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A ROAD TRIP FOR VISITING PORTUGAL WITH KIDS
Guest Blog Series – We’ve asked travel experts to create the best European road trips itineraries. This guest blog post is written by Jayme Simoes of the travel blog, Portugal Adventures. Read on to find out where he recommends you do when you visit Portugal with kids.
This year we took the family on a spring road trip from Lisbon to Portugal's Alentejo province. We are a New England family mom, dad, 2 boys 15 and 10. We go to Europe every 12-18 months – have traveled through Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal. My family is Portuguese and I speak the language – so we usually spend time in Portugal on our trips. The idea was to take a 7-day road trip and see some sites that would inspire the boys, while not driving too far each day as to cut down on any complaining.
For this trip, we picked up our car rental at Lisbon Airport and got on our way. I was plenty surprised at the airport to be given a Renault Mégane – kind of like a French GTI compact sports wagon with a six-speed transmission and a lot of power. Its generous trunk held more than all of our baggage and its deep sporty seats held all of us quite well. The Mégane broke loose on the A6 highway easily, reaching speeds of 140 KPH, it seemed to have an endless well of power and tons of torque. The car glided through curves, local roads and up mountains.
1. CASTLE TOWN OF MONTEMOR-O-NOVO
Over the past few years, we have spent a lot of time in the Alentejo. The Portuguese often refer to the Alentejo - with its own dialect, strong Moorish flavor, whitewashed towns, and unique songs - as its own nation. Most towns seem to float on hilltops above the plains, embraced by a castle. Gothic towers and red tiles rise from the crumbling walls. The songs of the Alentejo, with a flavor of coriander and garlic, greet the driver.
Our first stop was the former royal castle town of Montemor-o-Novo. This was once the winter retreat of Renaissance kings, and today its massive ruined castle sits high above the pretty town. The kids marveled at the vineyards and olive groves – and enjoyed exploring the crumbling walls.
From there we set a course for Evora…..
Extending from the southern bank of the great river Tejo to the mountains of the northern Algarve, the Alentejo is met by the sea to the west and Spain to the east. Its name means “Beyond the Tejo,” and it occupies more than one-fifth of Portugal, with only a small fraction of the population.
NEXT STOP: 30 MINUTES
If you're planning to visit Portugal, this is a must-see. A museum-city with a still-standing Roman temple, located close to the Cathedral. The kids were fascinated and creeped out at the São Francisco Church with its Capela dos Ossos, a chapel walled with human bones. We hung out at the Praça de Giraldo with 16th-century arches, an aqueduct, exploring the winding streets around the center. Of course, we parked our car just inside the city gates and did the rest on foot.
Alentejo’s endless landscapes are timeless. From prehistory, there are odd Dolmens, Menhirs, and burial mounds. Impressive Roman relics are everywhere, from the temple at Évora to a mostly intact Roman villa at São Cucufate.
NEXT STOP: 52 MINUTES
We spent the night at Monsaraz, climbing up the ancient road to the walled hilltop town that has guarded the border with Spain for centuries. This is an inviting and beautiful medieval village, with a castle and fortifications to challenge all comers.
Today the walls are more welcoming to the Spanish, and the kids loved exploring the cobblestone street, climbing the ruined walls, and dining on roast lamb and Pata Negra pork. The local wine was outstanding (kids did not try that…). The fun surprise for the kids was that the inside of the castle had been converted into a Harry Potter-esque bull ring. Not only did we get to see how you can make a bullring in a medieval castle, but also enjoyed the views of the vast Alqueva Lake in the distance, and of the sweeping plains of the Alentejo.
Monsaraz was originally fortified by the Knights Templar in the region of Iron Age dolmens and menhirs, once a site of fertility rites. So, while it is worth a visit, be careful of the explanation if you take the kids to the phallic Menhir of Outeiro - one of the tallest ever discovered. The Balboa Menhir, found north of Monsaraz on the road from Telheiro to Outeiro, is a large upright stone with inscriptions at the top.
NEXT STOP: 3 HOURS
4. INTO THE ALGARVE
The Costa Vicentina is a response to the overbuilding that took place in some Algarve towns in the 1980s – the idea was to set aside a stretch of coast for miles and miles and not allow any modern development. Not unlike the Adirondacks, the Costa Vincentina is not frozen in time but lives in a smart balance of history and nature. The natural park runs all the way from Sines into the Algarve. But, from an exploratory perspective, there is no coastal road. Instead, you need to follow the EN 268 that runs near the coast and plan out where you want to go, and then head down the road to the west to get there - we did that checking out some very nice beaches and had lunch at a tiny fish place - Azenha do Mar.
We ate at the local restaurant of the same name in this tiny fishing town perched on a sea cliff. For a tiny town, I was amazed that they had a 1-hour wait for a table – this is almost unheard of in Portugal. But we waited, the kids hiked to the port, and we had a few bottles of Sumol (Portugal’s tasty fruit soda). And when our time came, we were amazed: fresh crab, fish and so good grilled pork – we ate and ate – all for about $50 for lunch for 4… We will be back!
NEXT STOP: 27 MINUTES
Next stop, Aljezur. Great name, and not on most people’s must-visit list – but it should be. The boys took a surf lesson – and the beach had to be one of the most inviting beaches I have ever seen – imagine sandy dunes, pine-topped sea cliffs, and no buildings or anything but a café and dirt parking lot. The water seems to roll in the flat for a mile making it the perfect place to learn to surf.
NEXT STOP: 35 MINUTES
Next, we went to Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel, a seaside hotel designed for families - here one of its "cool" factors is that the hotel offers surfing for kids and families. It is set in Sagres, a very cool town with the right mix of beaches, places to eat, history and views. After a couple of days, we set course, the three hours back to Lisbon – it was a great trip! We had climbed walls, seen cork forests, tried an uncured olive, met a goat or cow, and seen lots of old bones. The Alentejo, a great road trip for families!
NEXT STOP BACK TO DROP OFF THE LISBON AIRPORT CAR RENTAL: 3 HOURS