Motorhome Travels – Central Portugal

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We headed out to Central Portugal for an extended visit in May. This area tends to get overlooked by the average tourist who is usually enjoying the beaches of the Algarve, or a city break in Lisbon or Porto. In contrast to the more famous parts, Central Portugal is sparsely populated, containing picturesque towns and villages, green rolling hills and hazy mountains in the distance. Think England on a sunny day, with no rain!


Our first stop in Central Portugal was to the village of Monsanto. Well strictly speaking, we parked at the village of Relva at the bottom of the mountain. A pretty village in its own right, Relva is a popular stop-off for vanlifers. You can spend the night here with no problem, but it can get busy at times. There was a hippy family in a caravan parked up in the square practicing their tambourines, so for us it was a bit too lively!

Anyway, a twenty minute walk up the very steep road will take you to the village of Monsanto. It really is a beautiful place of tiny cobbled streets, picturesque cottages and amazing views across central Portugal. If you keep walking uphill, you will arrive at what is left of the Castelo de Monsanto. The ancient fortress was used to defend the area and has a commanding view for miles around. You can even see snow on the mountains of the Serra da Estrela in the distance.

Any one into the Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon will find Monsanto particularly interesting as some scenes were shot around the castle. Its not a show I watch, but all over the village are stills from the show. I imagine at the time, a big budget show like that coming to town was a major event.

Anyway, Monsanto and Relva is well worth checking out.


The town of Tomar is on the river Tajus in central Portugal. It was founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century and is full of history wherever you turn. Dominating the skyline in the centre is the castle and convent. Both a five minute walk up a steep hill.

Passing through the middle of the town is the beautiful river Tajus which helps cool the air on a hot, sunny day. There are parks, coffee shops, and an amazing market on Fridays.

As a motorhome stop over, it is one of the best I have ever stayed at. In fact we spent five nights here because it was so good. The park up is the former municipal campsite in the town centre near the leisure centre and the river. All the pitches are shady, and feel organic. No regimented rows of pitches here! A bread van comes by about 9.30 each morning delivering lots of pastry goodness!

The town is big enough to have plenty going on, but still small enough to not feel hectic and crowded. Highly recommended to visit!


Probably the most famous part of central Portugal is Nazaré. Known the world over, for its immense waves suitable for surfing. When conditions are right, it is possible for experienced surfers to ride 30 metre waves! We visited on a changeable and windy day, which was whipping up some angry waves. I can only imagine what they must look like during a storm!

As a surfer town, there is a cool vibe everywhere. It is unashambly touristy, with plenty of souvenir shops, international restaurants and of course surfing clothes and equipment.

We parked one block back from the main beach on some waste ground. The area was was flat and clean with some rubbish bins not far away. There was about five motorhomes and campers when we arrived, but by early evening it had mushroomed to about 30 vans. The area felt very safe, with no disturbances, a police car drove by in the morning to keep an eye on us.

One thing to be aware of though. Our dog picked up a tick from somewhere in the bushes surrounding the parking area. No harm was done, but always keep an eye out for these horrible creatures!

There is a funicular railway that will take you up to the headland, or you can walk. As the weather was a bit rubbish we drove around to the sports centre car park, and walked about ten minutes. This area has a church, shops and obviously the view across the bay. It is very touristy up here with coach-loads of visitors arriving all the time.

We really enjoyed Nazaré and if the weather had been better we definitely would have stayed more than two days.


Our final point of interest in Portugal was Fátima. This is a small town that has grown up around the site of a miracle where three shepherds saw an apparition of the virgin Mary, or locally known as Our Lady of Fátima. Whether you subscribe to the folklore or not, the Shrine of Fátima was built and attracts millions of visitors every year who pilgrimage here. In fact the first time we tried visiting, unbeknown to us, the Pope was giving mass making it impossible to get near, or even park. We came back two days later and it was back to normal. Still busy, but plenty of space to park. They even allow motorhomes to stay over, providing drinking water, toilets and showers.

The shrine is beautiful, comprising of the main basilica, a chapel of the apparitions, and a huge open space where pilgrims attend open air mass. Apparently on the day the Pope was there, close to a million people showed up! No wonder parking was tricky that day!

We stayed for about three hours, and our feet were very tired by the time we finished as it is a very large area, with lots to see. Even if you are not religious, it is an interesting place to visit.

Driving in Portugal

I added this because I thought it was worth mentioning. Most of the motorways in Portugal are toll-roads. However unlike places like France, it is done electronically ie. no toll booths. There are gantries every few km that track you as you drive along the motorways. This means if you want to use the best roads, you need to register on the Portugal toll roads website. I suspect if you do not, eventually you will get a fine sent to your home address.

Or you can do what we did and tell Google Maps to avoid toll roads. The rest of the roads are pretty good, except in the central interior areas like Castelo Branco which feels like driving in Wales. Lots of hills, junctions and general faffing to get anywhere.

Top tip – Fuel is much cheaper in Spain, so make sure you brim that tank before you cross the border!

Would we come back?

Absolutely we will! Portugal is a great place to explore in a motorhome. So many great places to visit and finding decent parkups is dead easy.

If you have a motorhome, definitely consider going the extra distance and checking out Portugal!

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