One month in Montpellier, France (April, 2022)

Restaurant Carré Mer, Plage Palavas-les-flots
Place de la Comédie (photo fr.hotels.com)

(To see more photos and highlights of our trip, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope.)

Our month in Montpellier is drawing to a close and we have loved every minute of being here. Please read on to learn more about this fabulous city.

Montpellier is a city in the south of France, 13km from the Mediterranean and 200km from the Spanish border. It is the third-largest French city near the Mediterranean coast, behind Marseille and Nice. It has a very cosmopolitan feel, with a population of 285,000 people and many historical landmarks. Like Lisbon, it is a very young population with 15 universities. The university of Montpellier is one of the oldest universities in the world and was established in 1160. The Romans began building here in 333 AD. It’s pretty mind-boggling (especially as Canadians) to be surrounded by structures still standing from that era.

Garden on Rue Foch

Southern France is similar to Portugal in the following ways:

  • People are extremely friendly and welcoming.
  • Food is incredible and fresh; farm to table produce is readily available
  • Wine is delicious and inexpensive, mostly in the €10-€20 range.
  • Weather in the spring is mostly sunny, averaging 18 – 22C.
  • Laid-back and very sociable vibe

However, France (Montpellier) is different from Portugal in the following ways:

  • We rarely hear English spoken (which we love because it forces us to practice our French)
  • There are not many tourists this time of year
  • Restaurants offer much more diversified/complex/delicious menus
  • Less seafood (except for oysters which are cheap and plentiful); more breads of all types, fantastic cheeses and lots of varieties of meat.
  • Generally, everything is more expensive in France

One of the definite highlights of our time here has been our Airbnb: It is by far one of the nicest accommodations we have ever stayed in, with a great view over the main plaza, Place de la Comédie, and a 5 minute walk to the train station.

View of Place de la Comédie from our Airbnb
On a sunny day the cafés are always packed in Place de la Comédie.

Here are some more things that we love about Montpellier:

  1. The café culture: Cafés are everywhere and are always full. People gather in groups to socialize in cafés, and seem to stay for hours!
  2. There are no cars in the central old town: it is pedestrians and bicycles only. This is a delightful break from noisy Lisbon and we have noticed that it is actually like this in all of the old sections of the towns we have visited so far in L’Occitanie (name given to this region of France).
  3. Great infrastructure for cycling: Lots of bike lanes and paths. No car needed in Montpellier!
  4. Stunning 45 minute bike path all along Le Lez river to the ocean, meandering through the countryside.
  5. Very nice beaches with restaurants and and kite-surfers to watch for hours.
  6. 50 meter Olympic sized public pool, 5 minute bike-ride from our place (2.80eu/visit).
  7. City is very clean and well-maintained. Very few run-down buildings or graffiti.
  8. Farmers markets are everywhere. Les Halles Castellane is open every day (7h – 20h, Sun, 7h – 13:30h); Les Halles Laissac (7h – 17:30 every day); Le Marché des Arceaux (Tues. and Sat, 7h – 13:30h) and Le Marché Antigone (Wed. and Sun, 8h – 13:00h).
  9. Fresh-from-the-oven baguettes that melt in your mouth. We eat one every day.
  10. Amazing public transportation system of trams, buses and trains.
  11. Proximity to other great cities to visit by train: Carcassonne, Narbonne, Béziers, Sète, Nîmes, Arles, and Avignon are some of the places we visited for day trips, all within 2 hrs from Montpellier.
Our favourite cheese guy, Marc from Fromagerie Bou in Les Halles Castellane
Candied fruit from Les Halles Laissac.
Une maman avec des enfants et des courses (groceries), Place de la Comédie.
Wild flowers on the banks of Le Lez
Enjoying beverages at one of our favourite squares in Montpellier, Place du Marché aux Fleurs
Rue du Bras de Fer, Montpellier. This is a typical alleyway in the old town, filled with shops, restaurants and cafés.
Restaurant Rosemarie, Montpellier

Places to see in Montpellier:

Click here to see these spots on a Google map, indicated with red markers (zoom in).

Montpellier is easiest to explore on foot. We had rented bicycles from W Ville & Vélo (100eu/month each) but we ended up using them mostly just to go to the beach or cycle along Le Fleuve Lez (and Steve uses his to go to the golf range and course).

Place de la Comédie is the main square in Montpellier and it is a very lively place, lined with cafés, with street performers and people milling around or walking through it.

Branching out from La Place de la Comédie haphazardly heading in a North-West direction are pedestrian-only streets and lanes, filled with shops, cafés, squares, restaurants and parks. Here are some of our favourite spots:

  1. Place de la Canourgue: Lovely, quiet, tree-line square with nice cafés and restaurants. There are two hotels here that looks really nice: Hôtel du Palais (moderately priced) and Hôtel Richer de Belleval (luxury) (map).
  2. Promenade/Place du Peyrou: Gorgeous promenade and park with a fantastic flea market every Sunday (7h30 à 14h.) (map)
  3. Aqueduc des Arceaux: Beautiful Roman arched structure, once used to store and distribute water. Location of Le Marché des Arceaux Tuesday and Sat. mornings. (map)
  4. Rue Marioge is a really cute street just around the corner from Le Marché des Arceaux. Jaja La Fouine is a great vintage clothing store worth checking out. (map)
  5. Jardin des Plantes: Montpellier’s serene and beautiful botanical gardens (map)
  6. Esplanade Charles de Gaulle: Another tree-lined promenade, lined with restaurants on one side and a beautiful park on the other (map).
  7. Faculté de Médecine: Beautiful building housing the oldest medical university in the world (map).
  8. Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier: Gorgeous, must-see, with a nice square in front with a very nice café, Le Mélody (great smoothies and crepes).(map)
  9. Place du Marché aux Fleurs: A lovely square with many restaurants and cafés. A great spot to catch the afternoon sun (map).
  10. Cute square in front of Toast’Tea restaurant (map) next to Église Saint-Roch de Montpellier. We had a nice brunch here.
  11. Le Fleuve Lez: This river flows through Montpellier and it’s a great spot for a bike ride or walk. (map)
  12. Antigone District: Dramatically different from the architecture of the old town. Huge neo-classical buildings line wide avenues with trees and fountains. Home of the Marché Antigone every Wed and Sun mornings. Be sure to walk/ride through this district right to Le Fleuve Lez. (map)
  13. Centre Commercial Le Polygone: A modern shopping centre with many stores, including a huge MonoPrix (grocery store) and an Orange mobile location to purchase a SIM card. (map)
  14. Musée Fabre: A wonderful museum with classic and modern art. (map)
  15. Le trompe-l’œil de la place Edouard-Adam: You need to see this to believe it: A huge mural painted on a flat wall that looks 3D. (map)
  16. Église Saint-Roch is a festive local hangout with bustling café terraces (map).
  17. Pomme de Reinette et Pomme d’Api is an amazing toy store with new and antique toys that you can spend hours exploring. (map)
  18. L’Arbre Blanc: This fascinating contemporary, award-winning residential tower on the shore of Le Lez. (map)
  19. Le Château de Flaugergues: This family-owned and run château was one of the highlights in Montpellier for us. Be sure to book lunch at Restaurant Folia, a tour of the château, and a wine-tasting. It is a 20 minute bike ride from Place de la Comédie, not the nicest ride, but worth it! (map)
  20. Pavalas-des-Flots: A waterfront community which lines the Lez Canal by the ocean. Many restaurants and cafés. Can be overcrowded on the weekend so stick to the weekdays. (map)
  21. Montpellier beaches: There are several beaches in the vicinity. Some were too far for us to reach on our bikes so I chose not to mention them here. Our favourites within biking distance are Plage Le Petit Travers and la plage Villeneuve-Lès-Maguelone because they are the most pristine and free of condos. Unfortunately, there are very few boardwalks along the Montpellier beachfront, so you end up biking on a road next to the beach far from the water. This was very disappointing for us. Walking is also difficult on the beachfront, as the sand does not have a hard flat surface to walk on.
  22. Cathédrale de Maguelone: This medieval church is near Plage Villeneuve-Lès-Maguelone, about an hour bike ride outside of Montpellier. It is on an island, surrounded with vineyards and is well worth the trip. Click here for bike route there and click here for alternative route back. Click here for more info on how to get there by car or tram/bus (scroll down to ACCÈS À LA CATHÉDRALE SAINT-PIERRE DE MAGUELONE then use Google translate). We had a nice lunch on-site at the Le Comptoir des Compagnons (call for reservations). 5 minutes away (by bike) is a gorgeous, pristine beach, la plage de Villeneuve-Lès-Maguelone.
Place de la Canourgue, Montpellier
Beautiful bar in Hôtel Richer de Belleval, Montpellier
Pork stew from Le Marché des Arceaux in Montpellier
Le Marché des Arceaux, Montpellier
Piscine Olympique Angelotti à Montpellier
CATHÉDRALE DE MAGUELONE, 45 min bike ride from Montpellier (photo courtesy (herault-tourisme.com).
L’orangerie du Château de Flaugergues, Montpellier
Château de Flaugergues, Montpellier
Une crêpe au sucre du restaurant Toast’Tea, Montpellier
Square in front of Église Saint-Roch de Montpellier.
Place Royale du Peyrou, Montpellier
Les Arceaux, Montpellier
Fleurs à vendre, Esplanade Charles de Gaulle.

Restaurants (Note: most good restaurants require reservations)

Restaurant L’Entrecôte, Montpellier.
La Morue, Montpellier
Un café crème et une tisaine, Café Latitude in Place de la Canourgue.

Tips:

  • Montpellier-france.com is a good site for information on Montpellier.
  • Click here to learn about how to order coffee in France. We have not figured out how to order a coffee with low-fat cream (which is how Steve likes it). Not sure if they offer it in restaurants.
  • “Paiement sans contact” (payment with Apple Pay) is everywhere, however, some small stores have a cash only policy for under 10eu.
  • Most restaurants close at 2:30pm for lunch and re-open for dinner.
  • Most stores and many restaurants are closed on Sundays.
  • Our favourite place for baguettes is Patisserie Teissier (map) which is open every day including Sundays. We prefer the “Grand siècle” baguette: it’s a little wider than the regular baguette.
  • Monoprix is a chain of grocery stores. There are two in Montpellier: a huge one in Centre Commercial Le Polygone (click here for hours) and a smaller one in Place de la Comédie which is open on Sundays (click here for hours).
  • La Gazette is a weekly newspaper sold every Thursday with all of the upcoming week’s cultural events (2eu) that you can find the local Tabac-Presse.
  • The tram (Tam Voyages) is a sleek, quiet, electric tram that provides transportation everywhere in Montpellier. You can buy a 10 ride ticket (10eu) from the Office du tourisme de Montpellier on the east end of Place de la Comédie (map). Validate your ticket once in the tram. Bikes are allowed in the tram and masks are mandatory.
  • You can get to Montpellier beaches on public transport. We have taken our bikes on Tram #3 from the Montpellier St-Roch train station then cycled to the beaches instead of cycling the whole way there. Apparently you can also get to the beaches on public transport without bikes (but we haven’t tried). Click here to learn how.
  • Masks are mandatory on all forms of public transportation.
  • Visit the SNCF website to buy train tickets. You can order from the desktop version or use the app. La Gare Montpellier Saint-Roch is a 5 minute walk from la Place de la Comédie. Note that prices go up significantly if you buy last-minute so try to plan ahead of time. Tip: Create profiles for you and your travel companions for faster future bookings. Also, when you book a ticket, make sure that you have chosen the most direct (ie. shortest) route.
  • Some trains have assigned seating while others do not. Sometimes a conductor will check your ticket on board but most often they will not. There is free wifi on the trains.
  • You need to know which direction your train is heading (ie, the final destination) before you can find the track (“voie”) to wait on. This can be tricky, so the best way around this is to look at the departures (“Départs”) screen at the train station and look for the train with the exact same time of the departure on your ticket. This will likely be your train. If you are not sure, just ask someone waiting on the platform. “Est-ce que ce train va à …?”
  • When visiting different towns, do some research ahead of time (or on the train) so that you have a rough game plan of what you want to visit. It is helpful to create a Google map of where you want to go so that you don’t miss anything.
  • Upon arriving at a new town, be sure to head to “Les Halles” to check out the main market. Every one we saw was incredible! Note that many close before 14h-15h and most are closed on Sundays.
  • When looking for restaurants, open Google maps to where you are visiting and hit “restaurants” then tap on each restaurant to see their rating.
  • There are a lot of smokers in France (curiously, mostly women). It’s hard to avoid cigarette smoke in outdoor restaurants and cafés, unfortunately. Smoking is not permitted inside, but it is permitted on an outside terrace, even if it’s covered and enclosed.
  • Pedicures are very expensive here: 40 – 55 euros. If you must get one, ask for a “beauté des pieds avec varnis”.
The French love olives (and so do we)!
We have never eaten so much cheese in our lives. Can you blame us? Le Marché des Arceaux, Montpellier
Place de Thessalie, Montpellier
Château d’eau du Peyrou, Montpellier
Bike path along canal to Cathédrale de Maguelone.
Afternoon delights
The stores are so beautiful in Montpellier!
Fleurs à vendre, Le Marché des Arceaux.
Steve mastering how to cook the French dish, Cassoulet“.
C’est délicieux!

Nearby towns that we visited and highly recommend, all easily accessible by train:

Click here for a map of these places, indicated with purple markers (Zoom out).

  1. Carcassonne (*must do)
  2. Narbonne
  3. Béziers
  4. Sète
  5. Nîmes
  6. Arles
  7. Avignon (*must do)
  1. Carcassonne: This is one of our favourite towns we visited. It has the largest castle we have ever seen (Château Comtal) and Steve was obsessed with it. Below is our itinerary. Click here for a map of our walking route.

(NOTE: Continue scrolling down to read details of all of these towns that we visited)

Gargoyle on Basilique Saint-Nazaire, Carcassonne.
Lunch at Méli et Zéli, Carcassonne.
Château Comtal in Carcassonne is insanely big.
Parc de Camin del Garric, Carcassonne

2. Narbonne: The walk from the train station to the old town takes about 10 minutes and is not very nice, but once you are there, it is worth it! Click here for map of our walking route.

Cathédrale Narbonne
Palais des Archeveques, Narbonne.
Canal de la Robine, Narbonne
Place Thérèse Léon Blum, Narbonne

3. Béziers: This is a small but cute town with not a lot to see or do but we still enjoyed it. The beautiful park Plateau des Poètes and the view from the Cathédrale Saint-Nazare tower made the trip totally worth it. Unfortunately, there was construction on Les Allées Paul-Riquet and le Pont Vieux but hopefully if you go there this will be completed. Click here for a map of our walking route.

Plateau des Poètes, Béziers
View of L’Orb from the Cathédrale Saint-Nazare tower.
Pont Vieux, Béziers
Trompe l’oeil on Rue Viennet and Rue Général Crouzat. This is a flat wall!

4. Sète: Sète is a charming fishing village, just 15 minutes outside of Montpellier by train. We went during the annual “Escale à Sète” festival for tall ships and it was fun to see them but it was very crowded. We still enjoyed ourselves and had delicious oysters for lunch at the outdoor terrace of Les Halles de Sète.

The second time I visited Sète (while Steve was golfing), I brought my bike on the train and cycled to town then along the waterfront all the way to beautiful Plage Baleine. I settled into a beach “matelas” at Restaurant La Canopée (14eu/day, 7eu/half day) with my book and ordered “un café frappé. Heaven. Click here for our walking route and here for my bike route.

Sète (photo: montpellier-france.com)
Boating musician in Sète.
Yummy oysters in front of Les Halles de Sète.
Big ships in the Sète port.
Relaxing at Restaurant La Canopée in Sète. Note: It costs 14eu to rent a bed for the day (7eu half day) and even more if you want the front row!)

5. Nîmes: As soon as you leave the Nîmes train station, you will see the beautiful boulevard Les Allées Jaurès which you will walk along on the way to the Nîmes Roman Arena. After you pass the Roman La Maison Carrée, walk along the beautiful canal next to the Quai de la Fontaine on the way to the stunning Jardin de la Fontaine. Climb up the stairs to the top of the hill to see La tour Magne and a wonderful view of the city. Have iced coffee (Café frappé) at Les Tables de la Fontaine. Click here for our walking route.

Quai de la Fontaine, Nîmes
La Maison Carrée, Nîmes.
Beautiful Jardin de la Fontaine in Nîmes
Cafés frappés, Les Tables de la Fontaine, Nîmes.

6. Arles: This was overall a bit of a disappointment for us but the impressive Arène d’Arles made it a worthwhile trip. Nonetheless, Arles was the least favourite of the towns we saw in L’Occitanie. Click here for our walking route.

  1. Arène d’Arles
  2. Théâtre Roman
  3. Jardin d’été
  4. Fondation Vincent Van Gogh
  5. Eglise Saint-Trophime and cloître
  6. Place de la République
  7. Place du Forum 
  8. Cryptoportiques du Forum
  9. Thermes de Constantin
  10. Les Alyscamps
Arène d’Arles (photo franceminiature.fr)
Inside the Arène d’Arles which has been renovated to accommodate live concerts.
Students being instructed on gladiator battle techniques at the Arène d’Arles.
Roast duck sandwich from Saveurs et Terroirs, Arles
Cute house in Arles.

7. Avignon: Oh my gosh, we loved Avignon. From the train station, walk up Cour Jean-Jaures to Place de l’Horloge, a beautiful and lively square with restaurants, cafés, artists, musicians and a carousel. Visit the stunning Palais des Papes and be sure to grab an interactive tablet for your tour. When you scan the QR code in each room, your screen will come alive with a representation of what the room would have looked like in its prime. Afterwards, head up to the Jardin des Doms, a beautiful park on a hill overlooking the famous Pont D’Avignon (Pont Saint-Bénézet) on the river below (PS. when you buys tickets for the Palais des Papes tour, do not pay extra for tickets to the park and bridge – as we did – because you do not need them. We didn’t walk down to the bridge, we just took pics from the park). We had a great lunch at Coeur d’Artichaud, sitting outside in the sun, then walked around the charming streets and alleys of Avignon. On our way back to the train station we stopped at Café Le Square in a lovely park for cold drinks (Steve, beer; me, Orangina). We wanted to go to Les Halles d’Avignon which is supposed to be fantastic but unfortunately, we were too late and it was closed. Click here for our walking route.

Pont D’Avignon (Pont Saint-Bénézet)
Palais des Papes (photo frenchriviera.travel)
Park next to Café Le Square, Avignon
An artist at work in Place de l’Horloge, Avignon.
Place du Palais, Avignon.
Place Crillon (Photo theculturetrip.com)

Have you been to this part of the world? What are some of your favourite places? Please leave comments below, thank you!

(Next month’s destination: Gordes, France. Stay tuned!)

PS. Here’s a quick video about Montpellier (in French):

Cascais, Nazaré, Porto and the Douro Valley (March, 2022)

Coffee with a beautiful view at the Albatroz Hotel in Cascais

(To see more photos and highlights of our trip, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope.)

It’s hard to believe that our three month trip to Portugal came to an end yesterday as we started our next three months in France today. Read on for a detailed description of how we have spent our last two weeks in Portugal. Be sure to subscribe to our blog if you haven’t already to follow our adventures in France (Montpellier, Gordes and Bordeaux). More pics available on our Instagram account @sylsteveeurope!

Cascais

We had heard from several other travellers that Cascais was a beautiful seaside town just 30 minutes west of Lisbon. Apparently, it’s where many Lisboetas go to get away from the urban crowds and catch some sun and surf. We left Lisbon earlier than the full month we had initially planned, to stay in Cascais. As it turned out, we were disappointed with the town. We found it to be too touristic, with over priced restaurants, many, many shops selling trinkets and generally very limited things to see and do compared to fabulous Lisbon. There is a nice seaside boardwalk but some days it was so busy you could barely walk on it. Steve was looking forward to golfing (there are 3 courses in the area) but was limited by the cold and rainy weather, which unfortunately was with us for most of the 10 days we were there. Oh well, better than March in Toronto (we keep reminding ourselves)!

The iconic Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães in Cascais

If you do visit Cascais, we would recommend a short stay. Here are some of the things we recommend:

  • Bike rentals: Scooters Nalinha, ( 8 euros/day).
  • Some Cascais restaurants we enjoyed: Taberna Clandestina, A Nova Estrela, and Somos um Regalo (take out Churrasco chicken).
  • The best coffee and coolest café is Lusophonica Coffeeshop by the lighthouse. They also have a very nice brunch menu. We loved the baristas Angel and Nuno.
  • Best places to stay: Upscale – Farol Hotel, Pestana Cidadela Cascais, Villa Cascais. Moderate – Villa Vasco de Gama. Note: Pestana Cidadela Cascais it a must see (go inside, it is spectacular) and in its courtyard there are many wonderful artisan shops.
  • The highlight of the week for us was the Wednesday and Saturday farmer’s market at the Mercado da Vila. On Wednesdays there is also a very lively flea market in the same location with carny-like vendors yelling out to customers to buy their wares.
  • We recommend staying away from the very touristy area of Cascais which is just behind Hotel Baia. It is very congested and waiters harass you to eat at their restaurants.
  • Our favourite area to explore is around the charming A Leitaria cafe/restaurant (map). Some of the houses in this area are adorable and the streets are nice and quiet.
  • A walk east along the boardwalk will take you to many seaside restaurants. We really liked the Sun and Drink lounge in Estoril: they have an amazing Açai bowl. Also, Surpresa Snack Bar has great grilled fish.
  • On a windy day, watch the surfers between Praia de Rata and Praia do Tamariz (map)
  • Visit the Cascais Marina to admire the boats and have a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants.
  • The Marechal Carmona Park is a great park, especially for kids. There are peacocks, ducks and geese walking around and families picnicking.
  • A must-see iconic building in Cascais is the beautiful yellow castle-like house (Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães) right across from Plaia Santa Marta. You will pass it on your way to the lighthouse when you cross a small cobblestone bridge (map).
  • About a 15 minute bike ride further west you will find the Casa da Guia Mall: An outdoor area with a few cliffside restaurants and shops. This was one of our favourite places in Cascais.
  • Cycle further west along the waterfront to Guincho beach, then continue on the road as it winds right and goes up a steep hill. At the top of the hill, to the right, you will find the Bar e Duna da Cresmina which has an amazing view of the coast and offers a delicious and healthy lunch.
Marya and I at the Cascais Lighthouse
Baristas Angel and Nunu from the Lusophonica Coffeeshop: Best cup of coffee in Cascais!
Lunch with a view at Bar e Duna da Cresmina

Road trip to Porto and the Douro Valley

After Cascais, we rented a car for a 5 day road trip to Porto and the Douro Valley. Here is our itinerary:

Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Lisbon > Óbidos (lunch) > Nazaré. (Total driving time: 1hr40) Map
  • Day 2: Nazaré > Batalha Monastery > Aveiro (lunch) > Porto. (Total driving time: 2hr45) Map
  • Day 3: Porto > Amarante (coffee) > Miradouro do Imaginário > Quinto do Tedo (lunch) > Pinhão. (Total driving time: 2hr15) Map
  • Day 4: Pinhão > Quinto do Vallado (wine tasting) > Sapateiro Winery (lunch) > Porto. (Total driving time: 2hr10) Map
  • Day 5: Porto > Tomar > Lisbon. (Total driving time: 3hr30) Map

Óbidos

Óbidos is a little medieval walled town north of Lisbon. Its main attraction is the castle with surrounding walls that you can walk on. It is very touristy but a lot of fun and worth the visit. The annual Óbidos Chocolate Festival was in full swing when we arrived so there was lots of chocolate to eat, music and festivities! We had lunch at Avocado Café that had really good food and a little outdoor patio.

Obidos Castle
Me walking on the Obidos Castle wall

Nazaré

Nazaré had become a destination for us ever since Steve watched a few episodes of the 100 Foot Wave before we left for Portugal. We knew that we could not pass on the chance to see this iconic surfer’s mecca while here. The main destination in Nazaré is Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo, the viewing platform and surfing museum. Even if you are not a surfer, this is a must-visit spot.

Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo, best viewing spot to watch the surfers and home to the surfing museum.

Nazaré is reputed to have one of the largest waves in the world, sometimes reaching 100+ ft. Apparently the largest waves occur between December and March, but unfortunately, when we arrived there were no waves whatsoever so there was no surfing to watch (we still loved it). Later, we discovered a website where you can check the wave forecast to plan your visit which we should have been doing the entire time we were in Lisbon because apparently we missed some huge waves (sigh).

Surfing museum at the Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo in Nazaré

Nazaré has a real beach town vibe, but mixed in with an old-world Portugal charm. Some of the women wear traditional Nazaré clothing and fishmongers dry their fish out on the beach every morning.

Nazaré Fishmonger drying out her fish.

We had one of the best seafood meals ever at Rosa dos Ventos in Nazaré, a small, authentic Portuguese restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host (call to reserve, this place gets busy).

Rosa dos Ventos restaurant in Nazaré.

We adored our Airbnb, even though it was on a the main street in Nazaré, but passing cars were not an issue once we closed the windows and the shutters. Note: A quieter location to stay would be up on the cliff, in Sítio da Nazaré, which is also closer to the Forte. Note also that if you do stay on the beach, you can easily go up the cliff via the Elevador da Nazaré, and then it’s about a 15 minute walk to the Forte.

View of Nazaré from Sítio da Nazaré, after taking the lift up the hill.
Humungous fishing boats on Nazaré beach. If you zoom in, you can see the cliff in the background with the iconic Nazaré lighthouse.

Batalha Monastery

The Batalha Monastery is a breathtaking masterpiece of 15th century Gothic art and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Plan for at least an hour to walk through it. I guarantee that you will not be able to stop taking pictures of its beauty. I particularly loved the cloisters and the tomb of King João I and Queen Filipa de Lencastre, holding hands.

Batalha Monastery cloisters
Batalha Monastery cloisters
The tomb of King João I and Queen Filipa de Lencastre, holding hands.

Aveiro

Aveiro is a small, bustling town with colourful houses situated on a lagoon and often described as the “mini Venice” of Portugal. There are many restaurants to choose from but if you are a carnivore, you must eat at Tasquinha Do Leitao and order the Leitao a Bairrada (crispy roast pig).

Aveiro
Leitao a Bairrada (crispy roast pig) at Tasquinha Do Leitao.
It was so delish!

Porto

Porto is an incredible city and we quickly fell in love with it. The vibe is quite different from Lisbon: It’s grittier and even more lively, with hills even steeper than Lisbon. Most of the streets are pedestrian only. They are narrower, darker, and more ancient looking than in Lisbon (as are the buildings). You have the sensation of stepping into a Charles Dickens novel when you walk the tiny streets and alleyways.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and there was some kind of festival, so the city was jam-packed to the point of being overwhelming. However, the crowds disappeared by Sunday morning and the city settled down to a less frenzied state. We were only there for a short time, but here are some of the things that we did and recommend:

  • Walk along both sides of the river to check out all of the wonderful bars and restaurants. Note: When we were there, there was construction on the lower foot bridge, therefore it was suggested to use the upper foot bridge instead to cross the river.
  • Watch the sunset with a cocktail and live music on the hill at the foot of the Ponte da Arrábida (south side).
  • Click here for a blogpost about more spots for magnificent views of Porto.
  • Eat at Pura4050: A lively restaurant with fun staff and incredible food. Be sure to eat outside. Great for people watching too, in a lovely square with live music. If you can’t get a reservation, try to get there just before 7pm when they open up the tables on the outside terrace.
  • Wander around the pedestrian-only streets and alleyways to make your own discoveries.
  • We stayed at The House of Sandeman and had a room with a river view. We loved it, but it was a bit noisy at night, even with the windows closed. We admired the Vincci Ponte de Ferro hotel which is at the south foot of the Ponte da Arrábida. It is more expensive but looked fantastic.
Watching the sunset on the hill at the foot of the Ponte da Arrábida (south side).
Ponte da Arrábida pedestrian bridge
Pura4050 restaurant
View of the north side of Porto.

Douro Valley

We only spent two days and one night in the Douro Valley and we quickly realized that we barely skimmed the surface of what this area has to offer. If you have more time, I would definitely recommend a longer visit.

First and foremost, the Douro Valley is a premier wine and port making region for Portugal, but it is also breathtakingly beautiful, with gorgeous views of the Douro River snaking through the scaffolded terraces of vineyards on the surrounding hills.

It was quite a daunting task researching and trying to decide which vineyards to visit. We narrowed our choices to vineyards that offered lunch in addition to wine tasting and were on a direct route to or from Pinhão (furthest point on our trip) to minimize time spent in the car.

Our first stop after leaving Porto was to the little town of Amarante for coffee and pastries on the outdoor patio of Confeitaria da Ponte, with a gorgeous view of the town’s ancient arched bridge. We then strolled across the bridge to the São Gonçalo church and saw another really nice looking café/restaurant called Café Bar – Restaurante S. Gonçalo on the square which would would have been be an alternative place to have a snack (map).

Amarante

Continuing south towards the Douro River, we stopped at the Miradouro do Imaginário for our first jaw-dropping view of the famous river. Then we drove to the stunning winery Quinta Do Tedo for lunch. With many choices of lunch experiences here (click on their website page to see more), we opted for a gourmet picnic lunch under an olive tree next to the river. The food was exquisite and combined with the bucolic surroundings, the warm spring weather, the singing birds and the sounds of nature, we felt like we had died and gone to heaven. This is an experience that we highly recommend. Note: All wine tastings and meals have to be booked ahead of time. Spaces fill up quickly so be sure to plan well ahead. You can book this lunch at bistroterrace@quintadotedo.com.

Miradouro do Imaginário
Gourmet picnic lunch at Quinta Do Tedo
Lovely cobblestone road to walk along at Quinta Do Tedo.

Our next and final stop of the day was Pinhão, a tiny town on the Douro River. We stayed at the glamourous Vintage House and we loved our luxurious room with a river view. However, we had a very disappointing dinner in the bar (perhaps the restaurant would have been better). In retrospect, we probably should have stayed at the nearby Quinta Ventozelo which was highly recommended by a Portuguese friend.

In Pinhão there are a few boating companies that offer 1 or 2 hour boat rides on the river. There is also a short walk along the boardwalk. There is not much else to do in this town and, apart from our hotel, the buildings and houses here are not particularly appealing. We did notice some large river cruise boats and it occured to us that boating up the Douro River from Porto is an option for people who don’t want to drive. Also, touring the Douro Valley by train is another possibility.

Pinhão

The following day we headed back to Porto with a stop at the Quinto do Vallado, one of the oldest, and largest wineries in the valley. We booked a one hour wine tasting tour (25eu) which provided an opportunity to walk around the grounds, hear all about the storied history of the farm, the various grapes varieties there, and see how the wine was made. It was a really enjoyable tour, and the wines were outstanding. I particularly loved the 20 year old Tawny Port (rated 4.4 on Vivino). Delish. While we recommend this winery for a tour, it is situated close to a substantial highway so I’m not sure what the accommodations are like.

Wine tasting and tour at Quinto do Vallado,

Next stop was tapas and a wine tasting at the small, hand-crafted, family owned Sapateiro Winery. Our host was Tiago, who turned out to be the son of the owner, and the wine maker. He was charming, knowledgable and passionate about their wine and wine making process. He spent 2.5 hours entertaining, wining and dining us on the porch of his family home with four courses of delicious tapas and matching wines. We loved their Rosé wine and ordered a case which Tiago arranged to deliver directly to our place in Toronto. This was a unique and intimate experience that we loved (book with tiagosoares17.22@gmail.com).

After the Sapateiro winery we continued on to Porto and spent a second night there.

Our charming host, Tiago, serving us lunch and wine on his front porch at the Sapateiro Winery.

Tomar

The next morning we drove to Tomar on our way back to Lisbon. Tomar is a beautiful town that seems to be off the frequently-visited tourist track. We just happened to stumble upon it and it turned out to be one of those serendipitous experiences that makes travelling so much fun becuase it proved to be a one of the highlights of our road trip.

The town is adorable and is situated on a small river, with many restaurants and cafés in the old section with pedestrian-only streets. There is also a lovely park with an old windmill wheel next to a small waterfall with ducks and swans swimming around.

Tomar water wheel
Mouchão Park in Tomar

There is a quaint little boutique hotel, Hotel Republico, next to the main square, across from the Igreja de São João Baptista which is currently undergoing repairs. It looks like a really nice place to stay.

But the real reason for visiting Tomar is to see the Castelo dos Templarios, also known as the Castle of the Knights Templar. Wow. Of all of the castles and monasteries we have visited in Portugal, this one was undoubtedly one of our favourites. The charm of this castle is that it has only been partially restored, with some walls only partially standing and nature growing all around them, so you get the impression that you have discovered the castle yourself like in a fairy tale. Adding to this impression is the fact that it we were almost the only people there. Note: Be sure to explore the whole grounds (you will need a couple of hours). My sister and I somehow managed to miss the massive kitchen and dorm rooms but Steve found them and said they were impressive!

Castle of the Knights Templar in Tomar.
Castle of the Knights Templar in Tomar.

After Tomar we headed back to Lisbon to spend our final two nights. Now in Montpellier, France, we are already sad about having left our beloved Portugal which had been our home for the past three months. We can’t wait to return!

Have you been to Lisbon, Nazaré, Porto, the Douro Valley or any other places we mentioned? What places have we missed? Please add your comments below!

XXOO

Sylvia and Steve

Other Douro Valley wineries (we did not visit but they look great):

Other Douro Valley accommodations:

More resources: