Everyone deserves a holiday. Even us poor people, right? But we are not going to use the bad credit credit card. We want a cheap holiday. What can be done for a week in Portugal under €500?
Even when I was living on a beach, I still wanted to go to the beach for a holiday. Another beach. A less crowded beach. One with kangaroos on it.
Portugal has an oddly arranged coastline which is almost one interrupted beach encased in about 5 kms of deep forest. I applaud how pristine and undeveloped it all is but I wish that at the end of the road there was just one or two really nice restaurants and a couple of places to stay. Where there is development it seems to have gone out of control, like Peniche and Ericeira, which could be any surf town anywhere in the world.
I wont slag off Ericeira too much because at least there’s Coxos Beach Lodge, which fits in the under €500 budget if you have 3 friends you can live in close proximity with. That would put the accommodation at €910 between four for a week. The apartments are self contained so you can cook for yourself most nights and also have a splurge at the restaurant next door. Coxos beach is a short walk away, out of the way of the main drag, and it’s the least crowded beach at Ericeira.
However, the cheapest beach holiday you can have is to camp. Sneaky-camp. Yes it’s not very legal and you may get shot by hunters, eaten by bears, or stabbed to death by a family member, but if you can handle all that then paradise is yours. Get your hands on a brown or green tent, and a matching car, or better still, leave the car and hike in from the nearest station. I spent my sneaky-camping life under the stars because a tent can be a bit much to carry for one little chick. I’ve sneaky-camped in roman ruins, in the middle of sandy deserts and woken to a flock of wild swans staring me down at the edge of a lake in the middle of nowhere. Sleeping in the open is one of life’s small pleasures.
Camping is no joy without the right equipment. Battery powered or headlamps, a trangia or single mount gas cooker. Stuff to eat from. An esky. Mosquito repellent. Pack of cards. Chocolate. Quality bedwear: a down bag, a good thermarest and a silk liner will last you a lifetime. If you’ve got the car then all this is too easy and you can live like royalty. Don’t consider lighting any fires – but you could make a hangi on the beach. Bring a bag of coals and firelighters, dig a hole in the sand about a foot deep (away from the water, dude) get your coals red hot then throw in that fish you caught earlier, wrapped in foil and loaded with garlic and ginger and coriander, then cover it over with sand and use your intuition to decide when it’s cooked.
There are sneaky camping opportunities throughout the Pinhal de Leiria, or basically anywhere north of Nazaré. Reasonably quiet and vast beaches (with a café and a shower) like Tocha, Palheira, Costa do Lavos, Leirosa, Osso da Baleia and Pedrogão are all worth a survey. The further north you go the quieter it gets (except for around Fig de Foz and Porto).
The law of sneaky camping is to keep a low profile, don’t leave a scrap of rubbish behind and bury all your droppings. If you think you might be on private property then try to find the owner before they find you.
Roughing it isn’t The One‘s idea of a good time, so I’ve also researched cheap roof-over-head style lodging too. If the crowds at Nazaré don’t bother you, there is certainly an abundance of rooms to rent which are not on the internet. Go there now and let every little old lady show you their place and book it up for August. Or find another obscure beach you like and ask around on market day. There are a couple of hotels that might be worth investigating. The Hotel Teimoso, in Termoso, Cabo Mondego, just north of Figueira da Foz has rooms for €55-€60 a night per double. It’s right on the beach and although the photos of the Teimoso in the 1950’s make me weep with joy, the latest renovation isn’t too repulsive.
Searching for a official camping ground that is genuinely on the beach brought me to Cabedelo near Viana do Castelo. Hell knows how busy it gets in August but it does look like a reasonably nice camp. Again in the far north the beaches will be less crowded and there may well be small hotels begging for customers, not forgetting more little old ladies with rooms for rent.
For serious tranquillity and some adventure there are bargains-a-plenty in Central Portugal. The buzzword of the day is Glamping, as in glamour camping, which is something I should’ve invented. It’s for backpackers who grew up. Yurts are popping up everywhere around here, offering a different, comfortable, getting- amongst-nature-without-the-dirt-in-your-food type experience. In Central Portugal you’ll inevitably be right near a crystal clear river for swimming or fishing. Many provide meals, or breakfast at least or the facilities to cook for yourself. Some yurting/glamping retreats will offer extras like lessons in permaculture, massage, hiking, pottery, horse riding or whatever they are into. And they are usually run by laid back people who don’t mind if you get nude and want to be left alone.
Glampelo has cabins of the luxo kind perched on the side of a valley. It’s near the village of Campelo which is a top spot for trout. €39 a night a double and the possibility of 3 meals a day for €24pp. Lobos Retreat in Sertã has a really plush yurts in an idyllic spot with your own river. €400 a week. O Homem Verde also has a yurt for €210 week, self contained. Quinta da Fonte is a B&B, has tents, a caravan and is also a campsite set in absolute seclusion in a stunning spot with a small river outside of Figueiró dos Vinhos. Prices up to €32.50 a double a night and dinner for €15.
If you need more action and excitement in this neck of the woods, you can talk to Go-Outdoor who can take you canoeing, caving, hiking and whatever other heart-pumping pursuit you fancy. In Lousã there is paragliding, and the hostel there is really not bad (and there’s €10 bar meals at the Palaçio – very civilised).
I live in Central Portugal so I wont be doing any of these things. I want to go to Minho or Trás-Os-Montes and stay in a dinky little village with a small dividend of minor attractions during the day and an ungainly quantity of delicious food and wine at night. With dessert.
Castro Laboreiro, a small village near Melgaço and the Peneda Geres National Park is one of these lost in time Portuguese treasures. As if the traditional village life isn’t ancient enough, there are roman ruins and megalithic monuments and a medieval castle.
If stomping about looking at old rocks isn’t your game then you can get some white water rafting action in Melgaço with Melgaço Radical for a steal at €39.
I imagine you might stay in a sort of bedsit at the back of Dona Maria’s but Aldeias de Portugal have a bunch of little houses for rent of a quality and charm that even The One would find acceptable. €50 a night for two.
Or there’s the odd bargain plush hotel like Casa Dos Braganças in Montalegre where a week would be about €385.
The Parque Natural de Montesinho seems to have more than its fair share of very nice places to stay, and is dotted with picturesque, rarely visited villages. The park is a haven for the endangered Iberian wolf, but you are more likely to see otters, birds of prey, deer and wild boar. Photographer’s nirvana.
Living in the interior one does get rather culture starved, and starved in the culinary sense too. But Lisbon and Porto will in all likelihood bust your budget. You might spend €500 just on cocktails, for example. But if it is big city you need then look for private apartments to rent. Don’t get sucked in by a cheap hotel, I have tried and tried again. As for eating – research your fine dining and share a main with dessert and coffee. We struck gold (excuse the pun) at Casa D’Oro, a stunning architect designed building on the water in Porto, with a pizza place upstairs. As for culture, there is usually free music to be had somewhere, and theatre and music are not always expensive. Look for small theatres or musical groups. It’s the clubs that will kill your wallet. Seeing an international DJ like Boy George, (in March in Porto) was €20. Ouch.
A few other cities in Portugal has a healthy cultural program. Coimbra seems to always have a festival on of some sort, and has theatre, fado & film fests. Try Guimarães and Viana.
My pick for a city week would be Braga, of course. I’d be quite happy staying at the Francfort for €15 and eating at Taberna Felix every night €15-€20. The river beach of Adaufe will do fine for lying about and there’s always tea at the Amares pousada. The Câmara has a cultural agenda published monthly, as do most town halls.