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 Delfim Douro 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

Card Benefits
  • 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.
  • Click here to go to their website.
Douro River Valley, Portugal   Map
Delfim Douro Hotel

Just as we drove into the Delfim Douro Hotel Parking lot, we noticed that there was a River Cruise ship steaming down the Douro River from Câmara Municipal de Peso da Régua (the next town just east of the hotel).

Being veterans of several Viking River Cruises tours in France, we immediately jumped out of our car and started taking photos of the ship has it continued by us on it's way to Porto.

The Douro River is the third-longest river in the Iberian Peninsula after the Tagus and Ebro. Its total length is 897 kilometres (557 miles), of which only sections of the Portuguese extension below the fall line are navigable, by light rivercraft.

The Douro River fully enters Portuguese territory just after the confluence with the Águeda River; once the Douro enters Portugal, major population centres are less frequent along the river. Except for Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia at the river mouth, the only population centres of any note are Foz do Tua, Pinhão and Peso da Régua. Tributaries here are small, merging into the Douro along the canyons; the most important are Côa, Tua, Sabor, Corgo, Tavora, Paiva, Tâmega, and Sousa. None of these small, fast-flowing rivers is navigable.

Delfim Douro Hotel: Pool Area

We had originally intended to check into the hotel, and then drive and find a local vineyard to visit or tour, but the hotel was so inviting, and occupies such a beautiful location on the hill above the River Douro, that we decided to spend a few hours in the pool and do the vineyard tour before dinner.

The pool area was very comfortable with a stunning view of the Douro River down the slopes of the hill that the hotel was situated upon. You could not possibly come up with a better location for a hotel!

See that left-most door in the hotel? That leads directly into the bar area if one felt the need for an adult beverage.

Delfim Douro Hotel: Poolside Lunch

The decision to hang out for a while was also driven by the fact that we had departed Madrid at a very early hour, flew to Porto, hopped into a rental car and then drove to the hotel (125 kilometers). So the concept of relaxing at the pool after a quick lunch, was a very easy decision to make.

As you can see in this, after lunch we had a cappuccino and caught up with what was going on in the world since we had departed Madrid. Nice way to relax prior to driving to the vineyard tour.

You can see that the sky was nearly cloudless that day, beautiful bright sunny day, and yet another reason why we decided to hang out at the pool!

Quinta da Pacheca Winery & Hotel

We made arrangements (online from our hotel) to tour a winery just down the road, and we had just parked the car in the Quinta da Pacheca parking lot. The walk from the parking lot to the winery office was so pretty, that we thought that a picture should be taken.

Image # 2 (right) on the other side of their driveway, are some of their vinyards. All of which were being harvested at the time we were there.

Quinta da Pacheca has been in existence for over 300 years, and their vinyards extend all the way down the hills to the Douro River.

Grape Vats/Grape Processing

In image # 1 one of the wine workers is shoveling the grapes into a barrel delivery tube. This is how the grape juice is transferred to the vats below this level of the building.

These gray stone vats are used to hold the destemmed grapes and where the grapes are pressed ("grape stomping"). The grapes are then stored in the vats for several days.

After the grapes have been processed, the results are stored in these massive barrels (image # 2), to allow the wine to mature ("primary fermentation"). After primary fermentation, the wine will be transferred from the fermentation barrels to another vessel for aging.

Group Wine Tasting

After our tour guide had taken us through the various stages of processing, we then were taken to a port & tawny port tasting. If the name "port wine" or "tawny port" doesn't ring a bell with you, click here to learn about Port Wines.

This was an entertaining part of the tour, as we got to sample various types of wine they produce. Speaking as a person who enjoys good wine, I'd have to say that Port Wine is perhaps an "acquired taste".
NOTE: Image # 2 (right side) property of 'Portugal by Wine'

Image property of This Insider
Image property of Wexas Travel
Quinta da Pacheca Hotel Area

As we were departing the wine tour at Quinta de Pacheca, we happened to notice that there were some very large barrels next to the hotel. Turns out these 10 barrels were "hotel rooms" (270 square feet each), each barrel includes a bed, walk-in shower, skylight, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning. If you are interested in rates or more information about this unique hotel room, please click here to go to their web site.

There is a more conventional hotel that is located in between the barrel area and the wine processing plant. But these "barrel cabins" are unique aren't they?

Praia do Norte, Portugal   Map
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.
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.

Nazaré Beach

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

Lisbon, Portugal   Map
Lisbon, Portugal

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.
Click here to view our Lisbon Page.

Portimão, Portugal   Map
The Algarve area of Portugal

After Lisbon, the Algarve was the 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!
Click here to view our Algarve Page.

Portuguese Pastries

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

More great pastries - don't remember the name, but they were awesome!

Cataplana de Peixe - a Portuguese fish stew made in a special cookware called a cataplana.

 Pastel de Nata Quick History Lesson 

Pastéis de nata were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. These monks were originally based in France where these pastries could be found in local bakeries. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as nuns' habits. It was quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.

Following the extinction of the religious orders and in the face of the impending closure of many of the convents and monasteries in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks started selling pastéis de nata at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some revenue. In 1834, the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery, whose owners in 1837 opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. The descendants own the business to this day.

Click here to view the complete Wikipedia Article about these amazing pastries.

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.

Some Useful Links

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.

 European Travel Tips 

Please click here to read our complete list of European Travel Tips. These are the tips that we utilize every time we travel, so we hope you find them as useful as we do.


 Travel Planning Tips 

Please click here to read our list of Travel Planning Tips.


 Lisbon Airport Warning 

It is extremely crowded with vehicles, and the Rental Car Return Center is very close to the Airport entrance. Be very careful driving in the Airport, and look for the signs to direct you to the Rental Car Return Center.

We entered the Airport area on Avenue Berlim because we had to fill our rental car gas tank, and the only gas station was a BP station (on the south side of Avenue Berlim as you enter the Airport). All of the car rental companies are located in a single building, located adjacent to the Airport Terminal One building. What we discovered was that the Car Return Building signs were not obvious as we exited the gas station, and we wound up exiting the Airport and upon returning, we found the signs to the Car Return area could be seen!

Trip Related Pages
Trip Overview
Paris
Mont Saint-Michel
Nice, France
Monaco
Madrid, Spain
Portugal
Lisbon Portugal
Portimão Portugal
 

 
 

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