Spain and Portugal are two countries that offer innovative possibilities for a fantastic road trip in Europe. There is an excellent network of highways, many historical and colorful towns, great lodgings, delicious food and both countries are more affordable than any other European duo.
Madrid is a good place to start the adventure since it has an international airport with many connections from around the world and the city itself is located in a strategic position in the center of the country. This capital has many things to explore in this charming, but for those anxious to hit the road there is lots in store too. Even when there are many possibilities as how to undertake the trip, we will present a route we have already followed in our trips that proved both efficient and enjoyable.
Badajoz, located just on the border with Portugal in the heart of Extremadura, it takes four hours driving from Madrid. It is a city with a lot of history, a lovely old town, it is very compact and easy to walk within and without. It boasts magnificent views, bringing the charm of the ancient medieval city and the influence of many years of an Arabic presence in Spain, this is the perfect place to spend the first night.
Just less than an hour from Badajoz on the other side of the border is Elvas: what a beautiful town! What a magnificent historic center! Castles, houses with old blue tiles and shining yellow hues. This walled city is located on the top of a large hill and its fortifications are legendary. Inside there are many bed and breakfast options: certainly at least one night has to be spent here too.
The following stop is Evora, this is an hour and half due West driving from Elvas: Historically the town is one of royalty and nobility with impressive architecture, amazing panoramas and friendly people. There are even ruins dating back to the era of the roman occupation. This is a place that cannot be missed and the whole town is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. One of the hotels to stay –if its in the budget- is the beautiful Convento do Spinheiro, even when it is not located in the downtown, this rustic escape of a hotel brings a new definition to luxurious service housed within an ancient monastery.
Fatima is the spiritual heart of Portugal. It is a Catholic sanctuary visited by millions every year. From Evora it takes almost two hours driving. Even when it is a must stop for visitors, we will not encourage people to sleep there. Besides the sanctuary itself there is not much around to see, so just couple hours or little more is enough for a visit. On the way back one can choose a stop in Lisbon, but since it is so big maybe it is not the best idea for a road trip (it is a city that demands a trip by itself). Sintra may be a better option, another of the great historical towns, located just 40 minutes outside Lisbon is a marvel of nature and lavish hotels and inns.
Many choose to continue a trip down to the south to the Algarve region: one of the most visited beach destinations of Europe. Those looking for luxurious and modern hotels may choose to stay around Faro or the area of Quinta do Lago, an authentic hangout for the rich and famous. Those looking for something more traditional may prefer Portimao or the Villa real de Santo Antonio (we will recommend to keep in mind our tip about toll roads in Portugal).
Going back to Spain using a different route: Seville would be the next suitable stop: the Cathedral is a beautiful witness to Arabic architecture among many other beautiful places to explore. From there if one takes the small highway to Estepona in Costa del Sol one will find an amazingly decorative and scenic drive –a hilly and curvy though narrow road- but with breathtaking panoramas.
Estepona or Marbella, both are good options to find lodging and tourism in Costa Del Sol and enjoy the amazing weather and the sandy beaches. From there once one starts going back to Madrid, Cordoba is another great town to explore, in our opinion together with Toledo –that is as well in the road to Madrid- is one of the most beautiful towns of Spain.
We think the best time to travel there is the low season in the months of February to April, the weather is still nice, prices are very affordable and one has not to deal with the big crowds or hot weather. During summer the tourist season is in full swing: everything is open until late and one will enjoy a festive ambiance with a higher price tag.
For traditional lodging we have to start by saying there are numerous charming little hotels and bed and breakfasts in each one of the cities we mentioned. If one is looking for hotels with great service in amazing locations and local flavors we always will recommend in Spain one of the Paraderos Turisticos and in Portugal any of the Properties of the Pousadas de Portugal.