Tag Archives: portugal

7 Reasons why Portugal is going to be the “Next Big Thing”

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The New York Post called Portugal “Europe’s Newest Darling,” and we wholeheartedly agree. Stunningly beautiful valleys and coastlines, a wealth of historic sights, wine cruises and cute trolleys—what’s not to love? Portugal has long been overlooked for its flashier neighbor Spain, and obvious attractions of France and Italy—our only question is: really, why did it take so long?

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1. Lisbon: The Tram and the Coffee.

Portugal’s adorable capital has all the charming trappings of any historic European city, but without the fanfare, the crowds or the crazy prices. Considering Paris or Rome this fall? Why not opt for Lisbon, where a night at a five-star hotel will set you back less than a measly 100 euros? Plus with postcard-perfect architecture, cute cobblestone streets and vibrant food culture, Portugal has a wealth to offer the “been-there-done-that” traveler to Europe. Did we mention the cutest tram that’s been operating for nearly a century? Oh yeah—and the pasteis de nada, custard tarts, that are said to be so mouth-watering its more like a religious experience.

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2. Porto: Wine and Bookshops.

Porto is famous for its eponymous wine, winner of numerous vinous awards, but did you know the town also plays a part in Harry Potter history? The cute bookstore Livraria Lello and its grand staircases were reportedly inspirations behind Rowling’s architecture in the HP series. Potter pilgrims have flocked to Lello for years, and the crowds are so thick that the store has begun to charge each person four euros for entry. The staircases were designed by one Xavier Esteves, an engineer with a passion for literature. Built in 1906 by the brothers Lello, the bookshop houses a sumptuous collection of bound books and a staircase so iconic, that it continues to inspire authors of all creeds and nationalities to this day.

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3. Sintra and its Coral Palace.

A mere 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, the hilltop town of Sintra is more fairytale dream than anything. Here the traveler will find spectacular castles and elegant palaces in the midst of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The Palácio da Pena was a modest chapel before it was transformed by King Fernando in the 19th century into a picturesque palace more akin to an underwater fortress. With its pink, yellow and gray facade, stone triton statue, Moorish tilework and stone columns resembling a coral reef, the palace is the pinnacle expression of aquatic grandeur if I ever saw one.

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4. The Endless Coastline.

The famous, West-facing coastline of Portugal means that there are idyllic sunsets nearly every evening. With over 800 km of coast, it’s no wonder that here you’ll find some of the best seafood dishes, world-class surfing hotspots and marine biomes in Europe! From volcanic sands of the Azores, to sandy beaches of Costa Vicentina, to the magnificent cliffs of the Algarve, Portugal’s beaches are no laughing matter. Seafood is always fresh, from the octopus salad to the Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork with clams). Speaking of surfing, this is where some of the world’s best surfers come to practice—Nazaré is home to the largest surfed wave in recorded history—that’s a whopping 30m!

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5. The Beautiful, Timeless Azores.

Azores have been dubbed the “European Hawaii” and the “Next Iceland” and while we don’t know about that, it’s certainly a place for tropical adventure. Popular islands for free diving, waterfall rapelling, volcano hikes and whale-watching. Located 1500km off the coast, it’s a tropical island in Europe, with lakes, volcanoes and mountain.

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6. The Tour Guides are Amazing.

Okay, we’re biased with this one, but because Willamette Intl Travel has an awesome contact based in Portugal! Our local guide Anselmo Goncalves has been our go-to guide in Portugal and Spain for years! Our clients always rave about him. Join him for an unforgettable day tour through Lisbon and Sintra, or embark on a multi-day trip that celebrates wine in the Douro Valley.

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7. A Millennium of History.

Portugal has had the same borders since the 11th century—that means incredible historic preservation, and plentiful old castles and sites. Coimbra is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. And who can forget the mighty ramparts of Moorish-inspired Sao Jorge Castle that overlooks Lisbon?

Plus:

  • Azulejos tile art.
  • Melancholic Fado music.
  • Madeira’s non-volcanic pools surrounded by lava rocks and aquamarine waters.
  • Sea Cave Tours in the Algarve.
  • Ride a gondola in Aveiro with picturesque waterways.

And the best part? It’s still relatively undiscovered by tourists! Which means the crowds aren’t there yet. Expect to find many authentic and tranquil places, a far cry from Venice and Barcelona.

Read more about Portugal on our blog:

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The Next Best Destinations for 2017

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Happy New Year, dear Readers! We’ve made past the end of 2016, hopefully with some fun and meaningful travel memories racked up. But what does 2017 have in store for the traveler? Here are our Top Destinations in 2017:

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Cruise ship in Isafjordur, the West Fjords of Iceland

1. Iceland

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Iceland has once again made the list. In the past 10 years, Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination soared to immense heights, capping 1 billion travelers to this dynamic Atlantean rock in the summer of 2016 alone. Most travelers have visited the gorgeous Golden Circle and the Glacier Lagoon, maybe even ridden an Icelandic horse or spied the Northern Lights–but what’s next for Iceland in 2017? Traveling a bit more off-the-beaten path, to Lake Myvatn area, to the West Fjords and the Westman Isles. We’ll have to see what this magical Viking isle has in store for us!

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

2. Slovenia (& the Balkans)

If you haven’t discovered this off-the-beaten-path trek in Europe, what are you waiting for? Slovenia is the oft-cited “playground of Europe,” with a range of activities to attract the thrill-seeker. Spelunking, hang-gliding, jet-skiing are just some of the more popular pursuits. Plus there are few city centers as pristine as Ljubljana’s. A great way to see the Balkan countries is to rent a car and spend a few weeks traveling around war-wounded Sarajevo, culturally bobbing Belgrade, and Croatia’s exquisite Dalmatian coast.

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Białowieża Forest, Poland

3. Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand have always been a popular destination for families, couples and backpackers alike. Sydney boasted the “best fireworks in the world” at the Opera this New Year’s Eve. Tazmania might just be the next prime hiking destination, with multi-day excursions and luxury ecolodges. And NZ has an array of fun food-themed fetes to enjoy, kicking off with Auckland Seafood Festival in January and then Marlborough Wine & Food Festival come February. Though the Northern Lights have attracted some fair attention these past few years, the Southern Hemisphere has it’s own bragging right: the unparalleled Southern Cross!

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River Boat sailing through Chicago, USA

4. River Cruises in North America

Domestic travel usually has to offer something unique to attract travelers, and we believe river cruises are that unique option. There seems to be no end to high quality river and lake cruises: the Great Lakes, roundtrip Nashville on the Mississippi River, Montreal and the eastern seaboard, and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Themes range from southern style comfort on the Mississippi to the pioneer history of the Oregon Trail. River cruises are small-scale, comfortable, unhurried cruises in American history that often sail year-round–without the spectacle afforded on ocean cruises. Plus one major advantage over Europe or South America: shorter flights to get there (if any)!

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Lisbon, Portugal

5. Portugal

Warm beach weather, delicious cuisine, and a charming ambiance makes Portugal a global destination. Lisbon has all the Old World beauty of a European small town, and the coastline draws its fair share of beachgoers and world-class surfers. In terms of food and wine, Portugal will certainly peak your interest, and the easygoing temperance of the locals will make you feel at home in no time.

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Oslo, Norway

6. Scandinavia

Though oft-cited as the most expensive destination in Europe, Scandinavia remains one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the world. Thanks to recent trends following the Northern Lights and Iceland’s natural attractions, the region is receiving all the attention it deserves. World-class restaurants, leisurely cafes, and interactive museums still place it at the top of the list (and the map!). Not to mention how easy and accessible most travelers find Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Reykjavik–most of the population are friendly, curious, polite and speak English.

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Reindeer in Finland

7. Finland & Estonia

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence from Russia in 2017, and a spirit of unity will be rampant in every town and city. Wander 39 national parks or visit the laid-back seaside capital, view the Northern Lights or take a dip in the local sauna. Helsinki has the familiarity and design-conscious layout of a Scandinavian town, with a cultural flair that’s uniquely Finnish. Estonia is also growing on the tourist horizon–Tallinn as a leading city of technology and entrepreneurship. Its heritage is part Baltic, with smatterings of Soviet Union and Finnish influence. A popular way to visit is via a cruise to the Baltic region–many of our clients have come back from a cruise excursion with tales of Tallinn’s enchanting city center.

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Paris, France

8. France

Throughout the centuries, France has never lost its charms. Even through recent security issues have scared off some travelers, the Loire chateaux, Bordeaux wines and sun-baked sands of the Riviera are still there and thriving. After a shaky 2016, France is bouncing back in a big way, and tourist bookings have increased exponentially for 2017. Tourists seem to have their eyes on provincial towns and the hidden secrets of the countryside. Is this the time to finally check out the Champagne region, or go wine-tasting in the Dordogne Valley?

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1950s/60s Cars in Cuba

9. Cuba

With relaxing entry regulations, Cuba has received quite the attention these past two years. The response from group travelers and cruise ship passengers has been wildly enthusiastic. Over 2 million travelers visited the island in the first half of 2016, compared to just 63,000 in 2010. But that may all change soon–some travel industry experts fear that the Trump administration will restrict travel there in the future. So now might be your only chance in a while to travel to the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

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The Majestic African Elephant

10. Africa Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.

Africa remains an ever-popular destination, with senior couples and large families booking safari trips in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These regions are still within reasonable budget to catch a glimpse of wildebeest, lions, antelopes. South Africa is world-famous for their natural diversity and local cuisine, catering to all flavors and styles. Immerse yourself on a game drive in Kruger National Park, or indulge in wine-tasting in Boberg or the Breede River Valley. We’re proud also to include Namibia on our list. As some of our readers know, WIT Owners Christina and John guided a merry band through the red sands of Namibia. The landscape is like no other, with miles upon miles of arid desert, dotted with unique wildlife and local tribes who paint themselves with ochre. We expect to see a rise in interest for Namibia in 2017, and now you can receive firsthand travelers’ experience at our office in Portland.

Do you have a favorite travel memory or photo from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us in the comments!

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Where in the World is the WIT Client? Portugal!

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We recently booked a fabulous trip to Portugal for our lovely clients the Kurdocks. Check out their feedback below!

For a portion of the trip, they met up with Anselmo, our wonderful go-to guide for the region. Anselmo has been leading private tours for guests for 15 years–read more about his tours on our previous blog post here.

We just wanted to thank you for planning a terrific trip for us.  Everything went smoothly and we appreciated the thoughtfulness and detail that went into the planning.  We loved Portugal and are glad we took your advice and spent more time exploring it rather than trying to see some of Spain in the same number of days. Our mid September travel dates blessed us with near perfect weather with blue skies and comfortable temperatures. The trip was a nice balance of artistic and cultural sites, scenery, and relaxation. Not having to drive or navigate allowed us the luxury of taking everything in as we drove around.

Anselmo Goncalves was a wonderful guide.  He is easy to be with, has an encyclopedic memory, and answered our endless questions with infinite patience.  We learned by the end of our first day in Lisbon with him how enriched our trip would be under his guidance.  We saw so much more in one day than we ever could on our own and understood the context of what we saw at a deeper level. He knew what to have us explore at greater depth and what to just check out briefly. He knew which back alleys to scoot down to avoid traffic and where he could get us “seniors” on shorter ticket lines.  Most importantly, he gave us access to a side of Portugal we would have missed either traveling on our own or with a tour group.  We ate where he takes his family at the seaside and were the only non-Portuguese at the restaurant.  We had the leisure to take in small towns and sit with him and have a coffee in the town plaza. After a few days with him, he was comfortable enough to make suggestions as to how we might appropriate our time as he got to know what interested us the most.  Always the well mannered professional, we give Anselmo two thumbs up.

The hotel accommodations you arranged were all excellent.  I have comments about two of them.  As Janelas Verdes was the first hotel we stayed in in Lisbon.  The room and service were fine, but we found the location a bit remote from the sights of Lisbon. Other than the adjacent Museum of Antiquities, most sights required a cab. The Quinta de Casaldronho Wine Hotel near Lamego was an amazing venue.  We arrived at dusk after a very long day on the road and left by 9:00 the next morning.  Sunset and sunrise were amazing with our view of the Douro Valley.  We had Anselmo with us, so a stay of more than one night would not have been practical, but if you have some future client who wants to spend a day off the road, this place would be ideal.  With private balconies and an infinity pool with a drop dead view of the valley, it would be a nice stop to relax for a day. Alas, the mattresses at this hotel were wanting.  We tossed and turned and then overheard a group of people with the same complaint at breakfast the next morning. You can’t have everything, I guess. Staying at Hotel Infante de Sagres in Porto was a treat. The over-the-top decor was fun.  Our top floor room had amazing views of Porto and the service was impeccable.

Our agents at Wittravel love to arrange fantastic trips for clients all over Europe and the world. Call us at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to find out more. 

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Portugal with Anselmo

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Seen Paris and London? How about mixing up your European adventures with the lovely country of Portugal. Its laid-back vibe, great coastline and medieval monuments attract more than 7 million visitors annually. Though small, the country has a lot to offer, from its rich cuisine and historical city squares, to the pristine beaches of Algarve and verdant vineyards of the Douro River Valley.

Anselmo Goncalves is our go-to guide in Portugal and Spain. He has been guiding private tours for individuals, families and small groups for 15 years. Our clients just rave about him! Join Anselmo on one of his popular day tours through Lisbon/Sintra or Sintra/Obidos. He also offers multi-day trips that celebrate wine in Oporto and Douro, and religious-themed tours in Fatima and Santiago de Compostela. Read on for some samples:

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FULL DAY TOUR – 08HRS –  SINTRA+CASCAIS

We leave Lisbon to Sintra, taking the main road, and arrive at Pena Palace. After the visit, we come to Sintra’s old city centre, where you can visit the 14th century former Royal Palace, or walk through the city’s narrow streets at your own pace. If time permits, we can stop at the Quinta ad Regaleira, an estate from the late 19th century. It consists of a Romanesque palace and chapel, with luxuriant vegetation laid on terraces with statues, lakes, grottoes and wells. A place full of symbols related to alchemy, masonry, the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians. Then we will drive to the seaside along the Atlantic Ocean. The last stop will be in Cascais, a former fishing village, where you can enjoy a walk through the elegant and charming town center. Leaving Cascais, we will drive by the fashionable Estoril along the scenic ocean road.

FULL DAY TOUR – 09HRS – NORTH OF LISBON – OBIDOS+NAZARE+BATALHA+FATIMA

We will leave Lisbon around 9-9:30 AM along the scenic countryside road to visit the medieval village of Obidos. After the visit, we will drive to Nazare, a scenic fishing village, where we will stop for lunch. Afterwards, we drive to Batalha, a 14th century monastery and a known masterpiece of Portuguese gothic architecture. From Batalha, we drive up to Fatima, a world-famous religious and pilgrimage site. From Fatima, we drive back to Lisbon to be back at your hotel by 6PM.

But don’t just take our word for it! Read our client Carla K’s Review: 

Portugal was a great idea — many thanks!  Never would have thought of it but it was perfect for our trip. I recommend Anselmo without reservation to your clients who can afford him.  Superb guide.  Our route was excellent.  Porto is well known and stunningly beautiful, but we were glad to see Coimbro and especially Tomar, which not only had the 500 year old hidden synagogue but on top of the hill, the medieval headquarters of the Knights Templar, beautifully preserved and almost empty of tourists.  Included within it is a replica of the Temple of the Dome in Jerusalem, slathered in Brazilian gold.  We poked around up and down the hills of Lisbon and got out to see Belem using the tram.  We rode the old funicular, came upon a band concert on a hilltop with view of castle, and had a fabulous room at our hotel.  I ate the best fish I have ever eaten anywhere at a Lisbon restaurant called  An Peixte.  Exquisite.  We also stumbled on a newly renovated old fruit and vegetable market there where top chefs have the equivalent of food stands with small plates — truly delicious. I think that was a 3 lunch day, but we were so active that neither of us gained any weight. We ended our Portugal trip with two nights in Sintra where there was a lot to do and the converted palace run by Tivoli was lovely, very grand and great service.  It was a bit of a walk from town on a steep cobblestoned road with a lot of curves —- probably just at the edge of what I could do and not for your less mobile folks.  Sintra is charming and the castle there probably inspired most of Walt Disney’s creations.  Anselmo also showed us Cascais and we had a grand farewell dinner with him by the sea.

Or how about a multi-day cruise down the picturesque Douro River? https://wittravel.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/cruising-on-portugals-douro-river/

Call your agent at Willamette Intl Travel to chat more about Portugal and Anselmo! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Cruising on Portugal’s Douro River

Portugal’s Douro River is perhaps one of the most beautiful in Europe, and fortunately for us, many exceptional river cruise lines sail through port wine country. As a guest on these lovely river cruise ships, you will explore the capital city of Lisbon and beautiful Porto. Tour bankside fishing villages, monasteries, castles, vineyards and traditional bakeries. Discover the rich Jewish history of Figueira da Foz. Visit the medieval cities of Salamanca, Belem and Coimbra, the birthplace of six Portuguese kings and home to one of Europe’s oldest universities. Watch how wine is made in Pinhao, the epicenter of Port wine-making.

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Viking River Cruises. Our preferred vendor Viking offers a 10-day cruise. In 2013 Viking debuted with its first-ever cruise on the Douro River. The Douro accommodates 62 staterooms, including three junior suites and 59 French balconies. It also features a sundeck, pool, Jacuzzi, and observation lounge to maximize your pleasure. Coming in 2014, Viking will be introducing two new ships, built exclusively for the Douro River. The Torgil and the Hemming offer signature Scandinavian décor in its 53 staterooms, with balcony and veranda staterooms available as well as standards and suites.

As an all-inclusive river cruise, Viking prices include a cabin, 2 nights at Lisbon hotel, 8 guided tours, most meals, complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with onboard dinner and lunch, and a culture curriculum in which passengers can learn about the wine-making and musical traditions of Portugal.

Need more than 10 days? Add on an extension to Lisbon or Santiago to delve further into the culture.

Call us for pricing on 2014 sailings. Call before August 31 and receive an Early Booking Discount! Willamette International Travel can arrange your cruise, airfare, pre and post cruise travel. 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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