A Drive through Portugal
This was our second major "target" for our 2018 trip to Europe; neither of us had ever been here before, we have Portuguese immediate family members & relatives, and we wanted to explore everything we could! We wanted to see as much of Portugal as possible, so our planning of where to go, how long to stay there, and the routes necessary for each of the next destinations took some time to put togeher. The single biggest hurdle was mapping our "want to see list" to the time span we had available!
Besides our Portugal motivations from our family's heritage, here are some other incredible reasons why we wanted to visit Portugal;
Some Interesting facts about Portugal / Where is it? Map
- Portugal has it all: historic cities, world-renowned cuisine, beautiful country areas with natural landscapes, and some of the world’s most spectacular beaches.
- Once the world’s maritime leader and the longest-lived of Europe’s modern empires, Portugal has a complex history to explore alongside dramatic geographic landscapes, turquoise beaches, a rich gastronomy scene, and all the Port and bacalhau (salted cod fish) you can ask for.
- Portugal won the "best travel destination" award in 2018, and after you read this article of ours, you will be able to understand why!
- Nobody anywhere does custard tarts (or pastel de natas, as they’re called here) quite like Portugal. And perhaps nowhere in Portugal does them as well as Pasteis de Belém in Lisbon, which is why queues for the sweet, rich and perfectly crisp tarts often stretch along the pavement.
- Perched on the western edge of Europe, Lisbon is the continent’s sunniest capital city, boasting an average of 2,799 hours of sunshine a year, beating out Athens, which has 2,771 hours of sun a year.
- Thanks to the rolling swell of the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal is one of Europe’s best surfing destinations with a wave for every ability. Best of all, the surf breaks are relatively uncrowded.
Perhaps now you can understand our enthusiasm for spending a week in Portugal, exploring it from North to South?
Driving in Portugal
- Driving in Portugal is similar to driving in the USA; the freeways ("Autoestrada") are very similar, the information signs are easily understood, and the speed limits are easy to discern. Speed limits are in kilometers per hour, multiply by 60% to derive MPH.
- Driving in any European City is a lesson in patience and bravery. Traffic in Lisbon & Belém was thick, but most drivers were disciplined.
- Driving in Portimão was straight forward, but getting to our VRBO rental from the highway definitely required use of a mapping system. We had retired our Tom-Tom mapping device, and only used cell phone based mapping to navigate everywhere.
We flew from Madrid to Porto, Portugal via TAP Portugal Airlines. In Porto, we picked up
our rental car from Auto Europe, fired up our navigation maps, and proceeded to drive to the
Hotel - our first stop in Portugal. Our route from the Porto International Airport was
on the A4 east to exit 24 where we turned south on the N2. Once we crossed the Douro River Bridge, we
then turned back west on the N222 to the Delfim Douro Hotel on the right side of the road.
NOTE: You have to make a slight right turn onto the M537 from the N222. Note that the hotel sign is small and since there is a wall separating the hotel grounds from the road (the hotel is a bit lower on the hill than the wall), you will not be able to see it easily from the road - Click here for Map of the road intersection
- Unlimited free travel by bus, metro, tram and elevators.
- Entry to 35 museums, attractions & UNESCO-listed sites.
- Skip-the-line at Mosterio dos Jerónimos Archeology Museum.
- Free travel on CP train lines to Sintra and Cascais.
- Guidebook & discounts at participating shops.
- The Lisboa Card is valid for a full calendar year after its purchase date (just in case you need to postpone your trip), and is validated upon its first use.
- Click here to go to their website.
Douro River Valley, Portugal
Our first destination in Portugal after landing in Porto, was the Delfim Douro Hotel and a strong desire to explore the surrounding area - some interesting wineries were just a few miles away, and we planned on visiting Quinta da Pacheca to take their tour that afternoon.
Praia do Norte, Nazaré
After departing the Delfim Douro Hotel, we drove to the Atlantic Ocean coast (250 kilometers from the Delfim Douro Hotel but still north of Lisbon), and stopped at the beach just north of Nazaré at the Praia do Norte, Nazaré. This is where the largest waves ever surfed took place, if you doubt this fact, please take a look at this video to see for yourself. There is an HBO Documentary named "100 Foot Wave" that documents the first American surfer to surf the big waves here.
Video is the property of Monster Experience via YouTube.
If you watch that video, you can see the building that stands on the cliff in our image and that gives you a much better idea of just how high that wave was!
The large waves here form due to the presence of the underwater Nazaré Canyon. As the canyon creates constructive interference between the incoming swell waves, it makes their heights much larger on this stretch of coast than elsewhere.
Praia do Norte Surf
Even on a calm day, you can see how (image # 1) the surf here is strong. We saw a number of 8 to 10 foot waves come ashore. Image # 2 is the cliff area that separates the village of Nazaré from the beach we were at.
NOTE: Click here to watch
the video from the beach that day and you can hear how loud the surf noise was. Don't forget
to turn up your speaker volume!
Video is the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC via YouTube.
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Nazaré is on the other side of the cliff from where we were at Praia do Norte. As
you can see, the village of Nazaré resides next to a pretty beach and a very nice marina.
The inlet in the distance is the entrance to the Nazaré Marina, to view this area on a Google Map click here. This map will provide you with an overhead view of the entire area, where you can more easily see where we were north of Nazaré at the Praia do Norte.
Because we had to meet our VRBO apartment agent at a specific time, we departed on the Portugal A8 freeway and drove to Belém (130 kilometers). Traffic was light until we arrived in the Lisbon area, and then it got quickly crowded.
NOTE: This image is the property of 'Mister No' via Wikimedia Commons using the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
After driving most of the day, Lisbon was a breath of fresh air. We were able to park the car and concentrate on exploring the city by public transportation and walking. Our rental unit is located in Belem, very close to the Tagus River and also close to the metro train system station.
The Algarve area of Portugal
After Lisbon, the Algarve was our next "target area" to explore. We had heard stories from Celeste's parents about how beautiful it was, and how good the food was, so our expectations were high and our zeal to start our exploration there was at a high level!
It cannot be overstated how good the seafood & pastries are in Portugal. Yes French pastries are quite good as well, but Portuguese pastries are unique and excellent and we had them in every district in the Country! Below are pictures of a few of things we enjoyed.
Pastéis de Nata - these are from Pasteis de Belém which is considered to make the best in Lisbon
Now as you have read on this page that we had a rental car while in Portugal, and so you can imagine that we had to stop for gasoline, or rest rooms, etc, at various locations throughout Portugal right? At every rest stop or gas station that we visited, there would be an espresso bar. So during most of these stops we would have an espresso with a pastry, and each & every time it was absolutely delicious!
The point we want to leave you with, is that Portugal Service Station food & coffee is miles better than what you can find in the USA ! Do yourself a favor and give it a try.
NOTE: Below are some useful links where you can find even more information about the areas we have described on this page. There are of course, many other useful websites & pages, so for something specific, we would suggest using Google Search.
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Note: All images on this page are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.
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