Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

Napolenic Wars memorial in Torres Vedras

Having found Julian Paget’s book “Wellington’s Peninsular War – Battles and Battlefields” in the Salisbury library I could get down to some serious planning. We both wanted to return to some of the sites we had visited with Holts, in particular Cuidad Rodrigo, Fuentes de Orono and Salamanca. We also wanted to visit Portuguese battlefields such as Torres Vedras, Vimerio, Rolicia and Busaco. Reading through Paget’s book I was confident that I could find all of these sites without too much trouble.

We came now to the part which I thought would be quite easy. Finding and booking hotels. This was 1994 remember, and it was not just a matter of “googling on the web”, or at least for me it was not. I went to my local travel agents to see what they could offer. I was very disappointed to discover that they really only had package tours available. Lots and lots of package tours, but none going where I wanted to go. At that time Holts was the only company that did battlefield tours to Spain and Portugal. We eventually found one agent who offered a “tailor made” holiday with a company called “Discover Spain”. In an ideal world we would have booked a Bed and Breakfast right on the battlefield, but this was not possible. They only booked Paradores (in Spain) and Posada (in Portugal). These are state run luxury hotels, and are available through some travel agents. The castle at Cuidad Rodrigo where we had spent a night with Holts was a Paradore. Unfortunately they are not in every town, and certainly not on every battlefield. However in most towns they could offer us 4 star hotels. We would have to work out a list of locations, and they would then see what they could book for us.

We decided that our tour would last 9 days. We would fly to Lisbon and hire a car. The travel agents booked us 9 nights accommodation:

Hotel in Torres Vedras
Hotel in Obidos
Hotel in Figueria
Hotel in Busaco (Paradore was fully booked)
Paradore in Cuidad Rodrigo
Hotel in Salamanca (Paradore was fully booked)
Paradore in Almeida (2 nights)
Hotel in Oporto

Based on this accommodation we would visit the following battlefields:

Day 1 – fly to Lisbon, drive to Torres Vedras (37 miles)
Day 2 – Explore the lines of Torres Vedras, visit Vimerio drive to Obidos (25 miles)
Day 3 – Visit Rolicia, drive to Mondego Bay (80 miles)
Day 4 – Drive to Busaco, explore battlefield (20 miles)
Day 5 – Drive to Cuidad Rodrigo, explore Fuentes de Orono (150 miles)
Day 6 – Drive to Salamanca, explore battlefield (75 miles)
Day 7 – Drive to Almeida, explore Fort Conception (95 miles)
Day 8 – Explore Combat on the Coa, drive to Oporto (160 miles)
Day 9 – Explore crossing of the river Douro, fly back from Oporto

The distances were carefully considered. Where there were a number of sites close by, for example Torres Vedras, Vimerio and Rolica we would plan a short days drive. If a long drive was involved we would only visit one site either before or after the drive.

At 0830 on 9 September 1994 we left Salisbury for Gatwick for our first fly-drive tour of Wellingtons battlefields. We were very excited, and not a little nervous, about how it would all go. Planning is one thing, doing quite another.

It was 6.30pm as we left Lisbon airport, right in the middle of the rush hour. Jan was driving and I had the map reading. Lisbon is like most big cities, very confusing. I only had a road atlas to follow, so we just had to find the right road. Torres Vedras in on a minor road called the N8, and is north west of Lisbon. Well north of Torres Vedras it reaches the town of Lerida.

Within minutes of leaving the airport we were on a four lane freeway. At the first junction I saw a sign for Lerida, and we took the road with relief. However within minutes I realized we were on the A1, a motorway which leads to Lerida, but on after a long loop north west. We would have to find a road to take us towards the coast and pick up the N8.

We left the A1 at the next junction and headed west, looking for a petrol station to ask for directions. Needless to say we could not find one. We did find a tiny village, which was not on my map. No petrol station, but a group of young lads on motor cycles looking very aggressive. I approached them a little apprehensively, especially as I don’t speak a word of Portuguese. I showed them the booking slip for the hotel, and one of them signaled for me to follow him. He took me a few miles to the next road junction and pointed out the right road. Just goes to show you should never judge people by appearances, he could not have been more helpful

Within half an hour we arrived in Torres Vedras. After our experiences in Lisbon I was a little worried how difficult it might be to find the hotel. I need not have worried. We drove into the town centre and saw the hotel right in front of us.

It was just gone 9pm. The receptionist spoke excellent English, and recommended a local restraurant in the main square to eat. No one in the restraurant spoke English, so I am not too sure what we ordered, but we would get used to that. After dinner we took a walk around the town centre. There is not a lot to see in Torres Vedras, but we did find the monument to the Napoleonic Wars. Again not too difficult to find, it was in the same square as our hotel!

I was not really too worried about our map reading disaster in Lisbon. For the next four days all of our driving would be along the N8, which is a nice little A road close to the coast.

We had found our first hotel and we were all set for our first visit – Fort Vicente one of the forts of the Lines of Torres Vedras.


  1. Have you any advice on visiting Busaco, Rolica & Vimeiro for somebody that does not know the country?

  2. Hi Gregor

    I shall be doing a blog on Busaco, Rolica and Vimerio shortly, but I am not sure how useful it will be as far as practical advice is concerned.

    If you live in UK I would recommend doing a Holts Holiday, but check that they visit all three still.

    If you want to do one on your own then its just a matter of research, research and a little more research. You have to know where to do, how to get there, where to park and where to go to see what you are interested in.

    If you would like more information send me an email and I will help if I can


  3. The easiest route from Lisbon airport to Torres Vedras is the A8 which is a two lane motorway and would cost about €4 in tolls, currently there are smoe major roadworks along this route with narrow lanes and speed restrictions so take care.