Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

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Author:  Caroline

Head off the beaten path in Portugal to the very center of the country. Swap the overcrowded beaches for quaint villages, endless rolling hills carpeted in vines and unspoiled hiking paths.

Rustic Portugal with its gregarious locals, blue tile-clad walls, sun-drenched beaches, and little pockets of caramelized happiness otherwise called pastéis de nata has rightfully claimed its place among the many bucket list destinations in Europe.

Many a traveler however will stick to the sandy beaches, the picturesque Algarve, or the blockbuster cities of Porto and Lisbon. Those who delve into the hidden gems in Portugal are rewarded with authenticity, unspoiled nature, and copious amounts of delicious food.

This guide through the center of the country takes you to the heart of Portugal in an easy-to-follow 4-day road trip format. Discover the very best places to visit in central Portugal, what wines to taste and a few local sustainable initiatives that will warm your heart.


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Off the Beaten Path Portugal: A Brief Summary

THINGS TO DO

HOW TO GET AROUND: Rent a car. This part of Portugal is not accessible via public transportation for the moment.

WHAT TO PACK – in summer: Hiking boots & a rainjacket for the mountains, a bathing suit for the spa, a reusable water bottle (tap water is drinkable), a light sweater for the chilly evenings.

USEFUL READING: Center of Portugal Official Tourism Website, Portugal Official Tourism Website

4 Day Itinerary Central Portugal

We flew in bright and early into Porto and picked up the car right at the airport. We flew back home on the evening of the 4th day, the below itinerary can be done in 4 full days and 3 nights. Should you have more time on your hands, do not hesitate to head further south on a (solo) trip to Faro.

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

Day One in the Center of Portugal

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

We start the first day of this glorious trip through the Center of Portugal with some true hidden gems. Kicking off in Visue, a cute and small village to get used to the Portuguese atmosphere, followed up by Santar, where you’ll discover the beauty of this central region in just one town. 

WHERE TO SLEEP | Quinta do Medronheiro Hotel Rural

LUNCH TIP | Casa Arouquesa Restaurant is a locally run, slightly more upscale, restaurant. Reknown for their meat dishes, they also do exceptional sauteed veggies and fried rice. Budget €15-€25 per person.

Dao Region Centre of Portugal

MORNING: STROLL THROUGH VISEU

One of the best places to visit in the Center of Portugal is the storybook city of Viseu. A city located a half-hour drive from Porto airport surrounded by 20,000 hectares of undulating hills, carpeted in vines. You have reached the heart of the Dão Wine Region.

The lush vineyards of Visue are snugly protected by the Mountains of Caramulo, Buçaco, and Estrela. Combine that with rich soil, and you have the secret ingredients for the very best wines in Portugal. Fret not, there are plenty of opportunities to try the famous Dão wine!

Visue is anything but a tourist hotspot. It’s the perfect spot for travelers looking to get a different take on Portugal. Prepare to slow down, this little city does things at its own, utterly charming, pace.

Things to do in Viseu

  1. Explore the historical center: Stroll through the little streets and explore the many charming squares like like Praça da República.
  2. Hunt down viewpoints: In and around the Cathedral are various lookout points from which you can spot the endless sloping hills dotted with millions of grapes.
  3. Head into the Cathedral of Viseu: The Sé de Viseu is an exquisite example of Portuguese Romanesque architecture dating back to the 12th century. Head up to the rooftop for the very best views of the city and the entire region.

Practical details for visiting the Cathedral
Address:
Adro Sé – 3500-195 – Viseu
Parking: Park right next to the Cathedral
Opening hours: Mon – Sat: 9 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 5:30 pm. Sunday: 4 pm – 6:30 pm.


AFTERNOON: VISIT SANTAR GARDEN VILLAGE

Getting there from Viseu: 20-minute drive
Address: Santar Vila Jardim – Av. Viscondessa de Taveiro 3520 – 127 Santar
Opening Hours: May to October – 10.00 am: 07.00 pm; November to October gardens close at 06.00 pm and on Sunday
Entrance Fee: €15
Tickets: Book online

A scenic 20-minute drive from Viseu lies the aristocratic village of Santar and its infamous Garden Village. So called because there is not one garden, but a large variety of different privately owned gardens and vineyards that have been opened to the public by the local aristocratic families since 2013.

The six gardens are connected through a set of secret passages with have been carefully crafted by a local landscape architect. We opted to take a 1,5 hour guided tour of the Santar Garden Village. It was very informative and helped me get a better view of the history of Santar and the little hidden corners in the various gardens. Highly recommended!

A thing that stayed with me about this project is their community garden. Inhabitants can grow their veggies and fruits themselves for free. This is a major thing in this little city because only a few people have a garden or a balcony. This is not only saving them money but also getting them out of the house. 

PRACTICAL INFO | Gardens can only be visited with a guided tour, pre-booking is required. Various activities are available on site (wine tasting with food pairing, tours, …). Check out the official website for the various options on offer.

Good to know: In 2024 a new luxury hotel is set to open at the very edge of one of the gardens: Garden Casa das Fidalgas.


SANTAR VILA JARDIM

LATE AFTERNOON: WINE TASTING IN SANTAR VILA JARDIM

The grapes grown here are Touriga Nacional and Malvasia Fina. Both varieties of grapes are cultivated in soil containing a granitic origin, with little organic matter and low water retention capacity resulting in light and fresh wines with a distinct mineral taste.

Practical details for booking a wine tasting

Address: Santar Vila Jardim – Av. Viscondessa de Taveiro 3520 – 127 Santar
Booking: Book in advance on their website or drop by the reception of the gardens to book on the spot.
Price: €25/person
Duration: 2 Hours

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

Day Two in the Center of Portugal

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

En route! We checked out some truly hidden places in Portugal on day two: Quinta d’ Arminho, a regenerative agriculture project, and Termas de São Pedro do Sul, which has naturally heated water heating the whole city and a lot of hotels. 

TIP | The Center of Portugal can be chilly in the evening and morning, so bring warm clothes with you. Yes, also during Summer. 

WHERE TO SLEEP | Casa das Ameias

LUNCH/DINNER | We had lunch at Quinto d’Arminho (available upon prior booking) and dinner at a small local restaurant next to our hotel called Tasquinha de Lafões.

QUINTA d'ARMINHO Portugal

MORNING: GET INSPIRED BY QUINTA d’ARMINHO

If you’re into gardening or have thoughts about leaving the city and starting all over in nature, you want to visit Quinta d’Arminho and the wonderful family running this inspiring regenerative agricultural farm. Raquel, João, and their daughter Teresa.

The objective of the farm is to improve the soil, maximize biodiversity, and grow nutritious food in a regenerative, traditional, and family-friendly way. They produce blueberries, olive oil, eggs, and hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables. Add to that a plethora of animals, all readily available for chin scratches.

I loved visiting this farm. Raquel was a fountain of knowledge, which she readily shared warmly and openly. It is the perfect place if you are looking to delve into regenerative agriculture or to pick up some delicious homemade products made right here on the farm.

Practical details for visiting Quinta d’ Aminho

Address: Canedo do Mato, Mangualde – send them a message on Instagram for the exact location.
Plan your visit: If you want to visit, you must send Quinta d’ Aminho a message on Instagram.
Side note: The road to Quinta d’Aminho is a bit tricky. It’s small, and the road is bumpy because of potholes. Drive carefully and lower your speed.


AFTERNOON: SPA TIME AT TERMAS DE SAO PEDRO DO SUL

Termas de São Pedro do Sul was built around thermal waters over 2000 years ago. These hot water springs are known for their healing benefits thanks to the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas which makes them alkaline. It also gives them a bit of a strange smell, be warned!

The waters not only serve to rejuvenate the locals but are also used the heat the entire city as well as the various hotels in the neighborhood.

Termas de S. Pedro do Sul have two buildings: Balneário D. Afonso Henriques (therapeutic thermalism and physiotherapy) and Balneário Rainha D. Amélia (therapeutic thermalism and thermal wellness). We opted to go for the later and thoroughly enjoyed a few hours of relaxation. Massages are available upon request, budget €50 for a 40 min relaxing massage. 

TIP |After visiting the Balneário Rainha D. Amélia spa, you can also visit the Roman Spa. Yes, it’s still here. Across the street! They turned it into a little museum which is nice if you want to know more about the origin of this spa from the 1st century! 

Practical details for Termas de São Pedro do Sul – Balneário Rainha D. Amélia 

Address: Praça Dr. António José de Almeida – 3660-692 Várzea – São Pedro do Sul
Opening Hours: every day from 8 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 5 pm.
Bookings: Book your visit and treatments online or at the reception.
Entrance Fee: €20 euros

GOOD TO KNOW | In summer, it’s jam-packed. Booking in advance is highly recommended.

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

Day Three in Central Portugal

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

After a delicious breakfast and a dip in the pool of Casa das Ameias, we jumped in the car to explore S. Macário Mountain. This day is all about hiking and being amazed by endless views. So pack some hiking shoes or good quality sneakers, a hat to protect yourself from the sun, and a sweater for the windy parts of the route.

WHERE TO SLEEP | Casa das Ameias

LUNCH/DINNER | We had a packed lunch during our hike, for dinner we tried Margarida’s Restaurant right next to our hotel. Try the arroz de cogumelos, it is delicious!

FULL DAY: HIKING ON SAO MACARIO MOUNTAIN

The São Macário Mountain rises to a height of approximately 1,056 meters (3,465 feet) and is part of the Serra da Estrela mountain range. The name of the mountain refers to an age-old legend involving a son (Macário) who involuntarily killed his father and sought refuge in the mountains.

According to the tales Macário was able to carry glowing embers with his bare hands. At the very top of the Mountain stands a small chapel, erected to venerate the saint (São) Macário. The mountain is a true paradise for hikes, paragliders and hangliders. We safely stuck to hiking on this trip!

We opted to take a guide for our hike, as truth be told the paths are not very well marked and we had not downloaded an offline map in advance. It turned out to be a wonderful experience as our guide David had a wealth of knowledge about the local fauna and flora. We took the Rota da Cabra e do Lobo, a scenic 12 km hike.

TIP | Our guide highly recommended the Rota das Bétulas as an alternative. The starting point for which is at can be Retiro da Fraguinha; from there, you will go to the top of the mountain. You’ll enjoy different vegetation along the way, many animals, and some rivers to cool down. 

SUSTAINABILITY TIP | Bring a trash bag and gather trash you find along the way. In Summertime, this region gets pretty hot, which means that only a tiny piece of glass can burn this whole place down. Do good, and help wherever you can. It can save more than you’ll ever lose.

ADDITIONAL HIKING TRAILS | Check out a variety of trails on Alltrails or the local Viseu Tourism Website (only in Portuguese). Download the offline maps in advance as reception can be spotty hiking up.
Alternatively, book your own local guide.

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

Day Four in the Center of Portugal

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

On day four we headed to the most beautiful hiking spot in all of Portugal. Hidden gems include the hanging Bridge 56 and clambering up and down the Paiva Passage. A good pair of sneakers is required for the hike!

WHERE TO SLEEP | Casa das Ameias

LUNCH/DINNER | We had a packed lunch during our hike, for dinner we tried Margarida’s Restaurant right next to our hotel. Try the arroz de cogumelos, it is delicious!

MORNING: CROSS BRIDGE 516

After a beautiful drive 2.5 hours drive, crisscrossing the mountains via M657, we finally arrived in Arouca. Along the way we stopped at Pprta do Inferno e Garre G23), which had the most mesmerizing views – although the road leading there was very windy be mindful of this if you tend to get carsick.

Arouca is a wonderful place to spend a day. Starting with a feat of genius engineering: the Cross Bridge 516. This suspension pedestrian bridge hangs over the Paiva River. For travelers with a fear of high, crossing might be a bit of a challenge as you can see straight down to the canyon under your feet.

KEEP IN MIND | Before visiting the bridge, check their website for weather conditions. If it’s too windy, the bridge will be closed.

Practical details for crossing Bridge 516

Starting Point: Canelas or Alvarenga – both points require a bit of a hike to get to the bridge.
Parking: If your starting point is Canelas, you need to park your car next to the river beach of Areinho, 1200 meters from the bridge, and head to 516 Arouca through the Paiva Walkways route. This pedestrian route is challenging, requiring 500 stairs to reach the entry point, which can take 1 hour. 

If you don’t want to walk that far, you start in Alvarenga. You park your car in Albisqueiros, 1000 meters from the bridge, and head to 516 Arouca along the route marked for this purpose. This route is not difficult at all and has an estimated time of 20 minutes walking.

Opening Hours: April to October – 09.00 am to 07.00 pm; May to September – 08.00 am to 08.00 pm: November to March – 09.00 am to 05.00 pm. 

Entrance Fee: Purchase tickets online (not possible at the bridge) – €12


AROUCA GEOPARK Central Portugal

AFTERNOON: EXPLORE AROUCA GEOPARK

The suspension bridge is in fact located in the Arouca Geopark—a 600 million-year-old UNESCO World Heritage park. The park spans over 328 square kilometers (127 square miles), and has plenty of additional things to do including canyoning, canoeing, kayaking and rock climbing. Check out the full list of adventures on the official website.

Sadly we did not have time during this trip, but the Paiva Passages is absolutely on the top of my bucketlist. This 8.5 km (5.2 mi) hike traverses the park over a set of various picturesque wooden bridges. Count about 2 to 3 hours to complete the hike, which is marked as moderate due to the high difference of 200 meters.

Practical details for hiking the Paiva Passage

 
Where to start/end: Linear hike, can be started at either end. Espiunca [40°59’34.67″N 8°12’41.19″W] ; Areínho [40°57’9.68″N 8°10’33]
What to wear: This hike can be done in sneakers.
Opening Hours: Same as Bridge 516 (mentioned above)
Additional Information: Check out the FAQ on the official website
Entrance Fee: €1 (low season); €2 (high season)

GOOD TO KNOW | There is a daily limit of the amount of visitors that can hike the Passage. A pre-booking is required to hike. This can be done online

Practical Details for Visiting the Center of Portugal

What Is the Best Time to Visit Portugal?

November to March is the rainy season for the entire country. If you avoid these months, you can pretty much go any time of the year. This hidden gem in Portugal has remained wonderfully off the tourist radar and as such does not get the large flocks of visitors seen in other parts of the country.

How to Get to the Center of Portugal

FLY + CAR: The closest airport is Porto (Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport – OPO), from here you will need to rent a car to get to the central area of the country as public transportation is limited in this part of the country.

Requirements for Renting a Car in Portugal

DOCUMENTS TO BRING: Your driving license, ID (passport), and valid credit card in your name

RENTAL AGE: The legal driving age in Portugal is 18. However, most car rental companies in Portugal require you to be at least 21 years old to rent a car. In addition, some companies may also require that you have held your driving license for at least one year. If you’re unsure what our car rental asks for, I advise you to call. 

THIRD-PARTY INSURANCE: When renting a car in Portugal, it is compulsory to have basic third-party insurance. With most companies, this is automatically included in the car rental price in the form of a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). Be sure to ask upon renting the car.

COMPARE PRICES: We picked up our rental car directly at Porto Airport after pre-booking the car. Compare prices via AutoEurope to get the cheapest deal.

Eating Out in Central Portugal

Traveling As a Vegetarian to Portugal

The Center of Portugal is very meat-oriented. That being said, I traveled there as a vegan and had absolutely zero problems. There are plenty of delicious veggie side dishes to choose from ( beans, mushrooms, cabbage, broccoli). These dishes tend to be smaller, so consider ordering two or three.

Typical Wines to Try

Thanks to the Dao’s unique terroir and favorable climatic conditions the wines of the region are delicious and slightly lighter than in the neighboring Douro.

Some of the most well-known grape varieties include the Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro, and Encruzado. In the 1980s, the region gained recognition with the establishment of the Dao Denomination of Controlled Origin (DOC), ensuring strict quality standards.

What are the mealtimes in Portugal

Breakfast: 07.00 am – 09.00 am
Lunch: 12.00 pm – 02.00 pm
Dinner: 08.30 pm – 10.00 pm.

Budget for Food in the Center of Portugal

Lunch starts at around €15 while dinners are possible starting at €20. Believe it or not, this price includes the whole shebang: Starter, main course, dessert, a glass of wine, and a coffee. 

SUSTAINABILITY TIP | Portions tend to be very generous, you might consider ordering one menu for 2 people to avoid food waste. Check with the restaurant what the sizes are before ordering.

To do in Porto

Is It Worth Visiting Off-The-Beaten-Path Places in Portugal?

In recent years the country has seen a sharp increase in the number of visitors. What was once a quiet hidden gem in southern Europe has now well and truly been placed on the tourist map. Yet many visitors stick to Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve. While all well worth a visit, finding an authentic experience might be a lot harder to experience than let’s say 10 years ago.

Heading away from the overflowing tourist hotspots and into a much lesser known – dare I say it – secret Portugal means delving into the local culture, getting close to nature and paying half the price for a genuine adventure. It also means you are spending your hard-earned pennies in small, local establishments.

Personally, I loved visiting the Center of Portugal a lot! The slower pace of travel, languorous lunches with lush wines and wonderful hiking opportunities are perfect to disconnect for a few days.

AUTHORS BIO

Hi, I’m Renée Hoes, and I love to celebrate life in places I’ve never been before. Mostly places where the sun warms my skin, nature flourishes, and culture surprises me.

Off the Beaten Path in Portugal: 4 Day Roadtrip Through Beautiful Central Portugal

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Caroline Muller

Thanks for dropping in! My name is Caroline, and I am a full-time writer & photographer. With this blog, I hope to harness the power of travel to do good in the world. Think connecting with local cultures, sustainable tourism, and in-depth guides to known and lesser-known adventures. Adventure awaits!

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