldest hotels in the world.
Day 10 – Porto in Portugal
After a morning at leisure and lunch in Santiago de Compostela, cross the border from Spain into Portugal, bound for the medieval port city of Porto, nestled on Portugal’s Atlantic coast. Today, Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city and offers much to interest visitors.
Day 11 – Pride of Porto
In Porto, port wine is at the heart of the matter; the city that gave this libation its name has long been known for the quality of its port, an economically important export for centuries. Your locally guided exploration of the city’s intriguing sights includes the colorful market of Bolhão, the Gothic Church of São Francisco, and a visit to Livraria Lello, one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. Learn firsthand how barrels of port have been transported for centuries on a cruise along the Douro River aboard a traditional Rabelo boat, before spending the afternoon exploring on your own. This evening, sample Porto’s pride on a visit to Taylor’s winery for a tour followed by a wine tasting and dinner at their Restaurante Barão de Fladgate.
Day 12 – Perspective on Portugal
Delve into Portugal’s history today as you explore Coimbra, liberated from Moorish occupation in 1064 and the site of the oldest seat of higher learning in Portugal, founded by King Dinis in 1210; join your local guide on visits to the university and historic St. Michael’s Chapel. Journey on to Fatima, home to the famous pilgrimage shrine commemorating the reputed appearances of the Virgin Mary to three children in 1917. Arrive in legendary Lisbon early this evening for a two-night stay.
Day 13 – Lisbon
Everywhere you look in Lisbon, Portugal’s beguiling capital city, you’ll see reminders of the “Great Period of Discoveries” – when Portuguese mariners set sail to explore the then-unknown world and found what is now Brazil, among other notable places. During a sightseeing tour, visit Mosterio dos Jerónimos and the unique National Coach Museum; view the Tower of Belém, commemorating Vasco de Gama’s expedition; and the Discoveries Monument, set at the point of departure of many 15th-century voyages.
Day 14 – Journeys End
Your extraordinary tour ends in Lisbon. You can can extend your vacation with another tour or cruise.