travelling in Portugal: wooden walkway to river beach, Caminha, Portugal

I’m still writing up some of my trips around Portugal from 2013 but the new year means it’s time to start planning where to go in 2014.

Update, January 2015: I’ve just revisited this list and written a new post about how far I got in 2014.

With so many places I’d love to visit, either to see for the first time or to get to know better, it’s always difficult to make decisions; there’s only so much I can do with the time and money I’ve got. After much deliberation, I’ve managed to whittle my very long wish list down to my priorities for travelling in Portugal this year. Anything else will be a bonus.

Almond blossom and rock art

Following last year’s trip to the Douro Valley and the Foz Côa museum, I’d really like to return to Foz Côa to explore the ancient rock art sites on foot, both in daylight and on a night tour. It’s far too hot in summer to do anything other than a night walk so spring and autumn are the best times to do this. I’m aiming for spring. During February and March the thousands of almond trees in the area will be in blossom, decorating the already stunning countryside with puffs of pink and white. If I can make it there between February 21st and March 9th, I’ll be able to find out what happens at the annual Almond Blossom Festival (Festa da Amendoiera em Flor).

Countryside, Foz Côa, Douro Valley
Scattered around this valley near Foz Côa, there are hundreds of examples of ancient art carved into the rocks.

Palaces of Sintra

Ever since I saw Alison Cornford-Matheson’s photos of Monserrate palace and gardens, I knew I had to take my own camera there. I tried to get to Sintra on my birthday last September but, being a Sunday, the traffic was unbearable and we ended up driving back to Lisbon without even attempting to find a parking space in the clogged streets. My strategy for this year is to either go during the quieter winter months or take the train from Lisbon. Mike has never been to Sintra so I might revisit some of my favourite places, such as the Quinta de Regaleira and Capuchos Convent.

Palácio da Pena, Sintra
The ridiculously colourful Palácio da Pena, Sintra

Madeira Islands

I’ve decided that 2014 is the year to venture off mainland Portugal and start exploring its islands. I haven’t got the budget for the Azores but I can make it to Madeira. I’ve heard nothing but glowing reports from friends who’ve been and I can’t wait to get walking along the levadas and to enjoy the multitude of gardens and exotic flowers that the island has to offer thanks to its sub-tropical climate.

I intend to use Funchal as a base and explore as much as possible, including taking the ferry over to the island of Porto Santo for a day. Porto Santo’s 9 kilometres of golden sands were voted as one of the seven top beaches in Portugal so I think I should see what all the fuss is about.

Grape harvest in the Douro Valley

My brief visit to the Douro Valley has certainly whet my appetite. This year, I’m planning to cruise down the river Douro and hoping to take part in the grape harvest. As well as squishing grapes between my toes, I’m looking forward to seeing the full range of colours decorating the hillsides when the vine leaves take on their autumnal hues.

South of Lisbon

There’s always so much to try to fit into my short trips to Lisbon that I still haven’t found the time to get on the ferry and see what it’s like on the other side of the river Tagus. Following recommendations from readers, I’m aiming to have lunch at Ponto Final restaurant and to go to the top of the Cristo Rei monument for panoramic views of the estuary. The contemporary art museum and sculpture garden in the former estate of Casa da Cerca could be worth investigating, too. If I have time, and the weather’s right, I might even hit one or two of the beaches on the Costa da Caparica.

Rota Vicentina

Having completed a full day’s walk on the Way of St James last year, I’m keen to find out if my body can handle several days’ walking. The recently opened Rota Vicentina walking trail  provides two marked routes which have been broken down into manageable stages. I’ve yet to explore the south west of Portugal so walking would be a great way of getting to know the area. The Rota Vicentina website contains all the information you could possibly need to help you plan a walk. I’ll probably combine sections of the Historical Way with loops from the Fisherman’s Trail so that I get the best of both coast and countryside. One thing’s for sure though; I won’t be doing the full 350 kilometres in one go! This official video should help you understand why it’s on my wish list.

Walking in central Portugal

As part of my preparation for walking the Rota Vicentina, and for lots of other reasons, I’m making a concerted effort to do more walks in central Portugal. I’ve already done some of the walks to schist villages near Lousã (blog post coming soon) and have identified several others I’m keen to try near Gondromaz, Avô, Oliveira do Hospital and Casal de São Simão. There are plenty of others in my area so I’m looking forward to getting fitter and better acquainted with the region I live in. I should stumble across a few more river beaches in the process.

Schist cottages, Lousã
Schist cottages on the walking trail from Lousã to Talasnal

Mushroom Festival

The number of food-related festivals held in Portugal every year is astounding and just goes to show how passionate Portuguese people are about their food. One of my favourites is the Miscaros mushroom festival, held in a tiny village near Fundão in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela. I missed it last year, which makes me even more determined to make it this time around. As food festivals go, this one is still in its infancy, having been around for less than five years. Each year it gets bigger and better and this time we’ll be staying over in order to make the most of a fun-packed weekend and to be there in time to join a morning mushroom hunt.

Ceramics and contemporary art in Caldas da Rainha

The Lonely Planet’s description of Caldas da Rainha as a  “dowdy” place with “limited interest to the traveller” was enough to put me off visiting for a long time. Thankfully, LP is not the only source of travel information and I’ve since met people and read travel tips which have made me think that it’s a city worth checking out. For an art and ceramic fan like me, it should manage to keep me entertained for a weekend with several museums and art galleries, not to mention sculptures galore and the pretty Parque Dom Carlos I. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for examples of Art Nouveau architecture, too.

That’s as far as I’ve got for now. No doubt other trips will crop up throughout the year and summer is still undecided but this is enough to keep me busy for a while.

If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment.

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31 Comments

  1. Lovely blog, Julie. I am in S.B. Messines, near Silves, and looking for local food festivals. I know of the August Silves Medieval Festival and the February Alte Carnaval, both great festivals.
    Do you know of any other foodie festivals?
    I would also love to know if there is a Mushroom festival in the Algarve?

  2. You went as far as Caldas da Rainha, it’s a shame you did not go a little further to Foz do Arelho, now that is a beach worth seeing.

    1. Author

      Hi Dolores, thanks for commenting. It’s actually the other way around – I have been to Foz do Arelho and agree that it’s well worth visiting. Caldas da Rainha is still on my wish list though… I’m hoping to get there at some point this year.

      1. Hi fellow travelers, Julie great blog! We are planning a trip to portugal for the first week of October . Is it too cold perhaps to enjoy beaches off Lagos at this time? We are torn between Lisbon-south or Lisbon-Douro . Doing all in 10 days seems too rushed . We lean towards the beautiful beaches of algarve. Appreciate all thoughts and inspiration
        Matti and Vered i

        1. Author

          Hi Matti and Veredi, thanks for your question. My personal preference is for the Douro – I’ve just spent a week up there and the vines were just starting to turn autumnal. It’s really beautiful up there. However, if you’re more into beaches, you might be better off down south, although there are beaches all along the coast, even in Porto, if you just need a quick fix. It’s likely to be a bit chilly at that time of year though.

          If you choose to go south (and I agree that you should choose one or the other, not both), keep an eye on the weather reports. It could be warm and sunny or cooler with a little rain so be prepared for both.

  3. Check out Serra da Arrábida when you venture across the river. And finish with a grilled fish in any restaurant in Setúbal, it has the best fish south of Matosinhos. That beats Cristo Rei for sure!

    1. Author

      Thanks for the tip, José. I really want to go to Serra da Arrábida – it looks wonderful. And I’ll definitely go for the fish!

  4. Good write up – what can you tell me about the ‘Hill Towns’, the castles, and the agriurostmo in the Douro Valley?

    1. Author

      Hi Chuck, I don’t understand the word you mentioned for the Douro Valley but here’s a link to info about the wine-producing villages there: https://juliedawnfox.com/2013/09/17/douro-wine-villages/
      For Hill Towns, I’m guessing you either mean schist villages: https://juliedawnfox.com/2014/02/03/schist-village-central-portugal/ or historical villages like Sortelha, Monsanto, Marialva and more https://juliedawnfox.com/?s=historical+villages&submit=Search

      If that’s not what you mean, you’ll need to be a bit more specific so I can point you in the right direction.

      1. Hi Julie

        I think what Chuck meant was Agritourism where you stay on farms or in the case of the Douro many are in vineyards.

        1. Author

          That makes sense. In that case, http://www.center.pt/EN/index.php is a central booking system for Solares de Portugal (farmhouses, manor houses etc), Aldeias de Portugal (cottages in hillside villages in the Peneda Gerês National Park and around) and Casas no Campo (self catering villas in the countryside).

  5. Hi Julia! I moved to Portugal 2 months ago and have been delighted to see your blog.
    I really like this page but I would have very much appreciated if you included the date (or around the dates) of the festivals/events that are taking place.

    Thank you so much for all the good info!!!

    1. Author

      Hi Mijung, Thanks for commenting. I do try to include dates for festivals if they’re available (sometimes the dates don’t get circulated until right before a festival!).

      I managed to get the dates for the Almond Blossom festival before publishing this post but the Mushroom festival isn’t until November. It will probably be the 2nd or 3rd weekend of November but you should keep an eye on their Facebook page for exact dates.

  6. Fantastic post, Julie. i just walked past Ponto Final Restaurant over Christmas. One day I’ll have a meal there, the location is incredible!

    Good luck with the Rota Vicentina, I might be trying out a section of the Via Algarviana this weekend.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Nick. I hope the weather down south is better than it is in central Portugal otherwise you’ll have a rather soggy walk!

      1. It actually worked out pretty well, luckily not soggy at all, just chilly! 🙂

        Julie, have you ever hiked on the Via Algarviana?

  7. You will love Madeira Julie and I hope that one day you will be able to discover Portugal’s other hidden jewels of the Azores. Truly, truly beautiful with the friendliest people and most wonderful food.

    I wonder if you or any of your readers can help me to track down the location of the annual parsnip (cherivia) festival. I recall it is a small village that I believe is somewhere near the Serra da Estrela and they grow over ten tons of parsnips a year. I just wish that some would find their way into our local shops.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Colin. I will do my best to make it to the Azores.

      As for the parsnips, I think Fundão is your best bet. Try contacting the Tourism School as they were involved in at least one parsnip festival. I remember being amazed to find parsnips on sale when I went to the mushroom festival in Alcaide. I bought some because as you say, they are so rare in Portugal. We tried growing them once and got some shrivelled little things that were of no use to anyone.

      1. That will be the one Julie so thanks for that.

        Don’t give up with the parsnip growing. A friend in Vale de Aires near Lousã grew some beauties from seed this year and they were so much tastier than the flabby offerings sometimes found in a well known supermarket!

        1. Author

          Thanks for the encouragement, Colin. We’ll give them one more try and see what happens…

  8. it looks like your going to have a busy year ! I look forward to hearing about Caldas de Rainha .. I am into ceramics and art , so would love to hear how you find it , and I would love to visit Madeira also ….. when I have the funds !

    1. Author

      Madeira is cheaper than you might think. Easyjet flights from Lisbon can be had for less than €40 each way if you’re flexible about dates and basic accommodation from 20€ a night, even in August!

      Will let you know about Caldas da Rainha…

    1. Author

      Thanks for the tip, Edgar. I have been to Piodão and I agree with you – it’s interesting, if a little touristy. I love the countryside around it and am hoping to go back to the area and track down Foz d’Egua, which I think is nearby.

        1. Author

          Wow! That looks beautiful, and it’s nice to see it from a different angle – all the photos I’ve seen so far focus on the bridges. I am definitely going there very soon!

          1. I can understand people focus on the bridge, the one in my photo is huge. 🙂 Loved it.

  9. Hope you can fulfill your wishes Julie, all the trips looks interesting.
    I can recommend Sintra, just magic!! I remember visiting the Douro area when the almond trees where in blossom, very pretty.
    Never went to Madeira, but have been quite a few times to Azores, because it was my husband’s birth place and he has family there.
    I know that the Azores islands are a lot less explored than Madeira islands, very green and pretty. We have booked to go to Portugal in June in might go to the Azores again to visit family.

    1. Author

      Hi Sami. I really want to go to the Azores, too. A quick look into flight costs means they’re on the back burner for now, unless I can persuade someone to pay for my flights 😉 Enjoy your trip if you get to go this year!

  10. I just drafted a wish list on my blog, too. Not so ambitious, but I love how many places you’ve listed. I didn’t even think about festivals!

    1. Author

      Hi Cat. I’ll have to check your list out once it’s live 🙂

      There are other festivals I’m hoping to get to, such as the Puppet Festival in either Espinho (March?) or Lisbon (7-25 May) and International Street Theatre in Santa Maria da Feira (May) but the mushroom one is well worth going back to. The atmosphere is friendly and fun and it attracts some surprisingly cool bands as well as the more traditional music.

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