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A roadtrip to Portugal with a VW camper

A road trip to Portugal – that means roads that lead you and your VW California along the sea. Small bays next to wide dream beaches and countless pitches for all imaginable needs. Magda and Luca had the same thought: Rent a camper, discover Portugal. And they didn’t regret it for a moment. But see yourself!

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We rent a VW camper and start our road trip with a first stop in Spain – But our mission in July: Camping in Portugal. Admittedly, it is an extremely long way from Germany and we have to get some miles behind us. But as it’s commonly said, the path is the goal. In fact, we can already gather many great impressions and discover beautiful places on the way to our camping holiday in Portugal.

Our first stop is Barcelona

On the first day we decide to travel a huge part of the journey wherefore we only stop at a supermarket as well as for a short sleep on a public parking lot in France. Our first destination for a longer stay is Barcelona. We already reserved a camping site somewhere outside the city in advance but at our arrival we realized that in spite of the high season there would still have been a free place without a reservation.

Camping Barcelona is a great Spanish campsite to explore the city. There is a shuttle bus to the city (In high season the shuttle costs 2,90 Euro one way and in low season it’s even for free), children animation (reserved and not so exaggerated), live music in the restaurant area, a supermarket, a pool, a small farm and an extremely friendly and helpful team in which each employee speaks at least 4 languages fluently (also German).

At Camping Barcelona, we enjoy a camping ground with sea view. The only downside: One cannot walk directly to the beach as a railway line runs parallel to the coast. Nevertheless, there is a small bus coming every 20 minutes that takes the guests from the campsite to the nearest beach for free (It only takes a few minutes).

Our conclusion: 40 Euros per night for two persons plus VW California make the Camping Barcelona in fact not very cheap, however, it is an all-around beautiful camping site which has a lot to offer. Finally, we felt in very good hands. After two days of sightseeing and gathering strength for the next stage we continue our journey towards Valencia.

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Valencia the city of arts

During our camping in Valencia we don’t spend the night directly in the city, but a few kilometers northeast of the center. Around Valencia are some public and private campsites where you can easily park your caravan overnight.

This time we decide on a simple parking lot with direct access to the sea – and we gladly do without the amenities of a camping site since a mobile shower is also installed in our roadsurfer “Bulli” and mobile toilets are almost everywhere on the beaches.

► Our Top 10 campsites in Spain

Here in Valencia, the sea is bathtub warm and has a beautiful turquoise blue water. Even the fact that the beach consists of small pebble stones instead of sand does not bother us at all. Instead, we are pleasantly surprised at how few people are here, even in the high season, as well as about the overall relaxed atmosphere of the people.

roadtrip portugal bed

Even if you don’t drive right into the center of Valencia (whereby Valencia is an incredibly beautiful and versatile city), the beaches right next to the city are great places to stop off on your way to a camping holiday in Portugal. In addition, there are many beautiful restaurants at the beach with a large selection of fresh fish and seafood. All in all, Valencia is a great stopover on our roadtrip to Portugal!

Experience Seville with your VW California: This stop is worth it

Before the sunrise, we drive with our campervan from Valencia to Seville. Many friends and relatives told us about this Spanish city in advance and recommend us to stop here on our roadtrip to Portugal. Indeed!

Seville is an incredibly beautiful city, perfectly suited for a relaxed sightseeing tour during a camping holiday in Spain. But the fourth largest city in Spain doesn’t have to hide behind its big brothers in any way. Impressive architectural buildings, splendid parks and many sweet little alleyways make Seville’s charm special. We were very excited about the beauty of this city.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find a proper camping site in or around Seville why we went on to Portugal in the evening. The great thing about Seville is, besides the beauty of the city, its location: It is only a stone’s throw to the Algarve.

► Hire your campervan in Spain 

Delicious tapas are the highlight in Tavira!

Tavira is a small coastal town not far behind the Spanish-Portuguese border. It is our first destination with our campervan in Portugal. The toll-free N125 is well developed and leads directly to the small village. Tavira lies on the calm river Gilão, which flows over lagoons into the sea.

We park our “Bulli” on the fee-based campsite Camping Ria Formosa. The place is fine, but nothing special. It is located outside the town center, the sanitary facilities are clean, it has a small supermarket and a pool (But we didn’t use it).

The D’Gutsa in Tavira clearly tasted the best

Our highlight in Tavira was definitely eating tapas at D’Gutsa. You can’t say it any other way, the food is incredibly delicious. At the end of our entire Portugal roadtrip, which also lead us through Spain, we agreed that we had the best food in Tavira – even though we always ate very well during the whole trip!

But you should make a reservation, though. Luckily, we got a table for one and a half hours in the fully booked restaurant. Afterwards we made a walk through the alleys and along the river – simply beautiful!

That’s how camping makes fun

We’re heading west. Our first stop is the fishing village of Olhão, where we visit the weekly market. It has a large hall with fish and seafood and right next door another hall with fruit and vegetables. Everything is very fresh and extremely tasty. We have stocked up here for the next days because next we want to find a free-standing place directly at the sea – camping in Portugal of the very finest.

We find our camping spot shortly before the center of Quarteira, in the Rua do Poço Romano. Directly above the beach is a parking place where one can enjoy an incredibly beautiful view to the sea surrounded by pine trees. That’s exactly what we dreamed of on our road trip to Portugal. And we already know: Renting a camper and going to Portugal is a great idea. And this should not change in the following days.

listening to the sound of the waves

The beach is very clean and spacious and has a restaurant with a beach bar and live music. Otherwise the place is very quiet and the campers themselves are extremely relaxed. We met people who travel here for over 20 years, staying for several weeks and just enjoy the wonderful view of the tides.

We, too, are enthusiastic about how quickly you rest in this place. Searching for a place in the shade of the pine trees or in the sun with direct view of the sea, getting the table and chairs out of the Bulli, cooking something delicious and then simply listening to the sea – That’s all you need.

By the way, about 250 meters west of the beach is a rocky promontory that is well suited for fishing. Generally, it is easy to get a daily, monthly or yearly fishing license in Portugal. We bought a one-month license in Olhão for just 4 euros which is valid for all coasts in Portugal.

roadtrip portugal roadsurfer sea beach

The absolute dream pitch for camping in Portugal before Albufeira

After enjoying Quarteira so much, we thought it’s going to be difficult to top this place. But that proved to be wrong: Shortly before Albufeira we find our absolute dream place, where we spend almost a whole week.

The very small beaches Praia da Vigia and Praia de Arrifes are located next to each other and are directly accessible from the parking lot (For navigation: Estrada do Aldeamento São Rafael 117, Albufeira). These beaches are a secluded and thus not so crowded. We find exactly what we were looking for: Algarve’s typical rock formations off the coast, a pitch on the cliffs and a view we couldn’t wish for better.

roadtrip portugal pitch rocks

Beware of the flood at Praia da Vigia

With little luck one can have the Praia da Vigia beach for yourself early in the morning. But be careful: The tides make an immense difference here! If one arrives at low tide and finds a wide quiet beach, some hours later the water can rise so high that the right section of the beach completely disappears and one gets only back to the top through the water.

Praia de Benagil’s masses of tourists make us flee

We continue from Albufeira to the west and stop again and again at different beaches. In the end we can say, that we were disappointed by Praia de Benagil. The beach is advertised everywhere on the internet and is called a must-see of the Algarve. Indeed, Benagil Beach is known for its extraordinary rock formations in the sea, which can be explored by kayak or stand-up paddling. Actually a cool thing, but we were immediately deterred by the masses of tourists. The beaches are crowded with towels and the tours are a mass processing operation. This scared us off and we left the place after half an hour. Our thoughts were: If we already rent a camper to discover Portugal, we can quickly leave if we don’t like it anywhere. That’s also the luxury of a road trip to Portugal!

The nature is unique – and we are very close to it on our roadtrip to Portugal

A way more beautiful place is Praia da Prainha. Even here, you can admire fascinating rock formations but it is much less busy – although this beach is also very busy.

Before we move into our night camp in Lagos, we make another stop: The viewpoint Farol da Ponta da Piedade. For us a must-see when camping in the Algarve! It’s hard to believe what nature has created here – Just beautiful!

The Algarve-Turiscampo campsite in Lagos awaits you with a huge pool area

In the evening, we look for a nearby campsite and find it at the Algarve Turiscampo campsite (For navigation: Estrada Nacional 125, P-8600-109 – Lagos). The campsite is open all year and about 2 kilometers from the nearest beach. Even though, it’s still a great place for water lovers as it has a huge pool area with two outdoor pools, a covered swimming pool, a whirlpool and a children’s pool.

We like the campsite, especially the great view into the valley and the excellent sanitary facilities. It has small single shower houses with washbasins, special sanitary facilities for children and even dog showers – and everything is extremely clean on top. For us a luxury after several days of free standing and rather poor showering. All in all, finding a nice place in this area was even without reservation without problems.

roadtrip portugal rocks

Strolling a whole day through Praia da Ingrina’s soft sand in Sagres

We find another dream beach on the way to Sagres. The Praia da Ingrina is situated in a small bay and has an almost Caribbean flair thanks to the calm water and the adjacent palm trees. You can easily spend a whole day on the soft sand or in the nearby restaurant with sea view. This nice, small restaurant is inexpensive and family-owned. Whoever likes a good coffee or traditionally prepared fish, this is the right place for you.

Fantastic view, but no place to stay

A few hundred meters above the beach is a small, official campsite but we also spotted a few wild campers on a tableland between the beach and the campsite. Although you have a fantastic view of the bay here, we decided us to spend the night somewhere else as we did not find this campsite in Portugal very inviting to stand free with our camper. We cannot justify it properly – But we feel more comfortable to stand on a public parking lot during our camping trip to Portugal.

roadtrip portugal beach palms

Meeting some dropouts with our rented VW Campervan in Portugal

Another beautiful beach on the way to Sagres is the Praia do Barranco. Not easy to reach with a big car, but still worth a trip. The semicircular bay is hidden and thus far away from the mass tourism. Here you meet some dropouts – no, not the roadsurfer Bulli version but people who spend most of the year in their self-built caravans.

The paths of the sailors

It’s only a short drive from Barranco to Cabo de São Vicente, the most southwestern point of the European mainland. Here the Algarve ends quite spectacularly with a steep coast up to 70 meters high. It is very impressive to stand at the edge of the cliffs and see the waves crashing against the huge rocks. Especially, when you have in mind that more than 600 years ago people didn’t know what to expect at the end of the horizon when they set sail here. It is a very special place that gives you goose bumps – not only because of its unique location, but also because the wind blows so strong that it almost blows you away.

roadtrip portugal cooker beer beach

Besides, you shouldn’t miss the lighthouse at the Cabo de São Vicente at the very top of the coast – even if here are relatively many tourists.

This time we spend the night at the Camping & Bungalows Orbitur Sagres (For navigation: Cerro das Moitas, 8650-998 Vila de Sagres, Faro, Portugal). But to be honest, we didn’t like this place very much. Although it has a nicely furnished area for a surf camp, the rest of the facility is rather functional and not really lovingly.

On our way to Praia do Cordoama

Again a great beach day is on the program. Every two meters is a fantastic beach and every one of them is special in its own way. Even though we have left the Algarve coast in the south and drive further to north – the landscapes are still simply beautiful. Actually, the southern part of the Atlantic coast belongs to the Algarve region as well, respectively to the district Faro.

Hire a camper in Faro

roadtrip portugal rocks

Overnight stay at the beach without mobile reception

We decide to return to Praia do Cordoama in the evening and spend the night here. There is a public parking lot where some caravans are parked. One can spend a few days here without any doubts. As the beach is a bit cut off (But don’t worry: the access is still comfortable), you don’t have any mobile reception here. Never mind! As compensation you get a starry sky and beautiful sea noise directly from your roadsurfer. In the small nearby restaurant with terrace you can relax, drink your morning coffee and have a refreshment.

From Praia do Cordoama you can take a relaxing walk to the neighboring Praia do Castelejo. Altough the beach is smaller and the access is not quite as comfortable as in Corodama, Castelejo has a more beautiful sunset since the sun is directly diving into the ocean. Just beautiful!

Beautiful sunset at Praia do Castelejo

For the sunset, we walked from Cordoama to Castelejo and had dinner there in a beach bar which is a little higher up. The way between the two beaches was completely deserted and just amazing. The strong waves on one side and the huge rocks on the other have a fascinating attraction. This rough, wild nature is simply worth seeing.

It is also worthwhile to make smaller excursions with your campervan from Cordoama. We drive with our roadsurfer on the N268 northbound and turn left again at Praia do Amado towards the coast. There is a road where you actually want to stop every 10 meters. The Estrada da Praia leads – as the name suggests – directly along the coast and guides us from one great lookout to the next.

roadtrip portugal sunrise

The next dream beach is never far away on our roadtrip to Portugal

The road also leads you directly to the next dream beach: Praia do Bordeira (Carrapateira). It’s a beach of superlatives. The sandy beach is so wide that at some point one has the feeling of standing in the middle of the desert.

But instead of a dry desert, Bordeira offers crystal clear water of the Atlantic Ocean and a great lagoon with shallow water. The lagoon is not very deep (You can stand almost everywhere) and the water is pleasantly warm. A great alternative if the Atlantic is too explosive and cold!

roadtrip portugal heart

Impressive trip to the capital Lisbon – with the camper of course!

Our roadtrip to Portugal is now coming to an end and we are heading north – and gradually on our way back home. But of course, we also have to make a stop in the capital Lisbon during our camping holiday in Portugal.

Lisbon itself is worth a trip (And its own article), so here are just a few of our highlights: The historic fortress Castelo de Sao Jorge gives you a magnificent view over the whole city. Inside the castle you should also visit the Obscura camera, the streets of the picturesque Alfama district (In particular the great Miradouro Santa Luzia lookout), the famous historic 28 tram (A great experience as this tram winds its way through the narrow streets), the ruins of the Gothic Convento do Carmo church, the bridge of April 25th  (Ponte 25 de Abril) with the huge Cristo Rei statue at the end and last but not least the Belém district with the huge Hieronymite monastery Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the Torre de Belém and the world-famous dessert Pastéis de Belém (An absolute must not only for sweet toothers!).

As I said: Lisbon has a thousand more beautiful corners to offer – but unfortunately we didn’t have too much time to explore the city on the way back of our roadtrip to Portugal with the camper.

►Hire a campervan in Lisbon

Tip: Do better not take the campervan to Lisbon!

Another important information: Don’t even try to drive into the town with the rented VW van! This only unnecessarily puts you under stress and gives you a thrill that nobody needs. The alleys are sometimes extremely narrow and steep and there are almost no turning possibilities in the center. Finally, nobody really wants to get stuck with a car in these alleys in the middle of the tourist bustle.

Therefore, we drive in the evening with our roadsurfer to Ericeira.

Roadtrip Portugal roadsurfer

Shopping for surfers and roadsurfers in Ericeira

Ericeira is located about 30 km north of Lisbon and is THE Mecca for all surf hungry people. It is the first official surf reserve in Europe and attracts surfers from all over the world with its waves the whole year.

roadsurfer surftips in Europe

But even those who are on their way by foot will find a lot to do in this beautiful fishing village. For example, we extensively went shopping! There are many traditional small shops, vintage boutiques, shops with their own mix concepts and surf shops with well-known brands and a large selection. Shopping is really fun here!

Also simply strolling through the old stumbling streets and stop for something to eat in a small bar or cozy café is an experience in Ericeira. Everything is somehow very chilly and peaceful – which of course is due to all the surfers but also to the incredibly nice hospitality of the locals.

Discover the charming city center from Ericeira Camping

Last but not least, Ericeira also has a lot to offer in culinary terms. Seafood and typical Portuguese dishes dominate the cuisine. A feast for gourmets! On Top a delicious cocktail in one of the beautiful beach bars – Perfect.

We stayed in Ericeira Camping, the only official campsite in the village. The site is OK and offers all important basic equipment of a camping area. However, we only stayed here to sleep – the attraction of the charming city center was simply too big!

Our Top 10 campsite recommendations

All in all, Ericeira is the ideal conclusion to our road trip through Portugal. Here you can rest and recharge your batteries for the long way back home. We were very impressed by this charming fishing village, which despite its fame has kept its engaging charm.

roadtrip portugal city stroll

Rent a camper and discover Portugal – Look directly at the sea from your VW California

The big advantage of free-standing / wild camping are (Besides the costs of course): The often breathtaking views from the Bulli directly to the sea. Being in the middle of nature and free from many constraints is rare on campsites. Even though many campsites in Portugal are beautiful, most of them are not located directly on the beach or coast. So if you want to fall asleep with the sound and wake up with a view of the sea, you need to look for a place with your campervan away from the official offers – And the good thing is: You will find it often in Portugal.

Our free standing tips for your road trip to Portugal

Basically, the following applies to your roadtrip to Portugal with a camper: Free-standing is not allowed but tolerated in many places. You should therefore follow a few rules in any case.

  1. Keep your hands away from places where night parking is explicitly forbidden on signs. If you get caught, you have to expect a parking claw and high fines.
  2. The best thing to do is to find a place where other campers park as well and which is close to a restaurant. The restaurant owners are often very helpful and let you use their toilets for example – of course you should kindly eat something there.
  3. The most important rule – Don’t leave any garbage behind! The fact that controls for wildcampers in Portugal have become stricter in the recent years has mainly to do with the growing littering of some places. Leaving your dirt behind and do your nature’s call everywhere, is a no-go! Those who want to live in nature should also respect it.
  4. Don’t leave anything outside overnight that looks like camping. No table, no chairs, no grill. Standing for free somewhere for one night to arrive or to gather energy is far more tolerated at possible controls than the build of a private camp on a public place.

Our conclusion: If you fancy an extraordinarily beautiful road trip with great nature, exciting cities and fantastic pitches and campsites, you should make your dream come true: Rent a camper and simply start off your road trip to Portugal. You will definitely not regret it!

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