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Friday, April 8, 2016

Our Portugal Campervan Itinerary

Portugal is without a doubt one of the most underrated destinations in the world and during our recent trip there we fell in love with the country, the people, the food & wine, the scenery and everything about this magnificent country. For such a small country, Portugal is incredibly diverse and we were extremely lucky to experience quite a large part of Portugal during our campervan trip with Soul Campers. We were given some incredible tips and advice by friends before we left and by people we met on the road and since then we've been asked loads of questions about where we went and so we've decided to share our week long campervan itinerary in the hope it inspires others to visit Portugal and we think a great way to do it is with one of Soul Campers amazing campervans!



DAY 1
We had two nights in the countryside just outside of Faro at the beautiful Vila Monte Farm House and at Fazenda Nova Country House before we collected the campervan. Having worked right up until the weekend before we left England we really enjoyed these two hotels which helped us relax in luxury and settle into holiday mode before we set off in our campervan for a week! Our week campervanning around Portugal was one of the highlights of our three months of travelling and a part of the trip that we were both really looking forward to!

Soul Campers is located just outside of Faro and we arrived around 11am where the lovely Tania and Pedro of Soul Campers were waiting to meet us and send us off on our way! They were very friendly and took plenty of time to show us through the campervan and show us how everything works as well as answer any questions we had! Once we felt comfortable that we knew how everything worked and where everything was, we were handed our maps and campsite guide and sent off with a big smile and wave! Dan took no time at all to get used to driving the campervan, whilst my map reading skills on the other hand still leave a lot to be desired!

Our first stop was Cacela Velha, a gorgeous UNESCO world heritage protected village less than 30km from the Spanish border. We parked the campervan and set off to explore the gorgeous cobblestoned village which had whitewashed houses that had beautiful colourful doors, windows and edging, it reminded me a little of Paraty, a Portuguese colonial town in Brazil. Cacela is tiny and has a few restaurants, houses, a beautiful church and the remains of a fortress which boasts the most stunning views across the Rio Formosa Nature Reserve and out to the beaches and ocean. We'd highly recommend a visit to Cacela if you are already in this Eastern part of the Algarve.

From there we headed along the coast and checked out the small beach village of Fabrica which was just around the corner from Cacela and we also drove into Cabanas in search of lunch. Cabanas seemed quite commercial and touristy and we must have been in the wrong area because we struggled to find a seafood restaurant and could only find places serving hamburgers and traditional English breakfasts! It felt like the time we were in Rome and couldn't find Pizza... Oops! We then jumped back in the campervan which we had already fallen in love with and set off for Fuseta which wasn't too far along the coast.

Fuseta is a really cute, authentic Portuguese fishing village where we parked up in a perfect spot just by the river mouth where it met the sea. Fuseta has a wonderful, relaxed vibe and we wandered through the town along the river where all the colourful fishing boats were docked and past the little fishermen huts where they were busy sorting their fishing lines and equipment at the end of the day. We strolled through the small town and stumbled across the small town square where there was mostly locals and just a handful of tourists relaxing in the square, drinking €1 beers from the pub and catching the last rays of sunshine. We then found a little restaurant called Capri Restaurant located across the square where they had a wonderful refrigerated display of fresh fish that caught our eye! We both ordered fish of the day and were blown away when we were each delivered a plate with three huge, freshly cooked complete fish! We each had sea bream, mackerel and swordfish steak along with bread with olive oil and salad. It was the simplest meal yet the freshest and most delicious seafood we've ever had! We couldn't believe too when the bill arrived and it only totalled €16 for all our food and a beer each! They even sent us off on our way with a free shot of some local liqueur! We both left extremely full and happy and haven't stopped raving about our incredible "fish of the day" in Fuseta.

After dinner we headed "home" for our first night in our campervan and our first night free camping! We caught an incredible sunset and sat out in our camp chairs by the van for a glass of port to catch the last of the sunset and to talk about just how perfect our first day was! We knew the rest of the week had a lot to live up to in order to compete with just how incredible today was. We made up our bed using our bedding set we'd gotten from Soul Campers and made sure we were all locked up and all the window shades were on and spent our first night in the campervan. Dan, being really tall was shocked that he could fit properly in the bed and we slept fairly well considering it was our first night.





DAY 2
This morning we woke up in Fuseta to bright blue skies and had our first scenic, outdoor breakfast by the waterfront. We watched the fisherman head out to sea in their little fishing boats for their days work. After breakfast we packed up the campervan and said our goodbyes to Fuseta where we'd had a fantastic evening and morning and set off back towards Tavira. Everyone we met had told us that we must visit Tavira and so we found a carpark, picked up some delicious custard tarts (Pasteis de nata) which are AMAZING and everyone who visits Portugal must try at least one (or ten)! Tavira is a beautiful town located on the river which has cobblestoned streets, traditional beautiful Portuguese buildings and there was musicians playing in the park alongside the river which truly helped set the scene and made it feel very authentic and traditional! We only spent a few hours exploring Tavira's streets and by no means saw it all but I feel that no matter what part of this charming town you visit, you will love it!

After Tavira we got back on the N125 (National Road) which runs along the full length of the Algarve and has no tolls unlike the "A Roads" which are motorways. We spotted a sign for Santo Estevao which had a picture of a beach and so set off down the bumpy, dirt road where we parked the campervan and set off on an awesome adventure! We walked for 25 minutes across the Rio Formosa Nature Reserve (including across a bridge over a fast flowing river of water) onto Ilha Tavira and onwards to Barril Beach which was a beautiful, sandy, unspoilt beach but has freezing waters! The island and beach were beautiful and we went for quite a long walk and enjoyed the beauty of the island and lovely sandy beach!

We then whipped up a gourmet lunch back in the car park where we were parked right next to the Rio Formosa and had lunch in the sunshine before hitting the road again! We'd decided to head west past Faro and find a beach on the Western Algarve to spend the afternoon and night. We made the mistake of heading into Albufeira which is probably the most built up city on the western Algarve and was quite stressful to drive through but Dan handled it well and we eventually got back on the N125 where Dan found us the most incredible spot! We'd discovered the incredible destination that was Senhora da Rocha which was two beautiful beaches, one was a smaller cove with dramatic cliffs and breathtakingly beautiful waters and the larger of the two was around a headland and was a long, unspoilt sandy beach, again with the dramatic cliffs which the Algarve is so famous for.

We had some delicious fried calamari on the beach before watching an incredible sunset from a cliff top church next to the beach. It was the perfect place to spend the night and we fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing into the cliffs below us, it was absolutely perfect! There wasn't a single other car or person around and after dark until mid morning we had the whole place to ourselves which truly felt like a dream!





DAY 3
After we woke up having slept soundly to the crashing waves the night before we had a stroll along the beach (which again we had all to ourselves)! We then had a very relaxing breakfast where we enjoyed every last bit our magnificent beach and its views. Once we'd packed up the campervan and ensured everything was locked away we drove to nearby Carveilho where we enjoyed the beautiful beach! Carveilho is a great place to take boat trips from the beach to check out the caves along the coastline if you're interested in doing that.

We'd planned to stay in Lagos that night and arrived about lunchtime. After seeing how built up Albufeira was the day before we were a little worried about what Lagos would be like but all our worry disappeared the moment we drove into Lagos. Lagos certainly has its fair share of tourism but it is spread out and easy to drive through and within no time at all we'd found our campsite. We spent the night at Trindade Campsite which whilst it looked a little old and had very simple facilities it still had everything we needed and was in a perfect location. We found a great spot under a few shady eucalyptus trees and had our first hot shower for a few days which was amazing! The campsite was perfectly located being only a 5 minute walk to the beach and 10 minute walk into the old town and only cost us €14 for a night with electricity. We headed down the beach and spent the afternoon relaxing on the beautiful sandy beaches, exploring gorgeous coves and hiking along the clifftops. We visited the beautiful beaches of Praia Dona Ana, Praia do Camilo and Praia do Pinhao and absolutely loved the rugged coastline with soft turquoise, peaceful water that was very inviting (if only it wasn't so cold)!

We relaxed in the campsite and enjoyed a bottle of lovely Portuguese red wine before heading into the old town to explore and find dinner. It only took us a gentle 10 minute stroll into the historical old town where we walked along the city walls, through the cobblestoned streets and also stopped to check out the Fortress which was very impressive. There's no shortage of restaurants and bars and we stopped for happy hour cocktails along a gorgeous, cobblestoned street before dinner. Lagos is much smaller and less hectic than we were expecting and it has a wonderful, relaxed and exciting vibe - there is something for everyone here.

My lovely friend Lydia worked in Portugal for a summer and recommended we eat at Adega da Marina for dinner where we could get cheap and delicious prawns! She described it as being like a school cafeteria and it felt like a mixture of that and a German beer hall! We tried green wine "vino verde" which is young, sweet and slightly bubbly white wine and was delicious. Dan's dad has told us that we had to eat giant prawns whilst we were in the Algarve and Lydia's recommendation of Adega da Marina allowed us to do just that! We ordered three giant prawns which also came with salad and rice and at €55 a kg, they were half the price we'd seen elsewhere! The restaurant was packed with locals and tourists alike and our meal was fantastic! We had a great evening exploring Lagos and eating incredible seafood and would certainly recommend Lagos to anyone visiting the Algarve.








DAY 4
We woke up in Lagos and headed to nearby Praia da Luz which is a stunning, beachside town not far from Lagos. The beach was absolutely stunning and we saw some of the bluest waters we've seen so far! Again, Lydia recommended we visit her friends at Al Fabrica restaurant which we did and we had a great lunch where Dan had a delicious plate of piri piri prawns! Praia da Luz was also where Dan had his first swim in Portugal, but it was still a little cold for me.

We then cruised along the coastline to Sagres where we visited the Sagres point and the Fortress before sitting down at the top of the cliffs to watch a lone surfer tackling the menacing waves below! From there we could see our final destination on the south coast, Cabo St Vincent which is the most southwesterly point in all of Europe. It was incredibly impressive and we loved just watching the powerful ocean below us as the waves crashed against the cliffs. Cabo St Vincent is a MUST visit for anyone visiting the Algarve and is less than an hour drive from Lagos.

We said goodbye to the Algarve and headed north into the Alentejo National Park which is beautiful and untouched and we loved driving through the ever changing scenery. The eucalyptus and paperbark trees made me feel like we were in Australia! We took the turn to Arrifana and watched the huge amount of surfers from our viewpoint which Dan loved but as we couldn't camp there overnight and there was quite as few people as the surf was obviously very good we continued on until we arrived at Monte Clerigo which was a sleepy little surf town and we parked up by the beach. We'd lost our sunshine at this point and had our first rain of the trip so we got cosy in our campervan and Dan cooked a delicious dinner and we fell asleep to the sound of lashing rain and crashing waves which was beyond perfect. We had the best sleep we've had so far on our own private beach on Portugal's west coast without a single other soul around.



DAY 5
We woke up in Monte Clerigo and had breakfast and a stroll along the beach as the sun had come out again! Monte Clerigo is a beautiful, sandy beach and from the huge amount of sand in the small town centre itself it was obvious that they have some really harsh weather conditions at times! We continued north into the national park where we stopped at an endless amount of beaches including Carrageam, Praia de Odeceixe, Zambujeria do Mar, Carvaleiro and Vila Nova de Milafontes. We also drove though Aljezur, a tour with a medieval fortress on a hill.

By lunchtime we'd made it to almost the top of the National Park and the weather was pretty horrendous so we decided to turn around and begin our drive back down south whilst we couldn't enjoy the weather outdoors. We made it all the way back down the coast to Bordeira where we took a bumpy loop road along the cliffs above Praia Bordeira, Carrapateira and Praia do Amado. We stopped to watch the huge sets of waves roll in and crash into the gigantic, rugged cliffs. We continued along the road and found a perfect spot for the night that overlooked the sea, waves and cliffs and by then the sun had even come back out which was lovely.

We parked the campervan up and strolled around to a nearby, tiny restaurant and bar called Sitio do Forno where we had a few drinks and enjoyed the panoramic views. From there we returned to the campervan, whipped up dinner and watched the sun set over the Atlantic which was a pretty beautiful experience.






DAY 6
This morning we woke up, headed down to Praia do Amado where we strolled along the beach and watched the waves which were churned up from a big storm the night before! We continued south and continued to check out beach after beach on the way down. We felt like we saw hundreds of beaches in Portugal and every single one was unique and beautiful! We took a small detour for lunch into Silves as a lot of people had recommended we visit. We had lunch by the impressive castle which was like a huge fortress on top of a hill in the middle of the city! We've loved throughout our trip that Portugal is so campervan friendly and it is free to park almost anywhere, even in most cities! We'd decided to head back along the coast and spend the night just east of Faro in Olhao, a fishing town. We easily found our campsite which was called Camping Olhao and only cost €9.40 for the night! We spent the afternoon relaxing in the sunshine, sorting our bags and tidying up the campervan in preparation for returning it the next day. Dan cooked us a deliciously gourmet seafood dinner which is impressive on a gas stove and we sadly went to sleep for our final night in the campervan! We had a huge storm that night and we couldn't believe how much heavy rain there was but at least we knew that the campervan was completely watertight!







DAY 7
This morning we finished packing our bags and tidying the campervan which we'd become hugely attached to! We had no problem finding Soul Campers and very sadly said goodbye to our campervan! Pedro and his lovely puppy very kindly took us to the train station where we were catching a train to Lisbon to spend a few days there!

We had SUCH an incredible time in our Soul Campers campervan and very quickly fell in love with Portugal and life on the road. Our campervan was AMAZING, it had absolutely everything we could have possibly wanted or needed and we loved the freedom it gave us to get off the beaten track and to see as much as possible in a incredibly relaxing way. Thank you Soul Campers for helping us fall in love with Portugal and fall in love with campervanning!



Has our Portugal Campervan Itinerary inspired you to set off on the open road? Let us know! x

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