Looking for a journey to the soul of Portuguese history and culture? Portugal.com’s Driving the Heart of Portugal self-drive package routes you through the the sunny plains of the Alentejo, the mountains of the Beiras, the vineyard-terraced slopes of the Douro River Valley, the tradition-rich Minho, and the beaches of the Costa du Prata. You’ll visit clifftop castles, Roman ruins, medieval churches, quaint villages, Catholic monasteries and sample the best of local cuisine and wine along the way. Whether you choose a superior room, a traditional pousada or something in between, these are eight nights you will spend dreaming of the most naturally beautiful, historic, spiritual and delicious experiences Portugal has to offer.
Day 1 - Arrive in Portugal
Pick up your car and drive from the airport to your hotel in Lisbon. Get a good night’s rest before beginning your road trip.
Day 2 – Explore the Alentejo Countryside:
Evora to Estremoz & Marvao [247 km; 155 miles]
Collect your rental car and begin your journey. Head east across the Vasco de Gama Bridge into the Alentejo region, accounting for one-third of Portugal’s land but less than one-tenth of its people. You’ll cruise past wheat fields, olive groves, orchards, vineyards and cork oaks. The whitewashed towns of the southern plains will give way to walled hilltop villages nestled in rocky terrain. Ancient stone circles, dolmens, and menhirs in the area provide evidence of the depth of Portugal’s neolithic history. Your first stop will be the walled city of Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage site perhaps most famous for its chapel of bones. As you walk Évora’s narrow streets, Roman, Moorish, Medieval and Renaissance architecture are testament to the city’s long and fascinating history – dating back to the pre-Christian era. Continue to Estremoz, a hilltop town overlooking groves of olive trees. Area quarries produce the second largest quantity of fine marble in the world and have supplied European artists and architects since Roman times. You’ll continue up to the Spanish border and overnight in the 8th-century castle town of Marvao, perched on a cliff affording epic views.
Day 3 - Climb to Serra da Estrela Mountain Villages:
Marvao to Castelo de Vide, Sortelha, Belmonte & Guarda [223 km; 140 miles]
Navigate winding beauty of Portugal’s highest mountains, the Serra da Estrela, as you drive north and visit charming villages along the way. Don’t miss the Roman spa town of Castelo de Vide and its mazelike old Jewish Quarter with whitewashed houses and pots of bright flowers. Up next is the gem-like 12th century village of Sortelha with fortifications offering panoramic views of the wild countryside. The largest community of Portuguese Jews – marranos – lives in nearby Belmonte but Pedro Álvares Cabral is this town’s favorite son. He discovered Brazil in 1500 and was the first explorer to reach four continents. Therefore much of Belmonte displays the subject of his family crest: goats. Continue to Guarda where you will spend the night.
Day 4 – Walk the Medieval Towns of the Foothills
Guarda to Viseu, Lamego, Vila Real & Amarante [270 km; 170 miles]
Wake in the ancient city of Guarda (meaning “protector”) in the Beira Alta region of the Serra da Estrela, home to many castles and walled cities crowning the hills overlooking the border with Spain. Continue to Viseu, a crossroads since the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, and home to the Dão wine-growing region. Drive to the Catholic pilgrimage town of Lamego to see Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. Cross the Douro River at Peso da Regua to Vila Real for a visit to Casa de Mateus, an exquisite 18th century Baroque manor house. Head west to the Romanesque town of Amarante on the Tâmega River where St. Gonçalo arrived in the 12th century and the locals battled Napoleon’s army in 1763. Overnight here (Package A) or continue to Guimarães (Package B).
Day 5 – Experience the Unique Region of Minho
Guimarães to Braga, Viana do Castelo & Porto [160 km; 100 miles]
Begin a remarkable day in Guimarães, also known as Cidade Berço (“The Cradle City”) because it played a critical role in the formation of today’s Portugal: Henry of Burgundy named the town the administrative seat of the County of Portugal in the 1000s, the nation’s first proclaimed king was born here in 1109, and the area’s Battle of São Mamede in 1128 led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal. In fact, Guimarães’ Castelo de Sao Miguel (St. Michael’s Castle) church appears on the Portuguese national coat of arms. Continue your historic expedition of the Minho region in Braga, visiting the Archbishop’s Palace and the chapel where Henry of Burgundy is buried. Just to the east of Braga, is Bom Jesus do Monte, a spectacular Christian pilgrimage site with an extraordinary Baroque staircase cascading 381 feet down a hillside. Another option is to visit Ponte de Lima and continue to coastal Viana do Castelo, where you can park and explore the winding streets on foot. Drive on to Porto where you’ll stay the night. (A superior hotel package is available at the Pestana Porto Vintage’s Superior Plaza room for the 2 nights.)
Day 6 – Enjoy a Full Day in Porto
Take a break from the car to explore the colorful streets of Porto. Situated on the north bank of the Douro River and close to the ocean, Porto has a storied history with tales of Romans, Moors, crusaders, overseas colonies and gastronomical achievements. On the south bank of the river is Vila Nova de Gaia, home to the Port Wine Lodges where the town’s namesake Port wines are aged and bottled. Many of them are open for touring and tasting. Don’t miss a meal here: Porto is renown for its unique and mouth-watering food and drink.
Day 7 – Cruise the Central Coast to Coimbra
Porto to Aveiro, Buçaco Forest & Coimbra [160 km; 100 miles]
Hug the coast as you drive south, making your first stop in Aveiro. Known as the “Venice of Portugal,” Aveiro is a city of canals, seaweed-collecting boats and the famous Vista Alegre china factory. Move on to the Buçaco Forest for an amble along the arboretum’s trails that were laid out by monks centuries ago. In the middle of the forest, you will come upon a unique hotel, The Buçaco Palace, once a convent and then a royal hunting lodge. Continue to Coimbra, home to one of Europe’s oldest universities founded in 1290. Its historic buildings – including a Baroque clock tower, a tile-covered chapel and the beautiful Joanine Library - dominate the town’s hilltop. The ancient city center is home to Roman ruins, Romanesque cathedrals and the old maze-like streets of the Moorish quarter. Stay the night in this historical center. (A superior hotel package is available at the Quinta das Lagrimas hotel’s to Palacio/Spa room.)
Day 8 – Follow the Faithful near Fatima
Coimbra to Conimbriga, Fatima, Batalha, Alcobaca, Nazare, Obidos & Lisbon [279 km; 175 miles]
Depart Coimbra for your last day on the road as you head for the Lisbon area. You’ll head south on the A1 motorway and stop at Conímbriga to see the excavation of a large and prosperous Roman town – one of Portugal’s largest and most complete archeological sites. Continue to Fatima, one of the Catholic world’s greatest pilgrimage sites, drawing hundreds of thousands of followers each year. Nearby is an exquisite 15th century masterpiece of Portuguese Gothic “Manueline” architecture, the Monastery of Batalha. It has been certified a UNESCO World Heritage site, as has the Monastery of Alcobaça, which you will visit next. This monastery is Portugal’s largest and its architecture is completely different from that of Batalha. Drive along the Costa de Prata (“Silver Coast”) to Nazaré to walk the wide golden beaches, catch a glimpse of the massive waves, and sample some of Portugal’s best seafood in this coastal resort and fishing town. Your last stop before Lisbon should be Obidos, the charming walled village with classic whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets. It will be another hour’s drive on the A8 motorway from Obidos to Lisbon before you return your car rental and overnight in Lisbon.
Day 9 – Depart for Home or Extend Your Adventure
Wake in Lisbon and take a last drive to the airport for your return home. Alternatively, contact PortugalOnline.com to extend your holiday with more time in Lisbon, a trip to the Algarve, or a longer jaunt elsewhere in the region.