I love to travel. It’s one of my favourite things, to explore unknown places and sample their wares. As has been the case for everyone, the first part of 2020 has proven to be more difficult than usual to travel. Here in Portugal, we have been very fortunate not to have had such severe lockdown restrictions during the pandemic, and this has proven to be the perfect time to enjoy a staycation.
I began to research places to visit and chose the west coast up to Peniche as there are plenty of things to see and do along the way.
I also chose not to use toll roads wherever possible to get a feel of the area, and that proved to be a great decision. The scenery was spectacular and diverse.
Setting off from Lagoa in the morning, I headed to the famous medieval town Óbidos, but, being about four-and-a-half hours’ drive, I stopped off to stretch my legs and visit the lovely Palmela. The beautiful, incredibly well-maintained castle and viewpoint over Setúbal into the hills is definitely worthwhile.
Back on the road, with the next destination being something of a wild card, Bacalhôa Buddha Eden is around 20 minutes south of Óbidos. This is the largest Asian garden in Europe, and you’d be excused for thinking you were in Thailand by the Buddha stairway, Vietnam by the pergola in the lake and China with the gardens’ bright blue interpretation of the Terracotta Army. The gardens belong to the Bacalhôa Vinhos group, so you’re quickly transported back to Portugal at the end of your Asian trip with some local wine in the gift shop.
I paid extra to go on the train as I was pushed for time, but it’s probably not necessary if you’ve got a few hours to enjoy the scenery.
My final destination for day one was the wonderfully charming Óbidos where I stayed in the incredibly cute Casa de S. Thiago do Castelo at the Castle entrance.
There were few people walking around, which I was assured was very unusual and a little sad to see, but we have to start somewhere. Dinner at Alcaide was a good experience, the house special of codfish with apples and chestnuts was exciting, and they also have a good value touristic menu for €10.
The shops and businesses were open with restricted hours, all closing earlier than usual, around 6pm. I’m glad I visited now and got to see everything without the usual hoards of tourists.
The next day I headed to Peniche to have a walk around the fortress and relax a little in the square. The coastline around here goes from rugged, large coastal defence rocks to beautiful, picture postcard, crystal clear bays in the tiny island of Baleal.
Feeling inspired by the beautiful beaches, I headed (south) to Ericeira; a mature coastal town frequented by surfers and beach lovers from all over. Slightly reminiscent of Lagos in the south, it had a calm, relaxed atmosphere and was a lot busier than anywhere else visited on this road trip.
Continuing down the west coast, Azenhas do Mar is a picturesque cove with a natural swimming pool, and cute little whitewashed town making it an Instagram hotspot.
Driving inland, through the countryside, past the imposing and magnificent Pena Palace in Sintra and around the outskirts of Lisbon, I arrived in the beautiful seaside town of Sesimbra for the night where I stayed in the four-star SANA Sesimbra, right on the promenade. The hotel’s location was absolutely dreamy. My room looked straight out to sea, and it was incredibly relaxing falling asleep to the sound of the waves.
The hotel was well set up to deal with the current situation and took my temperature at reception, sanitised everything and even had a safety seal on the hotel room door. The rooftop pool was available by appointment, but some features like the jacuzzi and a few room amenities were not accessible due to the Covid-19 rules.
I found it to be a straightforward experience, just having to wear masks in public areas while walking around.
Sesimbra has some excellent fish restaurants; I went to Marisqueira Modesto; the dressed crab and cuttlefish were great. I would say this is a good option for a weekend break as an add on to Lisbon for international visitors and worth a night’s stay for locals.
Sticking with my plan of seeing as much as I could, I drove along the high road, through the natural park of Arrábida and was blown away by the views. It was somewhat reminiscent of driving along the Amalfi coast. As the fabulous road started to rewind down to sea level into the more industrial town of Setúbal, I left the shore and took the car ferry over to Tróia. The ferry was surprisingly busy, which was great to see.
Back on the road again and it was time to have a quick look around Comporta. Rice paddies and fishermen’s huts on stilts, again, transported me back to Asia. I’ve been so surprised by the similarities and contrasting scenery around Lisbon; it’s almost like going on a mini world tour.
Leaving the very cute Comporta behind, I took the tree-lined, lovely road N261 down to enjoy a little taste of Africa at the Badoca Safari Park. I didn’t know what to expect here and was pleasantly surprised. My guide Tomás took me on a VIP Safari in his jeep. He explained a bit about the history of the park and went into great detail about the animals themselves. The highlight of the trip was when I got to interact with the giraffes, which is something I’ve wanted to do for some time. They were so beautiful, and the females seemed to enjoy human contact.
I had a quick walk around the rest of the park to visit the primates and birds before heading down to Vila Nova de Milfontes for a cold drink by the bay and then back down to Lagoa for dinner.
This trip was made over three days and two nights and cost around €300 as a solo traveller including fuel, ferry, entry into parks and attractions, accommodation and food.
Every establishment that I visited honoured the current restrictions of wearing masks and using hand sanitiser and, dare I say it, things seemed to be working well.
There has never been a better time for a staycation. Visit Portugal!
By Sarah Young
Photos: DANIEL JAMES CLARKE