Route Map to a New Life – Scotland to Portugal
Hi, and welcome to the first in a new series of Travel Malarkey “Route Map” articles.
In this new series I’m going to make up a number of route maps, showing all the destinations we’ve stayed at in certain countries, regions, areas of interest, and on specific tours.
In addition to the route maps, each article will have a brief summary of the places we stayed. With highlights of the trip, any top tips we have, potential problems and anything else we find useful.
This “Route Map from Scotland to Portugal” began on Friday the 10th of July 2020, when the Travel Malarkey team set off from Scotland for a brand new life in Portugal.
Follow the route map of our journey as we dodged covid and crowds with our daughter and granddaughter along for the ride. Fleeing Brexit in hopes we could gain residency in Portugal as a new base for our travels.
And maybe even to create our very own , small and homely, eco-friendly camperstop.
It turned out to be – quite by accident – one of the most beautiful drives we’ve taken to date.
We’ll publish a number of follow up articles with more details of our journey. But for now let’s get started with the map…
Click on the icons for details of each stopover
I always find it really difficult to select highlights. I’m that kind of awkward person who can never give a straight answer to those questions that begin with,
“What’s your favourite…?”
I just like too many things to ever be able to pick just one. And it’s really unusual for me not to be able to find something I really like about a place. Even worn down, tiny Brad in Romania burrowed itself a special place in my heart.
When I have to pick out my “Highlights” what I do is just see what the first things that jump out in my head are when I think about that place or trip. I figure no matter how amazing other things may have been, these strong, lasting images are the things that have made the most impact on me.
So what are the very first things that jump right out of my head as soon as I think back on this tour?
Sunflowers are, without a doubt, the first thing I think of when I remember that summer’s route to Portugal.
I don’t know for how many years I’ve been seeing photographs of the sunflower fields of France – and dreaming of seeing them in person some lucky day. And that lucky day came about on Wednesday 15th July as we made our way from Le Sap down to the Loire Valley and the little village of Turquant.
Maybe you can imagine then – just a little – how fairytale that journey felt for me. As not only did my sunflower dream come true on our fourth day in France, but it just kept on going.
All the way through France and on into Spain. The sunflowers surrounded us. Smiled at our passing. Slept beside us in the free Aire at Briviesca, and did not leave us until we passed into Galicia – with Portugal just one last night’s sleep away.
Field after field of giant yellow faces. And intertwined in my memory of those glowing lands is the sweet, heady scent of lavender. Picked fresh from roadside clumps, and drifting through Iggy’s summer open windows.
Purple and yellow. The colours of our route map in my head.
The next thing that jumps straight to my head from this trip is mountains. And not just any mountains, but a very particular place we stopped en route through Central Portugal. The majestic and magical Portas de Montemuro.
The drive up along the N321 from our overnight spot in Peso da Régua was slow, twisty, turns of switchbacks. Peering through foliage and twisting necks backwards for glimpses of how high we were travelling. Until the trees fell away and we found ourselves in this boulder strewn landscape. Somehow we had passed from the waters of the Douro to an altitude just 120 metres lower than Scotland’s highest peak – Ben Nevis.
I felt an instant affinity with this beautiful place. The air felt clearer. A presence in itself . And it was easy to believe in magic as I spun stories of sleeping giants to our granddaughter. If there had been a cottage to buy, and money to buy it, I would still be there now. Wandering the moungtains with the eagles. Writing tales of the Giants of Montemuro.
It is my fervent hope that I will return there some day. And spend some time up in those craggy heights writing the stories the sleeping giants whisper in my ears.
Water & Shade
My top tips from this tour are definitely water and shade. July and August in Southern Europe can get very hot. And by very we’re talking forty degrees in the shade as our personal top temperature of this trip. And it would have been up to forty-two or forty-three degrees if I’d not carefully chosen our route, day by day, to avoid the most extreme tempreatures.
Jay and I normally spend our summers in Scotland, and mostly choose to travel to southern destinations between September and May. We do this for three reasons.
- It avoids the extreme summer heat
- It avoids the crowds and opens up more free park ups
- It’s a lot cheaper
But this year we had no choice. With Covid border closures and lockdowns, and the Brexit deadline looming ever closer, we had to go as soon as the way opened. And the way opened in July. Right as the summer heatwaves were soaring to their sizzling heights in Portugal and Spain.
Neither of us had ever been in temperatures above thirty-six degrees before, and we were a little bit apprehensive about how we would cope with the heat. It was my main concern fullstop about moving to the Centro region of Portugal where temperatures above forty degrees are a regular part of the summer season.
And then there was our shaggy companion Marley who’s favourite weather is snow. And most vulnerable of all in our travelling party – four year old Hope. Extreme heat is the friend of nobody. And especially not shaggy dogs, and young children.
And so I built our route around temperature forecasts, water, and shade.
Ideally we would have skimmed the Atlantic coast all the way down, but I was concerned it would be too busy for safe travel during Covid. And sure enough our visit to Le Treport in Northern France confirmed our concerns. Crowds of people making no attempt at social distancing or following Covid guidelines made any attempt at going into town a total wash out.
It was an unpleasant experience that we were in no hurry to repeat, and we decided to stay inland. Skip from one quiet place to another. And suffer higher temperatures as a result.
And I am so thankful that we did. Avoiding the beaches and harbour towns I got to experience life in the hot interior. And to discover that it is manageable – and even enjoyable – with careful planning around water and shade.
Driving was cooler than sitting still on days without a breeze, and we made longer journeys. Stopping for lunch in shady mountain spots, and beside streams and rivers. Icecream, melons and soft drinks of any and every description became the most prized items in existence. And every day I would seek out park ups that were close to water – and ideally with shade.
If we had to sacrifice one for the other we would take a parking place with no shade, and spend the day sitting under a tree by the banks of a river. Sprawled out in the precious coolness of the waterside. Eating melon. Drinking iced tea and water. Taking a plunge whenever the heat became too uncomfortable. Soaking in municipal pools at every opportunity. And letting go of hurry. Of do this, or do that.
In summer, in the hot places, everything draws down to water and shade. Of minimal movement during the heat of the day. And the joy of evening and a paltry twenty eight degrees. Of coming alive when the sun sets. Dinner at ten and half drunk on one beer. Dreaming of Autumn and feeling that summer has always been. Will never end. And all one ever really needs is water and shade. Water and shade.
And so we come finally to a brief round up of our overnight stopovers on our route from Scotland to our new life in Portugal. Starting with our new favourite place to sleep before and after the long drive through England…
( You’ll find coordinates for each location in the map at the start of this article.)
An easy drive from the Eurotunnel or ferry ports Sangatte offers a large, free parking area, just on the edge of the little village itself. It’s a busy spot in summer and the vans overflow into the coach area when the motorhome parking is full.
The beach is superb with views across to the white cliffs of Dover on a clear day, and the village patisserie sells the usual high standards of delicious French cakes.
There are no services here so make sure you have water and don’t need to empty waste for the duration before you come. A great stop for the channel crossing, and also just to spend a day and night in a lovely spot with lots of interesting walks in the area.
Sunset across from the Municipal campsite in Le Treport.
We’ve been to Le Tréport before, and it’s a place I really like. But sadly we couldn’t share it with the family on this trip due to the tightly packed crowds sauntering along the pavements.
There are two or three paid motorhome aires in town, and the pleasant and reasonably priced municipal campsite as well. We opted for the campsite as we knew the aires would be packed, and sure enough there were vans parked out along the streets as well.
Well worth a visit for the white cliffs, the free funicular that runs through them to the top, and the gorgeous Belle Epoch houses in Mers-les- Bains
Pretty, Norman houses in Etoutteville
Étoutteville is a tiny little village of timbered Norman houses, a church, a park, a post office and very little else. Apart from of course a typical French village aire.
It constantly astounds me that so many tiny places in France have gone to the bother of supplying well laid out, free aires, with services, when their is not even a cafe or shop or two to repay their efforts with a little passing trade. I always feel immensely welcomed and honoured to receive this generosity, when we find little places like this. As though the villagers just wanted to share their good luck and beautiful surroundings with others.
Our friends J & K had chosen the Aire for a quiet safe meet up for us all as they headed back to England after spending lockdown in Sardinia. Between the hospitality of the commune, the mulberry tree in the park, the juicy blackberries beside the aire and the company of friends, Étoutteville will always be a happy memory in my head.
The free motorhome aire in Le Sap
Stop number four and a day of hopping from one Norman village to another saw us finish up in the historic town of Le Sap. France choosing to spoil us in typical fashion with free parking and services next to a pretty little picnic area and fishing pond.
The town itself is right next door and a lovely place to wander a few hours away. Like many of the villages it was very quiet and we would love to go back in easier times to see it at it’s bustling best.
Troglodyte houses in Turquant
Next stop on our route to Portugal, and we were starting to skim close to rivers as we headed South. We’d stayed in Turquant in the Loire valley on a previous tour and knew our granddaughter would love to explore it. And we weren’t wrong!
The free aire was full on this trip, but there is a large free parking just two minutes walk further along, and the extra motorhomes were parked up there.
It’s a quaint and interesting little place with restaurant, museum, the troglodyte houses and beautiful walks signposted around the area.
Chalais’ free motorhome aire
As we travelled further south water became an ever more important part of our journey. And so it was we were delighted to stumble on this little riverside spot in the little old town of Chalais.
The aire itself is nothing to write home about. A simple case of choose your spot in a crumbly parking area next to the pretty, little riverside park.
But the parking was free and came with services. Across the road was an Intermarche where we bought a fishing net and bucket to scoop small fish from the shadows beneath the bridge. And a pizza restaurant cum cafe/bar which provided our first beer on a taverna terrace since the early days of covid back in March.
Chalais is not a knockout destination. But it is charming, and a nice overnight stop. There are too many empty and diapidated houses for such a pleasant little town. And I felt a strong liking for the place. From the shady river walks to the chateau on the hill. And the tiny square where in better times we would sit with a glass – or two – and watch the world pass by on a long, lazy summer’s afternoon.
Ivy clad Saint-Sever
Saint-Sever was yet another great find on our route south to Portugal. A pretty little town, set on a hill, with an old Abbey, and beautiful ivy clad old houses. There is no aire as such, but motorhomes are allowed to park up free in a good sized car park near the historic centre.
There are no services, and the car park is mostly sloping. But it is quiet, with a nice looking restaurant nearby, and there are a few flatter spaces that were plenty good enough for a one night stay.
The bullring was our first sign that we were drawing close to Spain now. The two cultures blending together as we move into a land that is in many ways more Basque than Spanish or French.
We were surprised to find quite a lot of tourists sitting in the cafes and wandering the leafy backstreets. Although it was an unheard of destination for us Saint-Sever is clearly on the tourist map in the region. But on our stay it was just enough to make it lively – not enough to make it busy.
As usual I knew nothing more about Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port before we arrived than it was in our direction of travel, and it had some pretty buildings. And importantly for the heat it also had a river.
There were a number of campsites and paying aires in town, but they seemed like they might be quite close quarters, and I opted for a free parking area near the Carrefour while we took a wander into town to check things out.
We were glad of our quiet parking spot as we came into the historic centre and found that the town was chock-a-block with tourists. It turns out that this pretty Basque paradise is the French starting point of the famous Camino de Santiago. The pilgrimage walk to far off Santiago de Compostela on the north west corner of Spain.
The heat was soaring, and we took refuge at a little river beach. Tip toeing through sharp stones in the clear, clean water until the sun began a slow dip towards the mountains. Definitley a place to revisit once the Covid situation makes crowds less of an issue again.
Free motorhome parking at Roncesvalles
Rumours of potential border closures had us back in the van and racing the sun the few remaining miles into Spain before the light fell. It was late and everyone was tired so we stopped at the first likely looking spot – Roncesvalles – 949 metres up in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Roncesvalles is the second stage of the Camino de Santiago and motorhomes are allowed to stay overnight for free in the huge car park. There are hiking paths through the mountains with a myriad jewel bright darting damselflies. And cafe bars and restaurants for anyone wanting to have a bite to eat and a beer as they enjoy this lovely space.
We stayed for two nights so that we could spend the day walking some of the trails, and just enjoy the countryside and relax a bit after our ten days on the road.
Briviesca free motorhome aire
Day eleven of our journey and we set off across Spain towards the northern Portuguese border. We’d considered just driving straight down through Spain until we neared the Algarve, but we wanted our guests to see a little more of Portugal as we drove down. And also we wanted to get across that final border as soon as possible too.
Trying to balance driving time with distance I picked out a free aire at the town of Briviesca. It was on a river, had free services, and the town looked small enough to be a stress free visit for Covid times.
Sure enough it was a nice little town with some river walks and pleasant plazas and parks dotted around. Everyone was wearing their masks and tables were so evenly spaced that we even felt comfortable to stop for a drink in one of the plaza cafes.
The free aire was surrounded by sunflower fields, the municipal sports area and pool and the bullring. A grest location with little traffic. Apart from the locals who dropped by from time to time to fill water bottles at the free services.
Free aire at Villada
The next day saw us driving for mile after mile across sunflower and lavender clad flatlands of Castile y Leon, until we reached the little village of Villada.
There is little here to draw the tourist looking for museums, arts and culture, but it is a perfect little stopover for a quiet day or three of lazy, summer life in the plains of northern Spain.
The village has made a pretty little spot for their free Aire, and the playgrounds and municipal pool are a mere stone’s throw away.
Not many more stones thrown later and the main plaza has a few cafes where the locals cast us a curious, friendly eye as we sat at the well spaced tables and treated ourselves to menu del dia. Everyone here was so good at following the guidelines that it didn’t feel risky at all to sit outside and enjoy our meal. Our only regret from our visit is that it was too hot, at 36 degrees in the shade, to properly explore the area.
Incredible backdrop at Puebla de Sanabria
Puebla de Sanabria
Portugal was drawing closer, and we contemplated crossing the border for our next stop. But we had only stopped three places in Spain and decided to have one last night, and cross into Portugal the following day.
The temperatures were holding steady at “too hot” and either a river or aircon was a definite necessity for the day. After a bit of hunting I found another amazing stopover at the free parking in Puebla de Sanabria.
There were no services and it’s not an official aire, but it’s a well used spot for touring vans to stop off for one or two nights to visit the beautiful old town and castle. Sadly it was far too hot to wander up to visit the town, but we spent a happy day by the riverside. Cooling down in the surprisingly warm waters and waiting for the heat to pass with the sun going down.
Motorhome Aire at Peso da Regua
Peso da Regua
Fourteen days after our journey began and the Travel Malarkey team finally crossed the border near Chaves and arrived in our new country – Portugal. Now all that remained was to make our way south to the Algarve to visit our friend David, and then apply for our residency papers.
This was our first time taking this route into the country and the heat was vicious. Searching for an ideal spot for the night I found a paying aire at Peso da Regua that was only €3 per night with electricity included.
I could barely believe it. The spaces were small, but we were able to turn the aircon on and take a blessed break from the heat. We took turns going swimming in the next door pool as someone stayed with Marley in Iggy’s wonderfully cool interior.
There are beautiful walks along the Douro and cafes and restaurants galore to sit in and soak in the stunning views of the river and the ancient terraced vineyards of this special part of the world.
Small but perfectly placed, free parking in Sao Pedro do Sul
Sao Pedro do Sul
Day two in Portugal and a drive of a lifetime along the Douro valley and up through the pass of Montemuro and we found ourselves at the spa twon of Sao Pedro do Sul.
Once again there was no official aire in town, but a simple free car park next to the river allowed overnight motorhome parking. It’s not a problem to us to park up without “camping activity”. This is the norm on most of the aires we stay on. And with the riverside park right next door we had our cool, shaded picnic spot for the day all sorted out.
The town centre has a small park area with fountains and hot springs and an array of cafes and tourist shops. And I fell a little bit in love with this simple, but special little piece of verdant green in the midst of the impossible heat.
Free municipal aire in Tomar
It’s very rare for us to visit the same place twice. But with the family on board it’s too tempting not to share some of our favourite places. And Tomar is one of those places that is really easy to add to your favourites list.
The free aire used to be the municipal campsite and still has sinks, washing lines and outdoor showers – cold water only. The grounds are no longer manicured and it’s just a case of finding your own spot in among the shady trees and flowering shrubs. And there is a free service point to boot.
Just out of the gates and turn right and you find yourself at the beautifully landscaped riverbank and picturesque old town complete with historic Templar castle on the hill.
Tomar is a special place. As happens in places like this it’s a bit on the touristy side, but not enough to spoil it. We visited in early March last time when there are much fewer tourists around. This time the town was bustling with, mainly Portuguese, holidaymakers. There were free, socially distanced, outdoor concerts in the park, and the feeling that in normal times it would be a real festival atmosphere here in summer.
There’s always new things to learn about the world we live in.
Eighteen days after leaving Scotland and we needed one more stopover before we reached our friend David in Loulé. As we came further south it was getting harder to find places to stop. Many of the aires – and even the campsites – had closed for covid back in March and were still closed now. And in the end I plumped for another place we’d visited before. The ever popular tourist spot of Evora.
The free aire in Evora wasn’t my ideal choice for the hot weather we were having. But the forecast was “only” for thirty-five degrees. I knew there wasn’t a huge amount of shade at the aire, and there was nowhere close to sit outside. But the park in the walled old city was just fifteen minutes walk away. We could buy ice creams at the cafe and sit in the shade watching the antics of the peahens until the heat subsided.
We were lucky to get a decent bit of shade at the free aire ( with services) and delighted Jay & Hope by finding three massive peacock tail feathers in the park. Sadly it was just too hot to explore the town properly, so they missed the Roman temple, the cathedral and the views over the aqueduct from the top of the town. But the ice cream in the park went down a treat!
There’s always new things to learn about the world we live in.
And so on the 29th of July we finally arrived in the Algarve and our long awaited catch up with our dear friend David. First met with the lovely Fran in Sicily back in 2017, and last seen in Mosbach, Germany, almost a year previously.
David had been staying at Sunshine Park since the Portuguese lockdown was announced back in March, and was getting ready to make his way northwards in a few weeks time.
We’d planned on only visiting for a few days before making our way to Albufeira to look into getting our residency and tax numbers. But it was hot, and we knew the site in Albufeira had no shade. Sunshine Park was rural, quiet, shady and had a small plunge pool to boot. So we booked in for a month and settled back to laze August away under the olive trees. With evening beers and chats with David once the sun went down.
There are no sinks, showers or toilets at Sunshine Park, but it is a nice shady place to pass some quiet time in the countryside.
Sunshine Park was our final stop on our route from Scotland to the Algarve, but I can’t finish this post without including the place I am now. The beautiful, unique, arty, bohemian-chic that is Mikki’s Place to Stay near Péra.
Towards the end of August there came the gap in quarantines we were waiting for. Jay was able to book a flight back to Scotland to try and complete this years mandatory training for his healthcare registration. He was going to be gone a month and I needed some place to stay while he was away.
David was leaving, and we had a number of online friends staying at Mikki’s Place that I’d wanted to meet for ages. So we packed up Iggy and shuffled an hour westward to Péra. And boy am I glad we did.
Mikki’s Place is rightly famous among motorhome users in the Algarve. A relaxed, friendly haven for lovers of art, animals, and unique hand crafted surroundings that speak of love rather than pristine showroom modernity.
Tomorrow Jay flies back home. To Portugal. And on Friday we will set off on the next phase of our journey. Eleven weeks to the day since we set of on our journey from Scotland in July. It will be hard to leave Mikki’s, and I can see for sure why some people choose to stay.
But my life is still around a corner somewhere. Waiting for me to turn it. To find my own small patch of planet to share with as many people as I can. And like Mikki’s Place, Portugal now has my heart. There are pieces in the mountains, in the hot springs, in the dusty, red sands of the Algarve.
This has been our route to a new life. And it is still only just begun.