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Wellington in Portugal

The French Invasions

During the years 1808 – 1810, the forces commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley successfully repulsed three French invasions of Portugal. In 1808 he scored his first victories in the Peninsula at Rolica and Vimeiro. 1809 saw the French invading the country from the North only to be brilliantly out-manoeuvred at Porto when Wellesley audaciously crossed the Douro. Then in 1810, after receiving a bloody check at Busaco, Marshal Massena’s forces forced themselves towards Lisbon only to be stopped before the ingeniously conceived Lines of Torres Vedras. Making no attempt to break through, the starving French were forced to abandon Portugal for the last time, hotly pursued by Wellington’s (as he was by then known) forces, the Light Division seeing many sharp actions and capturing an ‘eagle’ at Foz de Arouce.

On this eight day tour we escape the main roads to discover the Portugal known so well to the men of Wellington’s Army during the years 1808– 1811. As well as the battlefields we will see the landing beaches of 1808 with their treacherous rolling surf, the lagoons through which Hill and Cameron’s brigades sailed in an attempt to out-manoeuvre before Porto, explore the forts and signal redoubts along the Lines of Torres Vedras and see how, during Massena’s retreat in 1811, Marshal Ney honed his rear guard fighting techniques against Wellington’s Light Division, a quality for which Napoleon dubbed him the ‘bravest of the brave’ after the disastrous French retreat from Moscow the following year. There will be time to explore the historic centre of Lisbon, take Port in Porto, walk the walls of the pretty Moorish town of Obidos, and see much of rural Portugal.

“Wellington: A fine fellow with the best nerves of anyone I ever met with”

Major General Sir Lowry Cole: letter from Portugal 1811


Day 1 - Opening Shots.

Fly London to Lisbon. Check-in to our hotel in Obidos for one night. From Wellington’s observation tower we discuss the opening shots of the campaign.

Day 2 - Rolica and Vimeiro.

Explore the battlefield tour of Rolica including both the French positions and Lake’s monument. Thence to Maceira Bay, where British reinforcements came ashore prior to Vimeiro, our next stop. From the visitor centre and terrace beside it we get a great view of the battlefield before travelling out to Ventosa to look at the French flanking attacks. Continue to Mondego Bay, Wellesley’s initial landing beach. Check-in to our hotel in Curia for three nights.

Day 3 - Porto.

Today we examine Wellesley’s audacious crossing of the Douro and the events preceding it. We stop at the River Vouga, the French defensive line and the Aveiro lagoons through which Hill’s flanking forces sailed. At Vila Nova we stand at the monastery from where Wellesley commanded before crossing over to the seminary. We end the day at one of Porto’s fine port lodges to sample their wares.

Day 4 - Busaco.

Today is dedicated to the battle of Busaco, the field of which is situated in the heart of the Portuguese National Park. We will visit Massena’s headquarters, Wellington’s command post, the military museum and Craufurd’s rock and take a late lunch at the magnificent Busaco Palacehotel.

“Wellington: The long-nosed bugger what beats the French”.

Remark by a British private in the Peninsula 1811

Day 5 – Massena’s Retreat.

As we make our way back to Lisbon we visit selected actions that took place during the French retreat from the Lines of Torres Vedras including Foz de Arouce and Pombal. Check-in to our hotel in Lisbon for three nights.

Day 6 – Lisbon.

We spend a full day in Lisbon and its environs including the impressive military museum with its large model of the Lines, take the elevator to the top of the Cristo Rei statue for breath-taking views over the Lisbon peninsula, visit the dominating Castello de Sao Jorge and explore Belem, the home of the British forces for most of the war.

Day 7 – The Lines of Torres Vedras

Explore the forts in the 2nd lines and visit Colonel Fletcher’s monument at Alhandra. See the site of Beresford’s and Wellington’s headquarters at Pero Negro, the great redoubt of Sobral and the restored fort of San Vicente.

Day 8 - Home.

Fly Lisbon – London.