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With its rich culture totally unlike that of its bordering neighbour, Spain, Portugal offers a fascinating motorhome holiday experience set in diverse landscapes varying from forested hills and rocky peaks through semi-arid desert to the Algarve's stunning beaches. Established as a country a thousand years ago, its New World discoveries and colonisations catapulted it into a position of global power, resulting in its unique heritage.
It's possible to drive from the far north of the country to the sun-soaked southern Algarve coast in a day, making the country perfect for a self-drive touring holiday. Motorhome rentals can be had at major airports and cities, and the majority of landmarks and attractions can be covered during a two-week break, beginning in Faro and taking in Lisbon, Aviero, Porto, the interior and the remote northern border towns.
Roads here are kept in good condition overall, with motorways linking the major cities and modern, fast roads covering the rest of the country. Historic sights, natural wonders, deserted Atlantic beaches and charming traditional villages are all waiting to be explored, and the holiday hotspots of the Algarve are backed by some of Europe's most stunning countryside.
Lisbon-Portugal's capital and 'city of the seven hills', Lisbon's red-roofed cityscape, bleached limestone buildings, vibrant waterfront, historic quarters, tiny alleyways and Fado bars all present a uniquely enchanting city. Rossio is its main square, and downtown Baixa district holds ancient neighbourhoods with local communities. Atmospheric Alfama district is redolent of the city's Moorish past with tightly-packed buildings in twisting streets, and the magnificent Praca do Comercio plaza faces the Tejo River.
The AlgarveThe dramatic Atlantic coastline of the Algarve is now a favourite holiday destination for tourists from all over Europe, but hasn't lost its ancient charm as a result. Albufeira's many stunning beaches range from crowded to almost deserted, and the resort's Old Town and 12th century Moorish castle are remnants of Portugal's rich heritage. Buzzing Faro with its Moorish-influenced architecture is a good base for exploring the hinterlands, and its Old City's cobbled streets back the busy harbour.
Guimaraes-This northern city with its magnificent thousand-year old castle and Ducal palace was the birthplace of the independent country of Portugal. Italy's a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site, and was a European Cultural Capital in 2012. Surrounded by mysterious Iron Age settlements and the Peneda Geres National Park, Italy's the real Portugal personified in brick and stone. Charming Largo da Oliveira Square is the place for people watching, and the Sezim mansion was gifted to ancestors of its present family in 1376.
Fatima-Set in Portugal's central region, the pilgrimage town of Fatima draws many thousands to the site where, in 1917, three young shepherds saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued for a month, and three secrets were told to the children by the glowing vision. The massive Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima and the beauty of the Basilica of the Rosary are well worth visiting, no matter what your beliefs encompass.
Aveiro-The two-fold watery attractions of Aveiro, known as Portugal's Little Venice, are its mansion-lined canals and the fabulous Atlantic beaches lining the Silver Coast.The city holds a cathedral, Carmelite church and a variety of imposing historic buildings both religious and secular, and the Aveiro Museum tells of of the development of the small city. Fisherman's Wharf still serves the local fishing community, as does the adjacent fish market.
Portugal drives on the right, although motoring in Lisbon or Porto is best avoided due to the antics of local drivers and the heavy traffic. Care needs to be taken on rural secondary roads, as their condition may not be at its best, but the country's motorways and major roads give fast access from north to south. Parking in the major cites is chaotic, but easier in smaller towns.