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14 days in Portugal, independent travel seniors

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Sep 9th, 2018, 02:16 PM
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14 days in Portugal, independent travel seniors

Here is not such a very long trip report of our 14 days in Portugal in the first half of September. I am going to try posting the start of this while still in Portugal. I always have the best of intentions to post a report...then whenI get back home my busy life gets in the way.

I am not going to try to review hotels or restaurants. There are already many such reviews available on TA. Well, maybe in a couple of spots I won’t be able to resist. Mainly I’ll try to give so input for the first-time visitor to Portugal, since that is exactly what my wife and I are.

All our hotels were good. In general, my wife insists on a modern bathroom. I insist boutique, or something in that direction. The smaller, the better. Some we stayed in were rather larger than my ideal, but all were good places.

First, a little context. I am 66 and have a lot of energy. I have a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), which pushes me to experience as much as I can. My wife, in contrast, tires quickly. And she has very little interest in history. She is fine with sending me off to explore a city while she relaxes at the hotel.

We have been to 20+ countries and prefer “independent travel.” We try to get guides for at least part of the trip. And rent a car for much of the trip. That’s what we did in Portugal.

The biggest tip I have is the strong recommendation of our travel agency, Portugal Trails. Diana Ramos. I got their name from another Fodorite, and didn’t even look into other agencies. From my past experience, an agency in the country is the way to go. We just gave Diana a general idea of our interests and she suggested the route and pace. We stayed 2-3 days in each city. Usually we travelled no more than 3-4 hours to the next stop. So, a leisurely pace. I’d prefer to cover more ground; my wife would not. We are now on Day 11 of our 14 days and have nothing but praise for Diana and Portugal Trails.

Diana set us up with a pre-programmed GPS that led us to each new destination. We still managed to get lost on many occasions, but that’s Europe for ‘ya.

We had about six guides on the trip and all were somewhere between very good and excellent. In Northern Europe we don’t normally have guides, simply due to the cost. They certainly enhanced the experience on this trip.

Safety: Portugal is rated one of the world’s safest countries. Of course, in the big cities you should be on alert. But we never had the tiniest problem. And we encountered way fewer “yucky” people than in our own home region -and we live in one of the most affluent areas of the world.

Prices: prices in Europe are far less than in most of Europe, perhaps except Eastern Europe. Indeed, Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe. That translates to low wages and low costs for most things tourists want. Depending on whose statistic you want to use, median income is about 900E per month.

Food, wine: Food in restaurants is very good. The Portuguese take pride in their food. Prices are moderate. The wines are FANTASTIC and the prices even lower than Spain.

A lot of restaurants are closed on Sunday or Monday. You should definitely have your hotel make reservations in advance, especially on Sunday and Monday. Portuguese eat late: an early reservation is 7:30.

Footwear: women: don’t even think about bringing heels. This country has more cobblestones than I have ever seen. And in the older, historic cities they aren’t even close to flat. And don’t bring thin-soles sandals or tennis shoes if you plan to do any walking. And if you are going to Portugal you’d better plan on walking.

Driving: the highways are excellent. There are a lot of toll stations, but that’s why the roads are so good. Now...away from the highways in the historic cities you get into the usually narrow, scary local streets. That’s part of the experience.

Here was our itinerary:

-Day 1-3 Lisbon. Hotel Britannia. Stop in Óbidos on the way to Porto.

-Day 4-6 Porto. Pestaña Vinage Hotel. Incl. visits to Guimaraes and Amarante.

-Day 7-8 Belmonte. Pousada de Belmonte (a former convent). I didn’t pay much attention to room rates while on the trip, since we booked months ago, but noticed that the rack rate for our nice “superior room” was 120E....so, extremely reasonable.

Side trips to Monsanto (my favorite stop) and Sorthela. Here our guide was Nuno Adriano, who was excellent.

We very much enjoyed visiting some of the inland areas, as opposed to just Porto and Lisbon. ( Coimbra, Central, Alentejo, North)
  • They are much more thinly populated, and have a lot of castles, since protection was needed to keep the Spanish out. It is worth mentioning that several people mentioned that the time to come to this area is April-May and Sept-October. Summers are extremely hot, and in the winter it often snows.

-Day 9-11. Evora. Hotel M’Ar de Ar Aquedoto.

-Day 12-14 Cascáis. Villa Cascáis Guesthouse.


...that’s it for now. Will see what I have to add some other day.
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Sep 9th, 2018, 02:43 PM
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Portugal is such a lovely small country. Enjoying your report and making note of your travel agency for a second trip there.
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Sep 9th, 2018, 04:10 PM
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Thank you for this information!!! Did you do anything by the coast?
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Sep 10th, 2018, 12:43 AM
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Zac495, by “the coast” you may mean the “Algarve,” the popular beaches of southern Portugal. No, we aren’t going there. We only have two weeks and traveling so far just to spend time on a beach didn’t seem appealing. I know that area is very popular, especially for Northern Europeans.


Now...off to wine tasting, then another castle in Monsaraz.
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Sep 10th, 2018, 01:37 PM
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Okay...back from wine tasting day. But before I tell about that, it occurred to me that I should say something about the ease of getting around with just English.

Of course, we English-speakers are spoiled, since so much of the world speaks our language. But some countries (Northern Europe) are much better than others. In Portugal, there is absolutely no problem getting around with English. Almost everyone under age 60 speaks at least a moderate amount. In schools, English is compulsory from third grade through high school. At some point, students also have to add either Spanish, French, German or Latin.

I have a beginner’s ability in Spanish, but found hardly helped me at all. Even thought the two languages are very similar, most Portuguese who speak some Spanish also speak a LOT more English. About the only time I found it helped me was in asking the hotel housekeepers for more toilet paper, since it is almost the same in the two languages ;-)

I also didn’t have the vibe the Portuguese have the tiniest expectation that tourists be able to speak their language.

BTW, tourism increased 12% in Portugal last year. Everyone in tourism knew that statistic, and was rightfully proud of it. In my social circle (California) is seemed like everyone I mentioned the trip to had either been to Portugal, or had a neighbor or co-worker who visited. And nobody had a single negative comment (and neither do I!)

Eek...I promised a report on my winery tour, but wifey is calling “time for bed.” In the next episode, I’ll tell about our winery tour to Herdade do Esporao in Reguenos de Monsaraz, 1 hr from Evora
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Sep 11th, 2018, 05:07 AM
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I did contact your travel agent. Out of curiosity - does their services cost a lot? I'm very good at booking hotels myself - but I really like the idea of the programmed GPS and ideas as to where to stop. But I wouldn't want to pay a hefty fee.
Thanks
Ellen
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Sep 12th, 2018, 12:32 AM
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Ellen

I didn’t ask them the price of their services, but I don’t think you need to be shy about asking. Agents are used to getting that question.

I worked with Portugal Trails to develop a plan, then they gave me a total quote, which I found reasonable. I realize it would be better if the consumer could get three quotes and then just pick the cheapest one, but I don’t think that is possible for a customized tour.

Yes, booking hotels and air is very easy in this era.
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Sep 13th, 2018, 03:32 AM
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Thank you for the car rental advice!
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Sep 19th, 2018, 07:33 AM
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Waiting fo more!
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Sep 23rd, 2018, 10:36 AM
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Finalllly getting back to this report.

Let me add a bit more about Portugal Trails, as the risk of sounding like a commercial for that company. As I have already written, we were very happy with that company. There are, broadly, three ways to plan a trip.
  1. Get a glossy brochure. Pick Trip #8 and join a group tour.
  2. Independent travel, but organized by an agency, such as we had in Portugal
  3. Do it all yourself.


I have, at times, used all three. The “best” one depends on the traveler and the budget.

I have done #3 plenty of times, but that entails a lot of research, or a lot of missed sights. I generally do that in higher cost countries. My wife refuses to do #1 (“everyone meet in the lobby at 8:30 AMsharp; then we will board the bus...”)

I have already sung the praises of Portugal Trails, but I can add that of any trip I have been on, I spent the least time personally planning this one. In addition to the other services I mentioned previously in this report, they also gave us a travel plan of about 85 pages, with various suggesting on sights, restaurants and maps. Portugal has over 200 castles; you can’t visit them all, so I appreciated advice on the best ones.

Frankly, after all the ones I did visit, they became redundant. Remember your trip to Italy...after a few museums and churches you were sick of seeing yet one more painting of St. Somethingorother. As mentioned at the beginning of this report, my wife has a lot less energy than I have. So, on most days visited the town or castle with our guide, for a half day, while she hung out at the hotel. That made both us happy. Lots of hilly walking in Portugal.


Long I ago, I promised to report on our wine tasting. Err..my wine tasting (my wife can’t drink alcohol). We had three nights in Evorao, which we enjoyed very much. From Evorao we had a one-hour drive to a winery and nearby castle.

The winery, Herdade do Esperao, is a big operation, putting out 16 million bottles per year. Excellent tour. I forgot what it cost, but it wasn’t much. I think the tour was 1.5 hours. Our guide, Carina, was both knowledgeable and genuinely enthusiastic. I’ve been on a lot of winery tours, and every one is different. Among the unfamiliar items at Esperao is the use of concrete vats (they call them “tulips”) to ferment certain wines.

I’m a big wine lover, so I could go on and on with that subject. But, there are more authoritative sources on the internet. Short version: a nation of great wines at low prices. But the names of the grapes are unfamilar to most Americans. There are over 200 native grape varieties in the country. And...then they sometimes have their own name on a grape that is familiar in another country. For example, the commonly used “Touareg Nacional” (hope I’m spelling that right) is called Tempranillo in Spain, Argentina and California.

Most wines are blends, so you aren’t going to see a bottle labeled “chardonnay,” unless your hotel stocks it just for tourists!

Esperao vineyard also has a nice restaurant (closed on the day we were there, Monday).

On our way back to Evorao, we stopped at another castle, Marvao. There is a little town there. By this point we had seen a lot of castles and walled cities. This was one of the least interesting. However, the inside of the castle has been converted to a bullring. So, if you’re into that and lucky enough to be there on a day of a fight, you get to see something different. I have never been to a bullfight, but understand that the Portuguese version does not result in death of the bull.

The last part of our trip was three nights in Cascais, which is only an hour from Lisbon. We picked Cascais so there wouldn’t be any problem getting to the airport for our flight home.

This place got its start as the 1800s summer home of hmmmm....some king. Because of its proximity to Lisbon, it is a popular resort for Portuguese. Lots of cute little shops. Our hotel, Albatroz, overlooked a very nice beach. My wife loved it, and found Cascais to be a relaxing end to our trip. I, ever the FOMO sufferer, would have preferred to cover more ground.

So, that’s my tale of Portugal. I started by saying this would be a “short” report, and by now it isn’t ;-) A nice country full of friendly, patient people.
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