Vanlife Portugal – Diary about our experiences in the Algarve, Alentejo, Nazaré, Serra de Estrela and Porto

Travelblog Portugal Vanlife

After our detour through the Doñana National Park including Romería in El Rocío and a short detour to Matalascañas, we head via El Rompido towards the Spanish-Portuguese border to continue our vanlife in Portugal. We cross the border river Guadiana on the Ponte Internacional do Guadiana. There is brief confusion about the Portuguese toll system. All you have to do is insert a credit card into a machine once. At the same time, the license plate is recorded and automatically linked to the credit card. From then on, the trip records and invoices will be created automatically. However, it is important to keep the first receipt from registering the credit card for possible traffic controls.

Portugal, Spain’s little sister, often forgotten and misunderstood in the past, is nowadays a place of longing not only for us. And this is not only due to its low prices, which, by the way, these days are not so cheap anymore. Culinary (Pastéis de Nata, Vinho Verde, Port wine …) as well as scenic and human the country absolutely picks us up. What else makes Portugal so special for us, we describe in another article.

Eastern Algarve: Tavira, Fuseta and the Ria Formosa

Already about 30 km after the border, our first stop awaits us Tavira, or rather the even more beautiful, somewhat sleepy Cabanas de Tavira, located directly on the Ria Formosa. Small cab motorboats can ferry you to the beach within a minute for €1.50 round trip. There I do a kite course at Kitesurf Eolis under almost perfect conditions.

A few days later, after a chance visit to a local small-field soccer tournament, we continue our journey. Following the novels of Gil Ribeiro we make a short stop in Fuseta and drink like Lost in Fuseta * a Bica at the harbor. It must be said that Ribeiro (whose real name is Holger Karsten Schmidt, by the way, and who is German) captures and describes the atmosphere of the region very well. All in all, an entertaining, light read and a nice introduction to the eastern Portuguese Algarve, especially for vacationers.

Fuseta Ria Formosa
View of the Ria Formosa in Fuseta

Next stop is then Olhão with its equally beautiful and lively market in and around the Mercados municipais de Olhão, where we stock up on fresh vegetables from local small farmers. The fish offer is also rich, but at this time we pass.

After a few nights in the beautiful and thankfully not overdeveloped tourist area between Loulé and São Brás de Alportel, we visit the nearby cork factory Eco-Fábrica de Cortiça Francisco Carrusca.

Cork in the cork factory

Eco-Fábrica de Cortiça Francisco Carrusca

Western Algarve: Albufeira – Vanlife in Portugal

From there we pass Faro and drive the 50 km to Albufeira. Here we see a completely different picture compared to the tranquil fishing villages in the east. Albufeira is a touristy place with a very nice beach, but also the typical nightlife and the corresponding crowd. Sometimes the siren sounds from the megaphone of an English soccer team on its end-of-season tour. Nevertheless, it must be said that Albufeira, although designed for party people in certain areas, has some very nice corners and has managed to retain a certain charm overall.

Albufeira shopping street
Shopping street and restaurants in Albufeira

Southwest: Alentejo, Tamera and the open Atlantic Ocean to Lisbon

Since we already know the southwestern tip of Portugal including Sagres from previous trips, we now drive a longer distance north. At Ecovillage Tamera , a working and living community, we will take part in an open afternoon where we will be given a brief but interesting insight into living together there and the technological approaches to sustainable living. There, for example, an attempt is being made to defy the extreme drought on the Iberian Peninsula, which has been going on for a long time, with a water retention landscape.

We continue west via Odemira, to the open Atlantic Ocean. A quick mention about this: although the Portuguese Algarve is on the Atlantic Ocean (because west of the Strait of Gibraltar), the Portuguese south coast actually feels more like the Mediterranean. The west coast, on the other hand, which is on the open Atlantic Ocean, is much rougher, has higher waves and lower water temperatures. However, tends to be the more beautiful sandy beaches, as we can experience, for example, in Vila Nova de Milfontes or near Melides. And always remarkable in all this: There is hardly anything going on. Of course, motorhomes come towards you again and again, you stand on the few overnight sites that are available at Park4Night alone – vanlife in Portugal is popular – and there are some tourists in the towns. However, at no point does it feel overcrowded or crowded.

Beach near Melides
Beach near Melides

Ribatejo and eastern Alentejo to the Spanish border

This is even more true for the interior of the country, where we are headed next. It is important to know that about 95% of tourism in Portugal is concentrated exclusively on the coast. As soon as you move a few kilometers away from it, it seems almost extinct in parts. This is extremely unfortunate (depending on the angle of view, of course), because especially scenically, the Portuguese heartland also has a lot to offer. Coruche, for example, is a small town that lies on the small river Sorraia and offers a nice little river beach. Because we like this region so incredibly much, we can even imagine settling down here and setting up a small sustainable tourism project. For this reason, we are also looking at first properties and lands and are considering giving up vanlife in Portugal. However, there are a lot of legalities to consider when looking for property in Portugal and prices have risen rapidly during the Corona pandemic.

Here in the center of Portugal, there are also some beautiful corners around reservoirs, such as Albufeira da Barragem do Maranhão, and overall the region doesn’t seem quite as dry as the Alentejo. However, this may well be deceptive and a snapshot in time. The waterline of the reservoir recedes several meters during the few days we spend there – at temperatures well above 30 degrees.

Continuing east, towards the Spanish border we visit the Coffee Museum Portugal Centro de Ciência do Café near Campo Maior and continue on to Badajoz, Spain, to visit a Mercadona again (and buy the fantastic Don Simon Limón lemonade and fried egg-flavored potato chips), get cheap gas, and pick up a package from an Amazon Hub Locker. does deliver to Portugal, but unfortunately this is not possible with all products and sometimes involves additional costs.

Greenhouse at the Centro de ciencia do Cafe coffee museum in Portugal
Coffee plants in the greenhouse of the Centro de ciencia do Cafe coffee museum in Portugal

Back in Portugal, we spend three great nights at the small, fairly new campground Parque de Campismo Rural Lapa dos Gaivões on the edge of the Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede, with some hiking in the beautiful surroundings and a few (but rather unspectacular) cave paintings.


As beautiful as the Portuguese hinterland is, we are drawn back towards the Atlantic. Even if in high summer the weather is too nice for monster waves, we visit the Famous Lighthouse and Praia do Norte in Nazaré, where surfers like Sebastian Steudtner set world records. The place itself is unfortunately not nice at all and puts everything on tourism, which is why we spend a few, partly very foggy, days on a hill outside the city gates.

Pitch above Nazaré
Pitch above Nazaré

Serra de Estrela

But the topic of finding a plot of land won’t let us go and we head east again. There, not only cheaper prices attract, but also the beautiful mountain landscape of the Serra da Estrela. We start in the west of the Serra in the region around Oliveira do Hospital, drive from there via Guarda to Fundao and then back on the beautiful N230 on the southern edge of the Serra de Estrela. After a stopover at the Poço da Broca de Barriosa waterfall near Vide, which has a very impressive water distribution system for the adjacent fields and vegetable patches, we head towards Porto via Penacova.

Water canal system near Poço da Broca on the edge of the Serra de Estrela
Water channel system of the Poço da Broca de Barriosa near Vide on the edge of the Serra de Estrela

Porto and the Douro Valley

When we arrive in Porto, we set up camp on the very inexpensive pitch in Sao Romao, from where you can easily get to Porto’s old town by train in half an hour. But be careful when buying tickets. We have paid unnecessarily high prices.

In Porto’s old town, the impressive bridges over the Douro, a guided tour including a tasting at the port wine producer Cockburn and fado in a small group await us, but in the touristy places, from which we largely keep away, there are also crowds and jostling. Of course, there is also a detailed report on our activities in Porto.

Continuing on the trail of port wine, we leave the ocean behind us again and drive along the Douro to the wine-growing regions where the grapes for port wine are cultivated.

Night view over the Douro valley near Armamar
Night view over the Douro valley near Armamar

to be continued …

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