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5 days around Portugal by Zoltan.

Our 5 day trip around Portugal claimed a great excitement and intense concentration that is what could have meant for Phileas Fogg when taking his 80 days around the World journey.

Well, a slight exaggeration….the only difference  that we did not use many types of transports – hot baloon, elephant ride, rail journeys but hire car for self-drive road trip!

Against the clock we had full 4 day to dicover Portugal from South – North direction between Lisbon and rival city of Porto and East – West bound between Porto and Barca d’Alva, from the coast of the Atlantic ocean to the tiny village right close to the Spanish border in the  spectacular Douro valley.

We knew the only way we could cover these major distances within short time if we went for a rental car option.

Before we left home, we got all our immediate needs sorted in order to complete the itinerary with satisfaction. Having had a busy spell ourselves recently, we left sorting out transport and accommodation until the very last minute. Some of the locations were unknown so just hoped we made the right pick when outlining the possible route and forecasting the daily schedule.

We arrived in Portugal on 15 Mar in the evening at 710pm.

Approaching Lisbon

We took a Wizzair flight from Budapest. The flight time was 3,5hrs. WizzAir is a low cost carrier. No-frill flights are definitely not our first choice, but they did a great job. The flight was on time. The cabin crew delivered a good standard of customer care.

After landing we looked for the Sixth rent – a – car desk to pick up our car. We got things sorted pretty easy and hit the road to reach our hotel for the night.

Before our visit, we heard so much about the country, the nation and its every day life. The moment we landed we felt how Portuguese measure the time differently. “Keep calm and take it easy” suits us great but we raced against the clock…. On a few occasions we had to hold our breath and count 3 to get things going.

Our satnav app did not work properly. It demanded great amount of attention from us to stay focused when driving. After making a few wrong turns we got to our hotel in the end.  From this moment we knew it will be a challenge to keep on track during our discovery. Things always get complicated with Zoltan… I laughed.. Szabina was not suprised. She said it was just typical!

Our purpose of the visit was educational to immerse our self in this new country by making friends and getting to know the local people.

We have a small group departure in the Summer. We wanted to get fully prepared for our return.

Our first night was in a fascinating place, at the Palacio de Queluz run by the prestigious Pestana Group. It was built in 1794 for a staff quarter at the service of the Queluz Royal Palace, then in the early 19th century it became a school . In 1991 an architect Carlos Ramos  started turning the building into a quirky small hotel with only 26 bedrooms,  without changing its external look and its characteristics.

Facade of the Posada de Queluz

It has a great location, 10 km away from the centre of Lisbon, with easy access to the major road networks.

After check-in we were determined to go back to the city to enjoy a bit of nightlife, to see some of the sights all lit up. We drove through the Avenida da Liberdade. Along this broad avenue trees lined as we drove past numerous fashion stores, outdoor cafes that drew us into the downtown Lisbon.

After several attempts, we finally managed to park our car near the Mercado da Ribeira housing a cover market and many eateries and food stalls serving delicious local and international dishes.

Mercado da Ribeira at 10pm

The air was filled with yummy scents. If you like seafood and ’fruits de mer’ delicacies, this is the place for you! There is so much choice and so much that is truly good, that is really hard to decide.

The city never stops. The restaurants, bars and streets around us were full of life, joy and laughters.  The people seemed to lose time consciousness. As we walked along the stone-paved narrow lanes, we felt like time travellers transported back in the past. At that very moment we just fell in love in this place!

There was so much to do within 4 days! I would have been easily carried away but my saviour Szabina (alias Passsportout) stood next to me and helped me think responsibly.

We really needed to rest after a long day, so decided to make our way back to the hotel.

Nevertheless it was not easy as all the exciting sights appeared in our horizon including the April 25 suspension Bridge and the Christo Rei statue. En route we briefly stopped to admire the Belem’s fascinating monuments, the Jeronimos Monastery, the Belem Tower both UNESCO Heritage sites and the Monument to the Discoveries that was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.

Facade of Jeronimos Monastery

Monument to the Discoveries

It was already late that night 1am when we finally got back in our room. We both slept well.

Next morning, another exciting day started.  The in-house breakfast gave us strength for the day. It was an absolute delight, great variety, all freshly made from local produce. 

With the help of the hotel personnel we took part of a quick hotel visit, looking around and checking the facilities. What a little gem with its 26 good size rooms, historic restaurant and a small delightful theatre. Can’t wait to return here with our group this Summer.

The Tower of the Pousada Hotel                             The small theatre

The Pousada restaurant

We thanked everyone for the lovely welcome  and set off to Lisbon once again to see the  city in daylight, meet our local guide Krisztina before heading up 350km to the North, the city of Porto.

This time we found ourselves struggling to find the right direction leading into the city centre. Taking the wrong exit twice resulted two passes across the 25 April bridge. Never mind it was great fun to drive on the bridge that often compared to the San Fransisco’s Golden Gate because of its similar colouring and suspension style. We also had a look at the colossal Christo Rei Statue close up (twice!).

The 25 April bridge with Christo rei in the horizon on the left side

At the 3rd attempt luckily we made it through and managed to find a multi -story  car parking.

No time to waste, we walked to the nearest tube station, bought a reasonably priced day ticket (6.15EUR each). If you buy a single ticket, it costs 2,90 EUR for tram and 1,90 for tube. Well worth having a day pass even if we were only there for a few hours. We tried many public transports including the bus, the famous 28 street car, the modern tram and the tube.

What we liked the most is to get lost in the city. Hopping on and off public transports is great fun. Take in all at once!  We walked up to the 12th century Lisbon Cathedral, the oldest church in the city that survived many earthquakes.

Lisbon Cathedral

It has been modified many times thus it boasts a mix of different architectural styles. No entry fee is very welcome for visitors. Uplifting and refreshing retreat to stay and stand still for a moment. We continued to climb on the steep winding road heading towards St George castle perched on the top of the hill.

St George castle on hilltip

On the way we bumped into some unique people, stories and traditions.

Street musician

 We could not resist buying some colourful tiles made by local nunns. Lovely souvenir!

Local art souvenirs

Arco Rua Aususta

We have never made it to the castle as a half empty N28 streetcar tempted us into a ride. This historical vintage tram always seems to run full, very rare to get on where you want. Maybe try to catch one from on of its terminus either Martim Moniz or Campo Ourique. 

A sudden opportunity had arisen and we did not want to miss our chance so we jumped onboard and missed the castle but had a terrific journey through single passages where townhouses were within reach.

Don’t forget if you need a quick ride, tuc-tuc offers a great alternative to get from A to B within the city. We were running late and concerned that we would miss our guide.  1 minute later we were whizzing through the riverfront and arrived just in time. Great fun!

We are very grateful for the opportunity to meet Krisztina. The personal touch with our ground expert is priceless. After a constructive “speed dating”, we were ready to depart from Lisbon.

Light Lunch after the meeting

Unfortunately our navigation abilities got worse which caused frustration and a sheer waste of time upon leaving Lisbon. While we were trying to find our way out of the city, we accidentally bumped into a Sixth Car rental centre where we pulled in and asked for assistance.

The employees were so lovely. They give us a complimentary upgrade by swapping our VW for a Renault with a built-in navigation system.  Thank goodness, we could continue our journey.  En route we stopped at MH Atlantico hotel near Peniche on the Atlantic coast where our group will stay overnight.

Atlantic ocean and the Peniche beach

This is a lovely resort-style hotel that has been completely refurbished in recent years and now offers comfortable stay in modern furnishing. We loved the good size outdoor and indoor swimming pools and the view of the ocean from balconies.

Outdoor pool facilities at MH Atlantico

The Lobby of the MH Atlantico

Hotel overlooking the ocean

After the brief visit, we walked to the beach. It was at sunset, deserted except for a solo angler aiming for his catch of the day.

Szabina lived for the moment. and succumbed to the yoga temptation.

Szabina and her favorite yoga posture

It began to darken quickly while we were driving to our next stop, one of the most picturesque fortified medieval town in Portugal, Obidos.

The fortified city of Obidus

It was already 8 pm and we were still nowhere near Porto. We took an evening walk through the cobbled street of the historical centre, popped in to the Pousada Castelo, another remarkable member of this unique hotel collection.

The entrance of Pousada Castelo

The deserted alley of Obidos

After stretching our limbs we resumed our final leg to Porto.  The Portuguese motorway is a pleasant surprise. Good road conditions and not much traffic. Maybe because it was Saturday night and FC Porto played against Maritimo….

In  Porto, our host was so kind and patiently waited for our late arrival. We were a bit concerned about our delay but luckily he was so relaxed.  We made it! It was a refurbished townhouse  with simple but modern facilities.

Next day we started early. After having breakfast in a near coffee shop we packed and drove to the downtown.

The typical street view in Porto     Cathedral of Porto

We parked the car behind the cathedral (Sei) and walked through the Luís I Bridge.

This is the most emblematic sight of the city.  The double deck metal arch bridge spans the river Douro between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.  In 1886, its 172 metres span was the longest in the world.

The Luís I Bridge

The weather was so far glorious but this morning started rather grey with a little drizzle. We didn’t mind. Nevertheless being close to the Atlantic coast we hoped for a quick sunny change.

We visited the Graham’s cellar which proved very interesting and informative about the Port wine  production in the UNESCO listed Douro valley and aging process in Vila Nova de Gaia’s cellars

Graham’s Port cellar

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Graham’s Port Warehouse, full of oak barrels

Szabina’s favorite

The visit ended up with tasting. Szabina enjoyed sampling the Port and managed to get away with a 10 year mature Tawny reserve.

The terrace of Graham’s with a great city view

Afterwards we managed to arrange a last minute rendezvous with Magdi,  our Hungarian speaking  local guide in Porto. Our meeting was short but very satisfying.

By noon the sky started clearing up. Perfect weather for  an afternoon drive through the Douro valley.  Before setting off on our next leg of our journey, the 100 miles into the rural countryside, we did a small food stock up for any eventuality. The only thing I knew for sure that we would be going into the wild as our next overnight place is located in a remote area,  along the river with a spectacular setting and view of the stunning terraced vineyards .

We headed towards Regua. For centuries this town was where oak barrels were loaded onto wooden sail boats known as rabelos and shipped down to Vila Nova de Gaia’s warehouses. These port wine stores decorated with company names, that recall British and other foreign founders, dot around the south bank of the Douro River.

Regua ia also the centre of the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, the Douro DOC, regulated since 1756. 

Upon arrival in Regua, just before 6pm, we darted into the local tourism office  before its closure for some useful information and recommendation. 10 mins later we were again behind the wheel leaving the Douro river and heading for Lamego

Lamego is a picturesque town with Baroque and Renaissance mansions at the foot of two hills. On one of the hills are the ruins of a 12th-century castle, on the other is the monumental baroque Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios.

Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios

A marvelous granite staircase (700 steps) ornate with tiles and statues leads up to a baroque church. From the top there is a fabolous view over the town.

Staircase decorated with blue tiles showing  sacral motifs

We were excited not to miss the climb up to the church. We really thought this sanctuary so special, energising and spiritual. We felt happy body and mind here.

Top of the Sanctury

It was getting late by the time we descended.

Silly me I forgot to charge my mobile and it died on me. What would have done without my Passportout?!  I was rather concerned how to reach our tiny destination not too late, in pitch black.

We went to a local coffee shop for a quick refreshment. Our favorite, since came to Portugal, was the freshly squeezed orange juice. What a delight!

We quickly sent an email to our accommodation hosts that we are enroute from Lamego.

Although It is only 60km distance but the serpentine road was so winding and some part un – surfaced that it took nearly 1hr and half to get there ….in the middle of nowhere, where hardly seen any human kind at that time of the day. By the way 9,5 out of 10 million people live close to the sea in Portugal, the rest are in the countryside. Just to see the percentages between the most and least densely populated areas.

We finally arrived just before 10pm. Again another wonderful host, Jose has been waiting for us an offered a warm welcome to our well -appointed chalet for an overnight stay that could have been somewhere in the Alps but still we were on the bank of the Golden river.

We had no idea where we were but excited about tomorrow.

The Douro valley

Next day when we woke up we were awe-inspired by the view at our feet.  A dramatic 180°C panoramic view of the spectacular scenery of the Douro River in middle of nowhere!

View from our chalet

I highly recommed Douro Fluvina Yachts & Chalets if someone was looking for a hideaway, far from mass tourism.

Our breakfat table…

Monday 18th March, after breakfast, we set off on our final mountainous and cross country journey to reach a tiny village Barca d’Alva at the Spanish boarder before returning to Porto.

The Douro valley

Mountanous roads

Mountanous road across the Douro valley

River cruise lines use this port of call for taking people to Salamanca in Spain or visit some of the rural Portugese meadiaval settlements in the countryside. No navigation is allowed further on the river.

Barca d’Alva

We made our direction to Figueira da Castelo Rodrigo village. On the top of the hill there is a castle of the Middle Ages reconquered from the Moors during the Reconquista.

The fortified village Castelo Rodrigo

The fortified village Castelo Rodrigo

The mighty view over the plain

The 11th century village is surrounded by a fortified wall

We enjoyed learning its history and tasting some local specialities.

Ginjinha Cherry liquer, Szabina’s second  favorire after Port…J

 After the quick visit, our aim was to return to Poro as soon as possible Today was a very special day. The first time we saw the CroisiEurope’s newly built ship Ms Amalia Rodrigues. 

Ms Amalia Rodrigues

We were invited to her official launch ceremony that was taken place on Tuesday morning.  We arrived late, boarded the ship at 3.30pm.

Just missed an organised afternoon tour for the invitees (the 6 bridges sightseeing rabelo cruise with a visit to Sandeman cellar) that started at 3pm. We dropped our luggage in our cabin and grabbed a taxi to meet the group half way at the cellar.

The Sandeman

A few minutes later we were in the Sandeman, enjoying a brief introductory video to the history of the Port wine production followed by a tasting. After the 3 day epic journey, we wanted to raise a glass for our adventure. What a relief that we completed a 1000 km trip.

Our one of our friends from Porto „Sandaman”

After the Port tasting we had 30 min of free time. We went to the Calem port cellar next door to compare services. Having seen Graham’s and now Sandeman we wanted to visit another Port Warehouse. Andrea the cellar representative accepted our random visit and gave us a quick insight to their best offerings. What I liked about the Calem, that it is very interactive and also offers Fado performance during the tasting session that sounds lovely.

We reunited at the meeting point and our group continued with the rabelo boat cruise to the mouth of the river then sailed back to the ship.

The mouth of the river

The 6 Bridges cruise

Ms Amalia Rodrigues at the quay Quebrantos

The best way to have a wonderful panoramic view of Porto on the left and Vila Nova de Gaia on the right while crossing the whole length of the capital of the Northern Portugal.

Ribeira (riverside) district

Back onboard, we got changed for dinner. Having been on many ocean and river cruises, I have a fairly good comparison, but the cuisine on CroisiEurope is absolutely outstanding, highly recommended and simply delightful.

It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to spend some time with some members of Schmitter family. They all were very friendly and accommodating.

The Schmitter family

 I love supporting  multi-generation family businesses. After dinner we enjoyed chatting away with fellow colleagues from the UK travel trade before we decided to retire to our cabin to finally have a good night sleep .

We started our day fresh with an easy jog along the river.

It was not that easy because of the hilly landscape but was rather rejuvenating. We were ready for the day ahead.

Morning run along the Douro into downton of Porto

On 19th March, the Schmitter family inaugurated theMS Amália Rodrigues  on the quay Quebrantos in Vila Nova de Gaia. Amália Rodrigues, for whom the ship is named after, was known as the “Queen of Fado,” and was one of the greatest cultural ambassadors of Portugal.

Christening

Amália Rodrigues, for whom the ship is named after, was known as the “Queen of Fado,” and was one of the greatest cultural ambassadors of Portugal. MS Amália Rodrigues is the sixth ship to join CroisiEurope’s fleet on the Douro and its third premium-rated ship on the “Golden River.”  It’s interior design has a contemporary feel, featuring colors and shapes of the Mediterranean. With 66 cabins, she carries maximum 132 passengers.

On the sundeck there is a good size swimming pool welcoming travellers for a dip after an immersive excursion. Nothing could be better than having a break by the pool with a glass of cocktail and a favorite read while watching the world go by.

Swimming pool

We finished our discovery with a high note. We said good bye to this beautiful country and headed back to the airport to catch our homeward flight.

So was it love at first sight?

Yes , it was a wonderful experience what we have seen, tasted and heard in our 4 day journey.

Thank you Portugal, we very much look forward to returning with our group again in this Summer.

 

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