Day 1: Depart London (Greenwich)
Day 2: Honfleur
Located in scenic Normandy, where the Seine opens out into the Channel, this is one of France’s – and the world’s most spectacular, historic harbours. Samuel de Champlain’s epic voyage-which resulted in the founding of Quebec, was launched from these waters. Wander cobbled streets where flowers spill down walls or sit to indulge in Calvados – a brandy made from Normandy’s famous apples. A museum dedicated to Eugene Boudin, the town’s influential impressionist artist, displays visions of the harbour and region, as well as paintings of the town’s stunning wooden church.
Day 3: Honfleur
Day 4: Saint Malo (Brittany)
A resilient walled city, Saint Malo was the historic home of a rowdy mix of skilled sailors and new world explorers – as well as the plunderers who earned the place its ‘Pirate City’ title. Jacques Cartier set voyage from here, leading to the settlement of New France and modern-day Quebec. Founded by a Welsh monk in the the 6th century, Saint Malo’s castle is forged from sheer granite. Explore streets that breathe with maritime tales and medieval charm – restored from the intense damage sustained during the second World War. Cathédrale de St. Malo rises above the tight paths, offering views of the peppered islands and fortifications. Enjoy a Brittany cider, which challenges wine as the indulgence of choice in these parts. Elsewhere, Cap Fréhel’s lush green peninsula juts out from the emerald coast, tempting with rich coastal hiking trails.
Day 5: Day at Sea
Day 6: Bordeaux
Sample the city’s famous, full-bodied wines with a visit to this elegant French port. Sprinkled with scenic, turret-adorned mansion castles, the vineyards of Bordeaux consistently produce revered wines. Explore France’s largest wine region, walking through vineyards where dusty clumps of grapes hang, before descending into the cellars to see the painstaking processes that make this region a global wine centre. Bordeaux itself is an intoxicating blend of old and new, a fact perfectly illustrated by the Water Mirror. This living art installation has reinvigorated one of the city’s most important historic sites, and it feels as though you’re walking on water, as you step through the cooling mist of Place de la Bourse. Marche des Quais – the city’s lively fish market, is the spot to try the freshest lemon-drizzled oysters and juicy prawns.
Day 7: Bordeaux
Day 8: Bordeaux
Day 9: Bilbao
Whether it’s the flow of its boundary pushing architecture or sweeps of gorgeous shoreline nearby, Bilbao is a city that places a premium on aesthetics. American architect Frank Gehry’s masterpiece of flowing metal is the shining standout here, a perfect harmony of smooth titanium and glass. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao boasts world-class exhibitions amongst its bright and expansive interior. The city’s historic core includes Casco Viejo; the medieval area and home to the original seven streets and cathedral, dating back to the 14th century. Aside from the tide of pretty facades, overflowing flower boxes, and intricate rail balconies, Plaza Nueva is Bilbao’s neoclassical square. Morning flea markets regularly overtake it, offering opportunities to pick through dusty books and rusted antiques.
Day 10: La Coruna
Luxuriating along the twisted Galician coastline, La Coruna is one of Spain’s most undiscovered , under-the-radar destinations. A pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella’s cultural wonders is easily within your reach from these shores. The narrow streets of the historic centre open out to the vast Plaza de Maria Pita, which is crowned by the triple domes of the City Hall. . Head to Calle Estrella, to taste the fruits of the Atlantic and La Coruna’s seafood – grilled octopus is a particular speciality. If you’re in a hurry, grab some empanada pastries, filled with minced beef, or head to the City Market, which is packed with Galician flavours and intrigues. Back at the seafront, the peninsula tempts with strolls out to one of the most storied lighthouses in Spain. Still watching the waves after almost 2,000 years, the Tower of Hercules was built by the Romans in the 2nd century, and this UNESCO World Heritage Site rises 55 metres above the Atlantic – making it Spain’s second tallest.
Day 11: Oporto (Leixões)
Lively, commercial Oporto is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. Also called Porto for short, the word easily brings to mind the city’s most famous product – port wine. Oporto’s strategic location on the north bank of the Douro River has accounted for the town’s importance since ancient times. The Romans built a fort here where their trading route crossed the Douro, and the Moors brought their own culture to the area. Oporto profited from provisioning crusaders en route to the Holy Land and enjoyed the riches from Portuguese maritime discoveries during the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 19th century, the city went through a period of new prosperity with the rise of industries. In its wake followed the building of workers’ quarters and opulent residences. Since the declaration of Oporto as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the city aims to build up a cultural reference that will provide it with a new image, based on deep historical roots.
Day 12 Lisbon
A glorious mosaic of beauty, freedom and authenticity, Portugal’s capital is a stirring artwork of a city. Known for the seven hills it spreads across, and its stirring fado music, Lisbon is a pastel-colored blend of houses and beautiful tile artworks – and this creative city strikes a perfect harmony between natural and man-made beauty. Look for the decorative tiles, with the distinctive blues and whites of Azulejo ceramics, and visit the dedicated museum to learn more. Afterwards, wind up to São Jorge Castle, where views out across Lisbon’s red rooftops unravel. Just one of many majestic viewpoints, you can also seek out Miradouro da Graça for perhaps Lisbon’s finest panorama, with the copper-coloured suspension bridge stretching over sparkling water beyond the sea of buildings.
The grand, carved cloisters of Jerónimos Monastery spread out close by, and there’s another UNESCO recognised location close by at Sintra, where a colourful town is set amid thick gardens and towering mountains – capped by the royal Pena Palace. Later, relax and take a quick break to drink Ginjinha, a cherry liqueur made from chocolate cups instead of coffee. Lisboetas have a sweet tooth, and the famous Pastel de Nata’s crumbling pastry and caramelised-custard topping is the essential accompaniment to any coffee stop.