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Tips from our 16 day roadtrip Lisbon to Porto

Tips from our 16 day roadtrip Lisbon to Porto

Sep 20th, 2019, 11:24 PM
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Join Date: May 2017
Posts: 11
Tips from our 16 day roadtrip Lisbon to Porto

Following is a trip report of our 16-day trip to Portugal in July 2019. We were travelling with our 9-month-old who does not like to spend time in the car, reducing the number of hours per day we could travel by car. Portugal is not exactly a novelty destination, so keeping this short and sharing some practical observations and ideas for things to do, without spending too much time on what to visit in Lisbon, Porto, etc. We decided early on to skip the Algarve as it would be overrun in July and would add more travel time to our trip.

Mode of transportation

We had rented a car which we picked up in Lisbon and returned in Porto. This was one of the few occasions were the cost between returning at the same pick up point vs. another point was minimal so I suggest looking into that option.

One of the big annoyances of the trip were the electronic tolls on road sections where you cannot pay the toll, but a camera reads your number plate. You either pay the rental car company for a transponder or you pay at the post office, two days after you incur the toll. If you are flying out from Porto it is very hard to avoid the electronic toll sections to the airport (I had Google Maps on no toll option and still ended up incurring the electronic tolls). Luckily, I returned the car two days early so we were still able to pay the toll on a Monday morning before flying out. Clearly a system designed to maximize the chance that foreign tourists will incur the hefty fines associated with non-payment (You can design a number plate recognition toll system but not a web page where you can pay the tolls online? Please.)

Restaurants and food

This is not the ultimate word on Portuguese food, but just one opinion. With a few exceptions, we found the food hearty with large portions and plenty of fresh seafood options available, but preparation and taste was almost always fairly basic (unless going to upscale restaurants). In the same price class Italian, French, and Greek food does seem more satisfying.

Outside of Lisboa there are plenty of Lidl and Aldi super markets available to buy water, sunscreen, and other incidentals.

Our trip itinerary

Day 1-4: Lisbon. I really liked the Museo del Arte Antica. It is an odd mix of a sprinkle of blockbuster pieces (Bosch, Holbein, etc.) and a lot of lesser known Portuguese artists and remains of Portugal’s trading relationship with Japan and China but it does give a good glimpse at what a superpower Portugal once was.

In terms of food, the best meal we had was at a specialized Piri Piri chicken place called A Valenciana. No-frills, charcoal grill, spectacularly tasty. Not exactly a secret but we thought we mention it.

We stayed in the center, and an odd issue is the lack of supermarkets. There are a few tiny Miniprecos around but that is about it (and god forbid the nearest one to you is down the hill and you have to schlep gallons of water up to your hotel).

In the evening of the fourth day, we drove to Evora via the Freeport Outlet center. Living in California and Dubai we are used to elaborate malls but this one must rate as one of the snazziest in Europe. We only stopped by to buy swim wear for our little one but ended up buying a lot more.

Day 5: Evora. We spent the first night at Olive Hotel, a new boutique hotel. Highly recommended with a great breakfast buffet. Generally, the hotels in Evora seem to be good value for money and a lot of them are brand new. Evora presents itself as a charming but somewhat debilitated provincial town. Most restaurants were modest but on the Cathedral Square was an Enoteca that made a good impression (we tried to get a table but there was no opening for either lunch or dinner).

Day 6: We looked at the Megalithic structures (Cromeleques) on the way back to Lisbon and then drove all the way to Sintra.

Day 7: We consider Sintra one of the few missteps. The town has 98 permanent inhabitants and receives 12 million visitors per year. This is one we would only recommend doing off season and off weekend. We tried to “quickly” swing by the Pena Palace. That turned into a two-hour ordeal of bumper to bumper traffic of biblical proportions with no way to turn around (all on a one-way circle road). In the end there was not even a good vantage point to view the Pena Palace. Skip it!

We spent the afternoon in Cascais which made up for it (save for getting a parking ticket) with an abundance of contemporary art spaces. We wish we had skipped Sintra and spent time around Cascais instead. We also went to the “James Bond In Her Majesty’s Secret Service” Guincho beach which was one of the nicest hours we spent in Portugal. The waves are too high to comfortably swim but the beach and surroundings are magnificent.

We drove north on the coastal road, one of the most spectacular drives in Europe. We had just been at Land’s End in Cornwall the week before so thought we might want to replicate the most Western point feeling and visited Capo da Roca. We probably would skip Capo da Roca next time. Again, a lot of visitors and the views of the coast are nicer somewhere else.

We ended the night in Obidos.

Day 8: Obidos is very picturesque but again a small town receiving lots of visitors. This is one you want to do early in the morning or in the evening before/ after day trippers arrive/ leave.

We did the monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha. We regretted not taking the three-monastery combination entry pass (including Cristo in Tomar). We believed that we would not spent too much time in each (the churches itself are always free to enter except for Cristo) but in the end each of them was very special and required us paying for the entry.

We spent the night in Fatima. Plenty of new hotels there though finding a place to have dinner was quite difficult. Ended up at Mr Pizza, a national chain. Even if you are not religious it is interesting to see the Virgin Mary miracle sanctuary and the modern sacral architecture.

Day 9: We drove on to Tomar via the tiny Roman site of Villa Cardilio in Torres Novas – the site was not spectacular but embedded in a nice landscape and therefore worth a quick stop. In Tomar, the Convento de Cristo recalled a far smaller Alhambra. After two hours of touring the convent we took a wine pause at their cafeteria. Not your usual museum cafe, the selection on offer was extensive and delectable. Tomar itself is a wonderful little town on a river below the imposing Convento de Cristo. Outside of Lisbon and Porto, of the dozen or so towns we visited, this and Cascais were our favorites.

After Tomar we drove further North and spent the night at the Pousada Condeixa Coimbra. The pool set in a large garden was very appealing.

Day 10: In Condeixa, the Museum of Roman Civilization (POROS) was sadly closed, and it was not clear whether this was just because of the day of the week or a permanent situation. The building itself is striking and we were sad not to be able to visit it.

We did the Roman site of Conimbriga. Being used to the sites in Algeria, Tunisia or Turkey, this was a comparatively small site, but the mosaics were still pleasing and the setting of the gym next to a cliff also quite stunning. In general, there are a lot of small Roman sites in Portugal, all sign-posted, and it would have been good to do more research and pick and choose along the way (which was not possible for us as we needed to keep travel times in the car short due to our little one; maybe we come back in a few years).

We spent the afternoon in Coimbra walking up and down the hills of the old town to the university. Coimbra houses one of the oldest universities in Europe and has plenty of students and not surprisingly a lively restaurant and bar scene all set against a nice river valley. We stumbled across a really appealing boutique hotel that had just opened next to the university (Sapientia Boutique Hotel) but decided to push further North to Viseu rather than spent the night in Coimbra.

In Viseu, we spent the night in an apartment called Element. The apartment is on two levels over an entire townhouse a few steps from the Cathedral square. The Scandinavian décor of the apartment is lovely, looking like something out of Dwell magazine. Highly recommended.

Day 11: We spent the morning walking around Viseu, a Baroque gem of Portugal with wonderful parks and pedestrian zones as well as the perfect cathedral square. We had a second breakfast/ early lunch in a nice little sausage shop with great sandwiches and wine (Vo Elisa).

We drove on to the Douro Valley and spent the night at Quinta de Casaldrohno. The position above the Douro Valley was great, the property is modern, and dinner was delicious. One drawback is that the property is directly next to high-power electricity transmission lines on all sides which takes away from the views. We ran out of time to visit Sao Pedro in Lamego (one of the key Visigothic sites in Portugal) and hope to do this another time.

Day 12: We drove along the Douro Valley, stopping every few kilometers to take in the views. We had an early lunch at the pool bar of the Quinta do Vallado. The restaurant is open only for hotel guests, but they made an exception for us (because of Baby who always helps to soften “rules and regulations”). The hotel was booked out, but off season we would probably stay at this gorgeous property instead.

We spent the night in Guimaraes, a European Capital of Culture at Santa Luzia Art Hotel which we would rank as the best hotel experience on the trip together with the Element apartment in Viseu. The rooftop pool offers an invigorating start of the morning.

Day 13: We spent the morning walking around Guimaraes. The town is nicely spruced up, plenty of appealing restaurants and outdoor cafes. Due to timing we failed to visit the Museo Martins Sarmento which houses the artefacts recovered at Citania de Briteiros. If you plan to visit the site also visit this museum.

We ended the day in Braga, at a hotel directly at the Bom Jesus monastery. It was a national holiday and the town was literally 99.9% booked out. Like a miracle we got the last room at the Hotel do Templo next to the church. The Hotel do Parque was nicer but full, so if you want to stay next to the monastery that is the one to try first.

Day 13: We spent the morning visiting Citania de Briteiros, one of the finest Celtic ruins in Europe. The location is breathtaking and the site itself overgrown with vegetation, the scent of warm wood and grass overgrowing everything. Highly recommended. Next we visited the Visigothic chapel of Sao Frutuoso in Braga. This is a natural extension of a trip we took last year to the Visigothic and pre-Romanesque churches in Asturia, Spain so I highly recommend a visit (especially after we failed to visit the Visigothic church of Sao Pedro in Lamego). After lunch we had a relaxing afternoon strolling around Braga and visiting the former municipality turned contemporary art space. Light installation exhibition that the Baby loved. In the evening we drove on to Porto.

Day 14: Again, like Lisboa, Porto is well covered, so I keep this short. A few practical tips: We bought our obligatory bottle of Port wine at Augosto’s (it is one of the smaller producers and they do not sell their wine outside Portugal). The nicest Port tasting we had out of the four we visited, was at a tiny but super stylish producer called Vasques de Carvalho (both the inside and outside tasting areas are extremely nice). We also had a nice cup of coffee at a roastery called 7g Roaster which we recommend. Next to the 7g Roaster were three new boutique apartment hotels called 296 Heritage Apartments, a loft building called 7g Roaster Apartments, and another one called Groove Wood Loft all of which looked nice (we did not stay there but on the other side of the river so this is an “outside in” perspective).

Mila2017 is offline  
Sep 21st, 2019, 04:43 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,075
Great report, thank you for sharing. We just finished booking out details for a trip early next year. We have been to Lisbon so are sticking to the north, staying in Porto, Braga and the Douro Valley (at Quinta do Vallado, as a matter of fact). Lots of good ideas here for filling our nine days. Also appreciate the info about the tolls - forewarned is forearmed!
ms_go is offline  
Sep 21st, 2019, 12:34 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,654
Lovely report Mila - we too are planning a trip to Portugal, but are currently paralyzed by all the options. I'm just not sure where to start.
Melnq8 is offline  
Sep 21st, 2019, 03:06 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 25,286
Thanks for the report. Not sure why you were schlepping water in Lisbon, the tap water is fine. Also, El Cortes Ingles is pretty central and has a supermarket in the basement.

Sintra is probably better tackled by public transport.

Have been to Braga twice but was not aware of Citania de Briteiros - thanks!
thursdaysd is offline  

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