When I booked a holiday on the North Atlantic coast of Portugal I knew I was taking a bit of a gamble. The predicted mid-twenties temperature forecasts for August were consistently 5C lower than the Algarve and significantly lower than we’re used to. Last year in Kefalonia we had daily temperatures of mid 30s to “enjoy”. I generally love high temperatures but even I found the Greek heat energy sapping and both Ad and Josh aren’t particularly heat lovers. Josh is indifferent and Ad spends most of the holiday hunting for shade. So when I was searching for our 2019 holiday I decided to try to find somewhere slightly cooler. I also fancied somewhere quiet and “less touristy”.
Following a successful driving experience in Kefalonia, Ad agreed that he would drive us around, so staying somewhere a bit more remote seemed like a good plan that could work well for us. The Silver Coast ticked all of my boxes – underdeveloped, warm but not too hot, beautiful Cornish-like scenery. I chose a spot on the southern end of the Silver Coast, less than an hour from Lisbon airport. “Less touristy” also gave us good value for money with the flights and (much bigger, much nicer) villa coming in about £2.5k less than our 2018 holiday. Boom!
As the holiday drew closer I paid a lot of attention to the BBC and Apple weather apps. The closer we got to our day of departure, the lower the temperatures fell! By the time we left the UK, predicted temperatures were down to low 20s and it was windy. I was nervous. The weather needed to be at least good enough to enjoy the villa pool and beaches. We like to explore but we also like to wind down and relax in the sunshine. I spent the last few days before leaving the UK managing my family’s expectations!
We landed at Lisbon Airport at 7:30pm, the decent slightly bumpy due to the windy conditions and heavy cloud cover. We usually brace ourselves for the heat when stepping off a plane in a hot country, but this time I put my denim jacket on and held it closed. Not a great start. While waiting for our car hire rep to meet us at the airport, I hastily downloaded another 4 or 5 weather apps hoping to find one that predicted 2 weeks of wall to wall sunshine. Sadly they all told the same story – changeable, mixture of sunshine and clouds, windy at times. Should have gone to Greece!
We hired a car from a local car hire firm with great reviews. He picked us up from the airport and took us to what initially looked like a dodgy lock up. I again started to doubt the wisdom of some of my decision making. But he opened the shutters to reveal a shiny office and I relaxed a little. We got a free upgrade on our car which was good because our cases probably wouldn’t have fit into the car we’d actually booked. After a few instructions we were on our way. It was gone 9pm by this time and getting dark. Driving the backstreets of Lisbon was interesting. As was getting onto the motorway – thank god for google maps. How did we cope in those days before sat navs???
Once on the motorway we could relax a little. Except it was now really dark and it became apparent that the lights on the car were quite rubbish! In fact they were useless. Ad spent about 20 miles messing with the lights but couldn’t get them any brighter. I started feeling jealous of the cars that passed us with their wide, bright headlights – we tailgated most of them! Stress levels rose a notch. Eventually, about 30 miles into our journey, Ad found the on switch and our world lit up. What a difference headlights make! He had one job…
We found driving in Portugal both fine and stressful in equal measures. Most roads, including motorways, are quiet by UK standards. However, white van men and idiot drivers are the same the world over. I was just glad that as a passenger I had no rear view mirror and couldn’t see what was going on behind. The view ahead was often enough to skyrocket my stress levels.
Filling the car with petrol was also quite interesting. The local petrol stations weren’t massively geared up for tourists and our Portuguese is non existent. The language barrier aside each petrol station has its own rules; attended, self fill, pay at pump, pre-pay, non pre-pay… minefield! An impending strike by fuel tanker drivers and the associated threat of panic buying also threw an interesting curve ball.
We did a lot of driving in our racing Renault Captur – way more than we had expected. When the skies clouded over we hit the road. Sometimes we drove to find a beach in the sunshine, others we found a tourist spot to explore.It turned out the weather apps were spot on. Some days were cloudy, others windy but usually warm and around 23-25C most days dropping a little cooler in the evenings.
The local beaches were gorgeous, unspoilt and spacious. Both Bom Successo and Foz do Ahrello had beaches on the fiesty Atlantic Ocean but had the advantage of also lining Obidos lagoon which was much calmer. But the water was freezing cold – regardless as to whether you chose ocean or lagoon. It was the kind of cold where, by the time you’ve waded in up to your knees, all feeling has gone from your feet. Needless to say we didn’t do much (any!) swimming and we stayed away from the watersports on the lagoon – which was a bit of a shame.
Most beaches didn’t have sun beds at all – and those that did were largely unused. Most beach visitors set up camp with a bunch of parasols and towels on the sand. We tried that a couple of times (using parasols primarily as wind breaks rather than for shade!) but I have a dodgy back and really would prefer the decadence of a sun bed!
When the cloud covered most of Portugal (possibly with the exception of the Algarve) we decided to drive to tourist spots to do some sightseeing. Aveiro, dubbed the little Venice of Portugal due to its canals and gondola like boats, was a couple of hours drive North but was worth the effort. Colourful, vibrant and a bit different – a perfect way to spend a cloudy day.
Sintra was another treat. All tourist guides advise not to drive to Sintra. The network of narrow, hilly streets, few parking spaces and sheer volume of impatient tourists means that this beautiful, historic, almost magical town often becomes gridlocked. However, we (well Ad) ignored all advice and drove anyway! And we were lucky. As soon as the driving slowed to a crawl we managed to dump the car (with reluctant praise to Ad who managed to parallel park in the smallest space while surrounded by tetchy tourists, further annoyed by missing out on one of the only available spaces). Fortunately we were within a mile or so walk of Castelos do Morous, which in turn was a mile or so away from Pena Palace – both on our to-do list for the day. And both were worth the pleasant, uphill walk to get there.
We spent most evenings in the historic walled town of Obidos characterised by its narrow, cobbled streets, pretty traditionally painted houses and imposing medieval castle. There were many restaurants to choose from and we ate out every night, rarely visiting the same eatery more than once. Most nights we found our meals simply “ok” and on the whole not as enjoyable as Greek food. On our last night in Portugal we ate at A Nova Casa de Ramiro which was a little more expensive but the food was awesome. If only we’d found it sooner!
All too quickly our holiday was over. It turns out that with the exception of a couple of cloudy days and a couple of rainy evenings, the weather was perfect for us. Hot enough to enjoy the beach and villa pool but not so hot as to be uncomfortable. In fact there was little need for using the aircon. We all came home refreshed, relaxed and tanned – and ready to book another trip!