From the Golden Age of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry to the present, the Sephardic community has played a vital role in contributing to Jewish and Western culture. Forming an integral part of medieval Iberia, the Jews of Portugal experienced periods of great creativity, as well as tragedy, until their fateful forced conversion and expulsion in 1497.
This 2023 trip to Portugal will bring to life the culture, heritage, and tradition of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula as we immerse ourselves in the rich culture, vibrancy, and creativity of Sephardic Jewry. In Lisbon, there will be an opportunity to enjoy an (optional) evening of fado, Portugal’s traditional music. Along the way, we will see Portugal’s stunning scenery. Highlights of our trip will include presentations by our accompanying scholar, Professor Chaim Seidler-Feller.
Beginning in cosmopolitan, thriving Lisbon, with its newly established Jewish community, our travels will include the bustling cities of Oporto, Coimbra, and Belmonte—a Marrano town, hidden from world Jewry for centuries until rediscovered in the 20th century. We will visit mystical Sintra and the quaint town of Óbidos, with its whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets, whose Jewish quarter was in the center of this perfectly preserved, 13th-century walled town, before returning to Lisbon for our final touring, including Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery.
We invite you to join us on this exciting, extraordinary journey and learn about the Jewish heritage, culture, and tradition of this important country on the Iberian Peninsula.
Arrival in Lisbon. Check in to our hotel, the 5-star deluxe Portobay Liberdade Hotel, a stone’s throw from Avenida da Liberdade, the most elegant avenue in the heart of the city center. Rest and relax from our journey.
Evening: Opening presentation by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, “Ashkenazi Martyrdom vs. Sephardi Conversion: On the Many Differences Between Ashkenazim and Sephardim”; orientation, and introductions, followed by a welcome dinner (included).
Our day will start with a panoramic city tour, including a visit with Jewish community members in Lisbon at the main synagogue, followed by lunch on our own and a tour of the Gulbenkian Museum—a fascinating, eclectic, and unique collection assembled by Calouste Gulbenkian; its wide-ranging contents include Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Islamic, and Oriental art, as well as European paintings.
Evening: Presentation by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “The Travails of the Abravanel Family: From the Royal Court to Exile”; dinner on our own.
We will begin this morning by touring the National Archives of Lisbon, where we will view original Inquisition documents, followed by a visit to the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal) to see its department of rare books and manuscripts, which include documents dating back to the 11th century.
After lunch on our own, we’ll have a guided tour of the Tile Museum. This delightful museum is well worth a visit, presenting five centuries of decorative ceramic tiles (azulejos), tracing the history and production of the art form. The highlight of the museum is a blue-and-white composition of 1,300 tiles, 75 feet long, of Lisbon’s cityscape made in 1738, prior to the Great Earthquake, and reputedly the country’s longest tile piece.
Evening: Shabbat dinner (included).
Free to attend services on our own, enjoy the hotel amenities, and/or visit sites of personal interest in Lisbon.
Afternoon: (optional) Tour of the National Museum of Art.
Evening: (optional) Fado dinner and show.
Drive to the magnificent village of Sintra, with time to visit the Town Palace and explore its historical village center. From Sintra, we will drive to the coast, where lunch (included) will be served in one of the famous fish restaurants at the beach of Guincho.
Evening: Presentation by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “Converso Culture and the Portugese Hebrews of Amsterdam”; dinner on our own.
Depart Lisbon for Tomar, where we will visit the Museu Luso-Hebraico Abraão Zacuto and Portuguese-Hebrew Museum, housed in a synagogue originally built in 1430, followed by a walking tour of the former Jewish quarter. Tour the Convent of Christ, a masterpiece of Manueline Gothic architecture and once headquarters of the Knights Templar. Free time for lunch on our own before departing for Belmonte.
Evening: Dinner (included) and overnight at the Pousada Convento Belmonte, housed in an old Franciscan convent from the 13th century.
Today we will visit Belmonte, a subregion of the Beira district in Portugal, where the community of Belmonte Jews, or “Marranos,” survived in secrecy for hundreds of years by hiding all external signs of their faith. We will visit the Belmonte synagogue and tour the new Jewish Museum with local historian and researcher José Levy Domingos. Founded in 2015, it is the first Jewish museum that portrays the history of the Jewish people of Portugal and the decisive role that Jews played in Portuguese culture, art, literature, and trade.
Lunch along the way (included) before visiting the medieval town of Trancoso, one of the most important towns in Portugal during the Middle Ages because of its strategic location, which was essential to retain Portugal’s independence as well as its borders; the town was strongly influenced by its ancient Jewish presence. Upon arrival, we will tour the town and visit the Isaac Cardoso Jewish Interpretation Centre, a place for culture and debate that teaches the ancient legacy that Beira Jewish communities left behind.
Evening: Dinner at our hotel (included).
Depart Belmonte for Coimbra, famed for its university, the oldest in the country. Kings were born and entombed here—once the capital of the Portuguese nation. Upon arrival, a brief city tour, followed by lunch on our own.
Afternoon: Private guided tour of the Machado de Castro National Museum (MNMC), named for the famous Portuguese sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro (1731–1822). The permanent displays of Roman archaeology, which include a remarkable cryptoporticus, 12th- to 18th-century southern European sacred metalwork, 14th–18th-century jewelry, and one of the finest collections of medieval statuary in Portugal that span the 10th–18th centuries is supplemented by rare and valuable paintings, drawings, textiles, furniture, and ceramics.
Check in to the Quinta das Lágrimas hotel, with its famed gardens.
Evening: Presentation by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “Jewish Art as Commentary: The Magnificent Illuminations of the Cervera Bible”; dinner at our hotel (included).
Full-day tour of Oporto, including a visit to the old Jewish quarter, and the original 12th-century city of Oporto, with its narrow winding streets. Lunch on our own on the waterfront.
Afternoon: Tour of the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, with its outstanding collection of Portuguese art spanning the 16th–20th centuries and including sculptures by António Soares dos Reis, the country’s celebrated 19th-century sculptor, after whom the museum is named.
Return to Coimbra in time for dinner on our own.
Depart Coimbra and begin our day by traveling to Óbidos, with its whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets, whose Jewish quarter was in the center of this perfectly preserved, 13th-century walled town. Lunch (included) by the sea in the picturesque fishing village of Nazaré, before continuing on to Alcobaça, known for its beautiful tiles and ceramics. Here we will view the magnificent monastery church and learn about the romantic legend of King Pedro I and Inês de Castro, a love story that left its mark on the history of Portugal.
We return to Lisbon for the remainder of the tour, checking in to the boutique 5-star Palacio do Governador, once a grand palace. Overlooking the Belém Tower, this elegantly restored hotel still retains many historical details. Its superb cuisine, spa, and indoor and outdoor pools are but a few of the hotel’s delights.
Evening: Festive Shabbat dinner (included).
Morning: Free to explore sites of interest in Lisbon our own, or rest, relax, enjoy hotel amenities or (optional) participate in a study session led by Chaim Seidler-Feller.
Afternoon: Walking tour of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery. One of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon, the Monastery and nearby tower of Belém are both classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Evening: Festive closing dinner (included).
Depart Portugal for return flights home.
This boutique hotel has all the features of an urban resort: an indoor swimming pool and gymnasium with natural lighting, spa with treatment rooms for two, sauna, Turkish steam bath, esplanade, patio, and terrace balconies in most rooms. All rooms feature thoughtful touches like espresso makers, free Wi-Fi, and LCD TVs with cable channels, 24-hour room service, and minibars.
The former convent of Nossa Senhora da Esperança (Our Lady of Hope) is now the luxurious Hotel Convento de Belmonte. The ecclesiastical origins of the convent have been maintained in this new, elegantly designed hotel, which features panoramic views over the plains across to the peaks of the Serra da Estrela mountain range.
Quinta das Lágrimas is a member of the “Small Luxury Hotels of the World” and a retreat of peace and tranquillity set within an 18th-century palace surrounded by 10 acres of lush gardens in Coimbra. Located a short walk from Coimbra’s medieval center. The hotel offers two restaurants, an outdoor swimming pool, a heated indoor swimming pool, and a spa with a fitness center, Turkish bath, and steam room.