Road trips offer a rewarding way to explore and create memories in a new country. The editors at International Living have just released an eight-day itinerary for hitting the road on Portugal’s ‘Route 66’ through the nation’s heartland — a worthwhile and rewarding expedition.
It’s hard to beat the slower pace, the backroads options, the pleasant surprises found off the beaten track in a country – especially today in Portugal. From north to south, and from the Atlantic west to the Spanish east, this country’s gracious people, brilliant sun, tantalizing beaches, and verdant valleys provide a varied landscape, historic points of interest, delightful towns, and a worthwhile adventure.
“Most everyone who visits or lives in Portugal stops at hotspots like Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve but far fewer venture beyond,” says Terry Coles, International Living Portugal Correspondent. “There is the road less traveled that cut through the center of the country for those looking for more adventure.”
The Estrada Nacional 2, or just N2, is the longest national road in Portugal at 739 kilometers. In fact, it’s one of the longest national roads in the world, outdistanced only by Route 66 in the U.S. and Route 40 in Argentina. The N2 begins in the far north, below the Spanish border in the city of Chaves, and ends at the city of Faro in the Algarve. It passes through rugged mountains, the exquisite, terraced vineyards of the Douro, historic villages, and ends along the impressive coastline.
“Driving the N2 without stopping along the way takes between six and seven hours but offers little to no enjoyment,” Coles advises. “My husband Clyde and I allowed ourselves a full eight days, stopping briefly in some towns while lingering longer in others.”
In the just-released itinerary, Coles outlines the best way to navigate Portugal’s ‘Route 66’ in eight days. Here are the highlights of the first three:
Day 1: Chaves, Vidago, Pedras Salgadas, Vila Pouca de Aguiar, Castelo, Vila Real
Chaves is the place to start. This charming city with a population of about 42,000 retains its old town center, complimented by a medieval castle with gardens offering mountain views in the distance. Historic churches, tiny shops, and restaurants dot the city while a well-preserved Roman bridge crosses the Tâmega river.
“Pick up an N2 passport at the nearby tourist office and have it stamped, officially marking the start of this iconic road trip,” says Coles. “The passport book includes a map and suggests 35 stops along the route, with indications of places to have the passport stamped as a nice keepsake.”
“Vila Pouca de Aguiar was by far one of our favorite stops along the N2 and a highlight of our first day. Dating back to Roman times, one of the must-see’s here is a castle situated in the mountains, accessed by a craggy, unpaved road.”
“Upon closer look we realized that the castle was nothing more than a small, ruined tower and decided it was not worth hiking up to. As Clyde pulled the car over, looking for a spot to safely turn around, we stumbled upon a tiny village of granite homes where time had seemingly come to a standstill. A small community of mostly elderly farmers lived in this village called ‘Castelo,’ aptly named for the castle that once stood nearby. Since we were in their private space, we asked permission in Portuguese to take photographs and all happily obliged, even including themselves in a few.”
Day 2: The Alto Douro Wine Region and Peso da Régua
The city of Porto is a popular destination for those who desire to see the spectacular views of the Douro Valley and river by the same name. Yet, the lesser-known area called the Alto Douro sits virtually unnoticed in the center of the country, near the city of Peso da Régua.Tourists here can take day trips along the Douro River. Some offer round-trip voyages while others offer train rides back from Porto.
“This was another favorite stop on our road trip,” Coles says. “Breathtaking views of lush vineyards climbing the impressive hills that surrounded the area. Jaw-dropping scenery as far as our eyes could see. I could almost taste the fragrant wines that filled the air, but that indulgence would need to wait until later.
“We spent an extra night in Peso da Régua, a city of 17,000 that sits alongside the Douro River. The city once served as a vital component in the country’s wine production and the sale of port wine. It was here that the wine was put into barrels and shipped to Vila Nova de Gaia, near Porto, where it was left to age in wine cellars. Today the area is dotted with elegant mansions perched on hills, surrounded by impressive, terraced vineyards bearing signs with the names of the families who own them.”
Day 3: Lamego, Castro Daire, Viseu
Lamego, Coles, reports, was a highlight of Day 3. This ancient city of about 12,000, sits nestled among the terraced vineyards of the Douro. It has retained its historic city center, characterized by steep, rocky streets leading up to its medieval castle. A few handsome churches still exist nearby, while locals mingle with friends at nearby cafes.
The stunning Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedios, erected in 1750, is where tourists climb the imposing baroque staircase (which has 686 steps). Those who make it to the top are rewarded with a panoramic view overlooking the area.
The full eight-day itinerary of Portugal’s ‘Route 66’ can be found on International Living.