Part 2: Coastal Portugal
1 week travelling up the coast. The small roads off the highway take you to beautiful villages and stunning beaches, on the main highways the tolls are very expensive so unless you are in a rush take the small roads.
The roads within the center of the old cities are in brick which make them beautiful to look at but not the nicest for smooth driving. Google maps is also not perfect for most of Portugal so don’t rely on it too heavily. Just follow the roads in front of you and you’ll find things most people haven’t even thought of looking for.
- Beautiful old town in the south of Portugal. There are stunning beaches around the area and interesting rock formations just out of the town
- Lisbon is a beautiful city and the shopping is amazing. The fashion is unique and many clothing shops with reasonably affordable and good quality items. It is easy to see why textiles are sucha huge export from Portugal.
- The Classical music of Portugal, more specifically Lisbon. It is passionate and mournful music. A great experience to listen to live.
Palace of Pena, Sintra
- Beautiful colourful palace surrounded by tranquil gardens. Sintra in general is a beautiful area in itself with a lot to discover. We will definitely be heading back to explore some more!
- You can circmnavigate this beautiful town walking on the castle walls and find hidden gems down the little alleyways.
Port & Porto
- Porto is a stunning city to wander around. There are also many cellars that give Port wine tours and tastings, a great spot to experience it seeing as this is where the wine originated.
- The location of some of the biggest waves in the world due to an underwater canyon just offshore.
The Travellers Tips
- Campsites are big, you will not find a kitchen but the food is so cheap at the campsite restaurants its often just worth eating there. You’ll most likely need to bring your own toilet paper and hand soap.
- If you are caught free camping you will get a fine, if you are caught. I have heard the police are most vigilant about this in the south of Portugal.
- They are very pricey, avoid them as much as you can and travel through the beautiful small villages.
- Everything is much cheaper in the off season and all the tourist locations much less crowded. What you can find though is a lot of areas of construction, but overall I’d say its worth it.
- Food is really cheap in Portugal and you can get really good deals at certain restaurants. A tip we were told was avoid places that look new. Go to restaurants that have an 80s style and are full of older people. You will get great local classics extremely cheap.
Day 11: Playa de Mazagon → Faro → Lagos
Off to Portugal! Our first stop, Faro. I have to admit, I’m pretty confused by this town. It is pretty big, yet feels almost completely abandoned. The streets are quiet, plaster is pealing off the walls, graffiti is prevalent and several doors are locked shut with chains with padlocks. The only people around seemed to be tourists, and even they seemed to be clustered in restaurants or shops rather than wandering the streets. It was quite a random first experience of Portugal.
After lunch and a wander we headed on the road to Albufeira. This area is well known for resort towns and this is one of the biggest. The beach is beautiful and the white houses surrounding really make you feel like you are in Portugal. The tourists don’t though, and they are pretty much the population here, but with a beautiful beach and 2.50 euro pints of beer in pretty much every bar it’s easy to see why. As soon as we grabbed an ice cream the rain started to spit so we began looking for a spot to stay.
With the rain pouring down we decided to splash out on a hostel room for 20 euros. This hostel was in a refurbished house, or 2 houses joined together. As it turned out we ended up having a whole house basically to ourselves, not a bad deal at all! Also staying in the hostel (in the adjoining house) was a really nice Hungarian couple who had been living in Portugal for the past 6 months but are now heading back to Hungary. They told us all the best local spots to go through Portugal, basically planning the next stage of our trip. Pretty fantastic! Just hoping the weather holds out, looks like thunderstorms are on the way…
Day 12: Lagos → Galé Beach
Far out we have been lucky today! Stormy weather was meant to take over for the whole day, but somehow we managed to skip most of it. We started the day exploring Lagos. It’s a beautiful area and we had a stunning day to explore.
At the edge of the town, and the edge of the land, you can find steep cliff faces and unique rock formations carved by the waves. A popular one we saw is Ponta de Piedade ↓
We spent the day heading up the coast, through Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, from beach to beach, searching for the sun. Everywhere we stopped we found some sun, and if rain threatened we hopped back in the car and continued our journey. There are some really nice beaches, but the waves are so big that you wouldn’t want to swim, even surfing would be a push. One really nice stop was Praia das Furnas. If the weather was hot you can swim without battling the waves at the river mouth, and the village is beautiful with small white houses with blue trimming and orange rooves. This has been the classic architecture of the places we have been. The design makes you feel like you are right by the beach, even if you are far from it.
Our final stop for the night was Galé Beach. The campgrounds in Portugal are insane, and insanely cheap. They are huge, with tennis courts, restaurants, games rooms, everything you could want (except a kitchen, but when the restaurants are cheaper than cooking maybe there is no point). Being off season we got to choose a spot for the tent in the middle of the trees, right by the ocean, with no other campers in sight. Truely tranquil.
After setting up the tent we headed to the beach for sunset. The rain had made some amazing formations in the sand dunes. At first glance they looked like stunning rock formations, but after they crumbled to the touch it was clear they were just wet sand, moulded in a way to make them appear sharp and jagged.
It was a great end to the day sitting on the sand, watching the sun set on the horizon, with a beer in one hand and a salad in the other…
Before escaping to the tent for the night we went and tested out the bar. Less than 3 euros for 2 beers, not bad. We didn’t realise playing pool was charged by the minute though, after 5 games we were stung with a bit of a bill.
As I am writing this I am lying in the tent listening to the waves hit the shore. Portugal has some of the biggest waves in the world, we have seen some biggies already but will soon go to the spot where the biggest wave ever surfed, Nazare. But next up, Lisbon.
Day 13: Gale Beach → Lisbon
Today we began the drive to Lisbon. We were meant to be struck with stormy weather all day, but our lucky streak continued with only a few patches of rain through the day.
As we moved up the coast we found large groups of stalks nesting on the houses, road signs and power poles. The power poles have flat pieces of metal on top of them specifically to allow nesting. The White Stalk migrates between Europe and Africa, following summer weather. They return to Europe for breeding and nesting in March/April, perfect timing for us, and as this takes place in swamp lands the area around the Sado Estuary Natural Reserve is a good spot for them.
Camping in Lisbon is expensive and not very convenient so we got a good deal on an AirBnB right in the center of town for the night. It was really luxury, a place that sees themselves as being somewhere between a hotel, studio room and flat type thing, with shared kitchen and bathroom with twice daily cleaning, but also a mini kitchen in the room as well as hotel services such as laundry and food delivery. Pretty perfect. Parking is an issue in Lisbon though. Olaf spent a luxury night in a parking building €€€.
After setting ourselves up we headed into town for a night of Fado. Fado is the classic music of Portugal, originating in Lisbon. It has mostly a mournful tone, and often is about the life of the poor or life on the sea but can be about anything. Our first experience of Fado was over dinner, at Pastel do Fado. It was powerful. Before beginning the singer informed us that it was tradition to remain quiet during the songs, and you can see why, it is not exactly background music. She sang with passion, and even though the song was in Portugese you could tell the lyrics were painful, it was etched on her face and spoken through the vibrato in her voice. It felt like she was confiding in you a painful secret, that we were having a deep and meaningful conversation. It was pretty intense… On a lighter note, this restaurant had the nicest garlic prawns we have ever tasted in our lives, far out they were amazing.
Our next experience of Fado was in the bar afterwards. We went to Chapitô à Mesa, insanely cool spot. The entrance was at the back of a gift shop, then you go down several flights of stairs, through the restaurant to the bar at the bottom. The place was full of people and had a really chill atmosphere. Here we got to experience a very different form of Fado. A band of 6, one with a snare drum and cymbals, another with a kind of metal bingo drum, a guitar, a ukulele, a flute, a tambourine and a combination of voices. A much more upbeat, party atmosphere. Very different for sure, and yet the random combination of instruments seemed to speak in a similar way to the girl in the restaurant. Except this was something you could dance to.
Day 14: Lisbon → Sintra → Ericeira
After our big night we started the day with a breakfast of champions, mini pies and other fried Portuguese classics. Felt pretty kiwi to be honest. They also have really good freshly squeezed orange juice made right in front of you, no bottles. Pretty much everywhere has their own machine to do this, and like Spain the oranges are delish.
Lisbon as a city is stunningly unique. Beautifully old buldings most of which are tiled or painted beautiful colours. The shopping is amazing, if you had a chunk of money it would sure be easy to spend it here. The clothes are amazing and the fashion unique, it is not surprising that clothing and textiles are Portugals biggest exports.
One of the spots we wandered to was to Viewpoint Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. It is a stunning view and so relaxing to sit and look out over a sea of orange rooves. While we were up there there was a pianist performing, playing The Beetles and other old classics. Beautiful spot.
There are some really good classic local bites in Lisbon. Pastéis de bacalhau are a bit like a croquette with potato and codfish mixed together then crumbled and fried. They are a classic around here along with a lot of other fried and baked goods that are delicious, clearly unhealthy and worth every calorie. We even walked past a woman selling Ginja from her door, a classic Portuguese liqueur made from soir cherries. The true classic though is Pastéis de Nata. A custard filled pastry tart that you will find in every eatery, but the originals are over the other side of town at Pastéis de Belém.
We picked up the car and headed to explore the other side of town. In Belém there is a beautiful grand monastery – Jerónimos Monastery and beautiful gardens – perfect spot for a pastéis picnic. Pastéis de Belém has existed since 1837, and they still use the exact same methods of pastéis production. Pretty crazy, and so yum.
A little out of Lisbon is Sintra, the location of a beautiful palace, castle and gardens. Palace of Pena is stunning, painted in several different colours that make it possible to be seen from far, especially on a a sunny day. Originally it was a small monestary but was turned into a grand palace by Prince Ferdinand II, a German prince who married Queen Maria or Portugal. It unfortunately took a long time to build and was finished in the year that he died. The gardens are also stunning with beautiful short walks to hidden artefacts, and walking along the palace walls you get stunning views of the city and neighbouring castle.
We stayed just north of Sintra in Ericeira. I imagine this town would be very beautiful, but unfortunately we only experienced it in the pouring rain. With storms forcast all night we booked a tiny cabin in a campsite, they called it a teepee but it was a cabin with a pointy roof. Glad we did, stormy winds and rain all night, I’m pretty sure our already holey tent would not have coped with it.
Day 15: Ericeira → Peniche → Obidos → Nazaré
Today we headed up the coast again, first stopping in Peniche. This is a cool little town located out on a small peninsula. Out at the far end there are some cool rock formations and at the neck of the peninsula some beautiful surfing beaches.
A little further inland is Obidos. This is an amazing little town with large castle walls hiding it from the world. You are able to walk on top of the castle walls and can nearly circumnavigate the village like that. This town truely is a hidden gem, the photos here do not do it justice. Here I tried Ginja for the first time. This is the local liqueur made from ginja berrys (sour cherries). You drink it with a chocolate shot glass, eating the chocolate afterwards. It’s sweet and delicious, basically a dessert.
We met up with some friends here and went in search of a bar for a bevvie. We were pointed down some stairs to a hidden alleyway with a medieval bar. Another hidden gem. The atmosphere was unique, with beautifuly crafted wooden chairs and medieval decorations of swords and armour. The waiter was also amazing, he seems like someone from a five star restaurant.
Heading up north we decided to brave the now incredibly stormy weather in our tent. As it turns out, our tent is not waterproof. As soon as we put it on the already wet ground water started seeping up through the tent floor. We snuck under a caravan awning for the night, hoping that would be enough. Overnight we could hear the crashing and ripping of the winds destruction. We could hear the pouring rain forming a river right next to our tent and the booming thunder adding to the commotion. I’m just glad we didn’t free camp tonight.
Day 16: Nazaré → Aveiro → Porto
As soon as we got on the road into Nazaré the sky cleared into a beautiful sunny day, pretty perfect timing. After a wander around the old town we headed out to the peninsula to see the location of the biggest waves in the world. There is a massive underwater canyon just off shore which causes the waves to get so big. On the peninsula there is a viewpoint with a small museum and gallery with photos of some of the massive waves that have been surfed here. Check out a video of the spot, it’s pretty nuts.
Further north is the town of Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal. I wouldn’t quite call it Venice but there is a beautiful canal that winds through the town. The buildings here are all either brightly coloured or covered in beautiful tiles. We are really getting a sense of Portugese architecture as we move gradually up the coast. It is so different, from little blue and white houses in the south, to bright colours, tiles and intricate designs in the north.
With Elric’s ankle giving him strife we stopped just south of Porto close to a beach for the night and finished the day sipping on cocktails.👌
Day 17: Porto → Braga
Unfortunately it rained for the whole day, but we still managed to have a bit of an explore of Porto, and it was still stunning. As we drove over the hill to Luís I Bridge there was a beautiful view of the small colouful houses on the hill next to the river. There are so many stunning old buildings lining the streets, even in the rain it stood out as a place we would like to go back to.
After getting pretty drenched on foot we switched to exploring the rest by car. We found out pretty quick that the roads are a bit of a mission… not because of traffic but because of illogical one-way systems. You would have to drive for a long time down the road to find a street going the direction you wanted, and after that the next street would probably take you straight back where you come from. But with no rush to get anywhere it was fun getting a little lost and ending up over the other side of town by the ports for a seafood lunch.
A must do in Porto is a tasting of the Port wine (named after this city). There are a lot of spots offering tours and tastings, we chose Ferreira as it is one of the oldest founded by the Ferreira family in 1751. Antónia Adelaide Ferreira was a key figure in the creation of Port wine here and here experimentation led to it being what it is today, pretty amazing that this woman had such an influence at this time.
Next up north was Guimares. A really beautiful town with a pretty magnificent castle. Given the cold and the darkening sky we didn’t stop too long and instead pushed on north to Braga for our last night in Portugal. What a great week we have had, next up – north Spain!
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