From north to south, Portugal is a country that offers many advantages to travelling in a motorhome or campervan. Its west coast offers a series of beaches, sometimes lively; perfect for surfing, and other times calm; ideal for relaxing. As for inland Portugal, it is very varied, as you can pass from luscious green vegetation to a desert with red soil dotted with olive trees in a matter of a few hours on the road. Set off on a colourful trip to the land of the fado.
Many times chosen as one of the best European destinations, the portuguese capital has pride of place on your roadmap. Park your motorhome in the Bélem quarter, less than 6km from the heart of Lisbon. The squares opposite the Tagus River will allow you to appreciate the view over Christ the King (Cristo Rei) as well as the 25 de Abril Bridge comparable to the Golden Gate Bridge. The “O elétrico”, the famous yellow tram distinctive of the city, will take you to the city centre in 15 minutes.
Start your visit at the “Praça do Comercio”, a large square characterised by its yellow buildings and the statue of Joseph I on horseback in the centre. It was the starting point for many portuguese sailors on their ultramarine adventures. It was previously the site of the Royal Palace which collapsed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the same earthquake which destroyed the entire old town. The reconstruction of the city is marked by its Manueline style; a late evolution from gothic marking the transition into the Renaissance era. Like this, the beauty of the buildings can be seen in the detail on the doors, windows and railings. Several baroque churches fit in perfectly with the purple, blue or pink facades that lining the streets. Some are completely covered in “azulejos”; the painted mural tiling which is very often used in Portugal as well as in Spain. It’s the “Baixa” quarter, the lower part of the city. Visit the squares of “da Figueira”, “do Rossio” and “dos Restauradores” for “a bica” (the typical Lisbon name for short coffee).
Remember to pack your good trainers because Lisbon goes up and down! The city stretches over 7 hills, which explains why the streets are so steeply inclined. Start your climb at the eastern side of the city near to the popular district l’Alfama, where you can find the “Castelo Sao Jorge”, a magnificent medieval castle offering a breathtaking view of the city. L’Alfama has a calm bohemian atmosphere, and it’s the best place in the city to watch a fado performance. Not far away, you can find the da Graça district, particularly noted for its lookout point, of which there are over a dozen. Setting out to find them is a real treasure hunt.
On the opposite side; the west coast, you’ll find the “bairro alto”, literally the high district, which is the alternative district of the capital. Lively bars and clubs attract both locals and tourists. You can get there easily by taking the lift from Santa Justa, a magnificent iron structure which allows you to get from the lower part to the higher part of the town without tiring yourself out.
Returning to Bélém near to your motorhome, you’re within walking distance of the most beautiful museums in the area. When you arrive, you won’t be able to miss the Jéronimo monastery; several metres wide and with a white colour reflects the sunlight. You’ll especially find the Manueline style in the Santa Maria church and the cloister.
The main attractions of the city are the National Coach Museum, the Bélem tower and the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos). The latter pays homage to the Portuguese sailors, especially Henry the sailor, represented at the start. At the foot of the monument is a 50 metre compass rose, which shows the itineraries travelled by the Portuguese sailors in the 15th and 16th centuries. You can appreciate this monument even more by climbing to the top.
Don’t leave Bélem without trying the famous pastis of Bélem, cream tartlettes on puff pastry with a secret recipe. You’ll find the name “pasteis de nata” in every Portuguese cafe but the taste is unrivaled; the recipe is kept secret in Bélem and you can find the official cafe very easily, because it’s always full of Portuguese and foodie tourists.
If you’re a nature lover, don’t miss the Sintra, mainly in spring and summer because it’s the best place in the area to cool down with its dense forest. The colonial style is very visible in the architecture but you can also find Brazilian, Moroccan, Indian and Chinese influences. The Palais de Pena, nested in the heights of the Sierra is a mix of Moorish, Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline styles. The colours and the views from the huge balconies are worth the detour. Other monuments that are not to miss in Sintra are the Quinta da Regaleira, the old Royal Palace of Sintra or the Montserrate Palace.
From Lisbon, 3 hours on the road separate you from the south coast named the Algarve. On the way, make the most of the best beaches in the area by visiting Sétubal and Sesimbra, just on the other side of the Tagus estuary when crossing over the 25 de Abril Bridge. The 10,800-metre Arrabida natural park is a mountain range with dense vegetation and protected biodiversity. The many beaches hidden away in the hills are a natural beauty.
At the southern extremity of Portugal, you can find Sagres. Famous for its beer, Sagres is a fishing village from many legends. The winds that batter the rugged coastlines have scared off letting agencies, preserving the natural beauty of the area. Off the coast of Sagres, you can dolphins and whales can be observed; an activity in the region proposed by biologists organising discovery excursions which respect marine life.
In Algarve, you will find very touristic cities like Albufeira, Portimão or Faro but also close-knit towns which allow you to appreciate the beauty on the area away from the hustle and bustle. Among these, discover Armação de Pêra, which offers you beautiful beaches and a lively city centre. The even less touristy and more authentic Olhos de Agua will take you aback with its “water eyes” from where the town gets its name; two natural freshwater lakes located on the beach.
Visiting Algarve by motorhome is not always easy for the main reason that it can be a problem finding parking. It’s why we advise you to download the Caramaps app, which will give you the name and the exact GPS location for all suitable service areas
After perfecting your tan, carry on your tour of Portugal by motorhome in the direction of the Alentejo. It’s the biggest region in Portugal, situated just above Algarve, on the east cost. This rural area is very cold in winter and extremely hot in summer. It’s an authentic and traditional area that attracts those seeking tranquility and beautiful monuments.
In the heart of the region, plan time for a stop in Évora, nicknamed the museum village. Its historic centre is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Among the most famous views to see, you’ll find the Cathedral of Évora, the Castle of Évora, the roman temple and the Chapel of Bones. Situated in the Church of São Francisco, the walls of this chapel were constructed using human skulls and bones. An unusual location that is worth seeing if you pass by Évora.
The signature image of this region are the limewashed houses adorned with a panel of blue paint at the bottom of the walls. These houses are generally single-storey and the walls are very thick. They were traditionally constructed with wattle and daub, as it was a cheap way to conserve the heat in winter and keep the rooms cool in summer. The colours of these houses with character can also be found in public areas of the towns and villages, like the fountain in the centre of the village, the traditional meeting point for locals which used to come here to fill the water containers supplying the houses.
To go further
For this list we will look at some of the best routes to drive on a roadtrip in the UK. These routes are perfect for motorhome and campervan lovers as you can pit stop and enjoy the great scenary along the way.
Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned traveller, it's never too late to try new things. So why not discover a new way of travelling?
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