Independent trip to Portugal

By Charles & Nita Swartz
This item appears on page 29 of the January 2021 issue.
One of the great culinary wonders of Portugal, the cinnamondusted pastel de nata (custard tart). Photos by Nita Swartz

It had been 20 years since we last visited Portugal, and we decided it was time to make a return trip to this delightful and friendly country.

We considered several companies that offered package tours, but none had an itinerary we liked. Then we saw an ad from Portugal Trails (Cascais, Portugal; phone +351 214 851 476, saying they arranged custom tours. The company had good service reviews, so we contacted them.

After we indicated places we were interested in visiting, the company responded promptly via email and made useful suggestions. A tour was agreed upon for March 26-April 21, 2019, with Portugal Trails making the arrangements.

We were picked up at the Lisbon airport and taken to our hotel, where we were given a pamphlet with our hotels’ locations and suggestions for restaurants and interesting sights.

We spent the first three nights in Lisbon, then picked up our rental car, which was equipped with a GPS programmed with our route, hotel locations and places of interest. We had told the company we wanted to pay for the car rental with a credit card so we could use our credit card insurance, and Portugal Trails arranged that for us.

The original quote for the trip was 5,303 (near $6,430), which would have included a rental car with automatic transmission for 21 days. Instead, we chose to have a car with standard transmission, so the price we paid was much lower, 4,432.

Our arrangements included a walking tour in Lisbon and another in Porto, two wine/port tastings, a cruise on the Douro River (delightful!) and a day tour to Sintra from Cascais.

Palácio Nacional da Pena — Sintra, Portugal.

With the exception of a week we spent in a timeshare in the Algarve, Portugal Trails arranged for all our hotels (with breakfast). The cost of the hotels was included in our quote. We had requested small hotels, and all, except for a hotel in Porto (Charming House Cedofeita), were excellent.

The Pinhão hotel, Morgadio da Calcada, was not near Pinhão. It was very nice but located in the small village of Provesende, near Pinhão in the Douro Valley, up very narrow winding roads. Provesende was a charming village with two nice gift shops, a bar and a bakery, where the owner invited us in for a tour. Still, we suggest staying in a hotel inside Pinhão.

To visit wineries, we did take a taxi to Pinhão one day, since we might return after dark. The drive from Provesende to Pinhão was beautiful. We ate at a restaurant called Cozinha da Clara (Quinta de La Rosa 215, Pinhão; phone +351 254 732 254,, overlooking the Douro River.

We took the elevator down to the restaurant level, which sits on the side of a cliff and offers beautiful scenery. The food was exceptional! I had octopus, the best on the entire trip. The meal cost about $60 for the two of us.

On your first day in Lisbon, we would suggest taking a walking tour in order to get acquainted with the layout.

There is a steep hill on either side of Avenida da Liberdade, the main avenue running through the city. An elevator goes to the top of one, and an escalator goes up the side of the other. They will save you from a lot of hard walking! (The walking guide can point these out to you.) There are also convenient trolleys that can take you up and down the hills.

Monument of Discoveries — Lisbon.

The food and wine we had throughout Portugal were excellent, especially the seafood. For an interesting dining experience in Lisbon, we suggest Sea Me Peixa ria Moderna (Rua do Loreto 21, Lisbon; phone +351 213 461 564,

You get to select your own fish and are charged by the kilo. We ate there twice. For the two of us, the cost of each visit was about $80-$85 including wine. We suggest making a reservation, since the line formed very early.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and thought Portugal Trails did an excellent job with the arrangements. The company sent us names and websites for all of the accommodations they selected. We should have been more thorough in reviewing the accommodations.

Portugal Trails called us prior to the trip several times to ask if we had any questions. We would recommend them without hesitation.

Las Cruces, NM