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First time in Portugal

Baton Rouge...
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First time in Portugal

Hello, my wife and I hope to visit next summer. We are looking at returning to Portugal and want to get a feel for the country. We will have two to three weeks. Would you spend the time touring the country or to focus on one or two areas? We are not big on beaches but love the water. The mountainous areas are a big draw. Basically I am hunting for a place to begin. We hope to make several trips. Thinking maybe the first should be a general tour. How is driving and the roads?

Thank You, Tim

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Portugal
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1. Re: First time in Portugal

Take a look at this useful oficial website and explore all menus. You may find some suggested itineraries according to your interests. In relation to mountains, they are located mainly in the northern regions of the country...

https://www.visitportugal.com/en

Sudbury...
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2. Re: First time in Portugal

Driving is very nice in Portugal. The roads are in good condition, well signposted, Via Verde (Portugal Elecctronic Toll system) helps to pass toll booths quickly. Parking was not a big problem either when we visited in April last year.

Cascais is very beautiful, if you like the open ocean and rocky beaches.

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Cascais
Cascais
Lisbon District, Portugal
Portland, Oregon
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3. Re: First time in Portugal

Given your interests, I would focus on Lisbon and points north. Cascais would be a good starting point - it is on the coast with easy access to central Lisbon by commuter train. As mentioned in an earlier post, the roads in Portugal are fairly good, and a rental car is a good way to explore the rural areas. Having said that, a car is more trouble than it is worth in the Lisbon and Porto metro areas.

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Lisbon
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Sudbury...
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4. Re: First time in Portugal

<<Having said that, a car is more trouble than it is worth in the Lisbon and Porto metro areas.>>

Very true. We took trains from Cascais to Lisbon and to Porto from Aveiro. Driving in Lisbon and Aveiro is not needed at all. Even in Belem parking was a nightmare. We did drive from the Guincho Beach to Belem, but, in hindsight, we should have not done that - the car was more of a liability than an advantage in Belem.

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Cabeceiras de Basto
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5. Re: First time in Portugal

Surprisingly foreign tourists rarely consider touring the country. They tend to stay somewhere, usually in the big cities, and then make a few daytrips. But, if you don't come mainly for sea and sun, a ring tour is a fantastic option. The north is very different from the south, and th inland areas have nothing to do with the coast. I can't tell you which is best, all are splendid in unique ways. Inland you have no crowds, food (especially meat) and drink tend to be better and cheaper, accommodation is easy to find and cheap too, and the landscape is very scenic throughout most of the land. Places close to the spanish border tend to be the best; even the most remore corners of the territory are very rewarding for the sightseer and anyone seeking authenticity and hospitality. Bear in mind that in summer the heat can be an annoyance when touring inland, particularly in the south and in deep valleys. 35 to 40 degrees are common in many parts of the hinterland. On the coast the climate is milder, rarely being too hot, and the most well-known tourist attractions are there. Fish and seafood are fresh and easily available, and infrastructures are more developed, since 80 % of the population lives less than 40 km from the ocean. Most roads are good, with many motorways (usually with tolls...) and you can travel fast from one region to the next, but in the north secondary roads in the mountains are often slow, with lots of twists and turns, although well signposted.

Dunstable...
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6. Re: First time in Portugal

With two to three weeks, you have many options. When you say summer, what time frame are you speaking of? Hubby and I love Portugal and we just got back from our seventh trip. On our various trips (mostly off season being April/May and November), we have focused on various areas. We have spent three in the Alentejo BUT it can get very hot in the plains of the Alentejo in the summer.

On our April/May trip, we spent three days in Lisbon that we love and has many day trip options. We took the train north to Porto (return visit) and spent three days enjoying the city. We picked up our rental car and headed out to the Douro Valley for two nights and then on to Viana do Castelo. Neither Hubby or I are beach people but I do love the ocean. I grew up on the Atlantic coast of Massachusetts and we now live inland.

IF you like mountains, beautiful rugged landscape with some outstanding water to see, I think what was a day trip for us might suit you perfectly. The Peneda-Geres National Park was gorgeous. We only spent a brief time in Lindoso because the rain gods where doing their best to making walking about not a good thing to do. We have both decided that we need to go back.

It was only about an hour from Viana do Castelo which we found to be one of our favorite small cities that we have visited in Portugal. We stayed at the Pousada in a corner room having a fabulous view of Santuario de Santa Luzia from one window and the Atlantic from another. We enjoyed taking the funicular down to the city and walking about the city that combines fabulous old architecture (16th to 18th century) along with some interesting modern architecture. We definitely know we have to go back when we can experience the gorgeous blue skies of Portugal in Viana do Castelo and visit more of the Minho that we only started to enjoy.

Driving is very easy in Portugal other than in the big cities such as Lisbon and Porto where you don't want a car. Sadly, I don't have a great travel book to recommend for the north of Portugal. Most of our suggestions of places to visit came from this excellent TA forum and research that I did.

Portugal has become our favorite country in Europe to visit. Hubby has taught globally since 1992 and we have been some amazing places on three continents. Then again, I doubt my long departed Portuguese American grandmother (family came from the Azores) would be surprised. We love the welcoming people that go out of their way to help you out even if you only speak English as I do. You will love Portugal.

Do keep asking questions. I am sure others will have some great suggestions.

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Baton Rouge...
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7. Re: First time in Portugal

Thank y'all. I am from south Louisiana near New Orleans. Tomorrow the temp will be 91 and the humidity 65. August/Sept 100 F and 85 plus humidity.

I think your advice on touring the country would be the best for first visit. Rail travel pretty good for getting around the country? Is there a rail pass available for the country?

How is living there for you ex-pats? My wife is handicapped and was wondering the quality of the medical system?

The time we will visit is open. What are the seasons? Is there a tourist season? What is the coolest area of the country?

I know most of the information I ask about is easily found with a little research but I like to hear what folk who visit and live in a place have to say. A visitor or resident's favorite place to eat, to sleep etc is more valuable to me than a hundred travel books. Before I actually get to a new place I have read at least one history book and one book on the culture/geography.

Thank You, Tim

PS What is a good history of Portugal (English please, I am monolingual!)?

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Cabeceiras de Basto
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8. Re: First time in Portugal

The rail network shrank since the 1980s. What's left of it is good for travel between major cities and in suburban areas, so it's a good option for, say, Lisbon to Porto, but it's not adequate for a tour. All lines going inland depart from coastal towns. Many tourist attractions have no railway or have a bad rail service. Check it out at www.cp.pt (CP is the national railway company).

The tourist season is summer, especially July and August, but you'll see many tourists in the main cities, on the Southern coast (Algarve) and at well-known attractions year-round. The winter is usually wet and cool, with occasional snow in the highlands but mild temperatures on the coast. Spring is the best season to come (although the northern highlands can still be cold), because the Fall is very unpredictable and days are shorter. The summer is warm to hot, with lots of sunshine, californian-style. It gets very hot inland, especially in the Southern plains and in deep valleys like the Douro valley upstream from Porto (often reaching 100ºF), but the heat is always dry. The coolest area in summer, apart from the highest mountains, is the northern coast, where strong breezes and foggy weather are common. The sea temperature is pleasant at the Southern Algarve coast all through summer and even later, but probably too chilly for your liking along the whole western coast at all times.

The medical system is fairly good, because, while being one of the poorest countries in Europe, Portugal has some of the best records in several areas of medical care, but it has its problems and lately the lack of investment due to the financial crisis which struck us very sharply led to a great stress over public hospitals and health centers. But I suppose an expat can point out the characteristics more sharply through the lens of a US citizen.

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