Portugal, whose rich history is irrevocably tied to the sea, was once one of the world’s greatest powers. Its finest hour was when the Portuguese discovered the coveted sea route to the Orient, which enabled them to monopolize the spice trade. At the same time as Columbus was discovering the New World, Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama were testing the frontiers in the opposite direction–Africa, India, and the East Indies. Mighty castles, spectacular fortresses, beautiful mansions, and elaborate cathedrals remain today as reminders of this period of great wealth and prominence. These stunning monuments–along with incredibly lovely places to stay, excellent weather, and genuine warmth of welcome–make Portugal an ideal travel destination.This hotel travel guide and specifically our list of Portugal hotels, bed and breakfasts and Pousadas is written specifically for the traveler looking for a guide to more than the capital city and a handful of highlights-it is written for the visitor who wants to add a little out of the ordinary to his agenda. To aid your research for Portugal travel we have developed seven driving itineraries throughout the country. Each itinerary focuses on the highlights of a particular region and gives a recommended pacing for your trip.

Select a region in Portugal, or choose one from the map below:


Portugal



General Info and Resources

Itineraries:

Our itineraries may be taken in whole or in part, or tied together for a longer journey. As an example, the Exploring the Alentejo itinerary, which ends in Estremoz, can connect to the Medieval Monuments itinerary, which when taken in reverse, begins in Estremoz. The two can be joined to make a perfect loop from Lisbon. Also the Port to Port itinerary, which begins in Lisbon and ends in Porto, dovetails nicely with the Back to the Beginning itinerary, which begins in Porto and ends in Bouro. Each of the itineraries highlights a different part of the country, and they are of different lengths, enabling you to find one or more to suit your individual taste and schedule. For identifying, navigating, and exploring country roads and for finding these secluded countryside properties, it is important to purchase detailed maps. We recommend buying maps before your trip, both to aid in the planning of your journey and to avoid having to spend vacation time searching for the appropriate maps. (We use the one-page map of Portugal, Michelin Map 733, to outline our journey.) Since we often had difficulty finding all the maps we wanted from one source, we stock a full inventory of all the Michelin maps referenced in our guides. You can easily order maps online through our website, and we will ship them out immediately. At the beginning of each itinerary we suggest our recommended pacing to help you decide the amount of time to allocate to each area. Refer to the color maps at the front of this guide to cross-reference towns where we have recommended places to stay. Our suggestion is to choose a place to stay that appeals to you and use it as your hub, going out to explore each day in a new direction. We highly recommend staying several nights in one spot whenever possible.



Airfare:

Karen Brown’s Guides have long recommended Auto Europe for their excellent car rental services. Their air travel division, Destination Europe, an airline broker working with major American and European carriers, offers deeply discounted coach- and business-class fares to over 200 European gateway cities. It also gives Karen Brown travelers an additional 5% discount off its already highly competitive prices (cannot be combined with any other offers or promotions). We recommend making reservations by phone at (800) 835-1555. When phoning, be sure to use the Karen Brown ID number 99006187 to secure your discount.



Car Rental:

Readers frequently ask our advice on car rental companies. We always use Auto Europe—a car rental broker that works with the major car rental companies to find the lowest possible price. They also offer motor homes and chauffeur services. Auto Europe’s toll-free phone service, from every European country, connects you to their U.S.-based, 24-hour reservation center (as for the Europe Phone Numbers Card to be mailed to you.) Auto Europe offers our readers a 5% discount (cannot be combined with any other offers or promotions) and, occasionally, free upgrades. Be sure to use the Karen Brown ID number 99006187 to receive your discount and any special offers. You can make your own reservations online via our website, www.karenbrown.com (select Auto Europe from the home page), or by phone (800-223-5555).

For identifying, navigating, and exploring country roads and for finding these secluded countryside properties, it is important to purchase detailed maps. We recommend buying maps before your trip, both to aid in the planning of your journey and to avoid having to spend vacation time searching for the appropriate maps. (We use the one-page map of Portugal, Michelin Map 733, to outline our journey.) Since we often had difficulty finding all the maps we wanted from one source, we stock a full inventory of all the Michelin maps referenced in our guides. You can easily order maps online through our website, and we will ship them out immediately.



Currency:

All pricing, including room rates, is quoted in euros, using the “€ ” symbol. The euro is now the official currency of most European Union countries, including Portugal, having completely replaced national currencies as of February 2002. Visit our website (www.karenbrown.com) for an easy-to-use online currency converter. When traveling, an increasingly popular and convenient way to obtain foreign currency is simply to use your bankcard at an ATM machine. You pay a fixed fee for this but, depending on the amount you withdraw, it is usually less than the percentage-based fee charged to exchange currency or travelers’ checks.

Many establishments accept one or more credit cards. If possible, pay using your credit card as the exchange rate is usually quite favorable. Paying by credit card reduces the need to carry large sums of cash and thus reduces potential loss in the case of theft. Keep a record of your credit card numbers at home as well as with you separately from your cards in case of loss or theft. Also, it is a good idea to contact your card issuer and inform them of your travel plans.Be sure to check with your bank or credit card company about fees and necessary pin numbers prior to departure.

 



Driving:

DRIVER’S LICENSE: Portugal requires only that you have a valid driver’s license from your home country.

GASOLINE: Gasoline is expensive and should be factored into your budget if you plan to drive extensively. Gasoline is available in almost every town, and service stations are open from around 7 am to 10 pm, while a few are open 24 hours a day. Using a little common sense, you should have no trouble finding gasoline. Most of the gas stations take credit cards, but be sure to look for their sign before you pump.

ROADS: Enormous changes are taking place in the highway system and each time we visit we find the roads much improved. A fantastic amount of construction was completed prior to Expo 98. One of the major projects was a spectacular new bridge, Ponte Vasco da Gama, which was built close to the Expo center, at the eastern edge of Lisbon. At the present time, the roads in Portugal run the gamut from outstanding national highways to barely-two-lane country roads. By far the best are the four-lane highways, designated by “A” (for example, the highway from Lisbon to Porto is A1). After traveling over 6,000 kilometers exploring every nook and cranny of Portugal, we concluded that you should take “A” roads whenever possible to go from one sightseeing spot to another. If an “A” road is not available, take the next best highway, one that starts with the letters “IP” (for example, IP5)—these are always quite good and sometimes exceptionally fine highways, usually with two lanes that frequently become three lanes for passing purposes. “N” roads should be avoided whenever possible because they are usually two-lane roads congested with truck traffic. Country lanes and backroads vary in quality, but are far less congested than “N” roads.

ROAD SIGNS: “A” roads are well marked, but many others are very poorly designated. You can guess by looking at the map what road you are probably on, but it is often difficult to reconfirm the number by seeing a sign. The road number is almost never signposted, but is sometimes found on a concrete marker indicating each kilometer along the road. However, these markers are often missing, upended, or simply unreadable at normal speeds. Destinations along the route are better marked—usually the next town of any size is indicated along with either the name of the next large town or the last town on the road. All this makes for an adventure of following a map through unfamiliar territory.

ROADS—TOLLS: Tolls are charged on some of the major freeways/motorways. As you approach the freeway, you pull out a ticket from an automated machine at the toll station. Keep this ticket handy because when you exit the freeway, you need to hand it to the agent and pay according to distance traveled. The tolls are not extravagant—and certainly worth the convenience. Tolls are also charged to cross two bridges: the Ponte 25 de Abril, in and out of the heart of the Lisbon, and the Ponte Vasco da Gama, in and out of Lisbon, just to the east of the city.

SEAT BELTS: Use of seat belts is mandatory in Portugal, so get into the habit of buckling up when you get into the car.

TRAFFIC: It is difficult to drive in the large cities. The volume of traffic, lack of street signs, parking problems, one-way streets, and streets that never run parallel make driving a trial for all but the bravest of souls. Our advice is to buy a detailed map and pinpoint the location of your hotel before you arrive in a city. Make your way to where you are staying and leave the car in the hotel parking lot (or one recommended by the hotel), then take cabs or walk around the large cities. Taxis are plentiful and reasonable. In downtown Lisbon you can use the subway system (the Metro, marked with signs bearing a large “M”). In smaller towns always try to park on or near a main square for easy recall, and then venture by foot into streets that were never designed with cars in mind. Traffic regulations are similar to most other countries. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road, passing on the left. There are many roundabouts where vehicles already on the circle always have the right of way. The speed limits are generally as follows: 60 kph in built-up areas, 90 kph on normal roads, 120 kph on express highways. There are frequently police officers with scanners on the side of the road, so drive carefully. Beyond the cities, the Guarda Nacional Republicana, a national police force, is in charge of traffic. They conduct spot checks constantly around the country, pulling over cars (using criteria known only to them) and checking for valid documents—be sure to carry your car papers at all times.



Electricity:

If you are taking any electrical appliances made for use in the United States, you will need a transformer plus a two-pin adapter. A voltage of 220 AC current at 50 cycles per second is almost countrywide, though in remote areas you may encounter 120V. The voltage is often displayed on the socket. Even though we recommend that you purchase appliances with dual-voltage options whenever possible, it will still be necessary to have the appropriate socket adapter. Also, be especially careful with expensive equipment such as computers—verify the adapter/converter capabilities and requirements.



Shopping:

CERAMICS: The most popular souvenir to take home is ceramics. Throughout Portugal, you will see colorful pottery for sale and each region has its own patterns and colors. The colors are usually cheerful and the patterns frequently folkloric. The porcelain works at Vista Alegre (near Aveiro) are world famous.

EMBROIDERY: Beautiful embroidered shawls, bedspreads, and tablecloths are popular items. The island of Madeira is especially famous for its embroidery work.

FILIGREE WORK: Since the time of King João V who reigned in the 1700s, intricate gold and silver filigree jewelry has been very popular in Portugal. It is still being made, the center of the craft being Gondomar, near Porto.

LACE: Portugal’s handmade lace is beautiful. Most of the craft is located along the coast near fishing villages.

PORT WINE: Port wine is served throughout Portugal—you will taste some delicious varieties that you never knew existed. Bring a bottle home to renew memories of your holiday.

RUGS: Throughout Portugal you will see beautiful handwoven woolen carpets accenting floors of hotels and homes, the best known types coming from Arraiolos, the center of this cottage industry. For their quality and charm, they are well priced.

WROUGHT-IRON ITEMS: Portugal produces many handsome items made of wrought iron. You can also find some lovely old fixtures in antique shops.



Tourism:

A rich source of free information about Portugal is the Portuguese National Tourist Office. It has branches around the world that can provide you with general information about the country or, at your request, specific information about towns, regions, and festivals. Some of the offices are shown below:

ICEP Portugal Avenida 5 de Outubico, 10 1050-051 Lisbon, Portugal Tel: 217.90.95.00, Fax: 217.90.95.78

ICEP Portugal 590 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor New York, New York, 10036, USA Tel: (212) 354-4403, (646) 723-0200, (800) PORTUGAL, fax: (212) 764-6137

ICEP Portugal 88 Kearny Street, Suite 1770 San Francisco CA 94108 Tel: (415) 391-7080, fax: (415) 391-7147

ICEP Portugal 60 Bloor Street West, Suite 1005 Toronto, Ontario M4W3B8, Canada Tel: (416) 921-7376, fax: (416) 921-1353

Websites: www.portugalinsite.com, www.portugal.org, www.visitportugal.pt Email: tourism@icep.pt

If you send a request for information addressed to the Posto de Turismo (Tourism Office) of almost any town in Portugal, you will be inundated with colorful and informative brochures. The tourist offices throughout the country are usually prominently located in the center of town and offer an incomparable on-site resource, furnishing town maps and details on local and regional highlights. During tourist season, they are frequently open seven days a week and their hours are usually longer than most other establishments. The Turismo sign identifies them.



Weather:

Portugal enjoys Europe’s best climate since the moderating influence of the Atlantic keeps all seasons relatively mild in most parts of the country. There is a natural progression of temperature variation from north to south. It is seldom hot in the north and almost never cold in the Algarve. The Alentejo (the central plain) is very hot in summer, at which time an air-conditioned car and an air-conditioned room are very important. The highest and lowest temperatures show greater divergence as you move away from the coast and in the higher mountain ranges, such as the Serra da Estrela, there is enough snow for skiing in winter. In most of the country winter usually means simply an increase in rainfall. The ideal times to visit, in our estimation, are the spring and fall when the weather is usually excellent and there are fewer tourists. Try to avoid summer if possible—especially the Algarve, which is swarming with tourists in July and August. Another advantage to traveling off-season is that rates are usually less expensive.