Portugal and in particular, the north, is steeped in local traditions, rarely visited rural villages, chestnuts, vineyards and national parks. What a pleasant surprise! The towns and villages out of the main cities have a distinctly rural feel, are steeped in history and many have their own castles and keeps. The influence of the Moorish culture is evident here and many attractions boast of this rich tapestry of cultures, influence and blend of architecture. There are some of the finest Moorish designs outside of the Middle East. Portugal is rewarding country with much to see and do. Our 10 day road trip in Portugal was dominated by a week of poor weather. So here are our highlights.
Language, Money and Roads
As we crossed the border everything was very different from the Spain we were leaving behind. The Portuguese language has little in common with Spanish. The style, tone and words have no bearing. In fact, if you don’t speak Portuguese, you will get a better response speaking English than if you try bad Spanish!
Of course the Euro is a common currency and it felt as if Portugal was a little more expensive to eat and drink than Spain. The roads in some cases are less well maintained, particularly in the rural regions, so watch out for those pot holes.
The Road Trip
We entered Portugal in the north east, via the Montesinho National Park. There is a main road through to Bragança but taking the winding country road N103-7 is far more pleasant. It passes through stunning scenery and lots of small rural villages.
Bragança is a reasonable sized town, on the edge of the Montesinho National Park with an imposing castle overlooking the modern town and its developments. Within the thick walls of the castle is a fine example of a roman hot spring bath house, the 500 old year Church of Santa Maria and 300 year old cottages, many of which are still private residential homes.
The centre of the town is a short walk from the castle and has a pleasant square and a few alleys that host a range of reasonably priced bars and restaurants. It will certainly fill a day and will probably not be too busy in the high season.
We stayed at a camper stop beneath the castle but there are plenty of guesthouses and hotels in the area to choose from. Our visit coincided with freshers’ week, which followed the world-wide reputation of all first year students. Drink was involved and the merriment was embraced by some more than others. Hurray for the life of a student, let’s not let study get in the way of human development.
We were also treated to the local philharmonic orchestra practising in a nearby hall, who were outstandingly good. Maybe find out when they are playing their next concert and go and see them.
Moving on to Vinhais, also along the border of the Montesinho National Park, we took in the delights of the local Chestnut Fiesta. Not a planned part of our trip, but most enjoyable.
Read more about the Chestnut Fiesta here.
Vinhais is a pleasant town and definitely worth a day to stroll around its rural setting. It certainly shows signs of a little wear and tear.
Vinhais is at the northern end of the Duoro Valley, so heading south west we passed through hundreds of vineyards, mountainous roads and rural villages. Pinhão is delightful village on the Douro River and surrounded by vineyards. Go on! Indulge yourself! You can even arrange a visit to one of the local vineyards. Time your visit with harvest season and you can even press your own bottle of wine – with your feet! We couldn’t stay long; Mowgli wouldn’t fit under the bridge leading to our planned camper stop.
Follow the Douro River for about 50 km to Peso Da Regua. This winding road down the valley is host to vineyards as far as the eye can see. It is a man-made landscape of terraces cut into the valley sides. You will pass many household names of port and sherry producers such as Sandemans, Grahams and Wares to name but just a few. The whole region, the river, the train lines and the dam are here purely to support the growing of grapes and the production of fortified wines. Is this where the term port, as in sea going harbour comes from after the prolific port trade over the last 500 years?
Museu do Douro in Peso Da Regua hosts the nation’s Port museum and for 6 euros is well worth a visit to learn more about the Douro Valley, its creation and of course all about Port. After the walk round you are given a glass of exquisite port to try. And it would have been easy to just stay in the museum to try all the ports from the region. It’s easy to lose a day or two in this area.
We passed through Porto on a very wet day. It’s a town of sophistication and cultural delights. A historic city that shows the signs of historic wealth in the architecture of the old city. Mind you, its modern day one way system and trams can be a little daunting when mixed in with the assertive Hispanic approach to fast driving in congested areas. Particularly if you’re driving a 7.5 tonne Mercedes Unimog.
Having sampled the rural north of Portugal, its castles and it’s local produce of wines, ports and chestnuts, and the torrential autumn downpours, it was time to head south, chasing the sun.
Palmela is a lovely town a little south of Lisbon, again dominated by an imposing castle currently being restored. We camped below the castle walls and the surrounding views are pretty cool!
After passing through Alcácer do Sal and onto Ferragudo in the Algarve, the rains continued, To the point where Albufeira was flooded quite badly.
Read more about the Albufeira floods here.
After giving a helping hand, we’ve now left Portugal behind. We’ll definitely be back to Portugal one day, maybe when we can be more sure of the weather.