Spain through Portugal and back: Itinerary feedback requested.

This is what I'm considering...

Fly into Madrid, take a train to Toledo for 2 nights. Pick up a rental car, head to Segovia 2 nights. Salamanca, via Avila, 1 night. Then into Portugal...

Here is where the specifics break down a bit, but Douro Valley and Porto seem worth 2 nights. Coimbra at least for the day. Between there and Lisbon is a region known for roasted suckling pig that must be sampled and lingered over for a full night.

Lisbon 3 nights, still in the rental car. What can be done to make this as painless as possible? Is there a convenient train station lot in the suburbs where the car can have its own vacation for the duration? Maybe a good hotel recommendation that's not too hard to drive to, with an affordable parking garage?

Then we'd give ourselves two or so days (overnight suggestions welcome) to make it to the white hill towns of which Rick writes so fondly. Finally to Granada to drop the car off.

Taking the train back to Madrid, via Sevilla and Cordoba a few nights each, should a cinch for the final, longish week of this whirlwind excursion.

This is scheduled for the last half of October, into the first half of November. Who wants to talk me out of this?

At first I thought to take the train into Portugal, pick up and drop off a car on either side of the Lisbon stay, but the only train out of Salamanca leaves at 4:30 in the morning and takes four hours to get to Coimbra. Not to mention no train service at all from Portugal to Spain's hill towns. Is there a bus option I haven't considered? Thanks for any help!

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

The car idea is a good one, since if you rent it in Portugal and drop it in Spain, you'll face a hefty additional charge. And, yes, service from/to Spain thru Portugal is rather poor, both by train and bus.
I can't say much about your goals in Portugal, but I would suggest more than "two days or so" for the white villages of southern Spain. The drive from Lisbon to, say Arcos de la Frontera is going to take you about six hours without stops...so there's one day gone.
As for overnights in the white villages, I would suggest the aforementioned Arcos, or the small village of Zahara de la Sierra, just northwest of Ronda....then a stop in Ronda on your way to Granada.
Once you can commit to dates, I would suggest you purchase rail tickets ahead of time, especially for your Sevilla-Cordoba-Madrid leg. The AVE runs can be quite expensive, and you can get discounts of up to 60% off at www.renfe.es . You can book up to 62 1/2 days in advance, and will get the tickets as a print-at-home pdf file.

Posted by Bob
Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada
623 posts

We would take the rental car from Madrid to Segovia, Avila and Salamanca...head up into northwestern Spain...do you tour southbound thru Portugal and then back into Spain for Sevilla and the south... stopping in Toledo on your return to Madrid rather than in the beginning of your trip.

Posted by Bill
San Diego
260 posts

Thanks Canadians, for your thought!

I guess I didn't make it clear that we'd take 2 days to get to the white hills towns, for 2 other days. It's those days through, or north of, the Algarve that suggestions, particularly non-beach places, are desired.

As to Toledo, the new AVE train goes from Cordoba, INTO Madrid's Atocha station, and back out, to get there. Maybe Toledo will just be a day trip. We can start the car journey from Segovia, too.

While Porto seems daunting, the main concern is what to do with a rental car in Lisbon! Has anyone ever tried parking around the last Metro stop on the Red Line, called Oriente?

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2391 posts

I'd rethink getting the car in Toledo. It's so easy to get to by AVE from Madrid and driving from Toledo to Segovia would mean going through Madrid traffic. While it can be an easy day trip, I find Toledo is worth at least one overnight. You may find that two nights in Segovia is one too many. You'll also find that Segovia and Toledo have excellent roast suckling pig...

Cordoba is worth two nights max. I'd try to maximize your stay in Sevilla to 3-4 nights. Granada needs 2 nights to allow a full day for La Alhambra and a day to explore the town.

It may get chilly/rainy in Portugal but the crowds will be minimal and most of Spain will be delightful that time of year.

Far from talking you out of it, I think your trip sounds wonderful!

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Frankly, I'd only spend one night somewhere along the Algarve, then use that extra day in southern Spain.
Driving from Toledo does involve going around Madrid....so you might want to time the drive to avoid their morning rush hour, which should ease off by about 9:30....but there are also ring roads around Madrid, like the M-50, that you can use to skirt the city through its far west outskirts. If you leave from Atocha station, you'll have more traffic as you beat your way out of the southeast corner of the downtown, then all the way around the northeast and northern edge of the city on the way to Segovia.
As an alternative, you might want to consider a nice drive from Toledo, up the A-40 to the N-403 and into Avila from the back way (about 2 1/2 hours), a few hours in Avila, then on to Segovia (another hour or so.) That way, when you leave Segovia, you can head straight to Salamanca without a stop (about 2 1/2 hours.) To me, Salamanca would be worth the extra few hours that way. The A-50 is now complete all the way to Salamanca, so it's an easy drive. But if you get bored, you can always follow the older N-501....altho many of those villages are dying because the new highway now bypasses them, the scenery is intriguing.

Posted by Bill
San Diego
260 posts

Thanks again. I'm back on the grid. I've finally penciled it out, AND found a room in Lisbon, not in Rick's Book, as it's outside of the center a bit, that I think I can drive to. After Portugal, there's 1/n Arcos, 1/n Ronda, 2/n Granada, 3/n Seville, 2/n Cordoba... If I speed through the Algarve even quicker, what would you suggest as an extra day in Southern Spain? Especially between Ronda and Granada

Posted by Bill
San Diego
260 posts

Yes, one night in Toledo is planned, either before, or between pairs of nights in Madrid.

I don't like too many one-nighters. So I could easily be convinced to stay an extra night in Salamanca. But then either Porto or Coimbra would have to be just a day visit. Hmm... what to do?

Posted by Diane
Ottawa
1156 posts

Hi Bill,

Let me throw a worthwhile curve in your plans: skip the Algarve altogether -- especially for the time of the year that you are planning for.

Route from Lisbon to Sevilla, through Evora and Merida instead with a night in either. Merida has a great small Roman museum and Evora is delightful - my favorite Portuguese town.

Call this the "Cork and Romans" route.

The best meal I had in Portugal (November 09) was at the Degust`AR restaurant in Evora. Antonio Nobre is one of Europe's up-and-coming best young chefs. Evora also has modest Roman ruins and the chapel of the bones.

Since you have a car, you can easily find the Almendres Cromlech stone circle just outside of Evora - go in the late afternoon. It's not quite as big as Stonehenge, but just as evocative. Bonus: there are no barriers and usually no one else there. Also no interpretation - so bring a Web print-out.

Merida is a worthwhile stop for a quick visit to the Roman ruins, the excellent Roman museum and the many storks' nests on the aqueduct. A pizza restaurant in town even has glass cut-outs in the floor to view the Roman ruins underneath.

This route is also beautiful for the cork and olive trees lining the side of the road. Near Merida, you can also spot storks' nests and the majestic Spanish black bulls, beasts worth an insane amount of money.

I can also highly recommend spending a night in the Douro valley at the Quinta da Pacheca vineyard, near Regua (enoturismo@quintadapacheca.com). The rooms are gorgeous, the breakfast is delicious and the price is very reasonable!

Posted by Diane
Ottawa
1156 posts

For Spain, Norm gave you an excellent suggestion: "As an alternative, you might want to consider a nice drive from Toledo, up the A-40 to the N-403 and into Avila from the back way (about 2 1/2 hours), a few hours in Avila, then on to Segovia (another hour or so.) That way, when you leave Segovia, you can head straight to Salamanca without a stop (about 2 1/2 hours.) To me, Salamanca would be worth the extra few hours that way. The A-50 is now complete all the way to Salamanca, so it's an easy drive."

From Salamanca, it would be an easy drive to Regua in the Douro Valley.

As for your nights in Southern Spain. 3-4 in Sevilla, no more than 1 in Cordoba, at least 2 in Granada. I can suggest maybe adding one in Jerez de la Frontera (in between the Sevilla and Cordoba nights). I very much enjoyed spending a pleasant day there, seeing the horses and visiting the cellars. The back roads between Jerez and Cordoba (through Arcos) are very pretty.

Posted by Bill
San Diego
260 posts

These are great suggestions, thanks!

At first, I was going to start in Madrid, then go to Toledo on the AVE train to pick up a car. But I'm finding much better car rental rates from the Madrid airport. It seems to be a straightforward drive, right off the plane, to Segovia.

Doesn't the A-50 scoop just past the outskirts of Avila? Will a few hours there on the way take too much time away from Salamanca? Is Salamanca worth as much time as Cordoba and the Mezquita?

I am now off to check out these wonderful insights on Portugal!

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

"Doesn't the A-50 scoop just past the outskirts of Avila?" Yes it does, so if you now don't plan to start with the car from Toledo, then it's still easily accessible from Segovia.
"Will a few hours there on the way take too much time away from Salamanca?" Yes, if you plan to spend only one night in Salamanca.
"Is Salamanca worth as much time as Cordoba and the Mezquita?" Yes.....different than Cordoba, but a wonderful place to explore, and probably the nicest Plaza Mayor in Spain.
As an aside, I understand your interest in booking a car from Madrid, since it's cheaper. But try to find some way to include Toledo in your itinerary....possibly drop the car in Toledo, if you can get a good rate, then taking the AVE back to Madrid the next morning.

Posted by Diane
Ottawa
1156 posts

Hi Bill,

Just grin and live with the one-nighters ;-)

Many of your stops are really only worth one night... i.e. Segovia, Toledo, Cordoba, Salamanca, Douro Valley (although I could spend several days wine tasting and relaxing there...), etc..

Madrid, Porto (because of day trips), Granada are worth at least a couple of days each.

Lisbon and Sevilla at least 3 nights each.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2391 posts

I too wouldn't worry about so many one-nighters. The point of having a car is to see more countryside and cover more ground than you can on trains. And moving luggage is easier with a car than hauling it to and from train stations. All in all, it sounds like your trip is coming together nicely.

Have you thought about dropping the car off in Sevilla and finishing your trip (Sevilla, Cordoba and Toledo) by AVE? Neither of those three cities are conducive to autos and are very easy to reach by train. The extra cost may be worth the reduced stress and parking might not be cheap either.

Posted by Bill
San Diego
260 posts

Due to PERFECT weather almost the whole way, this trip came off quite smoothly. Thanks again for all your input. Driving out of Lisboa--down past a reputed "drug gang" neighborhood and through the heart of the Baixa-- was only a breeze because we left fairly early on a Sunday morning, on absolutely deserted streets. That's my tip for drivers: use Sundays, with its free parking and light morning traffic, for getting in and out of big cities. Between Lisboa and Arcos, we stayed in Evora, AND visited the Algarve without my wife getting "passenger-seat fever."
We stayed in Tavira at Residencial Laogas and had the happy little place all to ourselves. A nearly-naked, rooftop picnic amongst our freshly, washboard-laundered, travel clothes was a highlight of the trip. The Alhambra was beautiful, but all my wider angle photos have other people in them. (I bought some nice postcards.) At the Mezquita, I swear I took fifty pictures with only a small wait to let people walk out of the frame. Also, in Sevilla, the "Casa de la Memoria" with its intimate, no-dinner shows in a tiled courtyard, is highly recommended. Different acts throughout the week means you can go on consecutive nights and see two completely different shows-- both great, with one being the best I'd ever seen. Anyway, after nearly a month of being on the "Earnest Hemingway diet" I'm glad to be back to the responsibilities of home.

Posted by grace
Austin, TX, United States
35 posts

Thank you all for the lovely tips I've been noting for my upcoming trip. To all the contributors, I'm posting my proposed itinerary in a new post and would love your input!!!