If my blog posts are a bit too long and involved then take a quick look at the summary of our trip to Spain last year! A summary of the UK part of the trip will follow and from November you’ll be able to follow us live as we head off too Spain again, via France, for a few months ☺
Don’t forget you can always look at the relevant blog post if something catches your interest and I’ve very nearly finished all the campsite reviews now!
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.
Another wonderful day out on our travels! We had been looking forward to Sintra having been advised to go there by a couple that we met in Alicante. We didn’t manage to see everything that they told us about, and were gutted to have missed the gardens – Quinta da Regaleira which looked absolutely amazing.
First things first – how to get there. We were staying in Guincho, near to Cascais. To get to Sintra we needed to get a bus to Cascais, 2 miles away, at a cost of 3.60 Euros each, one way, then a bus to Sintra, at least 10 miles from Cascais – I don’t know the cost but would guess it must be at least 10 Euros each, each way, and then the tourist bus (5.50 Euros each) or a tuk tuk (5 Euros each) up to the Pena Palace (a must see).
So quite expensive to go by bus then (remember that’s one way for one person shown above…) We took a taxi with another couple, Jenny and Graeme, on the site at a cost of 26 Euros all the way up to the Pena Palace and 18 Euros back from the centre of Sintra at the bottom of the hill (between 4 people). We also took a tuk tuk down the hill, but this was on our -to-do- list anyway so was a cost we were actively seeking!
So my point is even if there’s just 2 of you going it’s cheaper to take a taxi! We were talking to a taxi driver before we went back to the campsite who told us that taxis are much cheaper but they’re not allowed to advertise the fact – I can’t for the life of me think why that would be the case….
As I said in my last post we were sad to leave this site after just the 1 night, but we had actually booked our next site, and with only 2 weeks to get back to Bilbao we feel under a bit of pressure now!
When we left we headed back to the town in order to follow the road to find the Historic fishing port, that we had seen signposted from the town centre. It turned out that Calv was right when he said he didn’t think we’d be able to walk it!
It was actually a good 3 to 4 miles along a back road (although there was a cycle path a good portion of the way). When we found it we parked outside what we think was a coastguard station. When we got out though we found out that the road did go to a parking area where there was also a restaurant (closed though).
We have no idea what the fishing port was called but it was absolutely charming. The harbour must be quite something to navigate into with the waves that we saw! Calv noticed that the fishing boats themselves had metal skids and he’s thinking that perhaps they haul them up onto the slipway – although he then noticed that they were all tied up so maybe the tide does come all the way up the slipway!
Homes in the Historic Fishing port
The Historic Fishing port near Zumbejeira
There were numerous cages of varying sizes, from which we deduced they were fishing for crab, langoustine, lobsters and perhaps even octopus!
Finally the day arrived that we were to move on into Portugal.
We’d looked into the toll system and it appeared that all tolls were now electronic. Having investigated signing up online we decided to wait until we crossed the border, as we’d read that tourists simply pulled over to the side and put their credit card into a reader while their number plate is read and the two details are linked.
This is exactly what happened. However, we’ve since discovered that not all the tolls are electronic (on the A2 on the way to Cascais yesterday) and that the tolls are pretty expensive…
Anyway, back to Sunday.
We decided to go the scenic route when we left El Rocio, meaning that we headed down towards Matascalana on the coast. This was a very pretty little town/resort with a lovely beach. It was very busy, as is usual in Spain on a Sunday, but even more so as there was a running race going on that was starting/finishing on the beach.
We carried on along the coast towards Huelva. This road has a cycle path pretty much all the way along it so is good if you decide to camp down there. We did see a campsite and went to have a quick look round. It was massive! And it was very much a live-in site. It took us more than 5 minutes to get less than 1/3 of the way through the site towards the sea – definitely not for us!!
I mentioned Huelva, which you can’t really avoid if you’re driving this way into Portugal. It’s full of oil refineries and gas – think of Fawley, only bigger.
We needed to fill up with diesel and were really glad that we did so before crossing the border (even though it was a Repsol, which tend to be the most expensive fuel stops). Fuel is way more expensive in Portugal, so we’re glad that we’ll only have to fill up once whilst here.
We also made the decision to come off the motorway as soon as possible and take the coast road. Not such a good idea (apart from the fact of not paying the tolls – I’ve yet to look at my credit card statement to see how much we were charged for the short time we were actually on the motorway… I’m not looking forward to it!!)
The road wasn’t brilliant but we continued heading towards Tavira where we intended to stop for lunch. There was a big parking area for motorhomes and we tried to have a wander round but were beaten back by the wind!
Calv decided to then take the road even closer to the coast, so we found ourselves driving through Santa Luzia, which looked lovely and did have a motorhome parking area, and spotting the tourist train (that runs all along the coast from Lagos back to Villa Real de St. Antonio near the border) before deciding that enough was enough and heading back up to the A22 (the toll road), where we struggled to make sense of the ‘cost information’ signs or to work out how much we would be paying!
We eventually arrived in our destination of Alvor, a lovely little town just past Portimao (shown in the main photo to this post). Whilst the town and the beach are lovely, particularly the beach, the campsite left a lot to be desired. We were originally going to stay for 3 nights but decided to make that 2 and do an overnighter elsewhere on our way to Lisbon (which turned out to be another good call as it still took us 5 hours to get to Lisbon on the following day).
In Alvor we chatted to our neighbours who, it turned out, hailed from the Isle of Wight! Calv and Trevor spent the 2nd evening in the bar – in fact I was getting a little worried when he wasn’t back by midnight!
On our full day there we cycled down to Alvor and along the boardwalk (there is a very good boardwalk here that goes from 1 end of the beach to the other, pretty much, and takes in a nature reserve). There’s an ‘inland sea’ leading to the harbour, along which there are several bars and restaurants. There is a maze of narrow streets filled with shops, bars, cafes and restaurants – we very nearly got lost (highly unusual for us…)
Alvor South Beach
Waves crashing on Alvor South beach
Fishing boat on the ‘inland’ sea
The beach is beautiful. There are dunes protecting you from the worst of the wind, and it is very windy, and you can sit for hours just watching, and listening to, the waves crashing on the beach. Idyllic. It helped me to understand why people come to Portugal year after year.
We ate in one of the harbourside restaurants. Calv had a club sandwich, which was perfect. I chose garlic mushrooms – unfortunately we think they must have been cooked in old oil as there was a very strange taste to them – neither of us could finish them!
When we got back to the site we nipped to the nearby supermarket, called Pingo Doce – great name, for a few essentials. Later still we went back out on our bikes to investigate a mysterious footpath that we could see ran by the site. We cycled out into the country a bit but couldn’t find the source and then headed back up past the supermarket and turned left a couple of times where we found it. We also found this little gem that we thought could be our 1st ‘doer-upper’?!!
We had managed to find a nice spot at the campsite but we were quite happy to be moving on after 2 nights and had identified a site near Vila Nova de Milfontes for our overnighter.
For the 1st time on this trip though we changed our mind mid-journey. I spotted another site that I thought might suit us better and was a little nearer in Zambujeira do Mar. As Calv says, often, ‘everything happens for a reason’, and what a gem of a site this was! I was even prepared to forgive the fact that the toilets had no paper, hand-soap, driers or, indeed, toilet seats!
If we come back to Portugal we will 100% return to Villa Park Zumbejeira J
We wandered down to the little town in the afternoon, went down to the beach – down a number of steps, and took a walk along the clifftop. Another charming little town. All the houses have window frames edged in either blue or yellow paint (except for the rebels who have edged in a sea-green or lilac or purple – we saw 1 of each. I can imagine people writing in to the local paper to complain about them…)
Little church in Zumbejeira
Beach at Zumbejeira
Unfortunately, as with everywhere so far in Portugal, people drive too fast, even through little towns like this. We watched a lorry approaching the 90 degree right hander at the end of the road at a ridiculous speed. But it seems to be how they drive as it’s not the first, or the last, time that we’ve stopped and stared after a driver going way too fast – even on the campsites themselves they drive as though they’re out on the open road L
So we were sorry to leave Zumbejeira after just 1 night and I’ll update you with our journey and 1st day in Cascais, near Lisbon, in my next post.