The irresistible call of the open road and those endless Algarve beaches

Last updated 3rd July 2024

Before you plan your next holiday to Portugal, find out why Sam Bradley recommends adding a campervan and turning it into a family road trip.


Playing on the beach, Sagres, Portugal

Why a holiday to Portugal isn’t always about beaches

“The road is lo-ong, with many a winding path…” The longer the better on this holiday to Portugal,  as far as I was concerned. Our campervan was cruising through beautiful countryside, the fields dotted with bright spring flowers and majestic cork trees. It was delightfully warm and sunny, and for once the children were happily listening to music rather than asking whether we were almost there.

Our last stop had been a stroll around a quaint village (which happened to sell delicious pastel da natas) and that evening we would be staying on a farm and sampling its wines (found through Portugal EasyCamp).  Some of my joy was because this was an unexpected highlight: we had assumed the beaches would be the main attraction, but two days into the trip we were inland, far from any tourist trail or coast, and couldn’t have been happier.

Discovering the delights of a family road trip

It was with some trepidation we had collected our ‘home’ from CamperDays in Porto just a few days before. A campervan is a large vehicle to drive, especially on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and we weren’t sure how to use the kitchen, bathroom, batteries or electric hook-up.

That was soon remedied by the friendly welcome team, and it helped that the vehicle came fully equipped with absolutely anything we could need, including camping chairs and a bike rack.

It didn’t take us long to appreciate the benefits of life on the road: every day we could wake up somewhere new, without having to constantly pack and unpack. The kitchen meant we could have the odd quiet night in with home cooked food; a good way to save cash and let the children recharge with an early night. And the onboard shower allowed everyone to warm-up and wash off the sand straight after a beach visit.

cliffs-beach-sagres-holiday-to-portugal- johannes-mandle

Dramatic Sagres coast, Algarve

You have to take surf lessons on a holiday to Portugal

“Life is a highway; I’m gonna ride it all night long.” A road trip needs good tunes, and with the whole family contributing we soon landed up with an eclectic playlist (“It’s raining tacos” from our 5-year-old, far too much Taylor Swift from the older two, and some of the older classics from my wife).

Merrily singing our way along we soon reached the Algarve, which we found blissfully relaxing. Even travelling outside the peak summer season the waters were warm and the beaches beautiful, not to mention the abundance of seafood.


Learning to surf, Sagres © Cristie Bradley

We easily passed two days exploring the markets and coastline, however, the highlight of this part of our holiday to Portugal was undoubtedly a surf lesson with Freeride Surfschool. Luca was an amazing instructor who had the kids riding their first wave in no time, and the next hour flew by in a blur.

Even after the lesson the children wanted to stay on the beach for longer, so we were grateful for a slow and relaxed itinerary with nowhere to dash to.


Sun sets over the São Pedro de Moel CAMC site © Cristie Bradley

Meandering back up the coast campsite by campsite

“On the road again” (in your best Donkey from Shrek impersonation). All too soon we began the final leg of our journey, gently meandering up the coast back to Porto. Most nights we stayed in a Caravan and Motorhome Club site in order to refill the water supplies and charge the batteries: the playgrounds, swimming pools and shops with fresh pastries each morning were an added bonus.

Our favourite site was Turiscampo in the Algarve, courtesy of the heated pool and the evening’s magic show with a real magician. Some of their Portugal  sites also have waterslides, so a return visit is firmly on the children’s wish lists.

Make a point of dropping by Sintra and Nazare

We continued to discover that Portugal is a country with so much to offer. Inland we had marvelled at the historic towns and forts (the UNESCO world heritage town of Elvas is a must) and along the coast we passed countless beaches and coves. It’s one of the cheaper countries in Western Europe to visit, the people were kind and friendly, and of course we all eagerly embraced the ongoing quest to find the country’s best pastel da nata.

We stopped off in the fishing village of Nazare (home to one of the world’s biggest surfing waves) and briefly saw Lisbon before arriving in the tropical area of Sintra. Historically home to Portugal’s royalty, the neighbourhood has a collection of magnificent palaces and gardens which can be visited. Once again, it’s worth slowing down and leaving enough time to soak up the atmosphere, especially if it involves a game of hide-and-seek in the gigantic gardens.


Appreciating the beaches of Sagres, Algarve

A slow travel holiday to Portugal at its best

Our trip had felt like slow travel at its best, and even once we (sadly) returned the campervan there was still a bit more holiday to be squeezed from the trip. Back in our own car (well stocked with Portuguese wine and crockery, gleefully purchased at a fraction of British prices) we began our route home through northern Portugal and Spain, stopping off at local hotels and Airbnb’s en-route.

Reaching Santander we drove onto the Salamanca, one of the newer ferries in the Brittany Ferries fleet and bound for Portsmouth. Twenty-eight hours on a ship may sound daunting, but the play areas, restaurants, educational talks and children’s entertainment programme meant we didn’t want the trip to end.

Slow travel certainly takes more time (a precious commodity these days) but the joy of arriving home relaxed instead of exhausted after this holiday to Portugal, had us hooked.

How to plan this holiday to Portugal

How to get there

Portsmouth to Santander from 30 hours, 31 minutes

Santander to Porto from 6 hours, 26 minutes

Find out more and book Brittany Ferries

Campervan hire in Portugal from CamperDays UK


Farm stays in Portugal with Portugal EasyCamp

Portugal EasyCamp

Sam and his family stayed at Caravan and Motorhome Club in Portugal

Caravan and Motorhome Club