(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!
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)!
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.
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:
- 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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com).
After the Sapateiro winery we continued on to Porto and spent a second night there.
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.
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!
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!
Sylvia and Steve
Other Douro Valley wineries (we did not visit but they look great):
- Quinta das Carvalhas (just across river from Pinhao).
- Quinto do Crasto (If want a wine tasting, book with firstname.lastname@example.org, 10:30 or 16:00 only)
- Quinta Ventozelo
- Quinta Nova (closed for wine tastings Monday and Tuesday)
- Quinto do Seixo for port tasting, 18eu, book here
Other Douro Valley accommodations:
- Quinto Manhas Douro (70eu)
- Quinta do Tedo (130eu) (Email email@example.com). Includes a guided tour and wine tasting
- Quinto do Vallado (200eu)
- Quinta da Corte (200eu)
- Chanceleiros (135eur)
- Quinta da Pacheca (200eu)
- Quinta Ventozelo (175eu)
- Click here to read a blogpost about a 2-day Douro Valley itinerary
- Other vineyards/estates/accommodations to visit
- The best food and wine tours in Douro
- 5 of the most beautiful viewpoints in the Douro
- TOP 14 jaw-dropping Viewpoints in the Douro valley (with map)
- Sleep in The Best Vineyards in The Douro Valley
- Suggested route for 6 hour drive from best routes through Douro Valley
- Julie Dawn Fox Douro Valley
- Douro Valley by train
- Douro Valley and Pinhão by boat or train