This was the best holiday we have ever had and we hope to do it again in a couple of years time.
R & J Whittle, Gourmet Italy
We look forward to immersing ourselves in the relaxed culture of Spain as our evening flight takes us to Dubai en route to Barcelona.
As soon as the plane touches down, we check in for the next three nights at El Palace Hotel, close to Las Ramblas, the heart of Barcelona, the capital of the Catalan region. The afternoon is for relaxation, or to explore the city on your own. Dinner will be served on the roof terrace, beside an organic garden with views of the Mediterranean and Sagrada Familia.
We begin our first full day in the oldest part of the city. The Gothic Quarter was once the centre of Barcino, as Barcelona was called in Roman times. In the maze of streets and squares, you can still see the remains of the temple of Augustus. Today, the neighbourhood is also a great place to go shopping. At the beach, we savour a seafood and paella lunch, which is followed by an exploration of Gaudí’s genius. We visit Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, La Predrera and Casa Batlló.
Today, explore the region around Barcelona with one of these Your World experiences.
This evening, we dine around the city. As is expected of Captain’s Choice, our guides are no less than the Aborígens, opinionated Catalan culinary journalists with encyclopaedic knowledge of their town.
We leave the region of Catalonia for Basque Country today. After a tapas lunch, a short flight places us in San Sebastián. We are in the Hotel Maria Cristina for one night. Dinner tonight will be a selection of the most traditional pintxos in the historic centre of town.
After lunch in San Sebastián, we drive to Bilbao, where we join the sumptuous El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo train, which has been privately chartered just for us. The crew welcomes us with drinks, then we begin the first leg of our journey, towards Villasana de Mena. A gourmet regional Spanish dinner awaits us in the evening and we overnight in town.
The train takes us back to Bilbao to discover the city. Ours is a classic El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo itinerary. In Bilbao, we visit the Guggenheim Museum, iconic for its architecture and the art inside. Once we return to the train, we continue our journey to Santander in the Cantabria region, where we stop for the day. We arrive after lunch and take a tour of the port city. You are free to wander in the second half of the afternoon, and those amongst us who wish to may head to El Gran Casino once dinner is over.
This morning our train drops us off at Unquera station. From here, we drive through the narrow gorge of La Hermida to the idyllic village of Potes. After exploring the town, pamper yourself at La Hermida Spa. Rejuvenated, we rejoin our train for the trip to Cabezón de la Sal. Gaudí designed few buildings outside Catalonia, and in Comillas, we have the chance to see one. El Capricho, or The Folly, was once a private summer villa.
The medieval town of Santillana del Mar welcomes us in the morning. It is also a stepping stone to the famed Cave of Altamira, where paintings from the Upper Paleolithic period, over 18,500 years ago, are to be found. Most remarkable are the images of bison – the artists even took advantage of the rock’s contours to create a three-dimensional effect. After lunch, our train brings us to the Asturias region, stopping at Ribadesella and then Arriondas, where we dine and spend the night.
Rugged mountains, green slopes and glacial lakes make up the breakthtaking scenery of Picos de Europa National Park – an invigorating start to the day. At the Shrine of Covadonga, hear how the Visigoths defeated the Moors. Oviedo is the capital of Asturias, and its compact old town bears many striking examples of the region’s Romanesque architecture, including the Basilica of San Julián de los Prados. Tonight, we dine on our train as we travel on to Candás for the night.
We continue our discovery of Asturian towns today. As in other parts of Northern Spain, the area around Avilés was probably already occupied in the Upper Paleolithic era. The charming old town dates from at least the 900s, when documents report the endowment of two churches by the king. Nearby, Gijón sits photogenically on the Bay of Biscay, and has its origins in the 5th century BC. After our history lesson, we return to our train and continue west to Luarca.
Today, the Galicia region welcomes us. The train takes us to Ribadeo, where we follow the dramatic coastline to reach Las Catedrales Beach, so named for its numerous soaring rock arches and caves. Wander through the formations and don’t forget to look up to fully appreciate the geological wonders. Back in Ribadeo, explore the city and relax. We rejoin our train and travel on to Viveiro for the night.
We savour our last breakfast on the train as we make the final leg of our journey to Ferrol. From here, we drive to Santiago de Compostela, a World Heritage-listed city. The city holds the remains of Saint James, one of the Twelve Apostles and patron saint of Spain. Since the Early Middle Ages, Catholics have been making pilgrimages, involving a 100 kilometre walk, to the city. After our city tour, we cross the border to Porto in Portugal, where we join the M/V Spirit of Chartwell, a river barge that carried Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee. The newly refurbished vessel is our residence for six nights.
Our discovery of the Douro Valley begins in earnest today. The morning starts with an informative talk about the river and the land it flows through. Steep terraced vineyards, whitewashed wine estate houses and gentle hills characterise the landscape. Lunch is at the 14th century Convento de Alpendurada, followed by a tour of the Douro Museum. Back on our ship, we are treated to a fado and folk music show. Fado is a traditional Portuguese form of song typified by its melancholy tune and lyrics. Our vessel stops for the night in Régua.
We leave our boat for a morning tour of the town of Vila Real and the fairytale Mateus Palace within it. Learn a little about Portuguese cuisine during a culinary demonstration today, then savour its flavours at dinner, which takes place at Morgadio de Calçada, a major wine house and producer of Port. After dinner, we enjoy a private vintage port wine celebration. We dock at Pinhão for the night.
High on a hilltop, the village of Castelo Rodrigo looks over the plateau that stretches into Spain, as well as the Douro that flows at its feet. It has been fought for and won by both Spain and Portugal, several times over. On our ship, we learn more about Portugal’s fascinating history as the greens and golds of the countryside pass by. This evening, we indulge in a special dinner before docking at Barca d’Alva for the night.
Salamanca is an ancient Celtic city that has been under Carthaginian, Roman, Visigothic and Moorish rule. It is known for its ornate sandstone architecture, which, when bathed in sunlight, glows richly golden. Lunch here is accompanied by a flamenco show at the historic University of Salamanca, founded in 1218. Back on our vessel, we savour an authentic Portuguese barbecue at dinner.
Modern Portugal is a fascinating subject that scholars have written books about. This morning though, you will be treated to an abridged version that will be as entertaining as it is educational. After, enjoy an indulgent day of simply drifting on the river. Come dusk we’ll be admiring the sunset glows with a harbour cruise at Entre-os-Rios, before we retire here for the night.
Our ship returns us to Porto this morning, where we disembark for the last time. Today, we check in to the Palácio do Freixo, a fine example of Portuguese Baroque architecture - the government declared its façade a National Monument in 1910. Our home for two nights welcomes us with cocktails. Later that evening, we dine in.
We spend the day discovering two towns near Porto. Guimarães, a World Heritage-listed city, is known as the birthplace of Portugal. In 1128, Afonso Henriques fought a battle and crowned himself King, signalling a new Portugal, independent of Spanish influence. Braga is the country’s third largest city and has seen human population since the Iron Age. Today, it maintains its narrow medieval lanes, pretty plazas and Baroque churches remarkably well. Lunch today is in a restaurant serving traditional cuisine.
On route to Lisbon, we stop in Coimbra, Portugal’s medieval capital for a hundred years. Its old town is set on a hill, with buildings from every era. In Lisbon, we call the Lapa Palace Hotel, overlooking the scenic Tagus River, home. After a welcome reception, we tour the city on foot, leaving time for a wine tasting. This evening, we dine on the most authentic and delicious of meals in restaurants frequented by Lisbonites.
Acquaint yourself with Lisbon and its surrounds with one of two Your World experiences.
We bid Lisbon a fond farewell with dinner in the hotel’s historical room and commit those river views to memory.
Today, we leave Portugal and head home. Take a moment to consider our two momentous journeys, one by train and one by river boat. We catch our connecting flight in Dubai and arrive in Australia on the 13th of June.
Sometimes travelling can be a chore, distracting you from the fascinating places you are in. That’s why everything mundane has been moved behind the scenes. You will never have to carry a map, luggage, small change for tips or bargain for a taxi fare.
There are no hidden costs. Everything is included – flights and other travel arrangements, luxurious accommodation, travel insurance, all dining and drinks, and sightseeing trips. Even the Your World experiences within your itinerary and internet access when available.
Welcome to your homes away from home. Each one has a certain something that sets it apart from every other residence at its location. Whether for its history, cultural significance or natural setting, we’ve selected only the very best.
A landmark of Barcelona since it opened in 1919, El Palace’s grand halls have played host to the who’s who of the world. In its heyday, Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala were regular guests of its Royal Suite, while Sophia Loren and Pierre Cardin both called it their temporary home in the city.
Quite possibly the most elegant place to stay in San Sebastián, this 1912 hotel combines old world Belle Époque glamour and contemporary indulgences. It hosts the yearly San Sebastián Film Festival and counts, among its exalted guests, Bette Davis and Pedro Almodóvar.
An 18th century baroque palace and a 19th century factory combine for an eclectic and enchanting residence. The buildings are surrounded by Versailles-style gardens, and from its superior rooms, the Douro is a wide, glittering ribbon of water.
Fares include Emirates flights from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Prices from other cities available on request. Per Person, Twin Share
Solo availability at the above price is limited.
Land Only Guests join the tour in Barcelona for dinner on Day 2 and depart Lisbon after breakfast on Day 23.
Note: This journey is exclusively reserved for a group of just 26 travellers.