Over the summer I spent an amazing week camping and driving around northern Portugal, and we drove all the way there from Caceres, in Extremadura (Spain). This roughly 500 km journey (1000 km round trip) was a long drive, but we managed to find some great places to break up the journey as well as see a bit more of these two countries. A long long drive can sometimes take the joy out of a road trip, and start to make your regret not flying and making things simple. And so for every trip that I take that involves a lot of driving, I like to find interesting spots along the way to ensure that the journey is not too painful.
We chose to cross the border through the Serra de Sao Mamede National Park, which although it was right in the middle of summer, was beautiful and fairly green. This national park also has some incredible hiking routes and well signposted route planning. In the past I've driven through here and there have been some small fires, and in the mid-summer period this region is incredibly dry, so keep an eye out. The scenery in northern Portugal is constantly changing, and you drive through bone-dry forests, and then out into green valleys and then through winding and twisting tree lined roads. The drive is stunning, and almost worth the trip on its own!
On the way to Porto, around 120 km south is the city of Coimbra and the Roman ruins at Conimbriga. This city is a fantastic stop off point when driving to Porto, with the beautiful University of Coimbra Botanical Garden and the Choupal National Forest. This forest was planted to attempt to reign in flood water damage from the Mondego River in the 1790's, but now is perfect for walking, jogging and cycling. It's only a few minutes drive from the centre of the city, but once there you can feel completely separated from the outside world. The Roman ruins at Conimbriga are spectacular, and my first visit there was a complete surprise, and the level of preservation and detail is stunning.
The Reserva Natural das Dunas de Sao Jacinto is only 60 km from Porto, and is the perfect place to stop off for a picnic and coffee among the sand dunes. This reserve is also home to some amazing animals too, with hundreds of unusual and rare birds to spot. After a large fire in the 80's, a huge lake was artificially created to help with raising water levels in the area, but it also had the unanticipated effect of becoming a temporary home for many migrating birds. They use the lake as a safe stop-over spot - just like you can and should! And so these three stopping spots should break up the journey enough to turn the long drive into an absolute pleasure!
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