Prepare for a springtime feast of the senses as you journey through the Iberian Peninsula, from Madrid in the centre to the Bay of Biscay in the north, and along the rugged Atlantic coast down through verdant Portugal.
Discover the proud traditions of Madrid, whose palaces, boulevards and churches display the opulence of an empire that once stretched across the globe. Then heard northwards to Asturias and Galicia, two regions whose distinctive cultures and cuisines add a fascinating dimension to the kaleidoscope that is Iberia.
In Portugal, discover Oporto, home of the country’s most famous export – port wine – and explore the gentle slopes of the winding Douro River. Then head southwards through the ancient university city of Coimbra before arriving in Lisbon, where the grand historic gardens and palaces of Sintra present a magical visual tapestry of colours and textures.
Note: At time of publication (July 2018), most but not all garden visits were confirmed. Private owners, in particular, are reluctant to commit more than two to three months prior to the visit. Therefore, while we undertake to operate the tour as published, there may be some changes to the itinerary.
This tour is organised by the Foundation & Friends of the Botanic Gardens in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Qatar Airways flights to Madrid via Doha. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Arrive in Madrid in the mid-afternoon (if travelling on suggested flights) and make your way to the hotel for check-in.
At 18:00, join Sandy and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing followed by a special welcome dinner.
Begin your exploration of Madrid with a morning walking tour of Old Madrid, including the Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Oriente and the beautiful 17th century arcaded square, the Plaza Mayor. Also explore the picturesque Plaza de la Villa nearby.
After lunch at a local restaurant, visit the Sabatini Gardens. The gardens form part of the Royal Palace and are constructed in a formal Neoclassic style with symmetric geometrical patterns.
Then, continue to the Royal Botanical Gardens declared an Artistic Garden in 1942, including the largest herbarium in Spain with more than a million botanical specimens. Discover the Terrace of the Laurels, housing a bonsai collection designed by the award-winning landscape architect Fernando Caruncho.
Enjoy a full-day tour to the royal town of Aranjuez.Visit the Jardin del Principe (Prince’s Garden), created by King Carlos IV between 1789 and 1808. This large landscape garden follows the English and French fashion from the late 18th century with the delightful Narcissus Fountain and the beautifully constructed Pond of the Chinescos.
After lunch, visit the Royal Palace and Gardens. The palace’s most distinctive feature is the predominance of white and red on its façade. The gardens display a wide variety of styles but also remain a perfect example of the Spanish Renaissance. Return to Madrid in the late afternoon.
This morning, transfer to Madrid train station for a high-speed train trip to León.
On arrival in León, transfer to the Cathedral of León and visit this fine example of soaring 13th century Gothic architecture renowned for its magnificent stained-glass windows.
After lunch at a local restaurant, continue to the beautiful city of Oviedo in the Asturias region. Arrive in the late afternoon at the hotel for check-in.
In the morning, enjoy a walking tour of Oviedo. Walk through the maze of streets in the old town and view the impressive Cathedral, the city’s most distinctive building. Continue to the Campo de San Francisco, a beautiful sprawling park at the heart of Oviedo.
Transfer to Gijon and enjoy lunch in this beautiful coastal city in northern Spain. Explore the Atlantic Botanic Gardens, a perfect example of the variety of plants and vegetation typically found in the Atlantic areas. Return to Oviedo in the late afternoon.
Depart Oviedo to the pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela. Santiago de Compostela is situated in the region of Galicia, an autonomous community in the far north-western reaches of Spain. Since the 9th century, this location has been one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Christians and is the culmination of the celebrated pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, the ‘Way of St James’.
Arrive in the afternoon and check in to our historical boutique hotel for two nights.
After some time at leisure, visit the Cathedral of Santiago, which towers over the city and has welcomed pilgrims since the 11th century.
This morning, discover the Pazo de Oca, known as the ‘Galician Versailles’. This ‘pazo’ (manor house) is a beautiful French-style garden with magnificent specimens of camellias, magnolias, maples and an avenue of lime trees.
Visit the Pazo de Santa Cruz de Rivadulla, an English-style garden housing 200 plant species and a singular ensemble formed by more than 500 olive trees.
After lunch, enjoy some time at leisure to further explore Santiago de Compostela. Then, explore the Pazo de San Lorenzo located in an old Mediaeval monastery. One of the highlights of the garden is an incredible boxwood parterre, creating a dense labyrinth.
Depart from Santiago de Compostela for Pontevedra, visiting several interesting gardens en route. Explore the Pazo de Fefinans, containing a historical vineyard and a hectare of Albariño wine grapes.
In the afternoon, visit the Pazo de la Saleta and Pazo Quinteiro da Cruz, two different private gardens among the best botanical gardens on the ‘Route of the Camellias’. With a humid climate, mild temperatures and fertile soil, Galicia offers the optimum conditions for the growth of the flower, with nearly 8,000 varieties of Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua.
Arrive in Pontevedra and check in to the Parador de Pontevedra, an impressive 16th century Renaissance palace, followed by dinner.
Continue your exploration of the Pontevedra region’s gardens and visit the Pazo de Rubianes, recognised as an International Camellia Garden of Excellence. Started in the late 17th century, this historical Galician garden houses more than 4,000 specimens of camellias and other unique botanical species.
After some time at leisure in Pontevedra, explore Pazo de Lourizan, a major botanic installation located on a 54-hectare property. The arboretum, a botanical garden created in 1949, houses exotic and native species.
Travel from Pontevedra to Porto and stop en route in the Spanish city of Vigo. Visit the gardens of the Museum of Quinones de León, divided into five distinct parts including a rose garden, French and English gardens.
After a lunch at a local restaurant, travel to Portugal and visit the Quinta do Alão, a 17th century quinta (estate) presenting an important botanic collection.
Arrive in Porto in the late afternoon.
Located on a magnificent site near the mouth of the Douro River, Porto is an ancient port steeped in history and tradition. Enjoy a morning walking tour of the historic centre, a prominent feature of which is the stunning interior and exterior decoration in azulejos (glazed tiles). At the nearby São Bento Station, most of the atrium is covered with a work of around 20,000 tiles alluding to the history of transport and of Portugal itself.
In the afternoon, visit Quinta de Villar d’Allen, one of the few surviving leisure manors that surrounded the city of Porto in the 18th and 19th centuries. Continue to Serralves Park located near the Museum of Contemporary Art. The park contains an important arboreal collection with more than 230 native and exotic species.
Return to the hotel. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
Drive out of Porto to the Quinta da Aveleda wine estate. The gardens of Aveleda are a fine example of the romantic garden created in Portugal at the end of the 19th century and feature a woodland of oak trees sheltering large rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, eucalyptus and sequoias, a lake, numerous pavilions and fountains and wonderful vistas across the 300-year old wine estate.
After lunch, explore the Paço de São Cipriano near Guimarães, a historical manor belonging to the same family since the 15th century. The property features an enchanting lush green garden with box trees, roses and camellias.
Check out from the hotel and depart Porto for Lisbon. En route, visit Quinta Santo Antonio, a private 17th century country estate set on 22 hectares with a variety of garden rooms, woodlands, olive orchards and an olive oil factory. Enjoy a guided tour of the estate and museum by the owner, followed by lunch.
Stop in the city of Coimbra, the former capital nowadays renowned for its university, the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world and one of the oldest in Europe. Visit the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra created in 1772. Providing a peaceful and inviting atmosphere, the garden presents a diverse collection of Portuguese and exotic species, a result of 15th century maritime expansion and curiosity towards the plants discovered in new lands.
Arrive in Lisbon in the late afternoon.
Begin your exploration of Lisbon with an orientation walking tour of the Baixa area, the commercial heart of Lisbon. Totally rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755, the Baixa is one of Europe’s first examples of town planning. The area contains magnificent plazas, connected by wide avenues lined with grand 18th century buildings. Explore the Alfama neighbourhood, Lisbon’s oldest district and Bairro Alto, the city’s bohemian haunt of artists and writers.
Then, visit two palaces and their gardens in the environs of Lisbon. Visit the National Palace of Queluz for lunch followed by a tour of the grounds. Built as a royal palace in the 1750s, it is one of the last great Rococo buildings to be designed in Europe and is often referred to as the ‘Versailles of Portugal’. The gardens feature a large topiary parterre, canals, a grotto and cascade, formal terraces, statuary, fountains and avenues of magnolias and mulberry trees.
Continue to the privately-owned Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira. Built in 1640, it is still one of the most beautiful residences in Lisbon, containing splendid rooms with 17th and 18th century decorative tiles, frescoed panels and oil paintings. However, it is most famous for its formal gardens with some of the country’s finest tiles, depicting hunting, battles and religious scenes.
Enjoy a full-day tour to Sintra, the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family for several centuries due to its temperate ‘hill-town’ climate and ambience. In addition to its royal residents, Sintra has attracted the aristocracy and the wealthy from Portugal and abroad who in the 19th century built grand mansions, villas and gardens.
Begin with a visit to Monserrate, built in 1858 in the eclectic Romantic-Orientalist spirit. The English-inspired park gardens contain waterfalls and plants ranging from roses and conifers to tropical tree ferns, and at least 24 species of palms.
Continue to Quinta da Regaleira. Built in the early 1900s, Regaleira consists of a palace and chapel in a mixture of Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline architectural styles, surrounded by a luxurious park featuring lakes, tunnels, grottoes, wells, and fountains. Following the visit, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell lunch with Sandy and fellow travellers.
In the afternoon, discover Quinta dos Lagos, a private home and garden rarely opened to visitors. The estate boasts a woodland garden, which includes traditional Portuguese features such as azulejos, a glasshouse fernery, terraces and the lakes for which it is named.
Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.
For those returning home today, make your way to Lisbon Airport for suggested Qatar Airways flights to Australia or New Zealand via Doha. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any additional nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
15 March 2019
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require visas to visit Spain or Portugal.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally-located 4- and 5-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including wine with dinner
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- First Class train ticket from Madrid to León
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International flights (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, mini-bar, taxis etc.)
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Madrid – Melia Reina Victoria ****
Oviedo – Barcelo Oviedo Cervantes*****
Santiago de Compostela – A Quinta da Auga Relais & Chateaux ****
Pontevedra – Parador de Pontevedra****
Porto – Pestana Vintage Porto****
Lisbon – Tivoli Avenida Liberdade*****
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted