The Great Portuguese/Spanish Road Trip of 2016

Flights in Europe are cheap. But sometimes, one just needs to get into a car and drive. So that is what DT, JN and I did this past week. After a weekend in Lisbon with RW, we picked up a rental car and drove south on the Portuguese coast, stopping in two towns, and then made our way to Granada, Spain, ending up in Seville.

Lisbon. The Portuguese capital is perched on the hills above the Tagus River, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is the westernmost capital in Europe as well as the only one along the Atlantic coast. Like the rest of the Iberian peninsula, Lisbon was under Muslim control for several hundred years, until the Reconquista in 1147. In 1755 Lisbon was devastated by an earthquake, which was followed by a tidal wave, and then a fire. Many structures were lost and the city was rebuilt in the style of the time, losing its medieval flair.

The girls and I spent our first morning doing our own walking tour of a couple neighborhoods, admiring the tile work that remained and laughing at the tourists who paid 3.50 Euro to ride a tram up a hill for 150 meters. Later that day, when RW joined us, we went up to the castle and explored the surrounding neighborhood. We found a street where every house had a birdcage outside of the window, showcasing a variety of parakeets and lovebirds.


On Sunday we trained to Sintra, which is a UNESCO world heritage site due to the 19th century architecture. I would recommend taking the train to Sintra from Lisbon, as there were approximately 14 parking spaces in the entire town.

We visited both the Moorish Castle as well as the candy colored, Disney-esque Pena Palace. You can (and should) easily walk up to both of these things if you are not injured or actually dead. The other option is to take a bus that does a loop around the castles, but seriously, just walk. It was a beautiful stroll. Yes, it was uphill, but I would still classify this as a walk, not a hike. Let me know if you want specific directions.

The views from the Moorish castle were stunning. The Pena Palace was weird. It reminded me of the Ca D’Zan in Sarasota- someone came into a ton of money and did not know quite what to do with it. Why not build a crazy looking home on top of a rock?


This is an overly dramatic street name. The walk up was easy!


Once we returned from Sintra, we stumbled upon a beautiful tree lined square back in Lisbon for dinner. The restaurant, Mar ao Carmo, was excellent. Our server, Brenda, was well spoken, hilarious, and had great recommendations. The highlight was the “evolution of shrimp” when we were choosing dinner.

The evolution of shrimp

Monday morning, RW left for the airport really early, and then the rest of us took a tuk-tuk tour to Belem, which is a neighborhood to the west of the old town in Lisbon. Our guide, Sandra, was informative and it was a good way to spend the morning seeing another part of town. Oh, we also stopped at the famous Pasties de Belem for warm custard filled snacks. We had learned earlier at another bakery that sometimes things that look like egg yolk are, in fact, egg yolk, which in case you did not know is disgusting even if coated in sugar. So thankful to have tasted a delicious non yolky treat before we left.


Looking out at the river on this new giant park thing.

We drove down the coast and stopped for lunch in Portinho de Arrabida, a coastal town in the Parque Natural de Arrabida. To get to town, we navigated a herd of goats, as well as a one car width road between the rock wall and the edge of the cliff. Beautiful place, smelled fresh and clean and like the ocean. Our surly waiter got a huge laugh when DT sprayed crab juice all over and she and JN needed his super awesome stain remover. That clearly happens to many tourists as he had the clothes cleaning equipment at the ready.

Portinho de Arrabida


My goal was to make it to Sagres for sunset. Sagres is the most southwestern point in continental Europe, and is perched on top of cliffs that line beautiful beaches. The town is a surf town and was quiet during our visit. Henry the Navigator founded a school of navigation here in the 15th century. I loved Sagres and I would go back there with my bike and stay for surf camp. It was isolated and peaceful and also smelled good. Drinking my beer on the beach, looking at the end of the world was peaceful and soothing.


Beliche Beach… go down steep stairs to reach the beach and all of its caves.
This is from our sunrise run.


Our next stop was Granada. The main goal was to see the Alhambra. The other goal was not to let the terrible weather forecast get us down. We explored the town, which still has lots of Muslim influences. I bought an awesome raincoat which came in handy as it rained pretty hard for most of the day. The Alhambra was beautiful but very crowded. If you want to go, you must buy your tickets ahead of time. By ahead of time I mean months or weeks. We overhead that tickets to get in were sold out for a month while we skipped the line of angry people with no tickets to print ours.  The Generalife gardens were beautiful and I would love to go back on a nice evening for the night tour of the Alhambra.


Take a moment and appreciate the Moors and their water diversion.


Walk down from Alhambra


Last stop on the trip was Seville, my favorite city in Europe. The city is beautiful, the people are friendly, and even though there are a ton of tourists people still live there and do every day things. You can tell that real people live somewhere when you see residents out walking their dogs. Lots of cute ones in Southern Spain! DT and I went running and the highlight of that was the super friendly old man who ran by us a couple of times and hollered “vamos!”

We caught a walking tour in the early evening. Emilio, our guide, is a high school history teacher who loves sharing the history of his hometown. Free Walking Tours Sevilla is who we used this time. I preferred it to the Sandeman’s free walking tour because it was a smaller group and they had a larger variety of times offered for tours.

Plaza de Espana and the Alcazar were on the list for Friday. The Alcazar is beautiful and still has some of the colors left on the tiles, since it is much younger than the Alhambra. For Game of Thrones fans, the Alcazar is the setting for the capital of Dorne. The Alcazar was also built for a Christian king who decided he preferred Moorish architectural detail. Don’t we all?

Plaza de Espana
October 12 is a holiday in Spain, celebrating the discovery of America. The entire week we came across parades and processionals.


This is the signature of the tile artist who did this wall.


Blue is the last color to disappear from the buildings over time.


Oh, hey, Dorne.
Entrance/Exit to the Jewish Quarter in Seville.

Our hotel in Seville had a rooftop lounge and pool which was the perfect place to wind down on our last night in Spain. After filling up on gazpacho, other tapas, and paella, we said adios to southern Spain. On an unrelated note, it is striking how different Latin American Spanish and European Spanish are.

Great week! Now back to Italy where apparently winter has come in the last three weeks.


Bought a ton of pastries that all tasted like cardboard and/or Jagermiester. Eek.

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