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2 weeks in northern Portugal

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Singapore
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2 weeks in northern Portugal

Dear advisors

4 of us would like to tour northern Portugal in mid December for about 14 days - may be spending Christmas there too. Please advise:

1. We like hiking - is it possible to hike in the mountains or national parks in Dec? Which one should we go? Estrela or Guirres? Is there snow in the mountains?

2. We prefer to explore more days in 1 city/village rather than one hotel one night kind of tour.

3. We like nature, historical sites/ monasteries, villages, UNESCO sites

4. As we are only English-speaking, we find touring on our own too stressful within a short period. Could you recommend a contact for a customised tour, please?

5. Is there an international airport in northern Portugal, please? Must we fly in from Lisbon?

Much appreciation for your help.

Regards

Sonya

Albufeira, Portugal
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for Algarve, Faro
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1. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

I can answer some of your questions

1. In December, it can be very cold and very wet in the mountains. Snow is sometimes seen. You will need a car, as trains and buses do not go very much into the mountain areas.

4. Many Portuguese people speak English.

5. Porto is an international airport but does not have the same eange of flights as Lisbon.

Edited: 17 October 2010, 08:15
Edinburgh, Scotland
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2. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

I have recently returned from another, mainly walking and car touring trip to northern Portugal and would offer the following, hope this is of some use;

1. Hiking - I have not been in December, September is my latest, but if you check out Google Earth images you will see many winter shots with snow, and it seems plenty of people do go to the north in winter. I headed to the north, see below.

2. Staying for a number of days - My recent trip (over 2 weeks) took in Ponte de Lima x 3 nights (easy access from Porto airport, nice old historic town), Soajo x 4 nights (amazing village and surroundings), Pitoes das Junios x 4 night (way up in the mountains in the north near Montalegre, very simple village); Porto 3 nights. I like the 3-4 days in a small place to really get to know the locality.

3. We like nature, etc - Likewise, and I think Northern Portugal is great for exploring but outside the bigger towns there are fewer 'special' historical attractions but the villages and mountains make up for it.

4. As we are only English-speaking - so am I and do not speak Portuguese. I can do simple things like order meals, beer, say thank you, etc. and get by very easily - many people in the tourist line speak some English so don't worry, you will be fine.

Customised tour - no idea, I went DIY.

5. Is there an international airport in northern Portugal - Porto, nice airport with a great metro link straight into Porto, a lovely old city, great for exploring.

Lisbon, Portugal
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3. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

Hi,

Northern Portugal is great for Nature and Culture, no matter when you go. In fact each season has its highlights: snow and "naked" trees in winter, flowering plants in spring, mild weather in summer, strong collors in autumn, and so on. There is no shortage of culture, although most of the atractions are not known by the tourist market, which is, in fact, a very strong plus. There are often tiny museums in villages that will be shown to you by the old lady living next door that is also the "key keeper", architeture gems from Roman, muslim, medieval times, evidences of paleolithic and neolithic occupation and so on. Most of them are unfortunetly in no guide at all.

About your questions:

1) Definitly possible as long as the weather allows. Don't do it if a cold front or depression is on the way, be prepared to sudden changes and follow the normal precautions as you would hiking a mountain. Snow can occur but is not common in December (shows up later usually).

2) Me too. There are many towns where you can base yourself, and big cities are not necessarily the best.

3) You'll have buckets of all except for UNESCO. It's just that it is dificult to be recognized you you don't know it...

4) Try www.natuga.net for nature/culture custumized tours.

5) You don't have to go to Lisbon. Porto is very well connected to the most important European cities. It all depends where you're coming from.

Hope this helps

London, United...
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4. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

Hi Sonya - great choice! I'd go for Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres: bigger and wider variety of scenery. Not guaranteed for snow (could be very wet!) and likely to be bitterly cold. But I don't want to put you off: it's a stunning natural treasure. As others have suggested, fly in to Porto and spend a couple of days there. As the Parque has very little in the way of historic or cultural interest, you may want to consider taking in the cities of Braga and Guimaraes, or even across the other side to Braganca, or smaller but still beautiful towns such as Viana do Castelo, Barcelos, Ponte de Lima, Amarante, Vila Real. As for organisations to help you access the activities available in the Parque, just Google 'Leisure activities in the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres' and all sorts of entries will come up. Don't worry about not speaking the language: lots of Portuguese speak at least basic English and even those that don't will bend over backwards to help you. For accommodation Google 'Turismo no Espaco Rural' or take a look at www.center.pt/EN/ - this is Tourist Office recommended bed and breakfast in rural areas.

Hope this helps and that you'll have a wonderful holiday.

Singapore
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5. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

Dear all TAs

Thank you so much for your prompt response and well wishes! Your advice are certainly helpful in our planning of the itineary. We will look into the suggested websites. Thank you once again!

O Savinao, Galicia
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6. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

Watch out for the new toll system on the Via Verdes (Motorways/Highways) Very expensive and complicated to use.

If you hire a car check with the rental company if they have installed the electronic devise so that you can purchase a card to pay the tolls.

It is virtually impossible to leave the airport for Oporto without using the Via Verdes

Singapore
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7. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

Dear Casa_Santo

We can't drive. Still, thank you for your advice.

Do you think it is a better idea to visit the island Madeiras in December, please? We thought of touring southern Portugal and Madeiras in 12 days.

Albufeira, Portugal
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for Algarve, Faro
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8. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

Certainly the weather down here in the south of Portugal and Madeira will be better than in the north but it can still be wet.

Madeira is about 1,000km from mainland Portugal - a little more than the distance from Singapore to Jakarta for example. There are no direct flights from Faro airport in the south, so you have to plan to travel from and back to Lisbon.

If you need more information about the south of Portugal, visit the Algarve forum. Madeira also has its own forum.

Algarve, Portugal
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9. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

Maybe it's of interest to know that there's a ferry service between the South of Portugal (Portimao) and Madeira. The website is: http://www.navieraarmas.com and they run once a week. The trip takes 21.5 hours. You may enjoy combining a ferry and flight journey. Easyjet (lowcost airline) flies between Lisbon and Madeira: http://www.easyjet.com

Lisbon, Portugal
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10. Re: 2 weeks in northern Portugal

www.rotasdovento.com it's a portuguese travel agency for active tourists, they have 2 different programs for Madeira in December, you can find them in a facebook page also.

In the northern of Portugal you also have starting in OPorto a Douro River cruise. The Douro used to be famous for its rushing waters through which the 'Rabelos' used to navigate bring the casks of wine down from the vineyards to the port wine houses at Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank of the river from where the cruise commences. In the 1980's a series of dams were constructed for flood control and the generation of electricity for hydroelectric power. The planners had the foresight to include locks in these dams which has enabled navigation right across the breadth of Portugal and into Spain. The once fast flowing river is now tranquil with spectacular scenery.