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Sex | 13.07.18

Drive half a country through Portugal's route 66

 

August, four days and one goal in mind: to be in Chaves on Saturday at 16.30 to attend the match between the local team and Portimonense.

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This was what we knew the day before the road trip started. The original idea was quite simple: to drive to Braga and stroll through Minho, stopping in Guimarães, before heading to Chaves. I had nothing against it, of course. But what if we took the chance to see something else and do something different?

 

I have no idea how I came across an article about Estrada Nacional 2, which runs through the country from the north (Chaves) to the south (Faro), but it seemed a good starting point for our trip. We like to travel across countries, as we have realized while doing the California Zephyr. The fantastic Chaves-Portimonense game, in the end, made everything seem written in the stars.

 

The idea of going down from Lisbon to the Algarve and making the whole N2 to the north crossed our minds, but we quickly remembered that the following Monday was a workday. Where should we begin our trip, then?

 

The first dive

 

Mora, Montemor or Montargil were the most obvious options. Having arrived from Évora on the morning of that day, I was not dying to feel myself going back, so Montemor was out. The difference between Mora and Montargil is minimal, so we decided to go directly to the dam and start there, in Montargil.

 

Just before lunch, we had our bags packed and water bottles ready to start the trip. The only thing we knew was that three and a half days later we had to be in Chaves in time for the game. What we'd do until then was still to be seen.

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With Estrada Nacional 2 at sight, we also saw the first glimpse of the dam. We couldn't resist to stop and dive and decided it was the perfect opportunity to start a tradition that would follow us for the next few days: to get near a dam or a fluvial beach, park the car, change clothes and dive headfirst into waters that were warmer than we would have anticipated.

 

The lagoon created by the Montargil dam is huge and has several access points to the water. We didn't get too far and were almost intruders in the middle of two families camped on the banks, trying to fish their next meals. The water was warm and we splashed around a bit before deciding it was time to get back on the road. It was the beginning of the adventure.

 

Stop by the castle

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The road to Abrantes went with no history, even with the charm of passing by Ponte de Sôr's airfield. The plate of Domingão City, a memory from other adventures, had already been changed to Domingão. We were driving for an hour and, suddenly, the hunger kicked in and made us look for something to eat. 

 

Arriving in Abrantes, way past lunchtime, we decided to stop at the Castle for a real photo op and to feed our needs. We noticed that, as we entered the Alcaide across the street, the owner was careful enough to switch the television from a bullfighting to a music channel.

 

After satisfying the stomach and the eyes (the landscape was really something), we headed towards Vila de Rei - the only place we knew we were also visiting before we left Lisbon. But even before we got there, a sign indicating the fluvial beach of Penedo Furado took us to another detour. And another dive.

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Now, after being there, we know that it is a fluvial beach known and recognized for its natural beauty. Maybe that's why it was the only one we felt too crowded. The road to get there is winding, and it was filled with parked cars still far from the water. As luck protects the daring, we kept on going with confidence and we got close to the beach. New change of clothes, one more dive in that limpid water where there was no shortage of fish, and we could go on on our way... feeling fresher.

 

The center of Portugal, literally, was ahead. "Being in the geodesic center is such a useless pleasure, but so cool," was what we were told, and is actually a good description. We just wanted to say that we had been there, in the true center of Portugal, and seen the view from up above. That is why it was the only star marked on our map.

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We found an almost deserted location (with free wifi!) and an unbelievable noise of wind gusts that we couldn't feel. No regrets.

 

With the end of the day approaching, the time had come to decide where to sleep. And, let me tell you, it is not an easy task to get a place to sleep outside the big tourist centers halfway through August. The solution? Spend the night in Ferreira do Zêzere. The only problem was crossing the worst bridge I've ever crossed in my life (blame vertigo...).

 

Important tip? Do not assume it will be easy to have dinner on a national holiday in August.

 

The bridge that made us crazy

 

Day 2 of our trip began with vertigo (yes, the bridge again), going back to N2. We were in the middle of an area that was blazed last year, and there is no way you can drive through there without feeling a chill. With every new bend or narrowing of the road, we started thinking about how we would survive if there was a fire that moment.

 

To forget about it, we decided to move on to a new dive. Before, however, the indication of "Ponte Filipina" (bridge from the 16th century) caught our attention. We felt the urge of adventure and decided to go... ignoring what could happen.

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Built during the Philippine dynasty in Portugal (1580-1640), the bridge is beautiful, linking the two banks of the Zêzere, but the way to get there - and to get out of there... is not the best, let's put it that way. We were surprised when we saw a car parked at the beginning of the descent when the map indicated that we were still a kilometer away. But we decided to keep on going.

 

Then it was too late to go back: the road is narrow, always going down on dangerous slopes, slippery and in poor condition, even in the summer. "How will we turn back when we get down there?" started to be a stubborn thought that we couldn't forget. Fortunately, the map showed us that the road seemed a little bit better on the other side of the river.

 

After a pitstop for photos, we had to go. A moment of slight panic arrived when the wheels of our urban car got stuck in a hole, but we managed to get out of there and back to the N2.

 

Pedrógão Grande: a land of kayaks... and rocks

 

We thought of going to the fluvial beach of Troviscal but ended up choosing the Pedrógão Grande dam. Good choice. Upon arrival, we were presented with the vision that makes the heart of one of us stop - kayaks!

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The opportunity was irresistible and not even a not very functional hip/leg (four months after surgery) was a dealbreaker to the 30 minutes of physical exercise that allowed us to reach the other side of the reservoir and take a dive away from the (few) people that were spending the day at the dam. Unfortunately, this also meant that we stayed away from the protection of the floating pool: a foot hit on a rock and put the return trip at risk, but we managed to do it. Nevertheless, we were forced to change the driver and to visit the nearest pharmacy.

 

Diving stopped being an option - at least until the foot got better - so we decided to drive towards the «Aldeias do Xisto» (Schist Villages). The road that connects Pena, Aigra Velha, Aigra Nova, and Comareira to the N2 is not for weak stomachs, and it takes some time, but it is well worth it.

 

In Pena, three or four streets with traditional stone houses, mixed with others of more recent construction, lie on a cliff that has, in the background, a river that seems to invite us to dive. On a hot day like the one we were in, you don't see anyone on the street, and maybe that's also the reason we could not even walk for more than a few minutes. Even so, successful detour.

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We crossed the Mondego river in Penacova almost without realizing it, and in an instant, we left behind the district of Coimbra. Without major improvements on the foot, the dives remained on hold and we decided to get as close to the city of Viseu as possible. We took a tour of Santa Comba Dão and Tondela before stopping again to make a decision: where will we sleep today? We chose Nelas, forcing us to leave «our» road again.

 

Day 3 - from Viseu to Trás-os-Montes

 

The time we passed driving started to make itself felt and a good night's sleep was reinvigorating. In the morning, (relatively) early, we continued our trip towards Viseu, where we took the opportunity to visit Fontelo Park, where Académico plays. Once again, as luck protects the audacious, we arrive during the training session and there it is, Manuel Cajuda surrounded by players in a secondary field.

 

While leaving Viseu, we notice that the landscape is not the same one we saw the previous day. Even the burnt sections have a different aura from the more southerly ones and the houses we pass by seem to scream "Beira Alta". It is a beautiful, and different, road to the first stop of the day: the fluvial beach of Folgosa.

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We got there before lunchtime and there were not many people: some families spread towels in the shade, but the noise is almost minimal and there are not many people in the water. We decide to go in with confidence, half stumbling because the stones of the riverbed are not friendly. Around us, a handful of fish nibbles our feet and legs. The water is the coldest we get on our trip, but also the most clear and serene. We could stay there for hours... but we just kept on going.

 

We stop at Lamego to have lunch and take a stroll around the city. Curiously, we took some time to realize the «Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios» (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies). Inspired by Bom Jesus do Monte, in Braga, it challenges us to a climb, but it's so hot that we just decide to glare it from the bottom.

 

The road to Peso da Régua is winding and crowded with vineyards, with the Douro river lurking from time to time in the distance. For the first time these days, we get stuck in the traffic for a few minutes - to cross the bridge. We decided to continue our trip with the Sordo Dam in mind, the place where we would get our last dive.

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We have read comments saying the water was clear and warm. Knowing the area, and the resilience of the transmontanos (people from Trás-os-Montes), I had my doubts about the hot part - but the truth is that there is no other way to describe the temperature of the water. Great choice for those who are close (even if the road to get there is not good).

 

The end of the road

 

It was also in the dam that we decided that it would be a good idea to spend the night in Chaves (or nearby) to be able to rest more than we had done until then. After the game, we would only have 24 hours to get back home, and it would be good to have our eyes open.

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Thus, the passage through Vila Real was just an express version and the main concern began to be to book a place to sleep at the final destination. We knew from the research we did that hotels in the city were practically fully booked, at least for online reservations. Our hope was the traditional pensions and residences that we would pass along the way.

 

With Chaves getting closer and closer we began to notice names, make stops and calls. We kept hearing the same words: "we have no rooms available". We decided to go to the stadium, where we'd buy the tickets for the next day's match and another jersey for our collection. With nothing to lose, we took the opportunity to explain our situation and ask the employees if they had any idea where we could stay overnight.

 

It was the best decision we could make: that allowed us to book the last available room in a hotel just outside the city. "Do not forget to tell them you are coming from their Chaves's friends, I'm a neighbor," one of them told us. The message was given and our journey came to an end.

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