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Have you taken Heart ofPortugal tour? Impressions?

Hi Everyone,

I'm trying to get a feel for the Heart of Portugal tour. I've taken 5 other tours and I'm trying to decide if I want to do this one or pick the GAS. There aren't a lot of scrapbooks about it, so I was wondering about your overall impressions (REALLY missing the old RS TOUR REVIEWS right now)!

If you taken just this tour, or this and several others, what do you think? How did it compare to your other RS tours? Favorite? Least favorite? Middle of the road?

Thanks!

Posted by
1205 posts

I don't this really won't be of much help, but I hope you don't mind my comments. I too really miss the old RS tour reviews and got a lot out of them and read them throughly. I have not been to Portugal but I am sure it is lovely! I am going on the GAS tour the end of August and super excited about it. Portugal to me is more like Italy, lazy days, easy going, seaports, hanging out. I know there are wonderful sights, nice cafes, nice things to eat. The GAS tour ( been to Munich and the Swiss Alps) is more museums in Vienna, more hiking ( Swiss Alps), nice cafes but totally different atmosphere. More castles in Germany, I can't wait to go to Vienna and see the amazing museums and palaces and I love the swiss alps and the hikes and sheep and cows and the mountains. Either one will be great. Have you gone on YouTube where there great videos of Portugal to watch and also great videos of where the GAS tour goes to. Have you gone on flickr and you will find tons of photos of each country to view. I know that if you read this forum you will find tons of questions answered about the GAS tour. I know because I asked tons of questions about the GAS tour before I booked this year. I also know every person said they loved the GAS tour and many said that it was their favorite tour. I also know a few people personally who went and loved it. I am sorry to say I don't know anything about the Portugal tour. But again, it will be warm and sure inviting. Best, Ann

Posted by
2531 posts

The content of the tour reviews in the past held value, while the newer scheme amounts to fluff in my opinion.

Posted by
2475 posts

I have been to Portugal on my own, and loved it. It looks like the tour covers pretty much everything I saw, plus much that I was kicking myself a bit to have missed, plus places it wouldn't have occurred to me to go - overall, it looks extremely tempting.

Posted by
210 posts

I took this tour several years ago. I really liked it. If you are interested in going to an "off-the-beaten-path" location….you will like this. As my guide said……"the only people who go to Portugal are those that want to go. Portugal is not between any two countries."

Their history is not very well known to us Americans….beyond the "Age of Discoveries". They were a world power during the 15th-17th centuries…..times have changed. Got my first taste of barnacles…..tasty! Went to Sintra before the tour started. Went to Braga (pilgrimage site) north of Porto. You will see Fatima….all be it very touristy. Great chance to learn some Portuguese.

A veteran of 8 tours…..I find it hard to rank "worst to first". Just a unique experience in a not so well traveled country by Americans. Most of my work friends had no clue where Portugal was….could not even get the continent right……and I am an educator….smh!

Posted by
142 posts

Gretchen, I took this tour at the very beginning of September in 2015. I was on only one RS tour (Village Italy) prior to this one, so, unfortunately, I don't have many other tours to compare it to. With that being said, I have to say that I preferred the Village Italy tour to the Heart of Portugal tour. But then again, I think the bar was set very high with the Village Italy tour and I doubt that I will ever go on another tour that I liked as much as that tour. I did, however, very much enjoy the Portugal tour. The tour offered a little bit of everything - a big city, small picturesque towns, a university town, seaside village, wine country and there was quite a bit of diversity in the sights and activities offered. What follows below is essentially the tour review I had hoped to post, but never got around to until your post asking for questions about this tour inspired me .
Part 1 - Heart of Portugal Tour Review (August 31, 2015)
The first positive of this tour is the ease of getting from the airport to the first hotel in Lisbon. There is an inexpensive bus, Aerobus, that you catch at the airport that gets you to your hotel probably in 30 minutes. The hotel in Lisbon, Hotel Lisboa Plaza, is very comfortable and has a very nice abundant breakfast. We arrived to the hotel early in the morning, and, as we expected, our room was not ready, but the clerk at the reception desk, told us to help ourselves to the breakfast. It was nice to sit down and have a leisurely breakfast and then take off to explore the city while we waited for our room to be ready. Your time in Lisbon is essentially spent touring the various neighborhoods of this city. The Gulbenkian Museum that you visit in Lisbon has a pretty impressive collection. While in Lisbon, you have a very nice dinner in a restaurant that features a fado performance. I really enjoyed this fado performance as well as the fado performance that you experience in Coimbra, which is quite different from the one in Lisbon. Coimbra, by the way, features a great university that you will tour. It's interesting to see the students there who wear black flowing capes and look like they stepped right out of a Harry Potter film.
My two favorite experiences on this tour (which almost all the RS reviewers appear to agree on) are the visit to the cork farm and the winery, the Quinta Santa Eufemia. Both experiences allow you to interact with the lovely families who run these businesses, not to mention that I think we had the best meals of our tour at these two family estates. At the Quinta Santa Eufemia, they must give you about six different wines/ports to taste throughout the course of the meal. The Quinta is located in the Douro Valley which offers stunning views of terraced hillside vineyards. The Douro Valley is also where you have gorgeous accommodations at a hotel called the Vintage House. Unfortunately, it's one of those one night hotel stops so the luxury you experience in this hotel is short lived. The hotel is right on the Douro River and you can see the cruise ships amble down the river as you sit on the patio outside your hotel room. There is a pool, and the grounds are fabulous, although, at the time we were there, I thought it a little too cool to use the pool, although it did not prevent many of our tour members from jumping in.

Posted by
142 posts

Heart of Portugal Review (August 31, 2015) Part II Continuation:
The tour had a comfortable pace and not too much bus travel time. There was one day that I thought was a bit too taxing. I think it was day 7 when we went to Batalha to see the Monastery of Santa Maria (impressive) and then visited Fatima (As a Catholic, it was a very spiritual and inspirational experience for me. Especially moving was the enthusiasm and devotion exhibited by the various pilgrims to the site). After spending a couple of hours in Fatima, we went on to see some Roman ruins before heading to Coimbra where we had an orientation walk and group dinner. I would have eliminated the Roman ruins visit. At that point in time, I was too tired to appreciate the site, and would have preferred arriving in Coimbra a little earlier and having some time to relax.
What I would have eliminated from the trip was the trip to the Serralves Foundation in Porto, where you tour the contemporary art museum and the Art Deco Mansion. The exhibits in the museum were lackluster and often ridiculous (A display of a contact lens case and a bottle of contact lens solutions in a glass enclosure - really?) Obviously, the highlight was meant to be the Art Deco Home, but even the home was not that spectacular to me. I mean if you have seen other Art Deco homes, this was nothing out of the usual to me. Grounds were nice, but so what? Also, at the Porto riverfront, boat ride on the Douro River was disappointing because by the time we loaded the boat, the top deck was filled. The magic was lost if you sat below. I would have preferred spending two days at the Vintage House Hotel and taking a cruise on the Douro River at that location.
I see that there has been a slight change in the 2016 tour compared the 2015 tour. On our tour, we spent two nights in the fishing/beach town of Nazare. On the 2016 tour, I see there are two nights scheduled in Obidos. I know some folks complained about the hotel in Nazare because of the noise factor at night. I don't know that you will miss anything by not being based in Nazare. In Nazare, you, of course, have the beach, and the other highlight is the trip to Sitio (upper Nazare neighborhood that you can get to by funicular) where you have a great view of Nazare and the beach (You can take some great pictures here). We did have the opportunity to sit on the beach for a while in Nazare, although it was a little too windy and chilly for me. Also, some of our tour group went to see a bullfight that takes place in Nazare. I think Obidos would be a great little town in which to overnight. It is extremely picturesque, and I certainly would not have minded spending more time there than they allotted to us during the tour.
Some thoughts about free time: We arrived one day early, and we chose to spend Day 1 of the tour (the day you meet your group at 5pm) visiting Sintra where all the grand palaces are located. Sintra is not to be missed, and I always wondered why the RS tour of Portugal does not include Sintra on their tour. On day 3, during our free afternoon time, we took a train trip to the beach resort town of Cascais. Had I to do it over, I would not have made this trip because it felt too rushed and it basically replicates Nazare on a smaller scale. I think our time would have been better spent exploring some of the other funky Lisbon neighborhoods in more detail, especially Barrio Alto at night.

Posted by
142 posts

Heart of Portugal (August 31, 2015) Part III Continuation:
We had wine provided at every group meal during this tour, except for the group meal at the Vintage House in the Douro Valley. You were, however, able to bring your own wine, although they charged you a cork fee. Wine flowed very freely at most the group meals provided! Group meals provided were good, but, other than the family estate lunches discussed above, were not as good as the Village Italy group meals provided. I was also disappointed with the farewell dinner meal in Porto.
As expected, our guide was great as were the local guides. Our guide provided various treats (gelato, natas (custard tarts), etc.) throughout the tour and she hosted a few little cocktail parties at some of the hotels in which we stayed (The cocktail party at the pool area at the Evora hotel especially comes to mind).
One of the best reasons to visit Portugal, in my opinion, are the people of Portugal who were very warm and welcoming (No indifferent waiters here!) It appeared that almost everyone spoke fairly decent English in this country so it was a very easy country to navigate. Also, I'm sure it is a less expensive country than the GAS tour countries.
We flew to Barcelona for a few days after our tour. It was a very easy hop via TapPortugal.
Hope this review helps you make a decision about which tour to take. Either way, I cannot image that you could go wrong taking any RS tour!

Posted by
559 posts

Thanks Terri for the very detailed info. It is very helpful. My summer school dates have changed so that may be a deciding factor. I'm looking forward to both tours, whenever I get to them. :)