There are plenty of so-called travel specialists out there who are prepared to take your hard-earned cash in order to arrange your next holiday escape for you, which makes it all the more important to find the professionals who know just what they’re doing.
It is key to find one with local knowledge to make sure you get a local flavour of the country and immerse yourself in the country’s culture. We recently went along to Lisbon and Porto to discover the fabulous charms of both cities with Iberian Escapes. The USP of Iberian Escapes is they are based in Portugal, on the ground where they have the first-hand contact with local suppliers and bespoke experiences that you can’t necessarily find online.
With offices based in The Algarve, they benefit from on-the-ground knowledge of the best restaurants and hotels in The Iberian Peninsula as well as independent tours and experiences you wouldn’t find without local expertise. Their tours are grouped into particular themes so Lisbon focuses on the culinary and imbibing scene whilst Porto is heavily influenced by art and architecture.
Being the capital of Portugal, there is plenty to see and do in this world-famous city, and food is certainly at the heart of it. A lot of the history of the city was affected by the great earthquake of 1755, which destroyed most of the city and surrounding area, and you’ll find many interesting sights to visit in this coastal hub.
We stayed at the newly opened five-star, The One Palacio da Anunciada, which is housed in a regal 16th-century palace that was lovingly restored by the H10 Hotels group. What is particularly remarkable about this hotel is nondescript interior spaces that have been turned into art galleries, unkempt outdoor spaces that have been turned into 2,500 square metres of pristine gardens and dilapidated noble rooms that have transformed into majestic dining rooms.
The Condes de Ericeira Restaurant in the hotel is widely regarded as the hottest gastronomic nightspot in town, and it’s not hard to see why. From the splendid coffered ceiling with hand-painted frescoes to the impressive modern Portuguese tasting menu we tried, everything was impeccable. Make sure you try the carabinero shrimp risotto with sea emulsion with the robust flavours from the shrimp head adding a distinct flavour to the rice.
It’s food, wine, and more food when you visit Lisbon! We started with a walking food and cultural tour where you can appreciate the breadth of Portuguese culinary culture. You might think Jamón Ibérico is a Spanish creation, but the Portuguese also produce these exceptional cured hams with a significant number of the black pigs grown in Portugal. We also tried piping hot pastel de nata fresh from the oven, which was delightful.
Next, we went on a Lisbon wine tasting experience where we learnt there are over 250 Portuguese grape varieties, which is incredible for a relatively small country. It is particularly noteworthy that the locals, as well as the wine producers, are heroically determined to support the heritage of all these native grape varieties.
You can also get your hands stuck in with an immersive cookery class. We took a tuk-tuk tour through the hills of Lisbon before being dropped off at a local market where we picked the fresh produce we were going to learn how to cook with for the day. We learned how to cook simple-to-make yet extremely mouth-watering Portuguese dishes like Caldo Verde soup and seafood cataplana.
Cities don’t get much more historic than Porto with their iconic bridges and world-famous port wine production. A little known fact is if you cross the bridges to the south side, you’ve left Porto and entered the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is the hub of the port wine industry.
We stayed at The Yeatman Hotel, which is in Vila Nova de Gaia but has the best views over Porto and the Douro River. It is part of the Relais & Châteaux association and has a two-Michelin starred restaurant and a wine list that regularly wins countless awards.
Amongst its many highlights is the award-winning, Caudalie’s Vinothérapie Spa; the indoor panoramic infinity pool is one of the most impressive in Europe. They have a hammam, Roman bath, sauna and treatments that are unique to the hotel as they use natural ingredients drawn from the surrounding vineyard landscape. One of our fellow travellers enjoyed a soothing and serene weight-loss massage.
Being so close to the wine hub, the first thing we experienced was the Taylors wine tasting session, which included an audio-guided tour of the estates, an understanding of the importance of port to the region and finished off with tastings of different appellations. We also enjoyed lunch at their on-site restaurant, Barão Fladgate with a port to accompany every course. The one thing you must try is a Porto tónico, a more refreshing take on the classic gin and tonic.
You might have observed there are picturesque tiles all over Porto, so what better way to appreciate its significance than going on a tile painting masterclass. The studio is on a nondescript street in Porto, which you would never discover if it wasn’t for a privately arranged tour by Iberian Escapes. The owners are two ladies on a not-for-profit mission to document all the tiles in the city, so any money made from the tile painting masterclasses goes directly into funding this project. They have painstakingly made cut-outs of famous tile patterns for you to paint over, they will fire the ceramic tiles for you and can send it to your home address.
For the more adventurous, there is the Arrábida bridge climbing experience, the only one of its kind in Europe or, for those who want a more leisurely sightseeing experience, there are the Rabelo boat cruises along the Douro or walking tours around the city where you can appreciate the tremendous architecture that populates the city, such as the Porto Cathedral.
You can’t leave Portugal without a live fado dining experience, which involves live music and traditional Portuguese food, and with Iberian Escapes, we visited one of the oldest and most famous in town.
We flew into Lisbon and flew out via Porto. Airlines offering daily flights including British Airways, TAP Portugal, EasyJet, and Ryanair to count just a few. There are very decent train connections between Lisbon and Porto and one of the highlights of visiting Porto is seeing the stunning São Bento Railway Station. The staggering multicoloured panels using azulejo tile depicts the key historical moments in the region and the train station is often regarded as one of the most beautiful railway stations in Europe.
In a nutshell
Take the hassle out of planning every aspect of an individual trip by going with the pros at Iberian Escapes. They are transparent about pricing and take you to numerous local venues and use local operators who will show you the authentic Iberian experience.
Iberian Escapes is a bespoke luxury concierge destination management agency that specialises in high-end tourism, tailor-made events and experiential travel holidays in Portugal and Spain. Based in Vilamoura, the family-run company infuses each itinerary they create with their outstanding knowledge of the region and its hidden gems. to book your next trip, give them a call on +44 808 189 0647.