TRAVEL

Road Trippin’ Down Portugal’s EN2

Road Trippin’ Down Portugal’s EN2

Road Trippin: Portugal’s  739km Estrada Nacional No.2  is the longest road in Europe. In one drive over 5 days, it offers a stunning look at the wonders the country has to offer.

This journey is great in a car, but motorhome hire Portugal from Siesta Campers is the best way to make the most of your experience. With motorhome rental locations in Lisbon, Porto, the Algarve and a popular one-way option, it’s easy to enjoy this drive in any direction.

From North to South the route encompasses a kaleidoscope of different landscapes, from rolling hills and tree-covered mountain tops to endless plains and lush valleys. Fascinating towns, cities, and villages away, and all of them are worth a stop.

You may find, one of the biggest challenges with this itinerary is to stay in your motorhome and press on! With sites of historic, cultural and gastronomic interest around every corner, it’s tough to stay on the move.

Highlights:

  • Douro Valley: the wine mecca
  • Charming villages of Central Portugal
  • Olive groves and cork forests south of the River Tejo

ROUTE:

The EN2 runs from Chaves on the northern border with Spain to Faro on the Atlantic coast in the south. Driving Time: 5 days

THE DOURO VALLEY

Highlights:

  • Spa day in Chaves
  • Mateus Palace and Gardens
  • Wine, wine & more wine!

If you choose to begin in the north, motorhome hire Porto from Siesta Campers is a great launch point. There’s a long road ahead, so best start fresh. Famous for its hot springs since Roman times, Chaves boasts a great spa! Its expert staff offer services based around the city’s silica-rich underground water supply. Visitors can book in for everything from a single hydro massage (highly recommended) through to a full package of amazing treatments.

Once refreshed, start your journey south. Casa de Mateus, located slightly off the EN2 is classified as a national monument and used to be the family home of the aristocratic Mateus family – famed for the wines that carry their name. Designed as a “living museum”, the family’s original rooms are now given over to a series of fascinating exhibitions. The well-kept gardens are not to be missed.

Soon, you’ll enter the Douro Valley, Portugal’s most distinguished wine region. Blessed with its own microclimate, the steep-banked hillsides are lined with mile upon mile of terraces. Swing left along the jaw-dropping N222 (voted World Most Beautiful road in ‘15) and follow the banks of the Douro upstream. Just before Pinhão, a narrow sideroad takes you up to Quinta do Panascal, the largest and most prestigious vineyard in port house Fonseca’s estate. Park your van and enjoy a guided stroll and port tasting.

Press on to Lamego, which boasts a terrific campsite on top of the hill with fine views down into the urban centre below.

CULTURE IMMERSION ON THE WAY TO COIMBRA

Highlights:

  • Morning infusion and oven fresh bread
  • Walk through historic Viseu
  • Molelos potteries

Start the day at the organic herbal tea company Ervital (in nearby Mezio). A recent winner of a Great Taste Award in London, this top-notch local tea producer creates incredible infusions from its list of around 100 different herbs.

If you have a weakness for museums, visit the Linen Museum in the rural settlement of Padrão da Légua. From winnowing to weaving, it lovingly depicts the full process of linen making – once a vital industry from this corner of central Portugal.

Continue to the ancient Roman city of Viseu and take a stroll around the National Grao Vasco Museum home to some of the best works of the sixteenth-century Renaissance painter Vasco Fernandes. A stone’s throw away is the city’s remarkable cathedral, which boasts a fine collection of religious art and artefacts as well as the most stunning cloister in all of Portugal.

Next stop, the Molelos potteries. An example of regional artisanal heritage at its most vibrant, the tiny community of Molelos counts half-a-dozen potteries. The distinctive quality of the pottery is its black hew, the result of the dark smoke produced by the particular species of local pine when fired in the potters’ ovens.

Travel on to Coimbra, where there are numerous campsite options. One of the best located is Parque Verde do Mondego, perched right on the banks of the Mondego river close to the centre of the city.

EXPLORE COIMBRA

Highlights:

  • Johannine Library
  • Schist villages
  • Ponte Velha restaurant in historic Sertã

Coimbra has much to commend it, including the superb Botanical Gardens and ornate seminary. But the star of the show without doubt is the gold-leafed Johannine Library. Built in the grounds of a former palace, the eighteenth-century construction is a worthy tribute to the divine nature of books and literature.

The EN2 exists to connect up the interior of Portugal, but there are some tucked-away corners that defy such intent. The schist villages present a case in point. Built from local slate mined from the mountainside, these remote settlements mostly cluster in and around the ‘natural’ park of Serra da Estrela. Four can be found in the wooded hills near Góis, however, accessible via a looping mountain back road that connects with the EN2.

If you feel like stretching your legs, turn off the road at Pedrógão Pequeno towards the Philippine bridge and do the short bridge section of the PR2 trail. It’s a beautiful stretch to walk, and the experience will help you build up an appetite for a meal at the panoramic Ponte Velha restaurant in Sertã. The recently renovated Convento do Serta hotel has space in its carpark for vans.

A JOY FOR THE TASTEBUDS

Highlights:

  • Oven-fresh bread in Agua Formosa
  • Portuguese pastries of Abrantes
  • The singing waiter in Montemor-O-Novo

Start with a visit to a tree-planting project on the edge of Agua Formosa, an isolated mountain village near Vila de Rei. As well as paying to plant your own tree, octogenarian villager Benvinda Santos opens her home for a sumptuous afternoon tea of home-made jams and freshly baked bread straight out of her traditional clay oven.

Next stop, the delightful castle-capped city of Abrantes. Many towns along the EN2 have a particular baked good that they are particularly proud of. Carnache do Bonjardim has its almond cartuchos (shells), for example; Castro Daire, its bolo podre (a tasty but strange sounding ‘rotten cake’); Chaves, its meat-filled ‘pastel’. In Abrantes’ case, it’s the sweet, eggy palha (straw) that swells residents’ chests. Tip: try the eponymous Palha de Abrantes bakery on the main square.

Crossing the River Tejo at Abrantes, the landscape alters dramatically. Gone are the mountains and hills, replaced by the undulating plains of Alentejo and Algarve. Likewise, hillsides of grapes give way to forests of cork; fields of chestnuts, to rows of citrus fruits. Be sure to stop at the tiny roadside village of Ciborro, bang on the 500km mark, for a photo op. 

A little to the south, on the edge of Montemor-O-Novo, is a wayside restaurant called A Ribeira. The food is simple but delicious, yet that’s not the primary reason to go. Carlos Carriço is the real draw. Ask nicely and the restaurant’s super simpatico proprietor-cum-waiter will offer to sing you the entire menu in his own self-composed rap.

Finish the day on the banks of the Odivelas reservoir, at the picturesque Markadia campsite. Located in an ecological reserve, close to an olive plantation, it’s a favourite among motorhome users in the know.

FARO: THE END OF THE ROAD

Highlights:

  • Aljustrel mines
  • spectacular viewpoints
  • Faro arrival

The citizens of Aljustrel have been extracting minerals and metals from beneath the rich, red soil here for centuries. The pits are mostly closed now, but the sight of mineshafts and tailing piles, pylon-like poppet heads and rusting machinery, is hugely evocative of Aljustrel’s former industrial age. Stop by and snap a few photos.

As the coast beckons, the road straightens. This is a landscape of big skies and fortunately, Portugal’s road planners built a number of convenient viewpoints along the route!

Finally, roll into Faro, the end of the road. Don’t waste time searching for a road marker to celebrate the fact: curiously, the last is to be found at 738km. Time for a celebratory drink? No problem: Faro’s old town has no shortage of bars and restaurants. For you the adventure may be over, but for those preparing for a trip with this itinerary, Siesta Campers campervan hire Faro is a great starting point should you choose to do this trip in reverse!

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