After lockdowns and shattered holiday plans, it was with great excitement we looked forward to our family vacation to Portugal.
In April, we moved from South Africa to Portugal, and now four months later, we would be together.
Our family group would be; Carol and me. Danny and Christina, and 2-year-old Isla from San Francisco. Shannon and her two children, aged 4 and 7, from Dubai and Kyle, who is currently in Malta and his new girlfriend. Meeting Isla would be a highlight as we hadn't met her in person, and 2 years is a long time in little people's lives!
For our vacation to Portugal we all arrived in Porto at different times. Carol and I took a bus from Vagos to Aveiro and the train from Aveiro to Porto. Arriving at the Campanha station with lots of time, we decided to walk from the station to the apartment.
After we settled in, the families arrived at about midnight.
In Porto, we stayed in a recently renovated 3-bedroom apartment. Situated close to the commercial centre and many "must-see" places in Porto. It was perfect. Apart from getting from the airport and leaving at the station, we walked or used public transport.
Day 1 - Our Vacation to Portugal
On our first day, after long flights and getting to bed in the early morning, we had a late start.
We'd decided to explore by taking a walk up and down the steep hills of Porto. Followed by a visit to Villa Nova de Guia, the town across the river from Porto. De Guia somehow has a different feel than Porto. Influenced by it being the site of many port outlets fed from the Duoro valley?
I had to get used to considering 3 children aged between two and seven with two strollers. This was a challenge I'd forgotten about. Getting strollers on and off buses, sleep times and having all the extras like a change of clothes and eats.
As a compromise between doing it ourselves and walking tours, we decided on trying one of the Yellow City Cruise tours. We chose the Best of Porto ticket, which is valid for 48 hours.
As we were visiting at the peak of the tourist season, we decided not to do any 'hop-on hop-off but stay on for the complete loop!
Day 2 - Yellow City Cruise
On the first day, we chose to do the Porto Castles route in the morning, Followed, in the afternoon, by the Six Bridges River Cruise on the Douro River.
This bus tour goes through da Guia and as far as Matosinhos and gave us a good perspective of the area.
Day 3 - Yellow City Cruise
The following morning, we did the Historical Porto Tour. With a booking at the Cálem Wine Cellar and wine tasting in the early afternoon.
Day 4 - Wandering around Porto
After two structured days, we had an easy day. Wandering around Porto, with the highlight being our visit to the Livraria Lello.
Described as the most beautiful bookstore in the world. As we arrived in the area, I was blown away by the eye-popping long line snaking down the road for about 100 metres.
Taking advantage of small children in strollers, we were promoted to the front of a line. It was unbelievable that so many people would pay €5 to stand in line to visit a bookshop. It's a brilliant business - a bookshop that makes more money from visitors (100% margin) than from selling books.
Day 5 - The Douro Valley by Train
We added the Duoro Valley train trip to our vacation to Portugal plan based on the impressive reviews. Described as one of Europe's most picturesque railway lines, Linha do Douro departs from São Bento station in the centre of Porto. Taking you across the entire Douro Valley to Pocinho.
Starting in Sao Bento, we only went as far as Pinhal. Although not at the end of the line, it is still quite a long train ride, especially for little people.
The two-plus hour train trip comes in two parts. The first hour is quite dull as there is not much to see. But in the second hour, you enjoy exceptional views through the heart of the Douro Valley.
Tip: Sit on the right-hand side of the train for the best views of the river and vineyards.
We arrived at a hot - stifling, sweltering, airless hot Pinhal before midday. And wandered from restaurant to restaurant, trying to find a table for lunch.
All the recommended places were full or not open. So with the help of Google arrived at Cardanho Presuntos. It was an oasis - the food, wine and service were outstanding, as was the cool air-conditioning!
After lunch, we dawdled back to the station and took the train back to Regua. By now, it felt even hotter. We sweated downhill until we found air-conditioned refuge in a coffee shop. Too hot for coffee, it was beers and ciders for the adults and ice creams for the children.
We shuffled off to the port museum as we still had time. Capping an informative visit with a welcomed glass of tawny port.
Day 6 - Watching Rugby in a Football Mad Country
Danny, my oldest stepson, is a sports fanatic and, although resident in the US, is still an ardent supporter of South Africa. Especially when they are playing rugby against New Zealand!
With the closest sports bar closed (I wondered why it closed at the busiest tourist time of the year?), he set off to find another one. When he asked the manager about watching the rugby, he was told, "I already have a table for 12 booked". So we added our booking for another eight. The rest of the day was spent shopping and booking our train tickets to Aveiro.
Just before 4 o'clock, we arrived at the sports bar, and the other group was already there. The manager spent some time searching for the game, and as it stated, he found it - only with a Spanish commentary. Using a phone and a radio commentary, we were set up.
After about 15 minutes, I turned around, the bar was now full of people watching the game. I also noticed a few young guys leaving the football side of the bar come across to watch the game. No doubt attracted by the cheering and Super Bock-filled crowd. After South Africa won the game, we wandered back to the apartment, stopping on the way for a quick (and expensive!) tapas snack.
The next day we had a challenge. How to get 5 adults, 3 children, 3 large suitcases, plus backpacks, 3 car seats and 2 strollers to Sao Bento Station. Solved with two of us taking an Uber with all the luggage and the other 6 walking with strollers to the station.
Vacation to Portugal - Aveiro/Ilhavo/Vagos
Although we live in Vagos, the closest hotel the children could find with their late booking was in Ilhavo.
Leaving Porto by train, I again noticed how many areas of Portugal are virtual cities made up of a town, after a village, after a town. Most foreigners know the names of the main cities, but not that a town close to the city is a virtual suburb.
Prices of property in Portugal have soared over the last few years. Fuelled by the immigrants moving to Portugal from places like Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa. So much for the economic hope for BRICS countries when the best people leave!
The families stayed at the Hotel Ilhavo Plaza. It was close to the bus stop and had a swimming pool, but it is definitely not what one would expect from a 4-star hotel. Also, during summer, the premium pricing makes it even less attractive.
From here, they visited us in Vagos, and we had a few excursions up to Aveiro. Where the city was busy.
From Vagos, the town arranges a free bus twice a day to Vagueira beach. About 8 kilometres from Vagos.
Summer is fiesta time in many beach cities and towns. In Vagueira, there was music from 22:00 nearly every night, but we gave that a miss!
For me the weather in this area is perfect. Quite misty and chilly in the morning, and the beach was deserted. Then at about 10:00, the mist burns off, and it starts getting hotter. Maximum temperatures are generally mid to high 20s, and the hottest time of the day is 16:00. But with sunset after 20:00, there's still plenty of beach time.
After taking the bus to Vagueria, we walked to Costa Nova. The path alongside the Aveiro lagoon is a flat one and half hour walk with children.
Costa Nova was swarming with visitors, and we battled to find a place for lunch. After a look around this charming town, we took the bus back to Aveiro and from there to Ilhavo.
On two occasions we went to the beach in the afternoon. In stark contrast to the morning, both Praia da Barra and Vagueira beaches were crowded. Although the beaches here are appealing, that cannot be said about the surrounding areas.
A Week In Vagos
For the last week, Shannon and her two children, aged 7 and 4, stayed with us in our one-bedroom apartment. Danny also spent two nights with us, so our little apartment went from boring to bodies everywhere.
Carol and her family took a trip to the Museu Vista Alegre to see the collection and history of Portuguese porcelain housed in the site of the old factory. The museum visa includes the Chapel honouring Nossa Senhora da Penha de França and the Oficina de Pintura Manual. There is also the hand painting workshop of the Fábrica da Vista Alegre, where you can see the delicate ceramic painting.
Their report was glowing, so I must put this on my local bucket list. Shannon commented, "I wish we had stayed at the Montebelo Vista Alegre Ílhavo Hotel ", which is part of the museum complex.
They also had a day in Aveiro, enjoying the facilities and environment of the Parque Infante Dom Pedro.
Conclusion to Our Family Vacation in Portugal
Portugal offers a family-friendly destination for all age groups. With a fascinating history going back over a thousand years.
There are beaches, forests, pastelarias (bakeries), and ice cream shops. Children love the ice cream culture. While adults enjoy the coffee culture with the delicious pastel da nata and other sweet delights.
Often overlooked are the underrated, fine and value-for-money wines.
There are many delicious traditional dishes. There are Francesinhas, Tripas à Moda do Porto and many fish dishes in Porto. The drinks include port with three variations of white, tawny and red. Porto Tonico (Portõnica) is a refreshing drink made with one part of white port and two parts of the tonic with various garnishes.
Our favourite brand of beer was Super Bock, a local Portuguese brand. With the other local brand, Sagres, a distant second choice. But that's all down to personal taste.
There are beautiful buildings and churches. Many museums and fascinating attractions (like the Lello Bookstore).
Come and see for yourself - you won't be disappointed.