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Driving in the Algarve

After arriving at Faro Airport and being politely asked to allow a 10,000€ pre-authorised charge to my credit card for the car hire, we were off to travel the length of Portugal and back in 10 days.

Having a car in Portugal is certainly handy, especially when you’re visiting the beaches and sea cliffs in the Algarve -- which have ample parking in May. Avoiding the A22 will give you a more memorable journey as non-motorways are usually toll-free, less maintained and generally have more ‘‘character’’.

Our first discovery was that, despite having a modest amount of tourists, Praia de la Rocha stood out for its scenery and ease with which you can access the sea cliffs above. We stayed in Lagos, as we were keen to see the caves for which the area is well known.

After a quick stopover in Cabo da Roca (continental Europe’s most westerly point), we headed for Lisbon. This is the part I was dreading the most, as it was raining heavily, we had no Sat Nav, the roads looked like they were designed for horses and carts and we were staying in the bohemian Bairro Alto in the heart of the city. If this sounds appealing, expect a 15-20-minute walk between the car park and the hotel.

We spent a large amount of time bouncing from one mirador (elevated lookout point) to another, eating custard tarts and hopping on and off the funiculars in and around the Moorish Castle of São Jorge. We decided not to cough up the 15€ to go to the top of the Santa Justa elevator due to the queues, but it came highly recommended. Come night time, we roamed the streets with a cherry ginjinha in one hand and a map in the other, admiring the many street acts you can find dotted around Baixa Chiado.

The following night we spent in Sintra, a favourite of English poet Lord Byron. We found free parking behind the Town Hall on Rua S Sebastião, which is behind Sintra train station. There are plenty of hop-on, hop-off buses that take you around the Nature Park, The Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros) and the picturesque Pena Palace.

En route to Porto on day six we made a brief visit to the walled town of Óbidos and its namesake castle. Porto was notably lively at night and there are a few look-out points dotted along the Douro River that were perfect for photos. We found a greengrocer's about a 10-minute walk after you cross Ponte Dom Luis I (going from north to south) on the right-hand side that sold wine for 99 cents a bottle, which was perfect for sipping whilst taking in the sunset

After two days of churches, art nouveau décor, museums and tasty seafood served with wine bought for a song, we schlepped to Castelo de Vide via the Douro Valley wine region -- arguably Portugal’s Tuscany. Meandering roads with varying elevations is the standard here. We were torn between trying to stay on the road and admiring the tiered vineyards, ruined castles and crumbling monasteries. The white-washed town of Castelo de Vide for us was simply a place to stop over and recharge our batteries for our final push for Évora, Monsaraz and finally Faro.

Évora definitively had more of a young vibe to it, with many terraces filled with university students. We managed to stay in a 16th-century manor house, 100 metres from the Roman Temple and very fairly priced. There is a Roman Aqueduct which stretches for five miles beyond the city with shops and houses built under a few of the arches. The impressive Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval and Roman Temple were both slightly dwarfed by the Capela dos Ossos -- which translates to the chapel of bones. This is certainly not for the faint-hearted, as you are welcomed to a sea of human bones that cover the walls by a sign that says, ‘‘We the bones that are here, await yours’’.

Our final stop was Monsaraz, an old fortress village that is considered to be one of Portugal’s oldest settlements. Along with the megalithic monuments there is a bullring inside the castle that is still used to this date.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, Manchester
Sunday, 20 January 2013
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Martin Cropper