Portugal: Exploring Hilltop Cities by the Sea

Led by Eric Lund, Professor Emeritus of Religion, and Cynthia Lund, Retired Assistant Curator and Special Collections Librarian, Kierkegaard Library

May 14–28, 2017

This program is a GO. 

Portugal is the oldest country in Europe in the sense that it has existed within its current borders longer than any other – since 1139. Prior to that it was a Celtic region, the Roman province of Lusitania, the abode of Germanic Visigothic invaders, a Muslim Moorish caliphate and then a small Christian monarchy. In the 15th century, Portuguese sailors initiated the voyages of discovery that linked Europe to the rest of the world and turned their kingdom into an empire with colonies in South America, Africa, India and Asia. Today, that empire is gone but traces of its existence can be seen in the fact that Portuguese is a language spoken by more than 240 million people. The rich legacy and prosperity of past periods is also evident everywhere in the sites we will visit in the modern Portuguese republic.

Among the interesting features that will repeatedly impress us during our two week journey are the way cities and towns are perched on high hilltops and the orientation of Portugal to the sea. We will start in the north in Porto, the second-biggest city, because it was the birthplace of the nation. (The name of the country originated from this city.) We will explore the long and rich cultural history of this city — a UNESCO world heritage site — and also get a tasty introduction to the excellent cuisine of Portugal, which is especially known for its seafood — and Port wine. Porto was the embarkation point for Prince Henry the Navigator, who launched Portugal’s world-wide explorations. Its many ornate churches are covered inside with gold brought back from the New World and outside with distinctive ceramic blue tiles.

As we move southward, our next stop will be Coimbra, a smaller hilltop city known especially for its beautiful university, in existence since 1290. We will also explore the Roman period of Portuguese history by a visit to the nearby remains of Conímbriga before we spend several days visiting several smaller towns that were particularly important during the Middle Ages. Tomar is known for a beautiful convent founded by the Knights Templar. A famous Gothic monastery in Batalha is another of the many World Heritage sites we will see. As a further exploration of Portuguese religious life we will go to Fatima, which has been one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Catholics since 1917 when three young sheep-herding children saw the Virgin Mary there in a series of apparitions.

One of the most impressive hilltop sites we will visit is Óbidos, where we can walk along the top of the walls of a castle. The orientation of Portugal to the sea will also become more evident to us when we use the seaside resort of Nazaré as our base for the middle part of the program. (By the way, world surfing records have been set there, where waves can sometimes reach 70+ feet.)

In the second week we will visit various sites in the vicinity of Lisbon. This capital city became the hub of European commerce in the Age of Discovery, and the prosperity resulting from that is evident in Lisbon’s many churches, monuments and art collections. We will also hear the interesting story of how the city was mostly destroyed and creatively redesigned after the disastrous earthquake of 1755. Excursions out of Lisbon give us another taste of the sea at Cascais and exposure to more World Heritage sites at Sintra and Évora.

If you are a lover of history, religion, art, food or even shopping, you will enjoy exploring the hills and coasts of Portugal – an often overlooked gem.

Program Leaders  

Eric Lund recently retired from St. Olaf where he was a Professor of Religion for 36 years. During the past decade he also served as Director of International Studies. Eric is a historian with a special interest in European religious life. In addition, he loves cooking, studying foreign languages, cartography, and planning educational travel experiences. He led 23 programs abroad for St. Olaf students in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and has also led 4 programs for the Study Travel office — most recently in Italy and Germany. The Lunds will be assisted throughout the program by a Portuguese research scholar who is their personal friend.

In retirement, Eric keeps busy with research and writing projects — and travels whenever he can.  He will be accompanied on this program by his wife, Cynthia Wales Lund, who recently retired as librarian at St. Olaf’s Hong Kierkegaard Library. Cynthia and Eric are new grandparents and try to keep up with the lives of their two grown children.

What to Expect  

European cities are best experienced on foot and are rarely handicapped accessible. Though we will transfer between cities by private motor coach, you should be prepared for lots of walking.

To fully partake in this program, you should be capable of walking a minimum of one mile at a time over uneven terrain and up to five miles per day, of climbing stairs that may not have handrails, of keeping pace with an active group of travelers on long days of traveling, of dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing a different culture, and of traveling with a group for several hours each day. You always have the option of skipping a group activity you think will be too strenuous and remaining back at the hotel or coach.

Hotels will be tourist class (typically three or four star) with private baths, air conditioning and English-speaking staff.

May weather in Portugal should be quite pleasant with highs in the mid 60s (Fahrenheit) and lows in the mid 40s. Mornings will feel cool and afternoons warmer, especially if the sun is shining. We recommend wearing light layers that can be added or removed as needed.

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit cdc.gov or who.int.

Program Fee   

The program fee is $4,129 per person. Based on double occupancy, it includes discussions led by Eric Lund, assistance by Cindy Lund, accommodations, breakfast daily and group meals as listed on the itinerary, admissions for group activities, ground transportation during the program, gratuities to group guides, drivers and meal servers, and some limited medical coverage while overseas. For single occupancy, add $878.

Airfare to and from Portugal is not included. Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses are: Airfare between your home town and Portugal • Airport transfers • Any passport fees • Any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • Baggage insurance • Trip cancellation insurance above $2,000 lifetime coverage • Beverages at group meals • Laundry • Dry cleaning • Phone charges • Room service or other items of a personal nature • Expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities • Lunch and dinner, unless specifically included on program itinerary.

Making Your Travel Plans  

You should plan to depart the U.S. on Sunday, May 14, 2017 in order to arrive in Porto on May 15. Plan to depart from Lisbon any time on May 28, 2017.