So now we move onto the second half of my road trip across Portugal. Although I loved northern Portugal, I hear it rains a lot, and I’m not really a fan of rain. I knew this already but needed to see for myself what it was all about in the north. I conducted a ton of research before embarking on my road trip, on blogs and Facebook groups, and one place that kept coming up was Caldas da Rainha. Everyone said this would be the perfect place to meet all my needs. Did I like it? You’ll see below, but first, after let’s continue south from Aveiro where I made a stop in Leiria for a couple of days.
A very sweet lady on a Portugal Facebook group kindly offered to show me around Leiria since she was born there and was in-between jobs. She was able to give me a full tour of the city along with the history, which was a very special afternoon. Leiria has a castle right in the middle of the city on a hill so you can see it from almost every place in town, with a lot of cool street art, and a really nice chilled vibe. It wasn’t overly packed, there were no tourists in sight, so I consider it a lovely city, but maybe not one that is on people’s radars to visit on holiday. We ate lunch at a cozy vegetarian cafe called Tamari that has a buffet. Are you seeing the pattern here? The best time to eat out is for lunch when prices are affordable and you find either a buffet or set menu. There are a number of vegan-friendly places and natural food markets so you’ll be set if you visit Leiria.
South of Leiria is two must-see monasteries that are both World Heritage UNESCO sites – Batalha and Alcobaça. These could be seen on day trips from Leiria or you can do what I did and hit both if your road trip takes you south anyways. I was feeling cheap so I didn’t pay the extra to see the monastery part but inside the church was free and lovely to see. Since I’m moving to Portugal, I’ll check out the paid part when I have friends in town. Batalha is known for its exquisite and unique architecture and design on the outside while Alcobaça (seen in the photo above) is the opposite.
Caldas da Rainha
Funny enough, I don’t have any photos from Caldas da Rainha. There just wasn’t anything to see there. It’s very much a locals-only kind of city with no tourists that I could see. I stayed with a local teacher who had a very affordable Airbnb with a private room and bath for only 24€ a night. Caldas has a small city center with a great farmer’s market, but not much else. Only two or three cafes have vegan options on the menu, and the food isn’t that good. I’m not sure why so many people move there or suggested it to me from the expat Facebook groups, but this general area of Portugal is great. Caldas has close proximity to other great attractions like Obidos and many lovely beaches are within thirty minutes or less like Nazare, Baleal, Peniche and more. So I guess it makes some sense *shrug*.
This adorable little village is up on a hill with lovely white buildings, a castle and brick wall built around the city. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it really is lovely to walk around Obidos. It’s known for the wall you can actually walk on around town, it’s cherry liquor (which I did not partake in) and it’s fourteen bookstores. There’s a little cafe called Avocado where I had a nice vegan wrap and latte for 4.50€. You will definitely want to stop in Obidos if you are planning a road trip in the area.
As you can see, the photos from this part of the trip are hit and miss because I got a ton of rain. After I left, Portugal continued to have weeks on end of rain, which was much needed after the hot summer and many fires. Before planning to meet my friend Maya in Lisbon I stopped in a little beach town for a short 3-day yoga retreat. A chose a place outside of Ericeira because it was really affordable, but it was totally basic and didn’t include meals. It was fun to check out the little beach town of Ericeira though, and you’ll find many good vegan options and an organic market. I don’t surf (see blog about my first time surfing in Bali), but the beaches around this area of Portugal supposedly have the best waves. There was actually a surf competition happening while I was in town but I didn’t dare go because I don’t like crowds. It would have been nice to stay near the beach, but it was nice to get some yoga and relaxation in anyways.
Sintra is the epitome of a tourist trap, although beautiful in its own right. It’s up in the mountainous region about a forty minute train ride northwest of Lisbon. If you decide to drive there park your car and take the tourist bus that does a loop around all the points of interest. The hilly roads are tiny and it looked quite scary to drive. We chose the 15€ hop-on/hop-off bus option that also took you south to Cabo do Roca and Cascais. It’s a bit of a rip-off but there’s not much else you can do. You don’t want to walk it! It’s also very expensive to go inside the National Palace and all the attractions, plus the queue is an hour-long or more sometimes so we decided to walk around it. I’ll be moving to Portugal, so I can visit these landmarks in the offseason. There isn’t much in the way of vegan food around the tourist circuit, so pack lots of snacks and eat before you head there if doing a day trip. In the town of Sintra, there are a few veg-friendly options but we opted to wait till we got back to Lisbon.
After Sintra we made a stop in Cabo da Roca, which is the most western tip of continental Europe. There’s nothing really there, but it was cool to see. That will take you ten minutes. Then you’ll head to the beach town of Cascais. We only made a brief stop at sundown to grab a juice (and for Maya to grab a sangria) and walk around the small city center. I plan to spend more time here on my next visit over the holidays. A lot of people in the expat FB groups love Cascais, so I need to see what it’s all about.
I stayed for four nights in Lisbon with my friend Maya. Sintra and Cascais took a whole day to visit and we spent the other days trying to see as much as Lisbon as possible. Lisbon is the largest city in Portugal, boasting a population of three million in the greater metropolitan area. It is also the most popular tourist destination, so when I was there in October it was overrun with people. Because of this, I wasn’t a fan, but the many people I’ve met that live there absolutely love it. Guess you need to be a bit further out from the city center to get a community vibe and not rub elbows with thousands of tourists. I will be there over Christmas, so I’m looking forward to fewer people and the lovely lit up streets and squares.
The vegan food in Lisbon is diverse and plentiful, as you would expect any large city in Europe to have. But it’s much more affordable than other western European cities. Most of our meals were under 10€, while the fancier meals we had at Legumi and O Botanista were about 15€ each. There are thirty-four vegan listings on HappyCow and over three hundred veg-friendly options in Lisbon, so everyone is going to be happy! And they have a vegan donut and ice cream shop that is really tasty so you are set.
You may be wondering why I’m not featuring Coimbra, which is a lovely town directly in the center of Portugal. The main reason for this – it’s too far from both Porto and Lisbon airport so I didn’t spend any time there. My goal is to be around an hour from either airport to make it easier for retreat attendees to get to my property. After giving it some thought, and actually visiting Portugal, I have decided I will be moving somewhere in the general area to a smaller village within an hour north of Lisbon. I go back for another 3 weeks (on Tuesday!) to look for a property to buy so I can realize my dream of having a retreat center and vegan bed and breakfast! More news on that very soon.
If you have any questions at all about Portugal, leave them in the comments. Even in just a short three-week trip I fell in love with the country and the Portuguese. I’m looking forward to settling down there and integrating soon.