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Two weeks in Portugal with a car.

Im hoping i might get a little advice. My husband, 23yr old daughter and I are starting in Spain May 1st. We have a rental car for our entire trip. We fly home from Lisbon May 23rd.
We have 2 days Granada. 2 Ronda. 1 Cordoba and 2 Seville. Our first night in Portugal is in Lagos May 9th. We have 3 nights (2 full days) there and will enjoy a relaxing beach day along with a day for Salema and Sagres. We leave for Evora am May 12th. This gives us 11 days for the rest of our trip until we fly out on the 23rd.
We will enjoy the big cities of Granada, Cordoba, and Seville. Along with Lisbon at the end of the trip. But we are a little afraid of getting to the..."i dont care if I ever see another church/cathedral/museum/whatever" stage. For example for me 3 days in Paris and Im done, but give me the small villages and the scenic Dordogne and Im a happy camper! So we really want a good mix. Ive noticed many comments about how RS misses a lot of interesting/unique places and having read some trip reports and done research, I have to agree. We really want to see as much as possible especially some of the areas not covered by RS, but
by the same token we are reluctant to spend hours and hours each day in the car.
We definitely want to do a cork factory tour, and of course the chapel of bones in Evora. Monsaraz and the observatory is of keen interest since my husband is an astronomer. Assuming it is considered worthwhile? I love seeing unique things and not necessarily being tied to Ricks recommendations, though certainly theres plenty of his suggestions we'd love to see too.
We have planned 4 full days in Lisbon at the end of our trip, which is to include a side trip to Sintra.
The following is a list of some of the things of interest to us especially after having read Carolyn's (Utah) trip report.
Cork factory
Monsaraz Observatory
Monsanto. Boulder homes
Night tour of Paleolithic Art.
Douro Valley

I know we cant possibly fit it all in but im hoping I can perhaps get a little insider advice on whats worth it and what you all might suggest missing on this our first trip, given our time allotment.

We've even considered cutting our day in Cordoba to give us more time in Portugal. My husband feels Cordoba has a mix of Granada and Seville so perhaps we could cut it on this trip. But Im really not sure it will necessarily help us that much, since again I know we just can't see it all.

I know someone is going to suggest skipping Spain altogether to give us more time in Portugal but thats not an option. My daughter studied in Granada and so our trip is for sure starting there.

We are not huge foodies. I mean we like to eat naturally but its not a huge priority for us to search out fancy or famous restaurants. We would rather spend our time and money on more unique experiences.

Thank you in advance.

Posted by
926 posts

It’s good that you realize you can’t do it all! I can add a few comments.

First, have you checked the penalties for dropping off your car in another country? It might be cost effective to take a bus to Portugal then pick up another car in Lagos. There is decent bus service from Sevilla to the Algarve.

Don’t bother with Salema - waste of your precious time, IMO - and many others on this forum. Your time would be better spent seeing the rock formations outside of Lagos. Ponte de Piadade is spectacular.

That said about the Algarve, you might consider flying from Sevilla to Porto and skipping the Algarve. There are so many more authentic Portuguese experiences. Then, you could go south ending up in Lisbon.

If you will be in Evora, add the megalith tour to your list of ‘must sees’.

Driving to Monsanto will take most, if not all of a day, from Evora. The estimates you find online are not accurate. Monsanto is pretty spectacular but far away from other things you mention, other than the Coa valley. You might want to check the different options for visiting the valley. One side is possible from Castelo Rodrigo but it’s a good drive from Monsanto. I’m not familiar with the other side of the river locations.

It going to be difficult to see central Portugal in your time frame if you do Monsanto and Coa Valley.

Braga çan be seen as a day trip from Porto. But, you don’t want a car in Porto - or in Lisbon.

With 11 days, I would suggest no more than three locations for overnight stays in Portugal. Or, you will be spending all your time in the car.

Posted by
4401 posts

Porto is wonderful, and the InPatio Guesthouse is a fantastic B&B, book early.
We did a great 7 night cruise on the Douro and loved it. If you don't do that, take the train up to Regua or drive.

Obidos is great for a few hours.

Posted by
14096 posts

I spent several days in eastern Portugal with a car - from Evora via Elvas to Castelo Rodrigo and visited many of the places you name. I used my 1N in Evora to see the town and take a tour at Corticarte Em Arte, a cork factory a few km away (book on their facebook page or call them). I really enjoyed the tour and the shop has good quality, many varied products and better prices than anywhere else I went. I spent 2N in lovely Elvas to day trip. Then 2N in Castelo Rodrigo at Casa de Cisterna (excellent) and a night tour of the rock art with Ana Berliner who manages the guest house.

I used Lonely Planet and internet resources - the RS guide ignores the area. I brought my updated Garmin and also used google maps. Pick up a Central Portugal map at a TI as well. The Garmin often sent me in the wrong direction or less than optimal routes. Google helped but wasn't nearly 100% either. Once I had a paper map, it was definitely easier to determine if I was going in the right direction on the best route but I didn't get the map till late in my trip. Add 50% to the estimated driving times on google maps or GPS. They assume you are going at maximum speed. Yes, the locals do - for the most part - but the roads are narrow, 2-lane, with hills and curves, and without shoulders. I rarely felt comfortable at anywhere near the speed limit.

I rented the car in Portugal and paid extra for a toll reader. The toll roads are excellent but the toll plazas are frequent. With a reader, you drive through at about 35 mph, without one, you have to stop and pay (and I'm not sure that all toll plazas have a cash payment option).

Except for Ronda, you won't want or need a car in Spain. I'd get a car when leaving Granada, use it for the hill towns and then drop it in Cordoba, end in Sevilla. Fly to Porto, pick up a car for your road trip and drop it off when you get to Lisbon. Instead of all the driving in the Algarve, you could add a day in Sevilla and spend it at the beach in Cadiz (about 1-1/2 hours by train from Sevilla). You can easily spend twice as much time as you have in each of your Spanish towns without entering a church!! And none of them has a big city feel, that you'd get in Madrid or Barcelona, Or Porto or Lisbon for that matter. You won't be in the modern areas, you'll be in the historic centers where the tempo is slow.

Posted by
100 posts

Thank you for your replies.
We are actually settled on a car. My daughter has been living in France and will have a fair amount of luggage since she will be returning to USA after this trip. We do plan to return the car in Lisbon (our last destination) though and in Porto we will park it and likely not use it until we leave again. The car was cheaper for us to rent in Spain and drop in Portugal than it was to rent and return in Portugal believe it or not. I was diligent in researching all options but when you multiply flights, trains, or buses by 3 and on the flights add in the baggage the car was actually a fair bit cheaper and more convenient for us than anything else on this trip and gives us a little more flexibility too.
Its good to know that the travel times estimated are on the low side, we will certainly take that into consideration. I will definitely add in the Megalith tour for our stop in Evora, and hopefully the cork factory too. We actually have a total of 14 days for Portugal but that includes 2 in Lagos for a bit of a beach break after the busyness in Spain, and because I really would like to see the Algarve. I know many people say to skip it, its not that spectacular, but I used to send people on vacations there many many moons ago when I was a travel agent living in the UK, so I guess a small part of me just wants to see what its like:) Every place has its own bit of beauty right:)
Hopefully we will be back again in the not too distant future, but I honestly feel like I want to see certain unique places like Monsanto, before they get totally spoiled and over run by the good old american tourists. I know that Portugal has not been particularly popular with people from the USA but that is quickly changing. (With the exception of the Algarve of course which is already overly popular). Clearly we are going to have to cut something, I just am not sure
Is Coimbra worth giving up for Monsanto and Douro Valley? Hmmm.

Posted by
100 posts

Having just left my reply then looking back on the Forum and reading many more comments to others posts, I am now thinking gee, why don't we just drop the Algarve on this trip and head straight for Evora from Seville. After all Algarve is already pretty touristy, thus spoiled, and I am wanting to see more unique destinations before they too are spoiled. If we cut the Algarve it would give us an extra 3 nights/2+ days to play with. What say you?

I think I just need to go for a couple months When we retire!!