Our September getaway saw us take a very last minute trip to Portugal, (largely due to the rainy weather elsewhere in Northern Europe). So in our usual style, we boarded a plane to Porto with only a hire car and our first nights accommodation booked and the rest would be made up as went along.
Tip: When getting a hire car in Portugal, do pay extra for the in car automatic toll reader – they have a very confusing toll system and certain roads don’t have booths but have cameras and you have to pay for your journey three days afterwards in a Post office. We decided to take the hassle out the trip and for it all to be automated.
We planned to do a large loop of Portugal starting and ending in Porto, partly because the hire car was a lot cheaper if returned to the same airport, and also because I was meeting my friend Sam in Porto on our final weekend.
Tip: Portugal in September was really sunny, but the Atlantic wind from the ocean was ice cold, (as is the water), so make sure to pack some trousers and jumpers as well as summer wear!
After picking up the hire car we drove about an hour South to the town of Aveiro. We stayed in Aveiro Rose B&B which was a great stop for the night. Aveiro is a small town with several canals running through it, some quaint tile clad restaurants and cafes and not a lot else. We had a lovely first night sampling amazing marinated king prawns and in the morning went for a walk along the canal before setting off on the road.
We drove from Aveiro inland to the Bucacao National Park sited near Coimbra. The park consists of a beautiful old monastery with wooded grounds and we spent several hours hiking the trails and hills around it, enjoying a picnic while taking in the beautiful views. From here, we drove to Alfarim south of Lisbon for the night.
After stopping in the seaside town of Sesimbra for coffee and breakfast with a view (which due to a language barrier, ended up consisting of stacks of buttered toast), we continued our road trip down the coast enjoying the beautiful seaside drive and multiple stops on the way to the town of Porto Covo. Here we had a picnic and enjoyed a cliff side walk before continuing South to the Algave along a beautiful cross country route.
We arrived at our lovely hotel called KR hotel in Albufeira and soaked up some sun poolside. We later found out that the town is apparently stag and hen do central, but we were on the outskirts so it wasn’t a problem at all. The following morning we drove to Praia de Marinha for a beach day! We walked along the stunning cliff path for an obligatory photo of the “M” shaped cliff before hitting the beach. Despite this being the end of the summer and the water supposedly at its warmest, it was FREEZING! Even rash vests couldn’t keep us in the sea for more than ten seconds! After a few hours on the beach, we headed along the coast for a cliff side picnic before heading back to our hotel and out for dinner.
The following morning we walked to the local beach, relaxed and enjoyed some smoothies, before hopping back into the car and driving to the wonderful Lisbonaire apartments right in the heart of the city of Lisbon. That evening we explored the Barrio Alto district and enjoyed drinks in an old square before finding a wonderful back street wine and tapas restaurant.
On our second day in Lisbon we had booked to go on a live history walking tour for three hours (tours for tips). We had a great guide and despite the initial drizzle, had a fantastic time learning about the history of Lisbon from a local. Feeling somewhat tired from all the walking, we spent the late afternoon perusing the shops before cooking a steak dinner in our apartment.
Our final day in Lisbon also happened to be my 30th birthday! Phil had surprised me with a morning of spa treatments at the Float in spa. First, we had forty minutes in a floatation tank filled with Epsom salts – exactly like the Dead Sea and once the initial salt sting has subsided it’s very relaxing, followed by an hour long full body massage. Safe to say we both left feeling thoroughly relaxed! In the afternoon we took an uber to the Belem district, famous as being home to the Portuguese pastry Pastel de Nata (if you watch the Great British Bake Off you’ll know what these are). We explored the waterfront of Belem and enjoyed a picnic, before heading into the town area and to the Pasteis de Belem and grabbing our Pastel de Nata! Delicious! You can walk around the cafe which is in a lovely old building and see the pastries being produced – there are thousands of them! In the evening, we had booked a table at the “Sommelier ” restaurant not far from our apartment. Amazing wine, amazing steak tartare and rare tuna steaks and beautiful port. A wonderful end to a great day – and not a bad way to see in my thirties!
We checked out of the apartment the following day and drove to Sintra. After getting a little lost in the town centre, (it is extremely busy and as the guide books suggest probably best to do as a day trip), we managed to find free parking at the entrance to the Palacio de Seteais. We walked away from town to escape the crowds to the Palacio de Monserrate – it cost €8 each to see the gardens and house and we enjoyed a picnic, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. We caught the bus back into the town centre, ambled the pretty town streets, saw the National Palace and other beautiful buildings, before returning to the car. All the monuments are very expensive in Sintra, so if you intend to see some I would advise pre-planning!
From Sintra, our next stop was the town of Obidos. We stayed in the quaint old Casa do Fontanario de Obidos, right at the entrance to the walled old town and with a welcoming glass of ginjinha (a local tipple) too! We explored some of the town as dusk fell, before enjoying a lovely dinner and making new friends. The following morning we got up and walked the town walls. Obidos is like a mini Dubrovnik, although the city walls have no sides so it is extremely hairy walking it!
Our final stop was Porto. We dropped the car back at the airport and got the metro into town to the “Spot Hostel”. After meeting with my friend Sam there (we met in Brazil a few years ago), we wandered through the shopping district, enjoyed a lovely risotto and wine dinner before crashing out. Phil had to catch a flight to a stag do in Berlin that morning and leave at 4am. The last member of our dorm, a 70 year old man decided to come back from his night out at the same time as Phil was leaving and proceed to make howling pain noises as he tried to get comfortable for a good two hours – a stark reminder of how irritating other people can be when sleeping in dorms!
The next couple of days Sam and I enjoyed exploring the city, taking an old tram to the seaside for lunch and a stroll, shopping, taking a walking tour of the city, a crazy night out, dinner with other travellers and enjoying the sunshine! Our only advice would be don’t eat a Francesinha – it really isn’t worth the calories – think fatty meat sandwich, covered in rubbery cheese and sitting in a bowl of the tomato sauce that comes with spaghetti hoops! Despite our bad lunch choice, it was a perfect weekend and a wonderful way to finish my trip to Portugal.