Pure nature in Northern and Central Portugal
This 8-day self-drive road trip will take you to northern Portugal, discovering UNESCO world heritage sites, wine valleys and untouched nature. You’ll stay in a comfortable, converted rural farmhouse. A perfect getaway for those who want to escape from their hectic city life.
Day 1 | Arrival to Porto | Orientation Porto
On the day of arrival to the coastal city of Porto, a private taxi takes you to your hotel. Depending on the time of arrival, you may have the option to walk around the city for some first impressions of its surprisingly steep hills and grand squares.
Porto is spellbinding with its tenaciously textured buildings, valorous variety of architecture, and mesmerizing mix of color shades.
Take a cruise of the Douro River and connect with the Portuguese nautical triumphs and kindred relationship with the water. You’ll pass under the 6 bridges which join both sides of the city, including the most famous one, the Ponte de Dom Luís I, designed by Gustave Eiffel.
Day 2 | Porto | Porto, its blue-tiled houses and the Port wineries
Today charters a full day of marching around and taking in the grandeur of this old-world, rejuvenated city, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.
Porto is a decorated playground of mazes and cobbled, tangled streets and hills. Brimming with brilliantly blue-tiled buildings adorning the center, the streets eventually widen into well-manicured, wide walkways.
Stroll along the boulevards and reach the Ponte de Dona Maria Pia, connecting Porto and its friendly neighbor across the Douro River, Vila Nova de Gaia. This bridge was completed in the late 1800s by Gustave Eiffel (already famous for his Eiffel Tower in Paris) and is a star of the city still today. Cross the Douro river to visit the Port wineries on the other side in Vila Nova de Gaia. We’ll share our expertise on which wineries to visit and which Ports to award your taste buds with.
Every city has its token market, and Porto has the Mercado Bolhão. It’s an identity on its own and a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Here’s your opportunity to fully indulge in a gastronomic array of Portuguese delectables, while the shop owners happily share their stories with you.
The Livraria Lello Library’s magical woodwork, ornate interior, and crimson carpet will surely claim a special place in your memory for years to come. It inspired J.K. Rowling for her Harry Potter books, and it will do the same for you as well.
Day 3 | Porto – Peneda-Gerês | Going deep into the National Park Peneda-Gerês
The road to Peneda-Gerês winds through the northern part of the National Park, passing the historic towns of Braga or Guimares.
Braga is an important town in Portuguese culture and a success story from the time of the Romans, through the medieval era, to the present day, and remains an important town in Portuguese culture. It allures with its medieval-style settlement, a sacred art museum, a Gothic-style Kings’ Chapel, and one of the oldest Cathedrals in the country.
Guimarães in the northern district is often referred to as the “birthplace of Portugal” and a Unesco site since 2001. You must stop and appreciate its sweeping city views below and the 10th-century Castle, built in the style of a French chateau.
Day 4 | Peneda Gerês | Spa visit or driving around its many natural wonders
The Park Peneda Gerês caters to your aspirations today. Energetic spirits are appeased with a morning hike where the deer, wolves, and golden eagles call rugged hills home. There are trails ranging from leisurely hikes of a few hours to challenging ones spanning the full day. Along the trails, you’ll meet Roman roads studded with milestones marking the distances trekked and the direction forward, stunning views, and waterfalls offering a refreshing dip.
For those keen on heritage, the castles of Castro Laboreiro and Lindoso are highly recommended. Visit some of the 90 megalithic monuments that spatter a 35 km2 area. It’s easy to place yourself 2000 years back in time as you drive the same route which in the Roman era connected its main cities Braga with Astorga in Spain. The route is marked with meters tall milestones along the way. In the afternoon you can relax in the thermal baths of the spa resort in Gerês known for its restorative ability.
Day 5 | Douro Valley | Deep into the Douro Wine Valley
In the morning you depart, driving along the winding country roads, passing pine forests, quaint villages, rivers, and lakes. Pop into the town of Chaves known for 2 forts and a castle. When the landscape transforms into vineyards, you know you are close to your destiny – The Douro Valley.
It goes without saying that besides having a Unesco title, the Douro Valley is a mastery of vineyards, accompanied by it’s equally mastered, immaculately placed terraces sprawled over its rolling green hills. The immense sun hitting the vineyards is one of the reasons this region produces one of Portugal’s best wines. The winding river pushing its way through the valleys offers the best in the world of many viewing points and photo ops along the way.
As you pass through the Douro Region we’ll provide plenty of tips on where to stop to enjoy all the Douro Valley has to offer including the landscapes, the terraces, hidden villages to colonial world heritage, and our recommended bodega´s for a tour and wine tasting.
Day 6 – Douro Region – Serra da Estrela | A voyage through amazing landscape and medieval villages
Today you’ll climb through the contrasting yet serene hills of the Douro to reach the highest mountain town of Continental Portugal.
As you ascend, you’ll pass two historic towns that are unknown to most and a variety of medieval villages that warrant a stop. Guarda is the highest town in Portugal and is as imposing as it’s been for centuries. Its medieval structures are an organized array of defense walls, passageways, and charming center squares. Its stones still display Hebrew inscriptions having lasted since the 1100s, and the medieval mansions still support their families’ coats of arms.
The more religiously dedicated Belmonte is the birthplace of the Portuguese nobleman and explorer who discovered Brazil, and it still remains home to the largest Jewish community in the country. Lacking in size but not in impressions given, you’ll find a unique castle, Roman ruins, and quaint places for a drink in the square.
Finally, at almost 2000 meters high, you’ll find yourself in the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela. This is the first Natural Park in Portugal and is exceptional in views and nature.
Our recommendations of hikes will place you among its gigantic rocks reaching to the stars, glacial valleys that have no bottom, plus never-ending fields spotted with silent lakes and rushing waterfalls.
This is really what nature travel is all about.
Day 7 –Serra da Estrela – Lousã | A beautiful winding road through the mountains
This region is additionally fortuned with 12 historic villages. We’ll share our favorites and enthusiastically encourage you to visit some of them before departing. A mix of pleasant pastures and rough landscapes, each village fiercely claims its own charm, castle, and city wall.
Your journey continues to the hilly municipality of Lousã and keeper of the regions´ 27 Schist Villages. A very well kept secret, a hidden and tranquil land; it is nature travel excellence. The Schist name comes from the rock of the area which comprises the roofs and houses of the villages here. Tucked into nature, castles peeking out of misty corners, and old wooden footbridges to cross the creeks. You’ll see that Shepherds still herd their sheep through the hills and people still with hand tools work the land. The residents are happy to share their crafts and traditions and point you in the right direction of their beloved natural setting. It’s a hidden and magical visit where it seems nobody has passed for centuries, and it’s not to be missed.
Day 8 –Lousã | Historic Coimbra mixed with the traditional life of the Schist regions
In the morning you have the chance to head off to the historic Coimbra, a river-front city famous for its university and medieval old town; only a 45 minute drive away. Founded in 1290, the University is one of the oldest in the world. The building has changed little, and the town is still a hub for academics and a student-life culture, unique and strong to its own devices. After lunch, head back to the Schist villages. As the three most typical towns are close together, you can either drive, hire a bike or go on foot to visit them. We´ll provide details on how to choose the most appropriate method.
Day 9 –Lousã - Nazaré| From deep into the woods to the cozy beach town of Nazaré
Today the scent of the ocean is in the air and the breeze is on your face as you venture to Nazaré. Either continue with the drive inland, making a stop at the ever-blue Zezere river before you head west to the coast. Or drive outward immediately to take advantage of the coastal drive along the Atlantic.
Nazaré is a cozy beach town known for its outrageously high waves and long half-moon shaped, sandy beach and little town. The waves here have measured as some of the highest in the world and are impressive to witness. Having 170km’s of coast, there are plenty of beaches offering more gentle waters. The town Nazaré, flanked by the beach, favors tranquillity, narrow streets, fishmongers to salute and seafood restaurants. Take a pleasant stroll and see for yourself.
Day 10 | Nazaré| Relaxing at the beach or an active day of visiting some castle towns
If you’d like to take it easy today, relax at one or two of Nazaré´s beaches and stock up on vitamin D gifted by Portugal’s ever-beaming sun rays. Lunch at a local grill or market or perhaps just on the beach. Take a lengthy stroll or rent a boat and explore the waters.
On the contrary, if you have the energy to spend, take an excursion and tap into a collection of stellar towns. Begin in the medieval town of Óbidos, it’s one of the most picturesque and well preserved in Portugal. You´ll then visit another medieval town called Tomar, climbing up to the templar castle is a must, and the Convent of Christ is another jewel. Moving on to explore a Catholic faith and spiritual side in Fátima. Experience the church and its beloved plaza, complete with famous souvenirs, and the cathedral in the square attracting tens of thousands of pilgrims each year.
Continuing onward, we’ll make a stop in Nature Park Serras de Aire e Candeeiros. It’s filled with caves and waterfalls and will satisfy the natural spirit today. We´ll give the tips on where and how to find them!
Day 11 | Nazaré | Sintra (Lisbon) | Sintra, the fairytale castle
This morning you’ll drive southbound returning to the reality of the urban world. Take the national road and enjoy coastal views and fishermen villages. Upon entering the Natural Park Sintra-Cascais, stop at Cabo de Roca – continental Europe’s most western point, with impressive high cliffs and breaking waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
You´ll continue going south to Estoril, a town with a history of spies and double agents. It’s also the location upon which Ian Flemming based his James Bond novels. Visit the hotel, to order a “Martini, shaken not stirred”. Continue trying your luck in the town’s large casino.
Next stop: Sintra. A longtime royal sanctuary, the beautiful forested landscape is scattered with pastel-colored villas and palaces. Climbing upward and reaching the top of the hill, you’ll enter the Moorish and Manueline-style National Palace. Its fairy-tale design and sensational views of the picturesque town below are yours for the taking.
Day 12 | Sintra | A full day excursion to Portugal´s capital, Lisbon
In just half an hour’s drive lies the splendid destination of Lisbon, referred to as the “Queen of the Sea” – Lisbon.
Lisbon is absolutely loaded with precious things to see and do – get ready for some walking! But wait…Lisbon has seven different hills as well, so also expect to do some climbing! It’s a well laid-out and planned city thanks to recent rejuvenations, so for those of you who prefer to take it a bit easier, we’ll assist you with other methods of transportation.
First things first – the classic “Tram 28”. This well-known and favorite tram route is a perfect ride to catch as it visits most of the tourist destinations, and it can save your legs on the surprisingly hilly streets of Lisbon. After a thorough ride and absorbing an initial sense of the city’s vibe, colors, rhythm, and beauty, hike up the first of the 7 hills, to Saint Jorge’s Castle. It’s one of the first fortifications built, dating from the 1st century BC, and is currently in wonderful medieval form. It offers spectacular views of the red-tiled roofs and the sweeping landscape of the city.
In the evening visit a Fado bar, Lisbon’s famed bitter-sweet music style traced to the 1820s. Enjoy a live show complete with traditional dress and settings – it’ll whisk you to another time and tell an expressive melancholic tale of its own.
Day 13 | Lisbon | Going to the area of the navigators of the sea and make a stop in the Natural Park Árrabida
Rise and shine this morning with thoughts of “Pasteis de Nata”, the most delectable and scrumptious sweet of all sweets. Head 2,5km out of the city to visit The Tower of Belén, which served as an embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers. You’ll find a sweet little spot famous for their “Pasteis de Nata”, the recipe is still a guarded secret and you should try one now before continuing on to the adjacent Monastery of Jerónimos. Warning, you’ll need a couple of minutes to catch your breath after entering. Portugal was an empire at this time in the 16th century and was more than happy to show off its immaculate skills and wealth in the form of structures. This monastery is the grandest example of late Gothic and Manueline architecture in all of Portugal and has been a Unesco site along with the Tower of Belén since 1983. It is as imposing as it is unique, as it is stunning.
As you make your way up the shore, stop to admire the statue demanding your attention. It’s a wonderful tribute to Portugal’s glorious past nautical excellence and the region’s navigators from the 16th century, boasting such names of explorers as Magallanes, Henry the Navigator, and the great Vasco de Gama.
A quick, scenic drive along the Estrada de Escarpa with a stop at one of its locally known beaches, will lead you to an afternoon visit at the Natural Park Árrabida. You’ll see the amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean and the park’s lush green hills from the top of the 380m high mountain. Here’s a place of protected and secluded beaches, a scuba dive, a nature reserve and bird sanctuary, and dolphins. It’s a colorful gem of white storks, pink flamingos, pearly sands, blue waters, and green forests.
Next stop: Píncaro to see the 300 meter high jagged cliffs. Then to Sesimbra, a fisherman’s village, and wander around its castle followed by lunch near the beach. The bustling town of Setúbal offers an iconic fish market which is known to be one of the best in the world.
Day 14 | Sintra | Home or extension?
Today you will drive back to Lisbon to head home, and depending on your flight time, you may head to the center for some souvenir shopping.
Do you wish to extend your trip or add a few extra stops or shorten your trip – let us know and we will tailor this trip for you as you wish.
Total price is from € 1195,- / $ 1475,- per person
- 13 Nights in two or three-star hotels including breakfast. Please note that there is the option to upgrade to four or five-star hotels
- 14-day car hire including all-risk insurance.
- Guided tour and entrance to walk the Caminito del Rey.
- Private guided tour through the National Park El Torcal.
- Access to insider tips about what to see and where to eat. Let us know if you have any special diets like vegetarian, vegan, halal, kosher, or any other and we will give you free advice.
- 24/7 helpline for the duration of your trip.
- Air tickets. Please note that we can arrange these should you wish.
- Travel insurance. Please note that we can arrange these should you wish.
- All other food and drinks not mentioned in the above description.
- City tourism taxes.
- Personal expenses such as extra hotel services or gratuities.