3 Road Trips You'll Love in Portugal


As in other areas, Portugal has been somewhat underrated in terms of its scenic appeal, but this small southern European country is filled with winding routes that take you through beautiful landscapes, breathtaking beaches, and small whitewashed villages. In short, fertile territory for renting a car and taking some magnificent road trips.

On top of that, road trips in Portugal tend to be relatively short - hence they're especially well suited for families looking for adventure but without committing to long stretches of driving. And by the way, if you do plan to take a road trip with your family, renting a minivan is highly recommended, because they offer much more room than sedan cars for both family members and luggage, making the trip all the easier.

So without further ado, here are three prime picks for hitting the road in Portugal:

Western Algarve

The coastal areas of the Algarve , Portugal's southernmost region, are popular - and often crowded - in warm weather thanks to their appealing beaches. But driving the small roads along this coast also yields marvelous views as well as picturesque small towns, and can be done in as little as a day (though it's well worth spending a night or three along the way to better appreciate the region and maybe have a swim at some of its less crowded beaches). Highlights en route include the charming, untouristy fishing village Ferragudo; Ponta da Piedade with its caves and grottoes; the wild, dramatic Costa Vicentina; and dipping inland a bit, Mount Fóia, the Algarve's highest point, its summit reachable via paved road and on clear days rewarding visitors with a truly spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean off in the distance.

São Miguel, Azores Islands

The nine-island Azores archipelago, about a 90-minute flight from Lisbon, has been called "the Hawaii of the mid-Atlantic" thanks to its gorgeous beaches and landscapes including dramatic volanoes, crater lakes, and waterfalls;  charming villages and vineyards, and exciting adventure options. The largest and most populated island, São Miguel, offers a perfect mix of all the above as well as easy driving on topnotch roads. There are several itineraries, and you could even do more than one each day, but it's well worth taking several to truly savor the best of the island. Highlights include Europe's only tea plantations, Cha Porto Formoso and Cha Gorreana; the Arruda Açores pineapple plantation; the Parque Terra Nostra with its mineral hot springs; an interesting little tobacco museum; the 144-year-old Arnel Lighthouse; whale- and dolphin-spotting tours off the coasts; and the towns of Furnas, Mosteiro, and Ponta Delgada, 

Douro Valley

Starting from the beautiful north-Portugal city Porto, the Douro River snakes through the stunning valley of the same name, home to the country's most fertile wine country, the Alto Douro, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides visiting vineyards, some of the valley's top landmarks include the 15th-century Gothic cathedral and grand 18th-century Mateus Palace in the town of Vila Real; the Baroque old quarter of Lamego with its 12th-century Gothic cathedral and 18th-century Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedios;  and another UNESCO site, the Côa Valley and its prehistoric rock art. One particularly lovely stretch of road is the N222, considered one of the world's best drives thanks to its views and its perfect ratio of straight stretches to winding curves; one stop along the way I heartily recommend is the Casal de Loivos, a 17th-century manor house that's now a luxury inn and restaurant, and offers one of the loveliest of all valley views.

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