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NEW! Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas 2015

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Pre-trip: Porto: Northern Portugal’s Romanesque Gem

From the time of the Romans and the Celts, Northern Portugal has been a hotbed of rich culture and robust vintages. Discover the role of vineyards in Porto's history during visits to a family farm and a wine cellar. As we stroll the lanes of the Ribeira neighborhood, follow the contours of the Douro River, or ascend in a cable car from nearby Gaia, we’ll get to know this ancient gem from many angles.

It's Included:
Accommodations for 5 nights in Porto
10 meals—5 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 2 dinner
6 small group activities
Services of an OAT Trip Leader
NEW for 2015: Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
All transfers
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    Depart the U.S. today on your overnight flight to Porto, Portugal.

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    Arriving in Porto, an OAT representative will assist us to our hotel. Porto, an outpost of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, is one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Porto was crucial to the Portuguese spirit of exploration, as the city’s shipyards provided vessels for Henry the Navigator and others. By the 18th century, it was not the sailors but their cargo making waves: Britain became a partner in exporting the local port wine throughout Europe. During our stay, both the maritime tradition and wine legacy will be on display.

    This evening, we enjoy a Welcome Drink together before an included dinner of Portuguese cuisine.

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    Get to know Portugal’s second largest city today on an included tour that includes a visit to the magical old “library,” actually the nation’s oldest bookstore, Livraria Lello. Since the late 19th century, eager readers have passed through the doors in the Art Nouveau façade and entered into an elaborately decorated shop with a split staircase ascending to an upper level topped with a stained-glass skylight. Considered one of the most beautiful bookstores on Earth, it was the inspiration for the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter series according to author JK Rowling.  

    Continuing on, we visit the Ribeira, the oldest part of the city. With medieval streets overlooking the river, the Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting 2,000 years of history. We enjoy lunch together here.

    The afternoon and evening are at leisure. Perhaps you’ll try local specialties like the Francesinha, the “little French” sandwich—which is hardly little at all. Inspired by the Monte Cristo sandwich, the Portuguese version includes sliced meats in a sandwich topped with melted cheese and served with beer sauce. Locals will argue about who makes it best, and your Trip Leader is sure to have a suggestion or two.

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    This morning, we follow the Douro River to wine country, where the first vintages were produced in the third century A.D. Our first stop is Pinhao, which is nestled beneath terraced vineyards which cover the hillsides like patchwork quilts and ribbons of green. Then we visit a family-owned quinta (port wine farm) in Regua, where we learn about how port is made and also enjoy a tasting.

    After an included lunch, we return to Porto, where dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Discover the Minho region during an optional tour today. From its Roman-era roots, Minho has had its own flavor, with Celtic hill forts and ruins still dotting the landscape. Our discoveries here begin in Guimarães, known  as the “cradle of Portugal” for its role in the nation’s origins. In the 10th century, a castle was built to defend the local monastery from attacks by Muslim and Norman raiders. Expanded over the next century, it was the royal residence until the dawn of the 13th century. Remarkably, local authorities considered tearing it down in the 19th century, but wiser minds prevailed and we visit the restored and preserved castle today.

    Then, our optional tour brings us to Braga, settled since the Roman era, and one of the world’s oldest Catholic archdioceses. Its heart is the sweeping Praça da República, first laid out in the Middle Ages. With its arch-filled arcade, water fountain, and cobbled plaza, it is an elegant glimpse into past eras, even while still beloved by locals today.

    Our tour concludes with a tasting of vinho verde—“green wine.” Alluding to the wine's young age and not its color, vinho verde may be white, red, or rosé. We’ll sample these youthful wines before returning to Porto this afternoon.

    Or, enjoy a day at leisure for discoveries on your own. We meet again for dinner this evening at a local restaurant.

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    Today we discover Gaia, in the heart of the Douro wine region, one of the oldest protected wine regions in the world. We begin with a panoramic tour of the city, where a sea of red rooftops appears to float on hillsides above the Douro River. Gaia is best known for its wine caves, where port wine is aged. Port has been a staple of the local economy since 1703, when the British first began importing it from Portugal, and rules for its official classification have helped maintain high standards since the mid-18th century. In fact, the Douro River Valley is recognized as the world's first legally demarcated wine region. We’ll visit one of the famed wine cellars for a tasting. Then, we enjoy an included lunch.

    We return to Porto by Teleferico, the new cable car system from Gaia over the river. The eco-friendly gondolas hold eight passengers each as they rise over the Douro, offering sweeping views of both cities.

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    • Meals included:

    We bid farewell to Porto today and travel overland to Lisbon to begin our Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas adventure.