Portugal Roadtrip (Overview)

George picking oranges in Lagos

George picking oranges in Lagos

This past November, George and I took a road trip through Portugal, starting in Faro and ending in Lisbon.

In search of great flavors, new experiences and off-the-grid restaurants beloved by locals, we passed through the Algarve, Alentejo, and Lisbon regions along the way.

It was an unofficial honeymoon after we eloped in Scotland!

One thing I love about road trips is you can follow as the ingredients and cuisine changes with the landscape.

George and I both love to find the “hidden gems,” where the local hang out—the delicious and unpretentious restaurants on the side roads that are a window into how people live their lives, and what that food means to the people who made it.

Sesimbra’s Market was one of our favorites.

Sesimbra’s Market was one of our favorites.

A trip to the market usually guides our decisions on what to eat and cook:

It’s our first stop in a new place: after all, the market is the best place to feel the “local rhythms” and orient in the textures and the sounds of your surroundings. Not to mention, to understand what are the most fresh and local ingredients at that time.

This series is a love poem to Portuguese food: the ingredients and the people that make the cuisine so special…

…and the best hidden gems that we found along our trip.

The whole road trip took 10 days: Starting in the Algarve, we stayed in Alvor, Lagos, Evora, Sesimbra and ended in Lisbon.

But, let’s start from the top… (or rather, the bottom of Portugal…)

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THE ALGARVE

Follow our journey through the Algarve from: Faro—> Alvor—> Lagos—> Marmalete—> Monchique —>

Pastel de Nata in Lagos, Portugal

Pastel de Nata in Lagos, Portugal

Portugal’s Algarve region stretches from seaside Alvor to mountainous Monchique. The South has a Mediterranean climate and some of the freshest and most varied seafood options in all of Portugal.

In November, the markets were filled with olives, almonds and marzipan. It was more autumnal fruits like pomegranates, persimmons and apples, and dried ingredients that had been preserved through the fall. And of course, the fish. The streets were scented by fruit trees, the smoky smell of fish on the grill, and the omnipresent smell of Jasmine.

As you drive inland from Lagos toward the mountains of Monchique, the cuisine (evidenced by signs outside restaurants) shifts in emphasis away from seafood, and toward meat—in particular black pork, or porco preto.

Which, as you keep driving North, only continues through…


Photo: Goncalo Verdasca

Photo: Goncalo Verdasca

THE ALENTEJO

Follow our journey through the Alentejo Region:

Monchique—>Beja—>Évora—>

We drove through the the warm, dry plains of Southern Portugal’s Alentejo region in two days, past farms and vineyards that felt like they stretched into infinity. One of the coolest hotels I’ve ever stayed in was Pousada Evora. We spent ~ $100/ night to stay there. For someone who tries to keep overhead costs low, that counts as balling out LOL. It was so worth it!

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Sunset at Parque Natural de Arrebida

Sunset at Parque Natural de Arrebida

The trip from Évora to Sesimbra on Portugal’s North Western coast can be driven in 1.5 hours, but we took it slowly. We stopped a few times along the way and made a detour to go through Parque Natural de Arrebida, where we witnessed an outstanding sunset.

SETUBAL

Follow our journey through Setubal District:

Évora—>Setubal—>Sesimbra—>

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We spent a few days in Sesimbra and fell. in. love. with the town. It’s beautiful, has great food, a great market and a port right in town. We made friends with a local, Ali, who clued us in on all the best spots—his favorite beaches, coves and restaurants to hit on the drive up from Sesimbra to Lisbon. We visited:

Sesimbra—> Praia do Ribero—> Cabo Espichel—> Praia do Meco—> Lisbon


Sesimbra, Portugal

Sesimbra, Portugal

Ahh…Lisbon.

Seafood, pastel de nata, coffee and… more seafood (not to mention great wine and ginghiña) make Lisbon one of my all-time favorite food cities that I’ve ever visited. After all, it’s home to the Best Meal I’ve Ever Had… and some runners up.

To read our Lisbon for (Food) Lovers Guide, click here.

To read in-depth guides for each region, and recommendations for where to go along the way, check out our longer guides for each region:

  • Algarve for (Food) Lovers

  • Alentejo for (Food) Lovers

  • Lisbon for (Food) Lovers