The travel market in Portugal has been buzzing lately with hotel openings, new tours highlighting some of the country’s historical and cultural sites, and added flights to the region.
The southern European country, which is situated on the Iberian Peninsula bordering Spain, saw a record number visitors in 2016 according to Eurostat, reporting that occupancy rates of tourist establishments were up 1.7 percent from 2015, taking numbers to 60.6 million people. Next in line was France (up 4.6 percent to 395 million), the UK (up 4.5 percent to 292 million) and Germany (up 2.8 percent to 390 million).
In response to the growing interest in travel to the country, several tour operators have introduced new itineraries to their set of offerings. Tauck recently launched the eight-day “A Week in Portugal” itinerary as part of its series of European land tours for 2017.
Guests travel from Porto to Lisbon visiting seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as wineries, wine cellars, historic monasteries and churches, palaces and castles. A stop in Porto includes two-night stay at the Freixo Palace Hotel, a restored 18th-century rococo palace.
Additional stops include Coimbra and the 700-year- old university located there, and later travelers have the opportunity to view a historic 13th-century monastery in Alcobaça, before reaching Monte Real where they will spend a night at the Palace Hotel Monte Real. Opportunities for a wine country tour to the Herdade do Esporao winery, tasting and lunch will also be included, as well as a walk-through of the 500-year- old Jerónimos Monastery and a private tour and dinner at Palacio de Queluz, an 18th-century royal retreat.
Travel Agent spoke with Tom Armstrong, corporate communications manager at Tauck, who shared his enthusiasm for the company’s new offerings. “We’re very excited about the tour,” Armstrong said. “In addition, we’re also introducing a new 13-day small ship cruise featuring Portugal, ‘Treasures of Spain and Portugal,’ aboard either the Star Pride, Star Breeze or Star Legend. All six departures for 2017 are completely sold out!” He went on to say that although Tauck introduced the new offerings this year, the operator’s existing two-week tour, “Spain and Portugal,” has also seen dramatic growth in popularity, noting that bookings are up double digits, percentage-wise, over where they were a year ago.
Prices for the new “A Week in Portugal” tour begin at $3,590 per person and run through October.
Also seeing an increase in popularity of its new Portugal tour is Intrepid Travel. The eight-day “Real Food Adventure - Galicia & Portugal” itinerary. The trip begins in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region and travels on to Porto, where guests take a ferry ride to a seafood market, then take part in a Galician cooking class and lunch. Also, while in Porto, travelers take part in a guided food walk through Mercado do Bolhao to sample local specialties including bacalhau, a Portuguese fish dish.
Other activities include a full-day tour of the Douro Valley with visits to two wineries, a tour of an Alentejo distillery and small cheese-making facility and a stop at the Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon to sample local drinks and dishes such as ginjinha, a Portuguese wild cherry liqueur.
We spoke with Leigh Barnes, regional director for North America at Intrepid Travel: "We currently run 10 tours that include Portugal and they fit a wide-range of traveler types. Our trip through Spain and Portugal are a fit for families with children who are teenaged or older. Everyone can enjoy visiting a medieval fortress in the middle of cosmopolitan Lisbon and the parents can end the day with a port tasting in Porto. There's also enough free time included in the itinerary to allow room to explore.”
He went on to share some insight for first time travelers to the country. “A few tips for traveling in Portugal: pack light and use a backpack, because traversing the cobblestone streets is nearly impossible with a wheelie suitcase. Most museums are closed on Mondays and free on Sundays, so plan accordingly. If you're traveling on a budget, it's easy to pick up some snacks, light meals and sandwiches in bakeries for a few euros."
The new “Real Food Adventure - Galicia & Portugal” itinerary runs through summer 2018 and is priced between $2,375 and $2,575.
Foodies traveling to Portugal also have several new tours to choose from with The International Kitchen, an operator specializing in culinary excursions and classes throughout Europe and abroad. The International Kitchen is recently introduced three new seven-day itineraries: “Delectable Portugal in Historic Evora”, “Walking and Cooking in Portugal” and “Discovering Western Portugal”.
Peg Kern, vice president and co-founder of The International Kitchen just returned from the country, and shared some insight with Travel Agent Magazine about the new trips.
“Portugal is a fabulous destination, surprisingly different than any other country I’ve been to in Europe,” she shared. “I think our ‘Discovering Western Portugal’ and ‘Walking and Cooking in Portugal’ itineraries are particularly suited for younger travelers. First, Portugal is much more of a bargain destination than Spain or France (a glass of wine is usually just a few Euros, a wonderful meal can easily be had for under 20 Euros). Also, Lisbon, Porto, and Braga are all full of young people due to the universities there.”
The seven-day “Discovering Western Portugal” tour begins in Lisbon and includes a stop in Porto, the medieval town of Óbido and up to Arcos de Valdevez. Later, guests return south to explore Braga, a city with multiple architectural and religious sites.
“Porto is architecturally different than any city I’ve been to - sort of a Portuguese mixture of New Orleans and San Francisco, if such a thing can be imagined. And Braga’s pedestrian-only city center has musicians peppered throughout the streets, and a main square bustling with life,” Kern says.
Kern also recommends the “Delectable Portugal in Historic Evora” tour, which takes travelers through the smaller city named a UNESCO world heritage site. The itinerary is appropriate for anyone wanting to learn more about Portugal’s culture and the modern lifestyle in the southern Alentejo region.
Meanwhile, the “Walking and Cooking in Portugal” itinerary travels through Porto and Braga ad includes visits to multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Guests will take cooking classes, go on walking tours, hike trails and learn about the region’s famous Port wine. Kern also recommends travelers try regional specialties during their visit such as grilled sardines along the coast or Black pig of the rural Alentejo region, where the half-wild pigs are free to forage for acorns.
The “Walking and Cooking in Portugal” tour is priced at $1,850 per person for two-to-three people, while “Delectable Portugal in Historic Evora” is priced at $2,775 and “Discovering Western Portugal” is priced at $2,200.
In hotels news, Avani Avenida Liberdade Lisbon Hotel recently opened in the country’s capital, just off Avenida da Liberdade. The hotel, formerly Tivoli Jardim Hotel, has undergone a $1.6 million refurbishment which includes a redesigned entryway, updated guest rooms, lobby, reception area, the installation of an AVANIFIT gym and the relaunch of the hotel’s Olivier Restaurant.
All 119 of Avani’s standard, premier, deluxe and family rooms have been updated with a contemporary style with shades of plum, black and white. Newly added modern amenities include a Nespresso coffee-maker, satellite TV, mini-bar and high-speed WiFi. All of the hotel’s premier, deluxe and family rooms have balconies while standard rooms have garden views.
The nearby Palacete Conference and Events Center offers three floors of event space with a capacity for up to 260 people. The ground floor has a large reception area, the first floor offers three function rooms and the top floor houses a boardroom with its own foyer and elevator access.
The hotel also relaunched the Olivier Restaurant which offers ingredient-focused food with a strong Portuguese influence. New décor includes wooden flooring, new furnishings, suede upholstery, wallpaper and mosaic tiles. In addition, an outdoor terrace surrounded by olive and ficus trees provides alfresco seating.
Also new on the scene is Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort. The hotel underwent rebranding earlier this year, along with its sister property, Tivoli, with updates including new décor, the addition of family suites, a new spa and Anantara's Dining by Design program.
Affording 280 rooms and suites, other amenities include an Arnold Palmer-designed Oceanico Victoria golf course, five swimming pools, Anantara Golfer´s Lounge, meeting, conference and event facilities with capacity for 950 people, Adventurers kids’ and teens’ clubs as a full fitness center.
There is also the Anantara Spa, offering seven treatment rooms, an indoor vitality pool and a sauna. Treatments includes Mediterranean therapies, Turkish hammam rituals and exotic Asian treatments.
Delta Air Lines expanded its service from New York and Boston to Europe last month, including new flights between Boston and Dublin and between New York and Lisbon, as well as returning service between New York and Berlin.
The airline’s service to Portugal is a daily seasonal flight between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Lisbon Airport. The flight departs New York at 9:43 p.m. and arrives in Lisbon at 10 a.m. the next day, while return flights depart Lisbon at 11:35 a.m. and arrive in New York at 2:19 p.m.