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).
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.
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.
Having completed a full day’s walk on the Camino de Santiago 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 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.
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.