Portugal – First impressions and charming countryside
Portugal is one of those European countries that we had visited only shortly before starting our nomad life. We had actually just spent one day in Lisbon between flights, so had only seen a tiny glimpse of this beautiful country on the Iberian Peninsula next to the Atlantic Ocean. So now it’s time to get to know Portugal better, and travel around it for a month, from the beaches of Algarve to the rugged northeast.
Quick visit to Lisbon
As most of the visitors, we started our adventure from the capital city Lisbon. We stayed couple of days in a hostel few kilometers out of city center, and mostly just walked around admiring the pretty, colorful buildings, clean and green parks and the relaxed atmosphere. In April the summer season hasn’t started yet, but still there was a lot of international guests in the city center. It was actually somewhat weird to be surrounded with so many tourists after traveling for so long during off-season. But I guess we just have to get used to people taking holiday selfies and sightseeing tour double-deckers again, as the summer and holiday season in Europe is ahead of us. In Lisbon there also are fancy-looking rickshaws for sightseeing tours, and of course the famous tram line 28 that serves mostly just tourist nowadays, passing through the most famous districts of the city. We didn’t hop in, but might do that later. At least taking a picture of one of those cute, old and yellow trams is a must when in Lisbon.
However, we decided to move outside the city soon to get some work done before traveling around. It's also easier to find reasonable priced accommodations options outside the capital; in Lisbon we had to pay almost 30 euros for a double room in a hostel. So we stayed for few days in an Airbnb in small Paco de Arcos, just a short train ride west from Lisbon along the coastline. We had plans to visit Cascais and Sintra from there, but as the weather was wet and chilly, we saved that for later and focused more on working. To balance all that laptop time we went running along the coastline, to the gorgeous Parque dos Poetas and to historical center of neighboring Oeiras.
After Paco de Arcos we also stayed few days in Amora, a small town next to Seixal south from Lisbon, also just a short train ride away. Alternatively, it’s nice and easy to cross the Tagus river by ferry from Cais do Sodre terminal to Cacilhas in Almada. From Cacilhas you can continue south using metro and train. Public transportation in Lisbon and to neighboring towns is very organized, punctual and affordable, more about that will follow in separate post about Lisbon.
Charmed by the Portuguese countryside
When in Amora, we got in contact with a Portuguese couple living in a small village close to the city of Santarem, around 80 km northeast from Lisbon. They were offering a guest house in rural area for house sitting, so we decided to seize the opportunity to see how is the life in countryside and help with some gardening and other stuff in exchange for accommodation. And yes, we can warmly recommend visiting the rural Portugal, especially in spring! The sleepy villages with white-washed houses, tiny grocery stores and kindly smiling oldsters walking slowly along the streets are simply delightful, and combined with the blooming nature, fields and traditional farms around them it can momentarily feel like you’d gone back in time. To get to Santarem we took a regional train from Lisbon Santa Apolonia station for 6,70 €. When traveling by train in Portugal, pay attention to the ticket prices; an IC to Santarem would have cost nearly twice as much as the regional train and there wasn't a big difference with the travel time.
One of the bit bigger villages with services for tourists in Santarem District is Constancia. We made a day trip to this picturesque riverside town together with our hosts one sunny day. The historical center consists of few narrow cobblestone streets and staircases, white stone houses, flowery gardens and a small central square with couple of cafes and restaurants. There is also a riverfront walkway with a leafy green zone around it. The main reason for tourists to pop in Constancia is the nearby Castle of Almourol (Castelo de Almourol). This medieval castle from 12th century stands on an island 5 km away from the Constancia. On the same site supposedly first was a Lusitanian castro and after that a Roman fort. The existing castle was reconstructed in the 19th century after being abandoned for centuries.
Planning a road trip in Portugal
It would be easy to spend weeks living in one of these countryside villages or small towns, but since we are kind of on a clock, we have to shortly continue the tour. To be able to freely visit historic villages, nature parks, hiking trails and secluded beaches, we will rent a car from Lisbon for around two weeks and drive around the country. Unfortunately, two weeks is clearly not enough to see everything, even if Portugal is not that big country. So now we are struggling with making the road trip plan; where to stay, what to see, how quickly to move from one place to another… you know the drill.
Reading guidebooks, blog posts and travel forums is not helping much, quite the opposite actually; there are so many awesome destinations we’d like to visit. Current plan is to head south first, via Evora and some other medieval towns through eastern half of the Alentejo all the way to south coast. The southernmost part of Portugal, the Algarve is probably the most popular summer holiday destination among foreign tourists and locals alike. Which is no wonder really, the Algarve beaches look absolutely stunning in the pictures. After exploring Algarve we’ll head back north along the west coast. If only there will be enough time, the plan is to visit Porto and the northernmost parts of the country as well.
Road trip in Portugal wouldn’t be complete without getting to know the local cuisine and wines of course. So the plan is to visit some wineries and taste local specialties on the way. We haven’t eaten out much yet, but already tasted some great fish dishes and famous Pastel de Nata. And Vinho Verde, young Portuguese wine that is typically dry, fresh and light. And delicious. Looking forward to diving deeper in the Portuguese food and wine culture!