I recently returned from my first trip to Europe… I was a little nervous, not knowing what to expect, but it turned out to be a great experience that I will never forget! We landed in Lisbon, Portugal, where we met up with the rest of our group from Collette Vacations. The value of an escorted tour is immeasurable and I recommend one for all first-time travelers. I didn’t have to worry about anything; every detail is handled by an experienced guide.
Lisbon, Portugal is a vibrant capital city where quaint farming villages and sprawling cork and olive tree plantations dot the landscape. There we visited Monument to the Discoveries and the Tower Belem. I got to enjoy the local cuisines, wines, folkloric dances and Fado music. We visited several small, quaint towns including Fatima, Nazare and Obidos. Fatima, Portugal’s small pilgrimage town, is known as the “Silver Coast”. Nazare is the town where the Statue of the Virgin Mary was found. Obidos is my favorite city, paved by cobbled streets. From the hidden corners and the high walled gardens of the old Medina area, to the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque features in the architecture, the town is an extensive work of art that was created, destroyed and rebuilt throughout centuries. Obidos was recently elected one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal. Our next stop was Azeitao, an agricultural village known for its red wine, olive trees and country estates. There we got to visit a local Ceramic factory and went to a wine tasting… my favorite! Portugal has so much to offer, and I wish I could have stayed there much longer to soak everything up. I would definitely go back as soon as I get the chance, I fell in love with this beautiful country.
Seville, Spain was our next stop. Seville is the capital of Andalucia region and its most popular destination. The grand Cathedral, Alcazar Palace and surrounding Santa Cruz quarter offer one of the most charming backdrops in all of southern Spain. While Seville is famous for its history, at the same time the old city center is bustling with modern life. Filled with shops, tapas bars and restaurants, the city offers plenty of options for locals and visitors. We visited Christopher Columbus’ Tomb, the Ornate Cathedral, a UNESCO site, and the Giralda Bell Tower. Seville is also known for its historic role in flamenco: countless singers, musicians and dancers have developed their talents in the city. Seville also hosts some of the most important flamenco festivals and events. We were able to take in a show and experience firsthand the powerful emotions of the artists.
From Seville, we took our tour bus to travel to the extraordinary Moorish city of Cordoba and embarked on a walking tour of the Mezquita. This UNESCO site, an architectural marvel, was built by the Moors in the 8th Century as a magnificent mosque, and was converted into the city’s Cathedral in the 16th Century. All its attractions are accessible on foot, and it’s a joy to wander among the squares of the old town and through the alley-thin streets of the old Jewish quarter, the Juderia, Eating out is leisurely grazing at the countless tapas bars, where you’re as likely to be surrounded by locals as by tourists. Ferociously hot in mid-summer, Cordoba’s climate is at its best in autumn.
Our last stop was Madrid, the capital of Spain. It is a cosmopolitan city that combines the most modern infrastructures with its status as a bustling economic, financial, and administrative center. Here is Spain’s best known cultural and artistic heritage, and a legacy of exciting history, spanning centuries. The Madrid area has been settled since the Lower Paleolithic age, but it was not until 1561 that King Philip II made it the capital of his mighty empire. It is also known as “Madrid de los Austrias” (referring to the Hapsburg Empire) and is a living example of the city’s 16th and 17th century heyday. Its impressive Plaza Mayor (town square), which was opened in 1620, remains one of Spain’s most popular tourist spots. Near the Plaza Mayor is the “aristocratic centre” of Madrid, home to the stunning Royal Palace, a 17th century monument that combines Baroque and Classical architectural styles. Next to the palace, you can find the Plaza de Oriente (square), the Opera House and the modern Almudena Cathedral, consecrated in 1993 by Pope John Paul II. Art and culture are central to life in Madrid. The city has 73 museums that cover all fields of human knowledge. Madrid’s happening nightlife is another major attraction. Its pubs, bars, discos and flamenco clubs have a tremendous atmosphere, while by day, there are traditional verbenas (open-air dances), and many popular festivals. Most famous is the San Isidro bullfighting festival, regarded as the world’s best-known arena event of its kind.
Future travelers should definitely consider booking an escorted trip to Europe, especially if it’s a first-time visit. Collette Vacations did a great job and made my trip completely stress-free, giving me time to enjoy all the beauty Europe has to offer
– Michelle Johnson