What we learnt about Portugal in March 2017

Neither of us had ever visited Portugal before (I have been to Madeira, but it’s not actually Portugal..), so we had no real idea what to expect.

Overall, unfortunately, we were a little disappointed.  However, this may have had much to do with the ‘welcome’ we received at our 1st campsite (lukewarm), the weather whilst we were there and the roads (especially the tolls..).  There were some highlights and we will probably return for a 2nd view – we think we will probably fly in though and not take the van.

So here is what we learnt in our time in Portugal.

  • It’s often very windy.  I mean very windy…
  • The sunsets are spectacular


  • There are numerous boardwalks near the beaches, along which you can cycle and walk.  Very useful.
  • The country is very, and immediately, different to Spain
  • The language, whilst there are occasional similarities, is also very different.
    • I think the Portugese are very used to people saying Gracias instead of Obrigado… (I did my best, but was a bit useless to be fair…)
  • We struggled to find campsites but eventually found a really good chain, Orbitur – we stayed in 3
  • Our favourite site (not an Orbitur) was a little one on the outskirts of a lovely little town, Zumbejeira.  IF we ever took the van back we would definitely head here.


  • There are 2 systems of tolls….
    • You think you’ve sorted your electronic toll as you go over the border on the motorway from Huelva.  This is only the case on the motorways that have no toll booths.
      • If there are toll-booths it is a different system and you have to pay (there are various ways of having charges taken automatically, but probably not worth it if you’re not staying for long)
      • If you have not bought a temporary transponder DO NOT drive through any lane where you don’t have to pay!  Some are for those with a transponder (pre-paid), others are for locals.
      • The motorways are monitored so you may well get fined if you don’t pay
    • On the Easy Toll motorways there are no toll booths.  Tolls will be collected automatically from the card that you register on entering the country (just by popping it into a machine – easy).
      • However – the tolls are expensive! (each sign you see with a new charge is your charge clocking up…) We are so shocked that nobody who writes about this seems to mention this.  So much more expensive than most of the toll roads in Spain and France.
        • The main problem with this is that there is little choice unless you want to have your vehicle shaken apart around you, or take twice as long to get anywhere (or worse)….
  • In summary – we weren’t impressed with either the roads or the tolls.  Even some of the roads that you have to pay for are poor…
  • When we were staying near Cascais (in order to visit Sintra) we discovered that it was far cheaper to take a taxi then the bus…  A taxi driver that we were chatting to whilst sitting at a bar in Sintra told us that they’re not allowed to advertise this fact.
    • On that note this particular bar in Sintra was ridiculously expensive – we would suggest checking prices before ordering!
  • The beaches are stunning (lots of dunes!)  The waves are huge!
  • There are a lot of storks in Portugal.  They nest in pairs and many nesting places are provided for them.  The locals clearly thought we were strange for stopping and taking so many photos!
  • The graffiti is of a higher standard than that in Spain 🙂
  • There are, like Spain, many, many abandoned, derelict buildings
  • It is very expensive in Portugal, particularly when you’re comparing prices with what you have so recently been paying in Spain.
  • Sintra is amazing and you must allow 2 days to visit in order to see everything
  • I wish we had stayed long enough and visited Porto – this is where I would be wanting to fly into when we visit again.
  • The quality of the produce isn’t as good as that in Spain.  We were disappointed. We could only assume that the best is being exported – what a shame.
    • Having been converted to Lidl in Spain we found that we weren’t converts in Portugal
  • Some supermarkets actually have dedicated spaces for motorhomes!
    • Of course, car drivers, as the world over, parked in them anyway…
  • My favourite name for a supermarket was Pingo Doce 🙂
  • The vast majority of people in Portugal are lovely, friendly souls.  Most of them speak, at least a little, English.
  • In the campsites look out for a separate charge for using the swimming pool… (it’s not always there but we noticed it a couple of times).
  • We loved the pastry unique to Sintra – travesseiros.  Well worth a try.

In summary, we met some lovely people in Portugal and we did have some highlights, but we ended up leaving earlier than we originally intended (meaning we missed Porto). This was mainly due to the roads and the tolls.  We love to explore, but in order to encourage us to do so the roads really need to be better and cheaper.


Author: MandoraTheExplorer

Having given up full-time work we currently work a year to travel for 4-5 months, and we're hoping to continue this until we can retire properly! Currently living, and loving, life to the full :)


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