Porto and Lisbon Visit Report

We were able to get a flavour and taste of both Porto and Lisbon. The group was extremely friendly, everyone mixed well, and it was good to see that some new members and friends came on the trip...
Lalique jewellery


Our trip to Portugal began with a delayed flight, with the result that we arrived in Porto late in the evening, checking in to the hotel in time for bed. It was a late start the following morning for a coach drive into the Douro valley, stopping at the Quinta de Marrocos. Our guide at the Quinta spoke excellent English and, as we toured the vineyard, she explained the history and production methods for port, before we sat down to a lunch which, appropriately, began and ended with glasses of port. It was interesting to see that the ancient barrels are covered in cobwebs, left for the spiders to catch the wasps and flies which are drawn to the wine-saturated wood. We returned to Porto in time for brief visits to the Cathedral and the Railway Station. The latter’s ticket hall is covered with scenic tiling, quite different from the tiles in Moorish Spain. Our evening culminated in a most interesting lecture on the Baroque by Nicholas Merchant, who accompanied us as our lecturer, explained the origins and reasons for this decorative development.

Tuesday began with a tour of the Gothic Church of San Francisco, decorated inside with somewhat OTT Baroque carvings. On then to the Palacio del Bolsa, the Porto Stock Exchange. A boat trip on the Douro River was an unexpected addition in the afternoon, and this allowed us to see the City, its walls and bridges from the water. A final visit was to the mirrored Café Majestic, a reminder of the belle époque in the centre of Porto, where we were able to indulge in Pastéis de Nata and ice-cream.

The following day began with a brief stop in Coimbra, a medieval town containing an ancient University. The drive continued up the mountains to Sintra, our driver negotiating the single- track road with cars and buses meeting us on the way down. Our destination was the Palacio de Monserrate, a fairy-tale castle, combining Moorish and Baroque architecture, perched on a hillside, overlooking a stunning garden, filled with enormous trees and shrubs, interspersed with ponds and fountains, and enhanced by lawns which dropped away to the valley. Exuberant, exotic and unforgettable. On to Lisbon, where we enjoyed Nicholas Merchant’s knowledgeable lecture about Calouste Gulbenkian and his legacy of the Museum.

The Gulbenkian Museum was, for your writer, the highlight of the week. It seems perfect: the size, the quality and variety – just as I was thinking that I had seen enough Roman coins, I turned the corner and there were Greek statues; there was French furniture, there were Turkish rugs, Moroccan tiling, Chinese temple lions. Triptych panels and galleries of Old Master paintings. To climax, cases of Lalique jewellery – amazing and beautiful yet unsettling as one examined it closely. There wasn’t time to visit the Modern Collection of paintings, housed separately, but that will just be a reason for another visit.

It was unfortunate that we did not complete the planned itinerary, due to breakdown in communication between the Portuguese guide, his company and our agency. Joanna Finlay worked extremely hard to ensure that we covered nearly all our programme, and she must be congratulated. We were able to get a flavour and taste of both Porto and Lisbon. The group was extremely friendly, everyone mixed well, and it was good to see that some new members and friends came on the trip.

Helen Byard

quinta lunch
Sintra Palacio de Monserrat Gardens
Marrocos vineyard