Exploration is Half the Fun
The dictionary definition of wanderlust is “the wish to travel far away and to many different places”. Sounds pretty good to us! Portugal may be famed for its gorgeous beaches and wonderful coastline but exploring this amazing country provides a whole host of options for the perfect villa holiday. So if you’re lounging by your private pool and get the urge to explore, here’s a quick guide to satisfy your travel cravings (avoiding as many of the cliché areas as possible).
Just because you’re on a villa holiday doesn’t mean you’re house bound! Why not pack a picnic and head out on the open road to discover more of Portugal’s picture postcard landscape? The country is filled with amazing regions from the Douro Valley to the Algarve, and even the island of Madeira is great for driving.
The Douro Valley is home to spectacular views, delicious food and fine wines. A road trip here wouldn’t be complete without exploring what has made this region so famous, the wine! Each vineyard (or quinta as they’re known) creates a diverse range of varieties from the world famous Port – named after the city of Porto – through to full bodied reds and fruity whites. Just visitng these is an experience in itself and will take you from one end of the region to the other with glorious views every step of the way.
So if you’re taking a road trip, how about doing it on the best driving route in the world? The route from Peso da Régua to Pinhão is best in the world. Taking drivers along the scenic option it follows the contours of the Douro River as it overlooks the stunning vineyards below and finishes in the picturesque wine town of Pinhão. This is a fabulous experience to really take in the most of the valley.
The Algarve is a hugely popular destination for many, but it’s also the perfect place for a roadtrip. With a dab of careful planning you can easily conquer all of the major towns and hotspots along this beautiful stretch of coastline. We recommend starting your road trip in the picturesque town of Sagres. This sleepy town lies right at the southwesternmost tip of the Portuguese mainland. Sagres is perfect for nature lovers with its rugged steep cliffs nestled inside a protected natural park. From there make your way east, towards the welcoming arms of Lagos. This stunning town is rich in history with its cobbled streets, 16th century architecture and the amazing Igreja De Santo António. From there the coastline stretches all the way through to Faro, with Albufeira, Carvoeiro and Villamoura found along your journey.
Last but certainly not least is the picture perfect Madeira. The mountainous landscape is made for exciting road trips! Hire a car, hop in and drive anywhere on this island within a couple of hours. Between the rolling green hills, steep mountain passes, rugged cliffs and quiet villages there is always something new around every corner.
The island is a vast system of interconnected roads that allow you to make your own adventure through mountains and protected forests. Just passing through them is quite the experience! The one thing you don’t want to forget is the camera as the panoramas here are majestic.
Madeira’s Natural Paradise
The Portuguese island of Madeira is a stunning volcanic landscape overflowing with places to explore. Two-thirds of Madeira is classed as a nature reserve and hosts several protected land and sea areas. This is a prime destination for those looking to get back to nature.
You’ll be spoilt for choice with hiking, with mountainous terrain inviting experienced and novice hikers alike rewarding you with stunning scenery. For the biggest challenge, hike up Pico Ruvio. As the tallest peak on the island, you have lots of options to get to the top with all the routes taking you up steep peaks and beside dramatic cliffs. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted! Along the way you will encounter a world of animals and plant life all protected and untouched by human hand. At the summit see the island’s majesty in full glory as you look out over the verdant hills and Atlantic ocean. The most popular trail starts at the summit of Pico do Ariero, while an easier route begins in the nearby village of Achada do Teixeira.
As a UNESCO protected nature reserve, nature remains relatively untouched, with the exception of convenient man made canals providing the perfect pathway for your trek. These “Levadas” were built to transport water from the humid north to the drier south and date all the way back to the 15th century. Whether you’re trekking Madeira’s central mountain chain, luscious laurel forests or wild waterfalls, there’s always a levada trail close by to lead you through the volcanic vistas.
With all of the hills, mountains, nature and tracks the island of Madeira has also become a hotspot for those into mountain biking. There are few ways better to explore this island paradise than to take a bike into the mountains and blaze down trails overlooking the breathtaking scenery. Every twist and turn will transport you to another unique slice of nature.
Step Back in Time
Throughout Portugal there is an abundance of rich history left untouched by time. Much of Portugal’s charm comes from its eclectic mix of historic and modern, from architecture to culture. Wandering around these snapshots of different times will certainly spark your wanderlust.
The small city of Braga is one of Portugal’s oldest, and once held a lot of influence within religious circles. As such, much of what you can visit are ancient cathedrals, monasteries and churches. Even if you’re not religious, these are magnificent places to explore, and to take in the beauty and history of the area. The most visited attraction is the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte just outside of the main city and has acted as a pilgrimage since the 14th century. Only the most ambitious will take the stairway, which rises more than 100 metres and has 640 steps. These famous zigzagging stairs rise up the steep slope and are adorned with sculptures, artisan craftsmanship and fountains themed on the five senses, to inspire you as you climb.
If you’re not in the mood for climbing the ascent there is always the funicular railway which shuttles people up and down the hill! More impressive is that it’s still in use and the same since its installation in the early 1880s.
The stunning church at the summit, completed in 1834, sure is a wonderful sight, but much of the enjoyment comes from the journey there. With the views of Braga and rolling Portuguese landscape at the top, it is well worth the trip. In the city centre you can always wander or have a spot of lunch in the elegant garden of Santa Barbara. A delightful assortment of flowers adorn every corner of this garden that’s tucked inside the historic city centre.
Óbidos may be the best kept secret on the Silver Coast. A unique snapshot of rural Portuguese life through its traditional architecture and laid back charm, protected by the walls that have encased the town for centuries. The narrow cobbled streets wind around the quaint whitewashed houses, while a medieval castle guards the town with walls encircling this slice of history. This is a historic experience that requires immersion to truly understand it. A wonderfully picturesque destination in the best views can be found along the battlements, looking out over the old fashioned houses and the nearby lagoon. Óbidos is lovely and laid-back, with a calm pace of life – so take your time soaking in its history and culture. Sit in one of the local bars and try the Ginja de Óbidos, a sweet alcoholic drink made from infused Morello cherries, commonly served in a chocolate cup. A delicious treat well deserved after all of that walking.<