Photos and words by Jessi Walker
In about the same amount of time it takes to watch most of the new season of Succession, East Coast travelers can hop over to a place so deeply rooted in culture, and with excellent surf, killer seafood, bohemian style, and some truly delicious booze packed into its DNA. Enter Portugal. Here’s Whalebone’s guide to road-tripping your way through.
First Stop: Porto
Welcome to the old city. Built on steep hills and famous for its Port wine, Porto is the perfect mix of contemporary in a place steeped in old-world history. When you arrive check into The Vila Foz Hotel & Spa, right outside of the main Porto attractions in the Foz do Douro neighborhood. Staying here allows for experiences a bit off the beaten track, with a low-key beachy feel, a local vibe, and some great food options. Set in a renovated manor house, the hotel has gorgeous, sweeping views of the Atlantic ocean which is right across the street, and a great stretch to take a nice morning stroll along. There’s also a world-class spa and beautiful indoor pool on the property—not too shabby.
After checking into the hotel, highly recommend grabbing some lunch at Casa Vasco within walking distance. This locals spot is an excellent first-meal choice with great people-watching, incredible tapas, and an awesome wine selection. For dinner, Cafeína is a beautiful option, set in an old townhouse, serving up European cuisine—reservations are highly recommended. If you’re looking to check out another local area, Matosinhos is a close drive from a great authentic Portuguese restaurant for great seafood, Casa Mariazinha.
While in Porto there are many options for a perfect day exploring. We suggest ditching your rental car and taking public transportation or a ride-share service into Porto’s main hub. We’re big print people over here, so opted to check out Livario Lello, the famous bookstore said to be ‘the most beautiful in the world’. Go early and buy a ticket online in advance to skip the long lines. From there, enjoy the easy walkability of Porto and check out all of the gorgeous architecture, old churches, and miradouros (viewpoints).
If you’re open to taking a long walk, might we recommend heading across the Luís I Bridge, this will take you into Gaia, where many of the Port Houses are located. Once you cross the bridge, there’s a tram that offers incredible views of Porto and a great way to head into the main section of town. Head to Av. de Ramos Pinto, a picturesque street along the Douro River with open-air restaurants, boat tours, local street art, and a great market.
No trip to Porto would be complete without sipping on some Port wine and learning the entrenched histories of how this typically sweet drink came to be. We recommend Graham’s Port Lodge, which has an excellent restaurant, Vinum, for lunch, and offers daily tours. We came into Porto not big fans of Port wine, but by the end of the experience had gained a newfound appreciation for the different styles. Give the white port spritz (Porto Tonico) a try, and thank us later.
Stop Two: Douro Valley
From Porto, head to the Douro Valley by train or car. We opted to drive (~2 hours) with a lunch stop at Cozinha da Clara at The Quinta de La Rosa. Checking in at the Quinta Nova de Nossa is an experience, as the drive is not for the faint of heart aka please do not attempt this drive at night. Once you’ve arrived, the property is situated on a vineyard-covered hillside, with a landscape that feels like you’ve been plopped smack into the center of a storybook.
The morning comes easy here, with an onsite restaurant and a setting where it feels almost wrong to not do a morning meditation or solo yoga session set amidst the lush greenery. Here in the Douro Valley, everything revolves around the main attraction: wine. We’d suggest setting up a tour of a few of the local vineyards, or better yet, a boat cruise on the Douro River.
Stop Three: Ericeira
Once you’ve had your fill of wine, it’s time to head to one of our absolute favorite destinations in Portugal: Ericeira. En route, we’d recommend stopping off in Nazaré, around a 3-hour drive from the Douro Valley for lunch and views. Once you’ve arrived, head to the Farol de Nazaré, the epic lighthouse which has played backdrop to some of the biggest waves ever surfed. Made most famous by Garrett McNamara and crew, the views are stunning and the lighthouse gives the power and insane size of the waves perspective.
The drive from Nazaré to Ericeira is a little over an hour, with the local town of Peniche not too far, where many local Portuguese surfers claim to grab the best waves. Once in Ericeira, check into the new Immerso Hotel. This hotel has literally been designed to melt into the landscape. It offers up great proximity to the local surf, two wonderful restaurants, and a daily breakfast that we’re still dreaming about.
Ericeira is a world-class surf destination. The beaches are spread out and plentiful, with the majority of beginners learning the ropes at Foz Do Lizandro, and more practiced surfers heading to Coxos, where there are also some fun hiking trails and views.
Apart from great surf, yoga, and soul-cleansing salty air, Ericeira is one of those towns that plays music throughout the speakers of the town square. Its small-town feel, and narrow, winding streets in the center of town feel trapped in time. The food is also really good. For healthy lunch options try GiG – Green is good, or Dear Rose Cafe and for dinner, Golfinho Azul is not to be missed.
If you have some more time to spare in Ericeira, there’s a strong digital nomad culture where you can find people working from the many local cafes. Or, try a day trip to Sintra, a not-too-far architectural masterpiece.
Stop Four: Comporta
Our favorite drive of the trip, an hour and a half from Ericeira to Comporta, takes you from Portugal’s Mafra region to the more southern Alentejo region. Along the way, you’ll notice the stark contrast in the landscape begins to shape up. The road becomes more rugged, you’ll notice wildflowers, rice paddies, and sandy dunes. A bohemian dream.
We stayed at The Quinta Da Comporta, complete with an infinity pool overlooking the rustic charm of the rice fields. Each room, each landscape, and each design is spectacular. Another wonderful option is the Sublime Comporta, a divine, unspoiled, and magical feeling property.
While in Comporta, the land is the treasure. Take in the long-empty beaches via horseback, head into the main stretch of town, and shop for unique treasures at local spots, Lavanda or Barracuda. Once you’re hungry, enjoy a delicious, no-frills experience at the roadside Dona Bia, or if you’re feeling more ‘whole-bottle-of-wine on the beach’ vibes, check out the Sublime Comporta Beach Club.
Stop Five: Lagos
Lagos is best enjoyed on the water. The sparkling blue waters and incredible rock formation of the Ponta da Piedade are so beautiful it’s almost tear-inducing. Lagos Old Town is wonderfully walkable, and filled with great bars and restaurants. Some of our favorites are: Tasca Do Kiko, A Barrigada, O Mexilhao, and Taberna do Comilao.
We stayed at an adorable Airbnb in a great area.
Stop Six: Lisbon
To close out your Portugal experience, you can’t miss checking out Lisbon. Our favorite thing to do here is get lost. The winding, sloped streets make for an excellent workout while immersed in culture.
Each neighborhood is unique and has its very own charms. Some of our most interesting explorations have happened in Barrio Alto, which truly comes alive at night, and Alfama, one of the oldest and most maze-like zones. In Alfama, head to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia for one of Lisbon’s most gorgeous views. Along the way, you’ll find locals selling homemade cherry liquor on the street.
Lisbon’s food scene is thriving. Our must-do recommendations are A Cevecheria, in the Principe Real neighborhood for absolutely perfect ceviche in an ultra-cool spot, and O Velho Eurico, where you’ll need to walk in and put your name down in advance. If you’re looking for a splurge, check out Mini Bar’s tasting menu by popular Portuguese chef José Avillez.