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Portugal Road Tour – Faro to Porto

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It is hard to beat a road trip for taking in the scenery and getting to know the shape of a country. Dipping into the mountainous north of Portugal on a previous driving holiday from Madrid we found rugged scenery, quiet roads, warm hospitality and very good homecooked food.  On this trip we had pre arranged visits at Quinta Do Barranca Do Estrada on the shore of Santa Clara Lake in lower Alentejo, Lisbon and the Douro Valley, in between we planned to wind our way along some of the smaller regional roads and enjoy the food of Portugal. More an exploration than a themed trip.

We flew into Faro, and took a day to explore the city, before returning to the airport to pick up our car. If you’ve time, do pause, there’s historical interest but more than that it was a very pleasant city, not overly touristy.  The revelation of the trip was the Alentejo region, inland from the Algarve, where we drove along unbelievably empty roads through an undulating rural landscape dotted with semi naked cork oak trees amidst a sea of wild flowers. A day’s birdwatching in the east of the region on the plains proper – it’s a huge area  – a whiff of the food and wine and we were laying plans to return.

Then there was the coast so bound with Portuguese heritage: Lagoa San Andre, where the Atlantic pours in through massive sand dunes, the drive along the Troia peninsular hidden sea on one side and Sado estuary on the other – it’s one very straight road.  From Portugal’s maritime heart at Belem we followed the N6 coast road through the popular resort of Cascais out to the majestic headland of Carbo da Roco at mainland Europe’s western most extremity.

In the north you could spend a week alone following the wine route along the Douro Valley.  The scenery of this renowned port wine producing region is stunning – so steep – vine clad terraces plunging straight to the edge of the Douro River. Between Regua and Pinhao the N222 more or less follows the river, elsewhere you’ll find yourself winding around the contours of the hills – it takes a while so don’t be in a rush.

Car Hire
Our car hire in Portugal was booked through Holiday Autos, one of the few companies we found without a surcharge for picking up and dropping off at a different locations and with no extra charge for a second driver either  Previous car hire booked through them in Spain and France had gone smoothly so there was the element of trust.  Sixt supplied the car, an economical compact, equipped with all necessary safety items, including fluorescent vests.
Toll Roads in Portugal
Motorways and trunk roads in Portugal are toll roads, they’re maintained and operated by private companies and paying for them can be a tad confusing, particularly since the introduction of Electronic Toll roads which don’t have toll booths and charge instead by reading an electronic device fitted to the car windscreen (if you have one) or number plate recognition. There are some different payment options depending on whether you’re driving a Portuguese or foreign registered vehicle and if hiring you’ll likely find rental companies vary in the ‘provisions’ or not they make for using the toll systems. The actual toll charges aren’t excessive and none of this should put you off for a moment from taking a road trip in Portugal, you just need to be in the know before you go.
These two sites and the links they provide will sort you out:
From Angloinfo a general introduction to roads in Portugal
and from Charles Kosman at The Barefoot Nomad  The Ultimate Guide to Toll Roads in Portugal. What Every Traveler Should Know.