Camping and cruising through the stunning interior of Portugal delivers a slideshow of natural splendor that offers an alternative to coastal travel.
Pitched as the ‘Route 66’ of Portugal, the 739km Estrada Nacional No.2: EN2 is the longest road in Europe. In a single drive, it offers a great overview of the many wonders of Portugal. While it’s perfectly alright to embark on this journey in a typical car, we chose a campervan hire Portugal option from Siesta Campers for unmatched freedom and flexibility.
With locations in Lisbon, Porto & Faro, and 1-way hire, it’s also possible to enjoy this road trip in either direction with no need to head back to the start!
From North to South, the route encompasses a kaleidoscope of different landscapes, from terraced hills and tree-covered mountains to verdant plains and fertile valleys. A fascinating array of towns, cities, and villages also dot the route, all of them worth a stop (if time allows!).
One of the biggest challenges with the EN2 is to stay in the camper and not keep jumping out! With sites of historic, religious, cultural, and gastronomic interest around every corner, it’s tough to keep moving.
– Douro Valley
– Historic towns and villages of Central Portugal
– Cork forests & olive groves near the Tejo River
The EN2 runs from Chaves on the northern border with Spain to Faro on the Atlantic coast in the south.
Total Driving Time: 5 days
DAY ONE: THE DOURO
– Spa treatment in Chaves
– Mateus Palace and Gardens
– Wines of the Douro
If you choose to begin in the north, campervan hire Porto is a great launch point. There’s a long road ahead, with many twists and turns, so best start in tip-top condition. Famous for its hot springs since Roman times, Chaves boasts a great municipal spa.
Surrounded by a cluster of hotels, its staff offers a range of services based around the city’s silica-rich underground water supply. Visitors can book in for everything from a hydro massage to a full package of different treatments.
Leaving refreshed, start your journey south. The cathedral in Vila Real is well worth a visit, although we pressed on to Casa de Mateus. Located slightly off the EN2, this classified national monument used to be the family home of the aristocratic Mateus family – famed for the wines that carry their name.
Designed as a “living museum”, the family’s original rooms are now given over to a series of fascinating exhibitions. A walk around the well-kept gardens is also a must.
Entering The Douro Valley, Portugal :
Soon, you’ll find yourself entering the Douro Valley, one of Portugal’s most distinguished wine regions. Blessed with its microclimate, the steep-banked hillsides are lined with mile upon mile of terraces, earning the area UNESCO Heritage status for its man-made landscape.
For an unforgettable taste of the Douro’s signature wines, cruise along the exciting N222 (voted World Most Beautiful road in 2015) and follow the banks of the Douro upstream. Before Pinhão, a narrow side road takes you up to Quinta do Panascal, the largest and most prestigious vineyard in port house Fonseca’s estate. Park your van and enjoy a guided stroll among the vines.
Continue to Lamego, which boasts a terrific campsite on top of the hill with fine views. A short stroll from the campsite is the Sanctuary of our Lady of Remedies, a hilltop church with a vast, ornate staircase that flows down the hillside to the town below.
DAY TWO: IMMERSION INTO PORTUGUESE CULTURE
– A morning infusion
– Historic Viseu
– Potteries of Molelos
Begin with the organic herbal tea company Ervital (in nearby Mezio). A recent winner of a Great Taste Award in London, this top-notch local tea producer creates incredible infusions from its list of around 100 different herbs.
Next up, is a superb local museum, the Linen Museum in the rural settlement of Padrão da Légua. From winnowing to weaving, it lovingly depicts the full process of linen making.
Continue to the ancient Roman city of Viseu (known as the “Garden City” because of its attractive public gardens) and take a stroll around the National Grao Vasco Museum – home to some of the best works of the sixteenth-century Renaissance painter Vasco Fernandes.
Proceed to the Molelos potteries. An example of regional artisanal heritage at its most vibrant, the tiny community of Molelos counts half a dozen potteries (including Artantiga, Oleiria Moderna, Oleira Tradicional, Feitiço da Púcara, and Barraca dos Oleiros).
Travel on to Coimbra (okay, okay, it’s not quite on the route), where there are numerous campsite options. One of the best locations in Parque Verde do Mondego, perched right on the banks of the Mondego River.
DAY THREE: THE ANCIENT CITY
– The Johannine Library
– Schist villages
– Ponte Velha restaurant in Sertã
Ancient Coimbra has much to commend it, including the Botanical Gardens and ornate seminary. But the star of the show is the gold-leafed glory that is the Johannine Library. Built on the grounds of a former palace (now the main university building), the eighteenth-century construction is a worthy tribute to the divine nature of books and literature.
From there, you’ll continue to the schist villages built from the local slate. These remote settlements mostly cluster in and around Serra da Estrela. Four can be found in the wooded hills near Góis, however, accessible via a looping mountain back road that connects with the EN2.
Another superb example, São Simão, is located a little further to the south-west. It sports a delightful river beach in the summer and a terrific restaurant (Varanda do Casal).
If you feel like stretching your legs, turn off the road at Pedrógão Pequeno towards the Philippine bridge and do the short bridge section of the PR2 trail, a beautiful stretch to walk. The experience will help you build up a gastronomic experience at the panoramic Ponte Velha restaurant in the castle-capped city of Sertã. The recently renovated Convento do Serta hotel has space in its carpark for vans.
DAY 4: A FEAST
– Oven-fresh bread in Agua Formosa
– Portuguese pastries of Abrantes
– The singing waiter in Montemor-O-Novo
Start with a visit to a tree-planting project on the edge of Agua Formosa. As well as paying to plant your tree, octogenarian villager Benvinda Santos opens her home for a sumptuous afternoon (or morning) tea, homemade jams, and freshly baked bread.
Next stop, Abrantes! Many towns along the EN2 have a particular baked good that they are particularly proud of. Carnache do Bonjardim has its almond cartuchos (shells); Castro Daire, its bolo podre (a yummy but unappetizing-sounding ‘rotten cake’); Chaves, its meat-filled ‘pastel’. In Abrantes’ case, it’s the sweet, eggy palha (straw) that swells residents’ chests. Tip: try the eponymous Palha de Abrantes bakery on the main square.
Crossing the River Tejo at Abrantes, the landscape alters dramatically. Be sure to stop in Ciborro, bang on the 500km mark, for a photo opportunity.
A little to the south, on the edge of Montemor-O-Novo, is a wayside restaurant called A Ribeira. Carlos Carriço is the real draw. Ask nicely and the restaurant’s super simpatico proprietor-cum-waiter will offer to sing you the entire menu in his self-composed rap.
If time allows, call in at Chocalhos Pardalinho in Alcáçovas, one of the last (if not the last) of Portugal’s cowbell manufacturers. Once a widespread skill in rural Portugal, the art of bell-making is a dying breed. Not far down the road, on the banks of the Odivelas reservoir, is the picturesque Markadia campsite.
DAY 5: THE ALGARVE
– The mines of Aljustrel
– Scenic viewpoints
The citizens of Aljustrel have been extracting minerals and metals from beneath the rich, red soil here for centuries. The pits are mostly closed now, but the sight of mineshafts and rusting machinery is evocative of Aljustrel’s industrial age.
Closer to the coast, the road straightens. This is a landscape of big skies and sweeping vistas. Fortunately, Portugal road planners built several scenic viewpoints along the route. The laybys at the Km 696 and Km 720 marks both merit a brief stop.
Finally, you arrive in Faro, the end of the road. Park up and head to the old city. Time for a celebratory drink? No problem: Faro’s old town has no shortage of cool bars and restaurants. At this point, it’s time to drop off your campervan, but note if you begin in Faro, this itinerary works great in reverse too!