|PORTUGAL-August 1994, Spring 2001 and 2002, June 2009|
Our first visit to Portugal was with a caravan in 1994, not to the popular Algarve but to the north of the country, the Costa da Luz. We spent two weeks at Camping Vagueira which is close to the town of Aveiro and about 40miles south of Oporto. Our next visit was 7 years later in 2001 in our motorhome when the lure of the Algarve and southern Spain proved too much to resist. We enjoyed this grand tour so much that we did not take much persuading to return with friends the following year in 2002, when we revisited the Costa da Luz where we had found the people so hospitable on our first visit in 1994. This hospitality was to be repeated and their kindness and honesty during both our visits was much appreciated. Leaving the north we then worked our way down the coast to the Algarve and into southern Spain. In 2009 we travelled south to north whilst on route to north western Spain. This is our account and views of the Portugese sections of our trips.
For more information on Portugal click on Portugal - Tourism and if you want to go direct to a section of this account, click on the highlighted text. To read our notes on the other countries we have visited, use the left hand side menu.
In the Spring of 2001 we used the Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry and then the A68 and A1 to travel to Burgos to join the route used in 1994 to Valladolid and Salamanca. From Salamanca we took the N630 south to Badajoz then the N4/N18 across the border into Portugal to Evora where we stopped for a couple of nights before taking some rough but interesting country roads south to join the IP1 for the Algarve where we spent three weeks sightseeing. Our first stop there was at Luz just west of Lagos. We then ambled along the N125 Algarve coast road stopping at Quateira, Olhao, Fuzeta and Monte Gordo before crossing into Spain.
Our route in 2002 was similar to that of 1994 but we crossed the channel via Dover to Calais and took the A28 to Rouen to join our 1994 route. This time we took 6 days over the journey, stopping for two nights to visit Salamanca in Spain before entering Portugal. After crossing into Portugal our first stop was Guarda and then on to Madalena just south of Oporto. The area to the south of Oporto, the Costa da Luz, is much cooler than the Spanish Mediterranean coast or the Algarve. While it is pleasant sunbathing on the vast expanse of beach available, the sea is very cold. After six days of glorious weather we moved on to re-visit Aveiro and Nazare and then travelled further south to Guincho and a site to the west of Lisbon before worsening weather persuaded us to drive on down to the Algarve.
In 2009 we passed through, south to north in transit from southern to north western Spain but did take the opportunity to re-visit Quateira and Coimbra. However, we did not manage any sightseeing at the latter. We also visited the medieval fortress town of Obidos and the northern coastal area on the border with north western Spain. A blog of the this trip can be read here.
Our views on the routes
General comments for wheelchair users
Our Stops and tours
Oporto (last visited March 2002) A day out to and a visit to the port wineries on the banks of the Douro is a must,
but it is not easy for a wheelchair user. On the two visits we have made, we drove there and in 1994 visited the Sandeman bodega (cellar)
and afterwards took a sunset boat cruise up the Douro. In 2002 we visited Grahams bodega. Sandeman's is on the riverside and
is probably the easiest to visit for the wheelchair user. Grahams on the other hand, is on a steep hill but once in the visitors center,
tour access is level. Parking to visit any of the bodegas is not easy and there are no areas dedicated to the disabled.
In 2002, while in the Porto area, we re-visited places last seen in 1994 and did
not notice much change. However, substantial building works are in hand
in the vicinity of Vila Nova de Gaia and an indication of things to come can be seen at the new commercial centre at Arrabida which is
wheelchair friendly and has wheelchair accessible toilets.
Espinho, (last visited March 2002) A fairly large town south of Porto which on appointed days hosts a large market. The area is mostly flat, there are no dropped kerbs but it is not too difficult to get around. The sea front esplanade is especially wheelchair friendly.
Coimbra (last visited June 2009) It is now easier to visit Coimbra than our first visit in August 1994 because a campsite has since been establised on the outskirts of the town about 4Km from the centre. A bus route to the centre passes close by this site but we doubted this was wheelchair friendly. Our visit on this occasion was spoilt by the weather and our failure to find a parking spot for the motorhome closer to the centre and we abandoned any attempts at sightseeing. However, we did noticed the town was much larger and busier than we remembered but beyond that we cannot provide an update on our fascinating and worthwhile visit in 1994 which at that time was a struggle. There were then no toilet facilities and we had to manage with unmodified ones provided in cafes. On one occasion, a wheel was removed from the chair in order to get through a toilet entrance. Coimbra is on a hillside and it was a steep push up to the old university buildings but was well worth the effort for the views.
Bucaco National Park, (last visited August 1994) This is famed for the battle in 1810 when Wellington defeated the French. Looking out over the countryside from where Wellington stood to command the battle, you cannot help but feel awe inspired and can fully appreciate why he retreated to these hills to make a stand. A small well kept and interesting museum features the battle.
Aveiro, (last visited April 2002) An interesting town well worth spending some time visiting. It has undergone considerable
modernisation since our first visit in 1994 without loosing any of its character. It is now easier to get around with a wheelchair and a new
wheelchair friendly shopping precinct has been built. The canal side now looks much more neat and tidy and the shopping precinct forms
part of a walkway along its sides. We rashly tried a boat trip out onto the Ria, not very interesting and the falling tide made it a nightmare getting
the wheelchair ashore at the end of the trip. Our view, not recommended! Averio has many fine buildings one being the railway station.
While there, an intercity train from Lisbon pulled in on its way to Porto. What a train! Very smart and tidy and from its sides out popped the steps
for passengers to alight and board. It also had a wheelchair accessible carriage with a wide door and it appeared ramps were available in
much the same way as the steps had appeared! However, local commuter trains are a different matter!
Nazare, (last visited April 2002). A picturesque coastal resort with an excellent beach overlooked at
its northern end by cliffs from which there is a very good view of the town. The promenade is level and there is
good access to the beach but inland the town slopes steeply up the surrounding hills. The cliff tops can be reached
by road and the view points although cobbled are wheelchair accessible. A rack and pinion railway also accesses
the cliff tops from the beach but it is not suitable for the wheelchair user and as in 1994 we found no facilities for the
disabled in the town.
Obidos, (last visited June 2009) Located north of Lisbon near the coast this walled fortress medieval town is a world heritage site and is well worth a visit although access for a wheelchair user is limited. The narrow streets are sloping and cobbled and a power chair is recommended. Entrance to the walled old town is gained through an impressive gateway which is embellished with tiled murals and leads directly to the main street. This is lined with touristy shops and leads to the main square and a castle built by the Moors. White washed houses adorned with bougainvilleas, honeysuckle and fuchsia make the town a delight to wander.
Guincho, (last visited April 2002)Located to the west of Lisbon close to Cascais, we spent 3 days here. Unfortunately the weather was not very kind to us which restricted our touring. However, we did manage one day out to Sintra and Cabo da Rocha, the most westerly point on the continent of Europe. Parking at Cabo da Rocha is easy and access to the view points and shop is via tarmac pathways. There is a cafe below the shop but access to it for a wheelchair user is via a steep ramp which is dangerously slippery in the wet. We found Sintra a little disappointing perhaps because of the weather? Getting around was easier than we thought although there are areas of wheelchair inaccessibility. We did not go into the palace and the disabled toilet on the railway station is nothing more than an ordinary cubicle which is inaccessible to the wheelchair user, so don't waste 25 cents. Our impression of the whole area around Guincho was one of a more modern Portugal and more convenient for the wheelchair user. A visit to the commercial centre near the Estoril motor racing circuit will quickly confirm this but, don't go in a motorhome as the parking height is restricted to 2 meters. Here you will find a modern wheelchair friendly shopping centre with disabled parking, lifts and wheelchair accessible toilets.
Evora, (last visited March 2001) is a medieval town and as such you would not expect it to be wheelchair friendly. This is indeed the case. The roads within the walled town are narrow, steep and cobbled. There are no dropped kerbs and we found access to the historic buildings impossible. This said, there is disabled parking in the town and the spot by the cathedral is probably the best for the determined wheelchair visitor. We stayed two nights at Camping Evora which is within walking distance of the old town. Apart from parking spaces, the only other disabled facilities we found were those on the camp site.
Algarve, In 2001 we stayed at Luz near Lagos, Quarteira, Olhau, Fuzeta and Monte Gordo before crossing into Spain. Our program in 2002 was similar but we stayed at Luz, Armacao de Pera and Fuzeta. The main attractions of the Algarve are undoubtedly the excellent beaches, golf, and of course the sunshine.
Lagos and Luz(last visited April 2002)
- No disabled facilities discovered at either place. Lagos is not easy to get about without assistance once off
the esplanade due to the cobbled areas and lack of dropped kerbs. Luz is a smaller coastal town 5Km west of Lagos.
The difficulties are similar to Lagos but the area is more hilly.
Quarteira(last visited June 2009)
-Our first visit was in April 2002. Whilst we rated this the most wheelchair friendly place we visited in Portugal you will still find dropped
kerbs leading onto a zebra crossing but not off it or a step up into a disabled toilet! Quarteria has a long level
esplanade with access to the beach and its cafes. There are some ramped areas and dropped kerbs though these can
be very steep. Good toilets for the wheelchair disabled indicate the efforts made to cater for wheelchair
users but the toilets at the eastern end of the esplanade had a single step up at the entrance! Those
opposite the Dom Jose hotel were fully accessible. Whilst staying here in 2002, we hired a car and visited Albufeira, Monchique, Praia de Gale and Ponta do Castelo.
Albufeira(last visited April 2002) - For all its fame and pedestrianised shopping areas, it is probably the least suited place for a wheelchair user. It is hilly, has many cobbled areas and no dropped kerbs. Toilets for the disabled are available near the bus station but these are only suited to the ambulant because it is not possible to transfer from a wheelchair.
Monchique (last visited April 2001) No disabled facilities but nice drive via Silves, view points were the trip highlights.
Praia de Gale and Ponta do Castelo(last visited April 2002) - Nice views but beaches not accessible with a wheelchair.
Armacao de Pera(last visited April 2002) - The town is fairly level and ramped access is available to the beach but there are no other disabled facilities. Not far away in the direction of Albufeira on the N125 is the new Algarve Shoppping Centre. A modern wheelchair friendly complex comprising shops, cafes, bowling alley and cinema. No height barriers were observed and disabled parking and wheelchair accessible toilets are available.
Olhau(last visited April 2002) - An interesting port town, flat with reasonable access. There are no specific disabled facilities and few dropped kerbs but the pedestrian zone in the centre and the waterfront walk both have level flat access.
Fuzeta(last visited April 2002) - Again no specific disabled facilities but a flat compact area, the town, fishing harbour and sandy beach all being in close proximity and largely unspoilt. A ferry service operates to a nearby island. With help all ferries are wheelchair accessible and for a return fair of €1.10, you can enjoy the soft white sand and the out of season solitude of its beaches. There are three steps to negotiate at the pier on the island. Here a 20 to 30 metre concrete pathway leads past a small rustic restaurant to the seaward side beach. This is journeys end for a wheelchair user but for the ambulant there are miles of beach in either direction. There is no shade but you can obtain inexpensive meals and refreshments at the accessible restaurant. This is the only public facility on the island and unfortunately its small toilet is not wheelchair accessible.
Tavira(last visited April 2002) A pretty town set on a river and having plenty of character. The area is flat but has its fair share of cobbled streets. We found basic wheelchair accessible toilets in the large indoor market and in a shopping arcade by the river near the centre of the town .
Villa Real(last visited April 2002) Not a lot of interest here but the centre is level, not cobbled and is a good place to shop, prices being lower than other areas of the Algarve.
Monte Gordo(last visited April 2001) - No specific disabled facilities. The beach with good wheelchair access is the main attraction.
To see more of Portugal, have a look at some of our photos in our Portuguese Gallery which is accessible via the top left hand side menu.
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