Experience a memorable Fado performance in Coimbra – an emotional form of Portuguese music expressing the hard realities of the daily life and balancing both resignation and hopefulness.. Soak up the sun on the Portuguese coast’s gorgeous beaches along the Algarve, walking across rocky cliff tops, exploring remote coves and taking in a sunset over the Atlantic Ocean with your small group.. Relive a glorious medieval past in in the labyrinthine streets of Fes city, and discover the cultural capital, Marrakech, through its people – drummers, dancers, fortune tellers, jugglers and medicine men.. Scale the High Atlas Mountains and trek through scenic Berber villages, spending a night in a traditional Berber homestay to get a true sense of rural Moroccan life.
Colour and charisma in some of Europe’s hotspots – all packed into one unforgettable adventure. Spend 24 days covering Spain, Portugal and Morocco, revelling in chaotic markets, relaxing in coastal retreats and sharing conversation and cuisine with the locals. Marvel at artistic masterpieces and architectural wonders in Madrid, taste the rich history of Portugal in its delightful towns, historic performance art and complex cuisine, and be enchanted by the magic and majesty of Morocco’s metropolises and far-flung mountains. With a knowledgeable leader to recommend the best places and take you behind the tourist trail, dig a little deeper in these three countries to discover a local way of life.
Welcome to Madrid! The sassy central capital is known for its elegant boulevards and expansive, manicured parks, but it also pulsates with energy, and is without doubt a vibrant city. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at either 6 or 7 pm, depending on common area availability. After the meeting we will head out for an optional group dinner where you can get to know your fellow travellers. As there's limited time for sightseeing in Madrid, consider flying in a few days early to explore. Perhaps while away the hours along the Paseo del Arte, or Art Walk, for an expansive history of Western art. Start with the Museo del Prado, then discover modern Spanish masters, including Picasso and Dali, in the Museo Reina Sofia. Finish at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which displays eight centuries of European painting. After your meeting, perhaps get into the mind of a Madrileno with some tapas and Rioja.
Say farewell to Madrid this morning and head north-west by public transport to the historical university town of Salamanca (approximately 3 hours). Situated among beautiful pastures and rolling green hills on Spain's northern plateau, the rose-hued medieval town of Salamanca is great to explore on foot. Your leader will take you on an orientation walk on arrival, where you can explore the central Plaza Mayor and discover the beautiful Renaissance and Baroque architecture the city is known for. Plaza Mayor is a true centre of local life, perhaps the most perfect city square in Spain. Not only is it architecturally unique, but it also thrives with activity as locals meet and take coffee, tapas or cocktails on the square. The rest of your afternoon and evening is then free. You can admire the intricate detail of the Casa de Las Conchas, or ‘House of the Shells’, see the contrasting Old and New Cathedrals, and climb to the top to get a view across the terracotta-coloured rooftops. Thanks to the large student population the town has a vibrant nightlife, so maybe soak up the buzzing vibe tonight.
Head further west by private bus today and cross the border into Portugal to the laidback city of Coimbra (approximately 4 hours). Coimbra will be your base for next two nights. Sitting dignified on the banks of the River Mondego, Coimbra was once the capital of the county, and its royal heritage can be felt in its ancient streets and buildings. On arrival, your leader will escort you on a walk to help you orientate yourself in the maze of alleyways of this riverfront city. Half the fun of Coimbra is wandering and exploring, so use your free time getting to know the city. Coimbra features typical white stone buildings with several excellent examples of colourful azulejos tiling. Some of the historical structures were originally built in the 12th century (like the Cathedral Se Velha), and you can find some of the Portugal's best examples of Romanesque churches and elegant museums here. The University of Coimbra – the oldest in Portugal – and the famous baroque library, the Biblioteca Joanina, with its 18th-century bell tower, are highlights.
Enjoy a free day of exploration in Coimbra before witnessing a traditional Fado performance. Fado songs must follow a particular structure, and though this traditional music can really be about anything, it popularly features mournful tunes with lyrics about the sea or the life of the poor. In Coimbra, male university students would often serenade their sweethearts with this music, with songs here tending to be literary translations or follow themes students can relate to. In your free time, perhaps head out into the countryside in search of ancient Roman ruins, which takes around 30 minutes by bus. The ruins of Conimbriga are rich in well-preserved mosaics and offer a great insight into ancient Roman life. There are several options to return, including a three kilometre walk through the countryside to the unspoiled rural town of Condeixa (optional). If you have time, you can take a short boat tour to take in the view of Coimbra from a different angle.
Today, jump on a bus through the countryside of central Portugal to Lisbon (approximately 3.5 hours). As one of Europe's most pleasant and affordable capital cities, Lisbon combines the best elements of Portuguese life, offering fantastic architecture, a multicultural population, delicious seafood and non-stop nightlife. On arrival to the city, head out on an orientation walk of Lisbon, city located on the banks of the Tagus (Tejo) River. Much of Lisbon’s character and charm lies in its beautiful renovated buildings, grand boulevards and impressive castles and churches. Visit the medieval citadel in the city centre, the Citadel of Sao Jorge Castle, which dates back to Moorish times and sits on the highest point of the Old Town. Look down on a city swarming with endless angular white houses and buildings with distinct red terracotta rooftops. Your afternoon and evening is free, so perhaps head to the grand Naval Museum for an insight into the history of Portuguese navigation. Or maybe you'd prefer to roam through charming narrow streets of local neighbourhoods and see local life play out. If you want to sample some Portugese nightlife, Barrio Alto is the place to head this evening.
Today is free for you to explore more of Lisbon, or maybe take a 45 minute train ride out to the mountainous region of Sintra, an absolute jewel of Portugal where you will see a beautiful Pena Palace. This area offers great walking, stunning cliff-top palaces and unique Moorish architecture. The 8th-century Castle of the Moors looks down on the Old Town, and the views from the battlements across the Serra de Sintra mountain range are stunning.
The Algarve / Olhao
Take a bus journey of around five hours today to the southern coastline of Portugal, the Algarve. Known for fertile plains rich with orange and olive groves, fig trees, almonds and maize fields, this region is perfect to explore. Your base is Olhao, the Algarve’s biggest fishing port. With an active waterfront, Moorish buildings and bustling old quarters, the city has a Northern African feel. Upon arrival check-in to your home for the next two nights and use the rest of the day to discover Olhao. You may wish to wander the city centre or perhaps try Olhao’s famous fish restaurants along the waterfront on Avenida 5 de Outubro, the eastern Algarve’s food mile, filled with delicious and authentic local flavours.
The Algarve / Olhao
Olhao is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a series of barrier islands, creating a beautiful landscape of canals, salt pans, lagoons and sand banks. Today board a local passenger boat and head out to one of these islands, Ilha de Culatra, where you can wander along a series of boardwalks, leading away from the fishermen’s settlements, and cross over dunes and lagoons to beaches that are so long that they disappear into the haze of the horizon. Return to Olhao in the afternoon (or earlier if you wish), and enjoy the rest of your day relaxing in Olhao. Perhaps use the area's great walking paths to access some of the Algarve's lesser-known spots, or maybe head towards the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve for some bird watching, or catch some fish on a fishing trip. Evenings are best spent watching breathtaking sunsets, and the best place to do so is Olhao’s Old Town.
Seville / Tarifa
Leave Portugal behind and return to Spain, travelling by bus to the charming city of Seville. If the legends are to be believed, Seville was founded by Hercules and its origins are linked with the Tartessian civilisation. To the Romans it was Hispalis, and to the Moors it was Isbiliya. After the Christian reconquest, it became thought of as the portal to the 'New World', and is today is the largest city in southern Spain. Seville is famous for its vitality and flamboyance as the city of Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro. Seville is also well-known for its oranges, tapas and flamenco, all three of which are ingrained in the fabric of the city and its proud people. Enjoy a short orientation walk around the main sights, then enjoy some limited free time to discover as you wish. Later, travel onwards to Tarifa, where you will stay overnight before hopping over to Africa tomorrow.
This morning get up early for an optional visit to Tarifa Castle or to take a stroll on the beach. Then leave Europe behind and head to Africa. The ferry across the straits of Gibraltar to the port of Tangier takes approximately 1 hour. After leaving the ferry, you'll be picked up by our Moroccan crew, and journey 3 hours to a sleepy mountain town peppered with blue-washed buildings and ambient restaurants – Chefchaouen, which is in the centre of a mountainous agricultural region. There may not be much time to explore this rural retreat by the time you arrive today, but you might just have time to look over the architecture of the 15th-century Grand Mosque and the medina, the walled fortress of the Kasbah. Perhaps tuck into some popular local goats’ cheese or a tajine tonight, before settling into your hotel.
Meet your local guide early in the day to explore the maze of streets in Chefchaouen. The ‘blue city’ is arguably one of the prettiest places in Morocco. Set against a wide valley and nestled between two peaks in the stunning Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen may take you by surprise. Its medina has been lovingly cared for with striking blue and whitewashed houses, red-tiled roofs and artistic doorways, and it's filled with handircrafts, while the main square has shops selling woven goods and small sweets. Much of Chefchaouen was recreated by Andalusian refugees escaping the Reconquista. Learn about general life in a small Moroccan community, visit a communal bakery, watch local women do their laundry, and walk up to a former mosque for a great view over the town that's nestled between two mountain peaks. As a popular shopping destination for handicrafts, carpets, blankets or woolen garments, you may also see the artisans at work. Possibly relax after your walking tour in a traditional Moroccan hammam.
Say farewell to Chefchaouen today and jump on a private minivan trip for around five hours to the spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco. Arrive in the city of Fes and step back in time at a medieval medina thick with exotic smells, tastes and sounds. Vibrant, noisy, fascinating and overwhelming – a visual and pungent feast for the senses – Fes is the mother of all medinas. Maybe fuel explorations of this imperial city with a glass of mint tea and some sweet Moroccan dates. Your day is free once you arrive, so perhaps get your bearings of the most complete medieval city in the Arab world. The adventurous may want to try some Moroccan specialities like a camel burger or harira (chickpea soup) and chicken-stuffed pastilla with couscous for dinner. Watching the sunset over the Medina while a dozen melodic prayer calls vie for attention is an experience you'll likely remember for a long time.