Discovering the Best Kept Secrets of France & Portugal: Spain’s Neighbors

Discovering the Best Kept Secrets of Portugal & France: Spain's Neighbors

Discovering the Best Kept Secrets of France & Portugal: Spain’s Neighbors

Spain is an ultimate destination for tourists by itself. It has it all: from turquoise seas and rugged mountain ranges to ancient, white-washed villages, outstanding gastronomy, fascinating arts, and rich culture. But when combined with its neighbors, France and Portugal, you really can appreciate each country’s many wonderful traditions and their rich history even more. Understanding on a whole new level why each is such an iconic tourist hotspot of Europe and how the cultural flare of these three countries combined keeps so many travelers coming back each year. Discover the best kept secrets of Portugal & France, Spain’s neighbors.

At Just Explore this month, we are highlighting the three international destinations we cover, Spain, Portugal and a corner of France.
Our tailormade itineraries for these regions offer so much more than just taking you to the hot spots to take that perfect Instagram selfie, our itineraries will help you uncover totally new places, discover spectacular hidden gems that aren’t on any travel guides and learn about other ways of living.

The French experience comes within our exclusive Northern Spain and Bordeaux itinerary. This is an example 13-day itinerary that starts off in the port city of Bordeaux in the South-West of France, before heading to Spain with stops in San Sebastian, Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela. This is just an example itinerary, which can always be adjusted to meet your individual requirements and budget.

Alright, let’s begin with our article about the best of Portugal & France.

France & Portugal customised itineraries
Bordeaux is home to 362 monuments

Best Kept Secrets of Portugal & France

Best Kept Secrets of France

Let’s uncover a hidden corner of France: The bedazzling jewel of Bordeaux

When you think of the South-West of France, for most, first and foremost, it’s wine that comes to mind. Particularly in Bordeaux, which is home to around 7,000 winemakers, the city is the capital of the region and features some of the oldest vineyards and finest wines in the world. Part of our exclusive itinerary includes tasting some of the best wines this region has to offer and when paired with delicious French cheese it’s sure to be a gastronomic experience of a lifetime. During this trip you will also stroll through the world-famous stunning vineyards of Saint Emilion which are UNESCO listed as a World Heritage site. ¡Bordeaux is one of our favorite best kept secrets of France!

Private wine tastings at the most exclusive Chateaux in St Emilion

But there is so much more to Bordeaux than its wine. It’s also classified as the city of art and history, home to 362 monuments (only Paris has more) with some buildings dating back to Roman times. Some of the sites you will visit with us include, The Grand Theatre, located in the heart of downtown; the Place de la Bourse built by King Louis XV in the early 1700’s as the Royal Plaza, the Triangle d’Or one of the richest and most beautiful neighbourhoods in Bordeaux along with some beautiful private mansions.

The city was originally known as Burdigala by its original Celtic inhabitants around 300 BC and remained peaceful until 60 BC which is when the Romans invaded. During the Roman Empire it was a central hub for lead and tin mining, and then became the capital of Roman Aquitaine. It was not until the beginning of the 12th century that the boom really began, in particular thanks to the growing wine trade, at this time the city was actually under the control of England..

France & Portugal tours
Place de la Bourse is one of the city’s most well known sites

Bordeaux is as modern and urban as it is historic, standing out as one of the first French cities to embrace urbanism and big scale metropolitan projects where it is now home to one of Europe’s biggest 18th-century architectural urban areas. The city’s rich history can be retraced at the port of Bordeaux, the seventh largest port of France.

While the Bordeaux Museum at the heart of the Jardin Public in the Fondaudège district also lays out the city’s significance for all to see. Rue Sainte-Catherine, a 1.2 km long pedestrian street, is the main shopping street in Bordeaux and presents an authentic view of how people in the city live: full of vibrant cafes, boulangerie’s, fashion outlets and art galleries. The Bordeaux Opera is the city’s hub of the arts, while the famous reflecting pool, Place de la Bourse, is a must see and well known as one of the city’s most recognised sites.

Best Kept Secrets of Portugal. Let’s explore trendy Portugal

We have handpicked our favourite locations in Portugal which we believe perfectly encapsulate the authentic flavour of Spain’s fascinating neighbour. All are included in our exclusive 17-night itinerary, The Best of Spain and Portugal which starts in Madrid, before taking guests through whitewashed Andalusian hill towns, stopping over in Cordoba, Granada and Seville, before continuing on to Portugal. There, we arrive to lively Lisbon, followed by Coimbra for a healthy dose of history and impressive architecture, before ending in the proud city of Porto. Again, if you’d like to extend or adjust this itinerary, we’ll be happy to customise it for you.

The UNESCO World Heritage Belém Tower was built in the 16th century

Lisbon: An architectural & gastronomical journey

What was once a remote outpost on what was thought to be the farthest edge of the known world, has now become a powerhouse destination in modern-day tourism. The city centre was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755 but was rebuilt by the marquês de Pombal. The city of multi-coloured houses, elegant parks and gardens was then reconstructed into a bustling modern metropolis. Its architecture is world class, from the six-lane Vasco da Gama Bridge, one of the longest bridges in Europe, to the limestone UNESCO World Heritage Belém Tower, built in the 16th century to defend the city. Lisbon will leave you inspired by it’s fascinating mix of styles and contrasts.

No trip here is complete until you’ve taken a ride on one of its world-famous yellow trams to explore the city and search for the best Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tart), an absolute must when in Lisbon. 

The Rua Augusta Arch in Plaça do Comerçio.

On our gastronomic tour around Lisbon, you will pass through Bairro Alto and some of the most glamourous neighbourhoods of the city such as Chiado, Rossio, Castle, and Alfama. You’ll also be tasting some of the most typical Portuguese specialties on offer whilst admiring the charming river from the city’s main square. The tour ending is at Time Out Market, a modern Portuguese food hall located in the historic Mercado da Ribeira in Cais do Sodre.

Founded in 1290, the University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in the world

Coimbra-Steeped in history

For over 100 years Coimbra was the medieval capital of Portugal. Today, it’s known as the university city, full of domestic and international students, which adds to the destination and has a unique feel of youth, modern allure and an ancient past. The university, Biblioteca Joanina, is one of the oldest in the world and is renowned for its heritage and awe-inspiring faculty buildings. Ancient Coimbra, with its Moorish fortifications and Gothic religious buildings will leave you feeling like you’ve been transported back to another time. 

Our half-day tour here will include a visit to the Biblioteca Joanina, as well as the Royal Palace, the S. Miguel Chapel, the Chemistry Lab, and the Colégio de Jesus. The team at Just Explore will then walk you down the hill where you’ll pass by the Cathedral of Coimbra and the Holy Cross Monastery, following the footsteps of the many students who have walked the streets of this city over many centuries..

The many flavours of Porto

Here you will end your trip on a culinary high, in Porto, the second largest city in the country after Lisbon. Famed for its port wine, you’re bound to find your favourite tiple here, and to eat, there’s so much more than just the sensational cod bakes and pastéis de natas. (Portugese tarts). The food draws heavily from the ocean (lamprey, crab, trout, lobster, sardines) and is defined by subtle yet well-paired flavours as well as plenty of innovation.

Fresh sardines at the many seafood markets always hit the spot, or if you want a break from seafood, you can’t go wrong with a traditional francesinhasandwich. The traditional recipe layers toasted white bread with steak and ham, over which sliced cheese is melted with a tangy tomato-and-beer sauce (molho de francesinha), topped with egg and served with a side of fries.

Franceshina, specialty dish in Porto

In Porto you will also be treated to a walking city tour with a private guide, starting at the Cathedral of Porto where you will explore the medieval streets that surround it and uncover the many secrets they hold. You’ll then make your way to the S. Bento train station, which is well worth a stop, to admire its walls and ceilings comprising of more than 20,000 hand-painted tiles!

We will also ensure you experience Aliados, the city’s main avenue where you are bound to learn why people from Porto are the proudest and some of the most cheerful in the country. And you won’t leave without getting your chance to enjoy the view from one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the city just before your guided visit of the Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa).

France & Portugal customised itineraries

Our France & Portugal tours offer the opportunity to enjoy truly customised itineraries of two of Europe’s cultural hot spots. Each will leave you with so much knowledge about how people go about their lives in these two countries, and why they are such awe-inspiring fab places to visit.

We hope you enjoyed our article about the best kept secrets of France & Portugal.