Driving around Portugal is undeniably one of the best ways in which to appreciate the country. But visiting motorists should come prepared for the occasional terrifying moment behind the wheel as the driving of local Portuguese can sometimes be downright dangerous.
High accident rates from speeding and reckless driving have prompted the authorities to come down hard on those who break the rules. This means that it is essential for those who are planning to see the country by car to brush up on the local regulations before setting off.
Lisbon is the usual starting point for most motoring tours of Portugal, but the driving seat is not the best place from which to experience everything the capital has to offer. This is one place where you should put your keys in your pocket and a stroll around the magnificent architecture, enjoy a seafood lunch in a pavement-side restaurant, and sample the drinks and live music in the establishments of the Bairro Alto or a night in one of the capital’s many marvellous hotels.
Once you’ve had your fill of Portugal’s star attraction, consider concentrating on the Algarve, in the south of the country. This is the place for those looking for beaches, or who only have a short time to explore this magnificent country. Less than an hour from the bustle of the capital by car is the town of Sintra, which is surrounded by tree-covered hills, and not far from here is the ancient village of Evora. Visit Portugal in August and you might catch the Sudoeste festival which takes place between Lisbon and the Algarve in early August.
On the south coast are the cities of Lagos and Sagres, which face out onto the Atlantic Ocean. There are some stunning coastal views to take in here as well as a great many secluded, and not so secluded, beaches. It is worth taking a break from driving as often as possible to sample the local, ever so fresh seafood.
If beaches and golf courses aren’t really your thing, then away from the resorts of the coast is the peaceful town of Monchique, where the air is fresh and the hills are wooded. A drive under the canopy of the Foia Forest really is a joy.
The Douro Valley is another area not to be missed while exploring the country by car. Located in the north of the country, the valley has been designated a national park and has some stunning, barely inhabited landscape to travel through. It also has some extremely good vineyards, and it might be worth ditching the car for a day to go sampling the local wine and port.
Because Portugal is a relatively small country, travelling around by car is not the daunting task it appears to be in some of its European neighbours. It also only has a population of 11 million, meaning that it does not take long to escape the crowds of the cities and get out into the relatively deserted countryside.
However, there are still places where visitors congregate in order to let their hair down and have a good time, and there are plenty of historical and cultural sights to explore. The weather can be fabulous and the beaches can be a distraction. Just remember to be aware of other less attentive motorists on the roads.
John wrote this guest post on behalf of Alamo who provide car hire Faro and across Portugal.