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Lisbon and the north of Portugal

March 17th, 2024

Lisbon has a low emissions zone so we cannot enter the city proper but Fran found a small parking lot on the north side of the Vasco de Gama bright near a park.  This park turned out to be very busy on a Sunday but we managed to get a spot when someone left as we pulled in.

We decided to walk the lovely walking/cycling path and it went past playgrounds, basketball courts, a skate board park and then we realized it went all the way into the city along the water.

When we reached the Myria Hotel, we saw the Vasco de Gama Tower:

The tower is the tallest structure in the country at 145 m / 475 ‘.  From here you can catch a cable car about a kilometre to just past the city’s aquarium if you like.

Since we’d made it this far from Minou and we did plan to visit the city’s aquarium called L’Oceanario, we decided to go today as there was nothing else around it in this part of city we wanted to see.

As it was about 11:30 we figured we should stop and eat first so we found a sandwich restaurant and ate there with a couple of beers before continuing to walk along the boardwalk passing the MEO Arena and the Plaza of Nations in front of the Vasco de Gama mall with its two spires.

We arrived at the aquarium about 12:30 and the line up was long.  To beat it, as we stood in line we went to the website and bought two tickets and were able to enter the other line that had no one in it.

The Oceanarium is supposed to be the largest aquarium in Europe and the main tourist attraction in the city.  After you enter you follow a dark hallway to a theatre where you watch a film projected on both sides of another hallway.

It was well done and then we carried on into the building.  There was a central aquarium full of many creatures: small sharks, rays and fish which was quite mesmerizing.


Our first ever Inca Terns:


All around the outside were exhibits and small aquariums showing undersea life from various parts of the world.

The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the few aquariums in the world to house a sunfish :

Here for the first time we saw sea dragons!:

When we were done, we walked back to Minou stopping at the mall for  cold coke zero for the walk back.  The parking lot was still very busy and another section had been opened up.  We grabbed our large beach blanket and went to sit under a nearby tree to read.

We left the park around 8:30 on Monday morning looking to get some body work done on the bumper of Minou which had been “banged around a bit lately”.  However, being in a large city, each place we went to said “maybe next week – make an appointment” so we gave up here and Doug will look into making an appointment in Porto up north.

We found a place outside the low emissions zone on the west side of the city and went there to park.  There were two RV’s already parked there and plenty of room left.  From here we walked downhill about a click to the Tower of Belem.

Belém Tower (literally: Bethlehem Tower), officially the Tower of Saint Vincent, is a 16th-century fortification located that served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. This tower symbolizes Portugal’s maritime and colonial power in early modern Europe. It was built during the height of the Portuguese Renaissance, and is a prominent example of the Portuguese Manueline style, but it also incorporates other architectural styles, such as the minarets, which are inspired by Moorish architecture. The structure was built from lioz limestone and is composed of a bastion and a 30 m / 100’ four-storey tower.

Since 1983, the tower has been a UNESCO Site. It is often portrayed as a symbol of Europe’s Age of Discovery and as a metonym for Portugal or Lisbon, given its landmark status. It has incorrectly been stated that the tower was built in the middle of the Tagus and now sits near the shore because the river was redirected after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In fact, the tower was built on a small island in the Tagus River near the Lisbon shore.

This was quite impressive in that it was very much intact.

We found our Portuguese Christmas Ornament souvenir here (made of cork!) and then took a tuk-tuk tourist cab into the city.  We told the driver what we wanted to see enroute and he took us that way.

First it was past the Jeronimo Monastery – the most visited monument in Lisbon (closed today) and then drive by the pink national Palace but we couldn’t see much due to the pink outer fence.

As we headed towards the city centre, we could see Portugal’s, Christ the Redeemer on the opposite side of the Tagus River near the Democracy Bridge (modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge).  It was quite far to get a photo on this mostly cloudy morning but here’s what we got and another shot from Google:

The Sanctuary of Christ the King is a Catholic monument and shrine dedicated to the  of Jesus Christ overlooking the city of Lisbon situated in Almada. It was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janeiro, after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited that monument. The project was inaugurated on 17 May 1959. The giant statue was erected to express gratitude because the Portuguese were spared the direct destructive effects of World War II.

Upon arriving at Placa Comercio, our driver dropped us and we were quite surprised by the size and grandeur of this square.  It faces the water and on the shore is a monument of columns.  While walking towards it, we passed an enterprising man making an painting rock cairns and then a fellow on the beach making sand sculptures that reminded us of our time in Rio.

Us at the Columns monument:
We walked in the square itself for a bit and then up the pedestrian street through the arch to find a place to try some “pastels de nata” recommended by Fran’s Portuguese friend, Dina.  We found the latter, bought a couple and then went in search of a place to have lunch before indulging in this treat.

We tried the Portuguese pastry called “pastels de nata”: which was nice but not really not something either of us would go out of our way for.  It’s a small egg custard filled pie.

We found a small café in the middle of the pedestrian street called “Paul” where they serve all day breakfast and had a nice meal before our dessert above:

We then walked over to the Alfama district to walk the small winding streets to a mirador with a view across the river and the city.

Most the rest of the sights in Lisbon are churches and museums, none of which really grabbed us so we found a taxi and took it back to Minou where we spent a quiet afternoon.

For a complete peak at all our photos, click  here .

Tuesday morning, Fran woke and felt, yes, she had a cold; the sniffles had begun and she was feeling tired and a bit run down – not sleeping well hasn’t helped.

It was another one tunnel day.

We left our little camp spot around 8am and drove along the south coast west of Lisbon. We stopped at a large Intermarché to stock up and then drove to the beach town of Cascais – well renowned for its clean and sustainable beaches – there are more than four of them; none all that large but they were clean.

Parking is not free anywhere in the city and we found a spot about a click away from the most westerly beach and walked in.

We saw the five beaches in this town all sort of one after another along the coast:

Pic and then walked around small point where we could see more small sandy beaches

We walked back to Minou through town:

We then continued along the coast to the western most point of mainland Europe:  Cabo de Roca.  It was super windy here but mostly sunny.

Fran was not feeling great and hoped we could spend the rest of today and that night here but nothing panned out so we pushed on.

Doug had found an RV accessories store in Portugal about a week ago that he wanted to stop at to get a few things and we made our way there and actually found what he needed.

We then pushed on 17 km / 9 miles to Mafra where Fran found a large free aire and we settled there around 1pm nabbing the last RV spot!  It’s really not a proper aire, but a large parking area behind a small bus station that has large truck spots for tractor trailers in one corner and 7 RV spots in another (there were other RV’s in regular spots as well) and there is a dumping and filling station (the latter for a fee) available near the RV part.

Doug went for a walk and Fran spent the afternoon resting.  By that evening, Fran felt another day of rest would be helpful so she suggested that Doug should do one of his marathon walks and as tomorrow is Wednesday, that worked into his exercise routine perfectly.  It got cool here at night but it was very quiet.  Doug was out the door early and went on a successful and enjoyable walk that he was very pleased with.  Fran spent the day chilling, did one 15 minute short walk to get air and was feeling much better today.

She saw the UNESCO site of the Mafra Palace and Monastery which is huge but did not go inside.

It is a monumental Baroque and Neoclassical palace-monastery.  The palace, which also served as a Franciscan friary, was built during the reign of King John V (1717–1750), as consequence of a vow the king made in 1711, to build a convent if his wife, Queen Mariana, gave him offspring. The birth of his first daughter the Infanta Barbara of Portugal, prompted construction of the palace to begin. The palace was conveniently located near royal hunting preserves, and was usually a secondary residence for the royal family.

The sun shone most of the day and although it didn’t get into the 20’s today, it was comfortable.

On his walk Doug saw the remains of a fort about which he read the British had a presence here which surprised us both. (more later on this)

We heard from a local that “mud rains” are coming to Portugal.  This is caused by sandstorms in the Sahara that get blown northwest to Portugal and western Spain.  We could see from the forecast that rain will start next week for several days.  Mmmmhhh…

We left Mafra Thursday morning continuing northward – means it’s not so warm……

As we drove north, we passed through the town of Torres Vedras.  Here we encountered this “British” presence in Portugal once again.  You could see the more substantial remains of a fort up on the hill above the town.

The Lines of Torres Vedras were the lines of forts and other military defenses built in secrecy to defend Lisbon during the Peninsular War.  Named after the town, they were ordered by the British Viscount Wellington, constructed by Colonel Fletcher and his Portuguese workers between November 1809 and September 1810.  They were used to stop Marshal Massena’s 1810 offensive.  The Lines were declared a National Heritage by the Portuguese Government in March 2019.  

We first drove to the seaside town of Peniche where Praia deo Baleal is located – another of the top ten beaches in the country and this one did not disappoint, as the past couple have.  You have to park and walk on a boardwalk through the dunes which are made of lovely, soft sand and then you see the large crescent shaped beach with great waves!

It’s too made it wasn’t warm enough to sit here for a while.  The wind was quite strong and the water was apparently quite cold as we saw a fellow walk in and “yelp”.

It’s very clean, a good width with what looked like a gentle slope – would have been a great boogie boarding beach too!  As we walked back to Minou we saw a bunch of surfers heading out.

We headed back inland to the small city of Obidos that had a cheap RV aire with water/dumping services for 6€ a night and it was right outside the old village next to an aqueduct.

We got a spot (there weren’t too many left) and then went for a walk to explore the village before having lunch.

It has high city walls, a few churches and some entrance gates as well as a lot of ambience.

Gate we entered through:

We found a swing up near the top of one of the walls and it had a lovely view of over the walled city.

We found two churches:

St. Mary’s


And walked down the main touristy lane

Before leaving via a different town gate that was tiled inside:

We returned to Minou for a relaxing afternoon.  It clouded up at the day went by and Friday was about that way all day; first we thought it was fog, but nope, although you could at times make out the sun up there, it never really poked itself out.   Then we remembered the “dust storms” coming from Africa – this must be the “fog” we’re experiencing.  We left around 8:30 and made our way to check another beach, Praia Nazare but enroute found Praia de São Martinho do Porto – which was much nicer anyway.  It had dunes and a boardwalk and looked like it could be quite lovely if it wasn’t so full of the dust from the Sahara!

We did stop at Praia Nazare anyway and it was nice to us did not rate top ten status.  The sand was coarse and the beach was not nice and shallow; there were a lot of fishing boats and we saw some fisherman selling dried fish right on the beach.

As we approached the largish city of Leiria, we found ourselves behind a Google Streets vehicle.  We noted our location and will check in a couple of weeks to see if Minou was on camera!

We arrived at our destination at the small town of Condeixa-a-Velha before 11:30 today.  The plan was to park here in the parking lot for the night as well as visit the Roman ruins of Conimbriga this afternoon.

Conímbriga is one of the largest Roman settlements excavated in Portugal, and was classified as a National Monument in 1910.  It is a walled urban settlement, encircled by a curtain of stone structures approximately 1,500 m / 4,900’ long. Entrance to the settlement is made from vaulted structures consisting of two doors (one on hinges), at one time defended by two towers. The walls are paralleled by two passages, channeled to excavations, that remove water infiltration from the walls. The urban settlement consists of various structures, including a forum, basilica and commercial shops, thermal spas, aqueducts, insulae (city blocks), homes of various heights (including interior patios) and domus (large residences), in addition to a paleo-Christian basilica.

The price of entry (for seniors) was 4€ and it’s a rather large site.

First you pass by a number of mosaic floors:

We saw various “houses”:

The House of Swastika:

House of Skeleton:


The House of Fountains with its pond and fountains: 

The enormous house of Cantaber – 3500 square feet!

An aqueduct; both an upper and lower section: 

Forum – lots of restoration here but still very little left:

Great Northern baths which has been quite restored:

We took a look through the museum as well:

There was a model of what the Forum would have looked like:

We then returned to Minou and spent the afternoon and night.   Yesterday Doug had begun to feel a scratchy throat and today felt worse but we just took things slow.

We left the museum parking lot and made our way continuing northward.  First stop today was the coastal city of Aveiro to take a boat trip in their canals.  Fran had tried to book online but although you could purchase tickets, it didn’t appear you could choose the date and time.  So we just decided to wing it and show up.

On park4night Fran find a good parking lot on the edge of town and we walked over to the docks from there. We paid our 10€ each (senior rate) and had to wait about 15 minutes for the next trip so we took a short walk around the town.


At 9:30 we boarded the boat with a Spanish couple and set out. The boat was a moliciera……the type of boat they used to use to collect seaweed for agricultural purposes.

In the photo of the mural below, you can see both salt and seaweed harvesting from the past.

The trip took us along 4 canals in the both the old and the new parts of town and lasted about 45 minutes.

Afterwards we crossed the road to the A Barrica bakery which specializes in a local pastry: an ovo mole which we decided to try.   This means “soft eggs”.  It’s a sweet specialty that was created five centuries ago by the nuns of the Jesus Monastery.

We tried these treats that evening and they are very sweet; the inside is bright yellow like an egg yolk and the texture and flavour reminded Fran of her Mom’s French Canadian sugar pies.  The outer white “shell” is paper thin and doesn’t have much flavour.

Upon returning to Minou we left Aveiro and drove towards Portugal’s second largest city, Porto.  We decided to take the toll roads to get Doug out from behind the wheel faster (cost €6.80) since he was pretty wiped but wanted to push on.  As usual, we couldn’t find a decent place in the city but there were a few options outside the city where you could Uber in or take the Metro.  The one we chose had a metro station right outside the parking area – it’s actually a park and ride lot that allows motorhomes to overnight.  There are no services except rubbish bins, but it seemed safe and good for a night.

We had some lunch and then walked out to catch the Metro into the city.  There were a few things we decided to check out and we wanted to sit and have a drink as well and Fran wanted to try some port wine in Porto.

The first thing we walked to after getting off the train was the Lello & Irmão Bookstore –one of the oldest and largest in Europe and sometimes named one of the top five most beautiful in the world.  Seems you have to get a ticket to get inside and we did not fancy paying to go inside a store so we took a photo and walked to our next spot.

The Clerics Tower was close by.  It’s a bell tower attached to a Franciscan church.

We then walked through the historic centre towards the Luis II Bridge to get views over the river.

We saw the large cathedral of Porto with it’s tiled panels on the outside walls


As we walked around we could feel the sun getting stronger; the dust must be thinning.

Then it was time to find a place to sit, Doug was feeling rather wiped so we found a little sidewalk café where Doug could have a beer and Fran tried a “copo de Porto”.

It’s very sweet and not her cup of tea but she enjoyed it (unlike the 1.69€ bottle of red wine she bought the other day that tasted like vinegar!).

We found a metro station and made our way back to the park and ride and spent a relaxing afternoon.   Doug did a lot of resting; we pretty sure we’ve both just had COVID – symptoms are the usual cold like symptoms but Doug is really lethargic like he was when he had it last year – this was Fran’s first bout.  However, the other symptoms are more pronounced.  We do carry COVID tests with us but when Fran pulled them out they had all expired over six months ago.

Sunday morning we awoke to completely clear skies which was wonderful.  Doug still didn’t feel well, but we left anyway to take advantage of the weather since it’s supposed to start raining for a week tomorrow!  Ah the joy of travelling in early spring.

We drove northwest using the toll roads since the minor roads are very slow here and full of speed bumps!  The toll to Braga cost us €6.45 but saved about a half hour.  While the town of Braga itself has some historical sites, they are mostly churches and gardens so we bypassed the town to see the main attraction, The Basilica of The Good Jesus of the Mount.  This is a very picturesque church with hundreds of stairs 573 to be exact in three separate sets but there’s a funicular!.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is a Portuguese Catholic shrine outside the city of Braga in northern Portugual. Its name means Good Jesus of the Mount.

This sanctuary is a notable example of Christian pilgrimage site with a monumental, Baroque stairway that climbs 116 m/ 381’.

The first indication of a chapel over this hill dates from 1373. This chapel – dedicated to the Holy Cross – was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1629 a pilgrimage church was built dedicated to the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), with six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ.

The present Sanctuary started being built in 1722. There are several segments of stairways, which have a zigzag shape and are dedicated to the Five Senses. Each sense (Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch, Taste) is represented by a different fountain. At the end of this stairway, a Baroque church was built around 1725.

The works on the first chapels, stairways and church proceeded through the 18th century. Around 1781, the archbishop decided to complete the ensemble by adding a third segment of stairways and a new church. The third stairway also follows a zigzag pattern and is dedicated to the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity, each with its fountain. Overall the staircase has 583 steps. The old church was demolished and a new one was built in 1784, had its interior decorated in the beginning of the 19th century and was consecrated in 1834. The main altarpiece is dedicated to the Crucifixion.

 This was the first funicular to be built in the Iberian Peninsula and is still in use.

We arrived shortly after nine, got into a free parking lot and made our way to the funicular (Doug did not feel up to walking up the stairs and as you know, stairs are Fran’s nemesis!) and got in line.  About two dozen people fit in the funicular car and there were two of them so it took a little while to get to the front of the line.  For €2 you get a one way ticket or for an extra €1, you could do a round trip.  We opted for the former as we wanted the views from the stairs without actually climbing them (going down is easier).

Upon arriving at the top we took this shot of the basilica

And we made a short visit inside to see the front of the church.  It’s Palm Sunday today, the start of Holy Week, and we expected it to be busier.

Then we began the walk down all the staircases – the first set of stairs is a zigzagging set of 8 or 9 steps and you zigzag down as mentioned above and at each landing there is a fountain.  The white walls behind the fountain in this photo separate each short set of zigzagging stairs.

When you reach the “mirador” you get this cool view:

Then  you take a long straight staircase down – here’s a view looking up from the bottom of that set:

The final set is more a set of ramps with steps every so often as it continues down and this set has the six chapels depicting the Passion of Christ on the bends in the ramps.


We only peered into one of these chapels as they were all busy except one and it’s rather dark inside but the one we saw was the betrayal by Peter when Jesus got arrested.

Upon reaching the bottom we returned to Minou and made our way to the coast once again.  As we had one last sunny day and so far had been unable to overnight it by a beach due to regulations, Fran found a couple of beaches on the north coast that seem to allow motorhome parking overnight (or at least don’t ban it!).  We took the toll road as far as we could and paid €5.45 for that privilege. We arrived around noon, grabbed a blanket and went across the dunes to sit on the beach.  Doug lay down and Fran went for a walk.

It’s a lovely beach, not busy at all but pretty windy and the water is freezing!  The sand is nice, it had nice waives, there are a few rocks where the river empties into the sea and a few at the north end of the beach but nothing that deters from the beauty.

Fran went to get a few cool drinks from the motorhome, her kindle and a pillow for Doug and we stayed on the blanket for about an hour then the wind got stronger and cooler so we returned to Minou.  Fran went for a walk along the boardwalk later in the afternoon to finish getting her steps – it’s really long as it stretches from this beach to another further north.  It was still quite windy so she was glad for her jacket.

As we were on the coast and the sky was pretty clear, we actually saw a sunset tonight which was nice for a change as we will not be on the west coast again until we are back in France.

Doug was still not feeling great – actually got the chills and a fever last night.  Not good.  He agreed to take a decongestant and actually got some sleep.

Today we passed through one tunnel.

Monday morning it was partly cloudy and despite not feeling much better, Doug wanted to carry on.  We were headed north back into Spain.

We drove 877 km / 544 mi in Portugal.

Here’s  a link to all our photos of Northern Portugal.

We really enjoyed Portugal and only wish we had been here at a warmer time of year to enjoy some beach time.  The water is really cold right now so hopefully it warms up for others!  We found most people spoke English (other than a few older folks in smaller towns) and everyone is friendly.

Fun Facts about Portugal:

  1. Portugal was the world’s first maritime power and the birthplace of some of the worlds’ first explorers.
  2. Portugal’s colonial empire spanned 600 years, the longest-lived of modern Europe.
  3. Lisbon is older than Rome!
  4. Portugal is Europe’s most westerly point.
  5. Portuguese is an official language in nine other countries.
  6. The world’s oldest bookstore is in Lisbon: Livraria Bertrand.
  7. Japanese tempura is adtually a Portuguese invention.
  8. Its most famous export is port wine.
  9. Portugal is a founding member of NATO.
  10. The earliest recorded hot air balloon ascent was in Portugal.