7 Czechia Beauties outside Prague

7 Czechia Beauties outside Prague

The Czech Republic, severed from its old Slovak half, sits in apparent landlocked contentment, inside the European Union but outside the troubled Euro Zone, set into the new Continental mosaic like one of the small sturdy paving stones, just a few inches square, that form the sidewalks under the visitor’s ambling feet.    Thomas Mallon

 

During our 43 months full-time travel adventures, we’ve been blessed to visit some incredible European countries. Each destination having a space in our hearts; some taking more room than others. Our excitement at the beginning of  2019 however, exceeded anything we’d experienced up to this point. A Summer in Scandinavia – we had been waiting for this since we left UK shores. Our anticipation of visit Denmark, Sweden and Norway was as high as the heavens. And what a dream four months it was. Sights and experiences that surpassed our experiences. The memory book and my camera’s SD card were seriously full.

So how on earth would we beat those experiences? Well we have come to learn with our life on the road that there is no ‘beating’, just unique and individual cultural experiences. Each country is special in its own right. That said, we wanted to continue our travels with the same curiosity as we always have. So en route south for some much needed sun, we decided to check out the Czech Republic or Czechia as it is more commonly known.  This would be new country five for 2019. 

After the imposing scenery that Scandinavia offers in bucket-loads, we entered Czechia with a little trepidation. Although we didn’t need to worry. Within a couple of hours of crossing the Poland/Czech border at Boboszów we felt the country’s charm instantly touch us. It felt easy on the eye after the overwhelming magnificence of Scandinavia’s trio. Gently rolling hills, winding roads through farmland, forest and castles! Hundreds of them; up to 1000 depending on your definition of ‘castle’. Our two weeks here were going to be a very lovely excursion and our fears faded away into a sink of dishwater. Let us share with you our journey through this green and pleasant land, not even scratching the surface of its offerings, although with enough evidence to make us return – except to Česky Krumlov – although more on that in a moment.  Check out our fully interactive map below that lists all our overnight stops and country highlights. 

 

Our 7 Czechia Beauties

1. Czechia’s Castles

Ok, so castles are not everyone’s cup of tea, although there’s no denying their prowess when it comes to design and historical significance. I love to examine the intricacies of their architrave, the phallic extensions of their towers that preside over the lands below and the ghosts that glide through the walls with a story to tell. I enjoy imagining the footprints that have been left behind by the Dukes and soldiers and the war tales that are undoubtedly etched amongst the plaster. 

Of the 1000 odd castles you can see around the Czechia countryside, 12 caught our eye. If we’re honest we did get a bit castled out, although if you’re going to overindulge in these historic beauties, I can’t think of a better place. With history dating back to 12th century, Czechia’s castles offer us legend, intrigue and romance in equal measure. They invite you to shut your eyes and step back into the past seeing maidens with flowing veils and knights clad in armour on horseback, fighting for their maiden’s protection. I’m sure there is plenty of distasteful activity to add to the mix, although every one of these incredible buildings evoke waves of history as you gaze around their amazing construction. 

From the Rock Castle ruins of the Bohemian Paradise such as Vranov, Frydštejn, Kost and Valdstejn to the pristine presence of Boucov and Litomysl. Castles in town centres, like Jičín and peninsula fortresses of Orlik and Zvikov keeping guard over the magnificence of the Vitava river, south of Prague. And two pièce de resistance giants of Česky Krumlov and Hluboká and Vltavou. Czechia has a veritable feast of chateau brilliance and you’ll not go wanting. Here is a selection of images from the 12 castles we visited. And to think there’s hundreds more to satiate our historical appetite. 

 

 

2. Česky ráj – Bohemian Paradise

Czechia is a modern predecessor of the Imperial State of the Kingdom of Bohemia which was established in medieval times. And although the Czech Republic has reinvented itself more than Madonna, Bohemia still has a presence in the country. Whilst the Kingdom status dissolved in 1918, Bohemia is interwoven throughout their culture and is recognised as more than just a modern regional name. So when you come visit the Bohemian Paradise of the north east you are stepping into a historical storybook that has Bohemian culture embedded into its fibres.  

Although the Bohemian Paradise is so much more than medieval history. It’s a 100 metre square area of geological genius. With its sandstone rock pillars that hide themselves amidst the pine and beech forests, you walk amongst 60 million year old giants. Tiny dots compared to these brilliantly crafted pillars, hikers, rock climbers and adventure seekers love the Česky ráj. After four days exploring its rich variety, we fell in love with this place, just a mere 90 minutes from Prague. For a more detailed look at the area, click here.

 

3. Kutná Hora – Old Town

Czechia is blessed with 12 UNESCO sites, one of which is Kutná Hora. A 12th century settlement founded with the country’s first Cistercian church at Sedlec Abbey. In the 13th century, the town’s fortunes took a massive shift when German settlers started to mine for silver. This gave Kutná Hora greater financial and cultural status than even Prague, such was its importance. Since 1995, the old town has been given the UNESCO badge; protecting its Gothic church, Royal Mint palace and Museum. It’s a great place to wander and feel the historical significance of the area. Less than 90 minutes from the centre of Czechia’s capital and just 45 miles (77km) you will be in this fabulous place.  Check out our gallery below. 

 

4. Kutná Hora – UNESCO Cathedral of our Lady and Sedlec Ossuary

Our entry in at number four is worthy of its own listing and not hidden behind Kutná Hora’s mask. Just outside the Old Town hub and close, bizarrely to the commercial centre, you will unearth a UNESCO church and the macabre Chapel of Bones.

The Cathedral of our Lady of the Assumption and St John the Baptist (to quote its full title) has seen its fair share of history in its eight hundred year history. Originally part of the Cistercian monastery, it was the first cathedral-style building in Bohemia and the largest sacred building at the time. However the Hussite army plundered and burnt down the Cathedral in 1421 and it remained in ruins until the 18th century. It was at this point that architect Jan Blažej Santini began investing much needed love into the building combining both Gothic and Baroque styles, giving it a unique design not found anywhere else in Europe. The monastery which was seriously in debt at the time, was transformed into a Tobacco factory, which remains today, albeit more as a museum. Eighty years after the beautifully crafted Cathedral stood as a symbol of prosperity and grandeur, the area fell victim to greed and as a result the monastery was sold and the Cathedral became a flour-store. In 1995 it was ceremonially consecrated and honoured as a UNESCO property. 

Just across the road you start your path towards one of the those unique travel experiences that feel somehow inappropriate and yet   you are drawn towards it nonetheless – as if free-will no longer exists. The Sedlec Ossuary is a chapel decorated with the bones of 60,000 people. Like its cousin in Evora Portugal, this ossuary has the most incredible decor, which is fascinating and macabre in equal measure. Its history originates, according to legend from 1278.  T,he sprinkling of Holy soil brought back from Jerusalem made the Sedlec cemetery the oldest Holy Field in Central Europe and a popular place to be buried. After a period of famine, war and plague, the cemetery became over-run and in an attempt to reduce the size of the graveyard, 60,000 bones were exhumed and dumped in the Chapel’s cellar.  It is thought that the bones were decoratively placed into six pyramids by a partially blind monk during 16th century.  Then in 18th century the Cathedral’s designer Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel was tasked with reconstructing the chapel, inside and out. Further designs were created following the dissolution of the Cathedral, monastery and chapel in 18th century when the Ossuary was purchased by the Schwarzenberg family. They commissioned carver František Rint to renovate the designs and add further decorative elements, such as their Coat of Arms. 

A visit to the Ossuary is more than an admiration of the placement of bones into a design. It is a symbolic reminder that death will visit us all and that ‘What we are, you will become, and what you are, we once were.’ It’s a strangely moving experience when you grasp the history and presence of each one of these bones and how death visited each of them.  It costs 90czk per person and tickets are available from the ticket office located just across the road from the Cathedral – and not at the Chapel itself. 

 

5. UNESCO beauties

Czechia has twelve UNESCO sites across the county and you could shape your entire visit just around these beauties. We managed to see five, if you exclude the Geopark status of the Bohemian Paradise and Kutná Hora, which I have already mentioned.

With the delightful town of Litomysl with its unique motif exterior and cobbled street town, you can easily while away an afternoon checking out this delightful community. (A note for travellers with campers; parking is not easy here as there’s nowhere dedicated for motorhomes. We were lucky to park in the town although it may require staying in a campsite and travelling in, to fully appreciate the town.) 

Just down the road you will find the hilltop homage to St John Nepomuk. Another building crafted by the architect of his time Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel. My he was a busy boy. The site is currently being renovated by UNESCO so it’s a bit unkempt  and there is little parking up at the church. Although it is still worth a quick visit if you are passing through. With its five sided star-shape and its resident pair of peregrine falcons, the source of this church is a bit of a mystery. After a bit of research I found that Jan was commissioned to build it in 1719, following the discovery of preserved tissue of Saint John that had been found in his tomb. I’m sure when work is complete touring the renovated interior will be more information and interesting. 

Holašovice is a delightful village that is certainly off-the-beaten-track. It has history going back to the 13th century and in the five years between 1520-25 all bar two of the population were killed by the plague. A repopulation of the village began with settlers from Austria and Bavaria. After World War 2 the Germans were displaced, leaving the village to fall into disrepair. It was only in 1990 that it was restored back to its full glory and is protected by UNESCO given that it is the best example of the South Bohemian Baroque Folk architecture in the area. Many of the buildings are dated between 1840 and early 1900s, whilst the Chapel was built in 1755. The village is only small, housing just 120 buildings and 140 people, although its typical South Boheniam features make it a very lovely visit for an hour.

The most southerly UNESCO we visited is the much talked about Česky Krumlov. Aside of Prague, it is said to be the most visited place in Czechia and for good reason. Everyone insists a visit here will make your travels to the Czech Republic complete. These are indeed very compelling words and without doubt the setting of this fairytale town is to die for. The Allsorts mixture of houses, colours and textures make this visually appealing. The vistas from the magnificent castle across the town’s roof-tops and ox-bow river give it real camera click-ability and Instagram desirability.

Although there is a black side to Česky Krumlov that I believe needs sharing and which put a huge dampener on our visit. So strongly we felt about this shadow that we are actually not recommending a visit here, despite it being on our Czechia highlight review. We have added so that we can reveal the dark truth about this UNESCO supported destination. Captive Bears! That is the darkness that I talk about. 

We were shocked and disgusted to see two female bears being held like zoo animals in the ‘Bear Moat’. Tour Guides proudly say that these bears are cared for by a bear-keeper who feeds them three times a day and that are part of a family heritage practice that has been in place for hundreds of years. Signs on the railings invite you not to feed the animals, instead to contribute money for ‘a varied diet and delicacies’. Suggesting that this is not funded by the Castle management currently.  I was so unsettled by this sight that the rest of the town passed by in a bit of an angry fog. On further investigation I found that the bears are part of a couple of Festivals to celebrate their Birthdays and Christmas Eve, in the name of education! 

This abhorrent practice has led me to campaign for their release to a Sanctuary that can give them the respect and care they deserve. With letters written to UNESCO’s Ethics Committee, Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Romania, Four-paws and the Born-Free Foundation, I wait to see what will happen. I have written to the Castle Manager although I understand that this practice is deemed legal and so little can be done other than to change the law. If, like me you value animal welfare, then please feel free to add your signature to the petition to change this law and put an end to animals being used as tourist attractions. So our verdict of Česky Krumlov, pretty although with too many Insta-posers, clouds of tourists and animal welfare issues that make it far too unpalatable, for us! 

 

6. National Park Šumava – Bohemian Forest

In the south west corner, hugging the border with Germany’s Bavaria, you stumble across the peaceful haven of the Bohemian Forest. A UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1990, also known as the Šumava National Park, is a heavenly place for hikers and cyclists. The mountain range here has the most extensive covering of forest in central Europe with huge pines that look like ballerinas. With deserted roads that weave amongst the cheerleading trees, alongside lush green pastures and through remote villages, you feel like you have the place to yourself.  The odd ski resort offers a plethora of winter sport activities and forest tracks take you into the heart of the Park with miles and miles of walking opportunities to please outdoor lovers. The Park also supports a healthy population of lynx.  If you want peace and tranquility away from Czechia’s hotspots, then this has your name written all over it.  

 

7. České Budějovice – home of Budeweiser

Who would have known that Czechia is the greatest beer consumers in the world, per capita? And why not, they are prolific beer producers, brewing up a feast with some very famous names. They even have a claim to fame for having the oldest beer in the world – Černá Hora, first brewed in the 13th century. So you could be forgiven for wanting to head to Czechia to sample one of these fine brews. And what better destination than České Budějovice in South Bohemia?

Whilst its commercial exterior is much like any other town in Europe, when you navigate into its centre it reveals its nectar. Not only will every bar in town sell you the original Budweiser (until the Americans stole the label) the town square is one of the largest in Europe. So you kill two impressive travel experiences in one shot. The Old Town is lovely, with its colourful houses, towering church  spires and cobbled streets – and for a couple of hours why not soak up the atmosphere of this beer making king. 

 

Practicalities

Czechia is an up and coming European country that has been on the fringes of the European stage. Although with travel options opening up to so many more people around the world, it is starting to see an increase in tourism. In 2018 alone, 21 million people arrived into the Czech Republic, with almost 2 million from Germany alone. So come soon if you don’t want to be consumed by crowds. Here are some practicalities that you need to consider if travelling to Czechia. 

  1. Understandably with their germanic neighbours, you’ll find more people speaking German than English. Whilst in large cities and towns, many people will speak English, out in the country less so. So come armed with a few phrases that will help and Google Translate as it’s a tough language to get your tongue around. Dobry den (formal hello), Dêkuju (pronounced jequi, thank you) and Prosím (please).
  2. If you have a pre-paid credit card, check that Czech Krone is available. On our Caxton card, we were unable to load Krone so had to withdraw enough money to last us for our two week tour and suck up the commission from our credit card.
  3. Cost of living is cheap in Czechia and remember it is a cash-society, so make sure you have plenty of coins and notes as you enter the country. Car parks for example are all cash, so be prepared.
  4. For those travelling in campers, access from Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia makes exploring this budding country easy. Although in our experience, facilities for motorhomes is still in its infancy. There are very few Aire style stopovers and we found no Service Areas for filling up and emptying. So during our two weeks, we speckled our wild camping stopovers with a couple of campsites to empty and fill up.
  5. Wild camping in Czechia is allowed as long as the rules of respect are applied.
  6. Diesel and LPG is cheap around the country. You find prices closer to Prague are slightly more expensive although expect between 30.50 – 32.00czk (£1.05 –  £1.07). For LPG you will pay, on average 13.50czk (0.46p per litre).
  7. Road quality is pretty good although some off-piste country roads can be more narrow. Although generally we found the roads fairly quiet unless it is an arterial road to Prague.
  8. To travel on some roads and motorways in Czechia, you will need a vignette. These are available at most garages and you can buy as a 10 day, 1 month or 1 year. For our 10 day vignette, we paid 328czk (£11.34). Whilst we don’t often  travel on motorways, we generally always buy vignettes as there are some roads that suddenly become tolls and having the right vignette takes away any stress, given the small cost. 

 

Final thoughts

Czechia is becoming an increasingly popular destination, although as we found out in just a short two-week tour, there is so much more to explore than the capital Prague. Outdoor and nature lovers, thrill seekers and history buffs will all adore what the Czech Republic has to offer. Just off the beaten track, you will find a country that will charm, enchant and delight you and leave you wanting more. Aside of the animal welfare issue we found in Česky Krumlov, we were impressed with what Czechia had to offer and would, without doubt, return to explore some more. 

 

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8 Top Spots in Czechia’s Bohemian Paradise

8 Top Spots in Czechia’s Bohemian Paradise

Who could resist the desire to visit a place called Bohemian Paradise? It conjures up images of a 1960’s retreat with white sand beaches and crystal blue waters. Well this Paradise may be far from that fantasy, although it has a richness all of its very own. If you love outdoors, being active and exploring romantic castles full of legend and folk history, then this is a place for you. ‘Where is it?’ I hear you cry!

Head to the Czech Republic’s capital Prague and keep going north east for a mere 90 minutes and you will arrive at the gates of Paradise. Whilst I know Prague is a massive draw for so many travellers with its UNESCO badge, I implore you extend your stay and reach out beyond the city limits. Let me draw you into an area of Czechia that oozes its own historical marvels and offers you a geological master-class that stands firmly amongst other European giants. As a visitor, be amongst a small handful of people who venture to the Bohemian Paradise and be rewarded by a region of geological and mineralogical brilliance.  Come with us as we  explore the legends, castles and hikes that will have you grabbing for your GPS for directions. 

 

Just 90 minutes from Prague, heading north east you arrive at a green patch on the map. Green is always a magnet for us and soon becomes a centrepiece for our explorations. When I started to research the region called Čzesky ráj it brought back amazing memories of Slovakia’s Raj region. 

This whole area together with Poland’s Stolowe south west region have clearly been under the same geographical influences from earth’s tectonic plates. Whilst I won’t attempt to indulge either of us in a geology lesson, the resulting effects of earth’s movement has crafted an incredible piece of art.  Let us take you on a journey through this wonderful UNESCO Geopark that covers 110sq miles (184km) and was the very first protected nature reserve in Czechia in 1955. 

Thanks to its rich geological canvas that dates back 60 million years, you can imagine the stories that can be told by this highly volcanic region. And it’s not just the treasure chest of gemstones found deep beneath this volcanic land that are precious. The gently rolling hills covered in pine and oak forests, luscious green fields harvested by farmers and natural Rock Towns that house ancient tales from underneath the sea. 

As you explore the inner sanctum of these ‘Towns’, your neck craned in an awkward upward position, your mind will reel as you try to comprehend the magnificence of this natural design. Pine needles carpet the floor as you tramp through these sandstone giants accompanied by the faint odour of fungi that lingers in the air during the early doors of autumn.  If this imagery doesn’t inspire you to reach for your map, then perhaps this short tour guide of our route and Top 8 Highlights will satiate your appetite. 

Our Tour Around Česky ráj

1. Jičín

In the south east of the region we found the 13th century town of Jičín. With its Municipal Reserve preservation award, Jičín has an incredible old town that is worth exploring. Like so many places the outskirts do nothing for its appeal, although once into the medieval heart, Jičín will surely impress. Its rectangle Old Town Square, which is oddly oversized for the town’s proportions, you can twirl 360º each side offering a fairytale perspective. Colourful facias create a sense of individual character as Gothic and Renaissance features build the central hub of this town. 

The most unique thing for me was the castle of Veliš, with its striking mustard yellow garb that is integrated into the town’s structure. Subtle yet poignant poised amidst the locals. No lofty status for these Lords. Archways shelter arcades beneath the castle walls, whilst the mosaic cobbled streets have ancient merchant tales etched into their crevices. The clock tower – Valdice Gate is a dominant landmark that demands your attention, offering passage through to the newer part of town and Jičín’s fairytale dragon.  Jičín not only collects historical moments, it is home to the folk stories of Remcajs and his family who was a kind bandit. People flock here to soak up the fairytale romance that oozes from this most beautiful town and it is a fabulous start to your Bohemian Paradise experience. 

Check out our Jičín Gallery below

2. Prachovské Skály – Rock Town

Using Jičín as our Bohemian gateway, the next port of call was Prachov’s Rock Town. Only four miles from the town, Prachov is one of the most popular destinations for rock climbers and hikers. The road winds up into a forested haven, with pine trees taller than buildings looking as if they are trying to compete with the stone giants hidden in their midst. And that’s one thing to say about the Čzesky ráj – you really do have to get in it to experience it. Driving along its roads just doesn’t reveal its plethora of beauty.

For a mere 200czk, which is £6.20 you can park up here for 24hrs, allowing you to sleep over if you have a camper/motorhome. (50.46882, 15.28501). There’s a small entrance fee (80czk, £2.50 per person) to get into the Rock Town itself allowing you to follow one of the many hiking tours in this area of the Park. The hikes have different levels of challenge, although they each require a scaling of steep steps into the upper echelons of the forest. So it does require a certain level of fitness and ability. Unfortunately a majority of the Park is not disabled friendly, sad to say. 

We chose the Red path which had some challenges initially, although soon levelled out. And then we took the Green route back – and boy this was a real stretch and had us resembling some sort of ancient mountain goat puffing out of his rear end. Although wow what a trek, proffering some incredible views across the area and within the Rock Town itself. The best way I can describe the view is to liken it to when you visit a church. You marvel at the artistry, the construction and how it symbolises something that is way beyond your comprehension. This is how I felt looking at the vista in front of us. The view of Myles against the sandstone giants gave me a sense of scale, perspective and I have to say, reverence. This was one of our highlights from our four day tour. 

Check out our Gallery below

3. Trosky Castle and Kozakov View Point

One of the most iconic views in this UNESCO Geopark is the Trosky Castle. The two towers, sat atop two volcanic vents are visible from a large majority of the region and are classed as one of the most visited sites in Czechia. In the late 14th century, the basalt rock chimneys were seen as a defence opportunity and the construction of the twins begun. The castle courtyard situated in the crevice connects the towers lovingly named Baba (The Crone) and Panna (The Maiden). You can learn more about these towers and their role in the Bohemian history by clicking here

Not more than 30 minutes drive away, we took a short diversion to the east of the region to scale the loft heights of Kozákov – Čseky ráj’s highest point at 744m. On a clear day the views must be amazing, although sadly our view was shaded with grey skies and low cloud. This hill is also the remanent of a volcano and is said to be the source of many precious gems, including jasper and garnet. 

Turnov is the place to get your precious gem gifts, although beware if buying outside of Bohemian Paradise. Any stones that are larger than 02-0.8cm in diameter are not genuine Bohemian stones. Instead they are more likely to be a cheaper replica called rhodolite. Also make sure you ask for a Certificate of Authentication. 

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4. Reigrove Stezce – Reiger Trail, Semily

Diversity when travelling is all-important to us and the Bohemian Paradise satisfies even this need. From Rock Towns to castles and gorges with river walks – now that sounds like our cuppa tea. So we were drawn north east of the region past Semily where I wanted to find the Jizera river gorge that snakes its way around from Semily to Malá Skála and then south until it meets the Elbe just north east of Prague.  

This 100 year old Trail is definitely off the beaten track and is just lovely. A path that hugs the gorge, climbs up into the forest and then back down to the water’s edge is gorgeous. And as autumn’s grip becomes obvious the smells, the sights and sounds makes this such a lovely hike. You can take the route all the way from Semily to Spálov. 

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5. Frydštejn and Vranov Castle Hike

As you wind your way to the north boundaries of the region, Malá Skála is your next port of call. This is a charming town that, with its river frontage offers super kayaking opportunities. Plus high above the river is the Frydstejn to Malá Skála ridge, a hike that transports you back in time. We started at Frydštejn Castle, where we stopped overnight and then hiked the 5km sandstone ridge towards Vranov Castle. The 14th Century ruins form one of the area’s traditional rock castles and whilst a shadow of its former self many historical mysteries are held in its stoney walls. You can enter the castle between 10.00-1700 and it costs 50czk per person.

Continuing your hike, it takes you along the ridge sheltered by pine trees. With a path strewn with tree roots and sandstone boulders it makes for a challenging path. Although with monuments and viewpoints along the way, it’s worth persevering. The goal is the precipice at the end of the ridge that overlooks the Jizera valley and the valley below. And entry to the Vranov Castle (Pantheon) is well worth the 50czk which is open from 10.00 to 1800.

Vranov is an iconic rock castle that is actually best viewed from below. Although when you enter the stone gate, it’s like walking through Narnia’s Wardrobe. A portal that takes you into a world of fantasy, legend and 15th century history where famous names from times past are celebrated. The castle is in two distinct parts; the chapel which is a well preserved building and forms the iconic  image and the sandstone remains that presents 12 points of interest. You can scale the steps to each of the sights, although be warned that these are incredibly steep and can not be accessed by young children or anyone with any disabilities or injuries. The  final section to the wooden cross, from which you can see Frydstejn Castle requires you to rock climb up vertical steps in order  to reach the top. It’s a fine example that really requires a good hour to explore. For the best view, walk from the castle back towards the town and turn right. Walk about 200m and look behind you, where the full perspective of this magnificent rock castle is apparent. 

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6. Valdstejn Castle – Romance is in the air

Weaving up through the pine forests from the Jizera river valley, you head towards another outstanding looking castle. Valdstejn lies in the throbbing heart of the Malá Skála rock town, and the uphill climb through the forest brings you beneath its dominant shadow.  Walking through the arches to the upper level, you are immediately transported back to the 13th century. The cobbled walkway offers a regal passage into the soul of the castle, which is thought to be the oldest in the Bohemian Paradise. The sounds of horses and men from battle walk with you in spirit as you cross the castle’s threshold. A tour around the grounds will introduce you to the tempestuous history that has seen this palace go from grandeur to ashes, to a phoenix rising.  

There is something incredibly romantic about this castle. From the walk to it from the car park through rust coloured forests paths, past stones that must tell a million tales to the roots of trees that seem to vainly  hold the earth together. You can visit the castle as a self-guided tour for 70czk each or a guided tour for 90czk per person. You are free to visit between April and October – for their  opening hours, please check here.

Here’s our Gallery

7. Hrubá Skála

Within walking distance from Valdstejn, depending on your energy, you can extend your trip deeper into the history books. With the forest inviting you in on a geological journey through time, you can easily stroll around this amazing nature reserve. Unlike its Prachov cousin further south, this is a more tame affair in terms of the walking.

Gentle and less demanding, Hrubá Skála gives you a more moderate and tender experience. With regular outlooks, you can look across the tree tops and gaze in awe at the rock columns that stand before you. In all their elegance, withstanding millions of years, they demand you to enquire about the bigger picture of life beyond our every-day tribulations.  It is here that you will find the most famous of rock collections, aptly named The Band. 

Check out our Gallery below

8. Kost Castle

For this final Bohemian Paradise highlight, it might be worth you casting your mind back to Hannibal Lecter and his cannibalistic tendencies. As it is at this southerly most castle of the ráj that Hannibal Rising was filmed. And there’s something about its grey facade and haunting and impenetrable walls that creates a sense of approval for their choice of venue. 

Unlike its castle siblings in the area, 14th century Kost is not built on a hill, rather it has been constructed on a spit between two brooks. It is one of the best preserved castles in the area and it offers you four different tours which you can find out more about here

Check out our Gallery below

Practicalities

So Paradise by name and paradise in nature. With diversity as its middle name, this Bohemian beauty will thrill you around every corner. At only 60 miles (around 100km) from Prague, it is a journey that can be done in 90 minutes and means that this natural wonderland is easy to reach with an extended city break visit.  With its easy to drive roads, water sports, heavenly hikes and the best biking opportunities, the Bohemian Paradise will satisfy everyone. 

The towns dotted around the region offer hotels and Air BnBs and there are campsites offering a chance to still the motion of your wheels and enjoy the Geopark on foot or by bike. For more camping opportunities, check here.

Don’t forget that if you decide to drive in Czechia, then you will need to buy a vignette for the country’s toll roads. Whilst it is possible to avoid the tolls, we always purchase one just in case we end up on one inadvertently – in spite of a good SatNav! The price for 10 days is just €12.50 (£11.34) and if you are driving in or around Prague then it is almost impossible to avoid the toll roads. For more information on the tolls and toll route map, check here.

Final Thoughts

Czechia is a beautiful place to visit with its plethora of castles, the walls of which tell tales of knights and medieval maidens defending the honour of their lands. With its magnificent UNESCO sites and rolling hills, you won’t be disappointed by your visit here. For more information on Czechia and its exploration possibilities why not keep an eye open for our up and coming posts or check the Visit Czechia website.

 

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Sweden Road-trip Guide & Interactive Map

Sweden Road-trip Guide & Interactive Map

 

Sweden, western Europe’s best kept secret that has hidden depths and a diversity to appeal to every visitor.

 

Sweden is such an unknown entity despite its musical foursome and Nobel Peace Prize inventor. It remains in the shadows of its geologically dramatic neighbour, Norway and yet stands firm in its own identity. As we headed off on our Summer in Scandinavia tour 2019, we had high hopes, Bucket Lists and anticipation of what this Nordic country could show us. Would it surprise and delight us as we searched for the ‘road less travelled’ or would people’s warnings of being boring haunt our expectations? Come with us on our road-trip as we create our own Swedish experiences that delve deeply into its culture and its landscape. Perhaps through our eyes you can then make up your own minds about what Sweden has to offer.  For a more detailed look at travelling to Sweden in a camper, then check out our comprehensive Top Tips Guide by clicking here. 

 

Our Sweden Interactive Route-map

As our initial offering, we present a comprehensive interactive map that gives you our specific route, visual treats with our images and co-ordinates of each and every place we called home. Click on the map image below to get access to our unique journey. 

 

Sweden – Did you know?

We love finding out about the country we are about to call home. So many interesting facts that create a really solid understanding of a place and its ‘raison d’être’. Here’s 15 things that we discovered from our research, Swedish friends and the locals we met along the way…

 

  1. Sweden has over 97,000 lakes! Yes 97,000. That’s a lot of lakes and they really are so beautiful. They tease you as you drive through the countryside, peaking their brilliant blue through the forest of green.
  2. There are over 350,000 moose and 260,000 reindeer so keep your eyes open. Strangely though, you are more likely to see reindeer especially in Lapland. Moose tend to be a bit more illusive and camouflaged amongst the trees.
  3. Alfred Nobel may be best known for his Nobel Peace Prize, although he made his fortune through the invention and selling of dynamite. 
  4. Sweden is approximately 1000 miles from north to south.
  5. Sweden has 56 days of complete daylight.
  6. Swedes use 54% of renewable energy and actually buy other people’s rubbish to convert. 
  7. Temperatures can average -16º in the north
  8. The nomadic Sami people are one of the world’s oldest cultures and were close to being wiped out by the effects of Chernobyl in 1989.
  9. Sweden used to have a real alcoholic problem and now booze is only available from Government-run stores in an attempt to curb the drinking culture. 
  10. 2/3 of Sweden’s landmass is covered by forest. 90% of properties are made of wood. The iconic red paint comes from a derivative of the important iron ore and copper mines around the country. 
  11. Sweden is home to the world’s first Icehotel, created in 1989.
  12. The Swedish Royal family are the oldest monarchy in the world. 
  13. The Sami’s calendar has 8 seasons each related to a cycle in the herding of reindeer. 
  14. Sweden has 29 National Parks
  15. Cost of living here is not as expensive as you might think. If you think up-market supermarket prices rather than Lidl then you will have the general cost of living here. 

 

Sweden – Our Top 11 Highlights

Trying to limit our favourite highlights and experiences from our 45 days is a tough one. With canals, magnificent coastlines, beaches, forest, archipelago and mountains, how are we meant to choose? Although select I must for the sake of your reading eyes.

 

1 – West coast beaches, for coastal lovers

From the minute you cross from Denmark over the famous Øresund Bridge, which is an experience all of its own, Sweden embraces you. The draw of the beaches are always strong with us. There’s something about the sea that just connects deeply with me. From the star fortress at Landskrona to the Royal Palace at Helsingborg, there are spots all along the coast to enjoy the sea. The views of Denmark and the Konberg Castle of Hamlet fame are so appealing and a great way to start a Swedish adventure. 

Check out our gallery of images below.

 

2 – Göta Canal – for water-sport enthusiasts

Stretching from Gothenburg in the west through two major lakes over to the eastern Baltic shores at Soderköping, Sweden’s Göta Canal is a must-see. It’s one of those ‘off-the-beaten-track’ places that only the Swedes tend to visit. Following the canal along its navigational route, gives you a unique view of Sweden’s countryside as you sweep over it on small lanes passing through authentic Swedish villages. Tempted by canal tow-paths bordered with artwork and pink floral cheerleaders, the Göta canal will delight you with its simplistic elegance. Whether you choose to do all or part by boat, SUP, cycle or camper, this central southern region has it all. For more information on the canal, check out our dedicated blog here.

Check out our gallery of images below.

 

3 – Stockholm, for city-break lovers

Sweden’s capital provides a unique stage for the humble visitor. First it has 14 archipelago that need exploring. Then there’s the old town (Gamla Stan) with its historic buildings, cathedral and Royal Palace. And the modern face of Stockholm with it countless museums, canals, Art Gallery underground stations, grand architecture and parks, all combine to give you a holistic experience. Whilst we’re not great city fans, having created our own ‘Alternative Tour’ of the city, we could certainly see the potential for a good 3 day visit here. Check out our City Tour Guide with a twist here.  

Check out our gallery of images below.

 

4 – The Baltic coast and Höga Kusten for outdoor lovers

In dramatic contrast to the west, Sweden’s east coast has the influence of the Baltic Sea. Thousands of year’s worth of natural history is evident along these shores. And it is here where you will experience Sweden’s most authentic personality. From Iron Ore mines dating back to 17th century at Galtström to atmospheric fishing villages tucked away in coves that still rely on the sea for their livelihood. Characterful red, stilted houses that sit on the water’s edge will transport you back to another era. Fågelsundet is the most incredible example of Sweden’s genuine fishing legacy and it will have you magnetised for hours as you step back in time. 

And as you head ever north in search of Santa perhaps, the Höga Kusten or High Coast is a sight to behold. 10,000 years of history engraved into this land where the forces of nature have collided to create the world’s highest coastline. Archipelago, lakes, forests of pine home to bears and moose give this region a secret beauty that so many by-pass. Stretching out from Härnösand to Örnsköldsvik, you can discover a treasure of untouched land, that is now protected by UNESCO, such is its importance. And it has been voted as Sweden’s best area of outstanding natural beauty. 

At 286m above sea, this coastline is a record breaker and each year it’s still growing; an estimated 8mm per year. With its plunging coastline, deep forests and lakes and dramatic mountains, the High Coast is a must for nature lovers and hikers. The Skulekogan National Park is littered with hikes ranging from boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs to day-long hikes with shelter cabins for the more adventurous. Why not experience the High Coast Trail which is a gruelling 78 mile (129km) trail that takes in the complete stretch of the UNESCO region and takes between 5-7 days. 

Check out our gallery of images below.

 

5 – The Midnight Sun for Bucket List seekers

You can’t come to Sweden in the summer and not head north for a glimpse of the Midnight Sun. It is one of the most incredibly special parts of our trip. Coming from UK, we always have that balance of light and dark. Sometimes one rules over the other more dominantly, although there’s always a yin and yang. Although not so in Scandinavia. Here one is the king for at least 2 months.

Our first initiation was actually in Grenen in the northern most peak of Denmark. And whilst it is too far south to be the traditional midnight sun, the balance of light to dark was most certainly tipped in the favour of the day. As we headed further north, that dominance grew more and more and it enthralled me. Do you ever remember those conundrums at school? If you were plunged into 24 hours or darkness or 24 hours of sunlight, how would it impact on your life? 

I never imagined that I would be living that question. How tricky to manage sleep when it is light all day. The sun never dies; it has a perpetual circle where the light gives life to all its subjects. Midnight and the bees are still collecting pollen, the birds are still singing and animals are going about their normal daily habits. Our sleep patterns were definitely affected, as were our energy levels. Bizarrely although I would wake up regularly wondering what the time was, I rarely felt sleep-deprived. My productivity and creativity went through the roof, energised by this most incredible deLIGHT.  We could travel as far or as long as we wanted without the darkness forcing us to bow to its supremacy. Although the most amazing insight has been, how quickly the body adapts to this phenomena. After a mere two weeks living and breathing the midnight sun, we rarely even thought about it. Our minds learnt, our bodies shifted and soon we were living life like a Midnight Sun local. 

Witnessing the never sinking sun will remain one of my most memorable moments. As we scampered to the top of  Arjeplog’s mountain in Lapland, at 2345, we watched in awe as the sun’s arc kissed the horizon gently and then continued on its passage into the next day. What a humbling experience. In the far north, you can bare witness to this incredible event, depending on the weather until mid-July.  

 

6 – The Arctic Circle 

One of my three Swedish Bucket Lists was to stop at the Arctic Circle. Whilst I’m not a trophy hunter, I’ve never travelled so far north and to reach the Arctic Circle seemed momentous for this home-bird. Plus there’s always something to learn from these landmarks. 

I hadn’t realised that the circle is not a static line – it is forever shifting. Whilst it is approximately on the 66.5ºN axis, it can move up to 48ft every single year. The Arctic Circle is defined by the tilting of the earth away from or towards the sun, which can fluctuate around 2.4º every 40,000 years. This is known as the precession.

How incredible to come face-to-face with this incredible lineage. We arrived on the longest day of the year and it was damp and grey, although to me, the weather mattered not a jot. It was amazing to park up here and feel the energy of the place and its symbolising of universal movement. 

 

7 – Lapland’s Wildlife, for the nature lovers

Someone told me that north of Stockholm, Sweden becomes boring. And whilst we respect everyone’s travel experiences, I was determined to decide for myself. For us, it was anything other than boring. We adore wildlife, nature and forests, and Sweden has them all in bucket loads. Long, straight roads taking you north through the wilderness piques my interest, as hidden behind the wall of trees is a whole existence beyond our comprehension.

Whilst I would love to have seen a bear, they remain an illusive beast for us and so we had to satisfy ourselves with reindeer and the odd female moose. What a privilege they were. On deserted roads we often found ourselves travelling alongside a small family of reindeer as they decided which way to roam. They were so close and so tame. We even saw one on a beach! Well even Ruldoph needs a holiday! 

If you are lucky you may see Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles and Rough-legged Buzzards. We saw the latter although everything else was hanging out with the bears on our trip. One of these days we’ll see one, of that I am sure.  However, the anticipation was enough to have our eyes peeled like oranges.

Check out our gallery below.

 

8 –  Jokkmokk, gateway to Laponia and the Sami

Sweden is full of culture – and it seems that in every pine needle from the endless forest treasures, there will be an ancient legacy held in its pores. The further north you venture, the more you will learn about Sweden’s Sami, who have been recognised by UN as indigenous people, granting them permission to maintain their identity, practices and semi-nomadic lifestyles.

If you really want to understand Sweden, then look deep into the soul of the Sampi – which is Sami territory. Nestled in the heart of the Arctic Circle, Sami communities support their ancient heritage dating back thousands of years. Their partnership with the earth is key to their culture and there is no better a place to learn about their lives than in this region.

Having passed the heady heights of the Arctic Circle, 4 miles up the road is the small town of Jokkmokk. In summer it has a deserted feel about it, almost as if tumbleweed would look at home here. And yet when you venture into its avenues you uncover a colonial feel. As the epicentre for Sami culture, Jokkmokk is a must-visit destination if you want to learn about this important part of Sweden’s tapestry. The Ajtte Museum is your first port of call and for a mere 90SEK (£7.60) you can easily while away a couple of hours learning about Sami’s nomadic life in the wilds of Laponia.  Then a saunter down to the incredibly helpful Tourist Info centre and Sami craft shop will arm you with plenty of Sami knowledge.  

In February this humble town takes on a whole new guise as it erupts with its 400 year old Winter Market. On the first Thursday in February, the market begins, and the Sami come from miles around to sell their handicraft. Visited by tens of thousands of people from around the world, the market is unique, in part because of the harsh winter conditions through which the Sami seem to live effortlessly. 

Not far from Jokkmokk, you can further expand your Sami understanding by entering into the heart of Laponia. This is a fabulous landscape famed for its partnership between man, history and nature. This region vibrates with Sami culture, geological significance and intense natural beauty. Hence is another of Sweden’s World Heritage sites thanks to its symbiotic relationships. With nine Sami communities, rocks dating back 2,000 million years and an often inhospitable landscape, you can begin to appreciate the geological importance of this off-the-beaten track region.  Deep lakes, high mountains, gushing rivers and thriving forests all combine to offer a natural wonder to all who enter through its gates. Why not take the road from Porjus and start your Laponia adventure, seeing the road before you melt into the arms of the snow-covered mountains. Check out the Naturum Centre, where their passionate staff will share their knowledge of the area and the nomadic Sami people. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

9 –  Icehotel, Jukkasjärvi – for thrill seekers

I don’t know about you, although being cold is not really my idea of fun. Although when we headed to Swedish Lapland’s northern most reaches of Jukkasjärvi, there was one big, cold Bucket List tick to be had for me. The Icehotel is an incredible and world-renowned establishment that fuses art and nature together under one snowy roofline. The first hotel of its kind was founded in 1989 and since that time 29 winter Icehotel Art Galleries have been uniquely created and duly melted thanks to Mother Nature. With the extraordinary talents of artists from around the globe, the Icehotel has become a winter institution for those looking to experience the Northern Lights, winter sports and sleep in rooms made of ice.

And now, sleeping in your own personal art gallery, can be a year-round activity thanks to the newly created 365 Icehotel. This is a permanent construction made possible by solar panels energised by the 24hrs daylight. Enjoy a tour around these uniquely created suites and partake in a little drink from the Icebar with glasses carved out of ice and dressed in Arctic capes that ward off the chill. For an intimate look at our Icehotel experience – camped up in their campingplats, we hasten to add, check our blog and video here.

Beyond the hotel, Jukkasjärvi can stand proudly as having its own landmark for visitors which makes a visit here doubly worthwhile. Check out the Sami church with its incredible carvings and the Museum and restaurant that have recreated Sami life underneath the canvas. Try a Coffee Cheese – that will blow your mind. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

10 – Abisko National Park, for nature and hiking lovers

Just when you think your Swedish adventures are about to come to an end, you arrive in Abisko. With your vehicle laden with supplies before the expensive heights of Norway, you make your way along the E10. Now this is no normal road. This is the piéce de resistance of border crossing routes. With the landscape taking a dramatic turn from the grey outlook of Kiruna, you will find your mouth quiet literally wide open. I defy you not to gasp in awe at this incredible panorama. Granite boulders strewn like giants’ tiddlywinks, crystal blue waters and ice-white waterfalls cascading from the still snow-capped mountains. This is the world of the Abisko National Park. 

Armed with your hiking gear, this is the starting point of the world’s most famous hiking trail – Kungsleden. Created back in 20th century the King’s Trail is over 240 miles (400km) and is as demanding as it is long. It crosses peaks and valleys, passes through mountain villages where reindeer husbandry is evident and meanders around lakes, tarns and rivers. And it all starts (or ends depending on how you see it) in Abisko. You can do parts of the walk from here and the Stora Sjöfallets National Park, where the trail also passes. Or choose to do the whole thing using the cabins along the way to rest and sleep. We chose just to do a small section at Abisko following the path of the canyon and it was absolutely stunning. 

Abisko implores you to stay for more than a day, with its full range of walking trails suitable for everyone. With a cable car going up to the mountain, surely from here the Midnight Sun and Northern Lights are a guarantee. It is known to be one of the best parts of Sweden to see the lights and with it microclimate, offers the sun worshipers great chance to see the never sleeping sun. 

This was a real highlight to our 34 days in Sweden and has our memories dripping with evocative images of ice-blue canyon waters, classical u-shaped valleys and towering mountains. And as Norway beckoned, we were eased into the geological masterpiece that we would soon be calling home. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

11 –  Göta Coastline – Bohuslän Region

Just north of Gothenburg and stretching up to the Norwegian border is an area of outstanding natural beauty. And this a strong acclaim giving the incredible sights that we have seen in Sweden. 

After Part 1 of our Swedish adventures, we seriously fell in love with this central Nordic land, and after 7 weeks in Norway how would our return fare? Would Norway’s geological masterpiece tempt us away from our Swedish love affair or would its soft, gentle caress draw us back into its embrace?

Sweden surpassed every expectation, even on our return. Sidling down the west coast, past the Kosterhavnet National Park and through into the king of all archipelago, we were greeted with the same diverse welcome as 12 weeks earlier. Ah Sweden, what a joy. A coastline that splinters into over 8000 tiny island fragments, each with their own fisherman’s hut; a  call to find the wild isolation of island life if you dare. Add to this potion, ancient burial grounds in the shape of ships, Bronze Age UNESCO rock carvings and inlets that shelter authentic harbours and I defy you not to be intoxicated.

This region humbly offers history, natural beauty, water sport, culture –  and if you want it, even a dose of celebrity. From the maze of archipelago that dot this coastline, creating a safe haven for ospreys, if you love the wild outdoors then this region is for you. Hire a kayak, hike the coast, swim in the many safe harbours or cycle the relatively flat land in search of tranquility and draw-dropping scenery. 

Soft pink granite warms your heart as the sunlight catches its curvaceous facias and you find yourself compelled to take routes away from the arterial E6.  FREE ferries carry you from one peninsula to another with the speed and efficiency that you expect from Sweden. And your camera just delights in the iconic scenes in front of you. This is one coastline you must discover as it is Sweden at its best. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

Practicalities

 

Getting there

Arriving into Sweden is easy, despite its northerly position. Flights to Stockholm, as a major international hub, are a breeze. In fact there are no less than four different airports to choose from;

  • Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN)
  • Bromma Airport (BMA)
  • Västerås Airport (VST) 
  • Skavsta Airport (NYO)

There is the train from Denmark across the Øresund Bridge which takes you straight into Malmo, Gothenburg or Stockholm.

Ferries are plentiful offering you travel from:

  • Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Russia
  • Norway and Finland

If you are coming by road then it does depend which direction you are coming from and indeed from which country. There are three main country routes into Sweden;

  • Via Finland you can cross the border at Haparanda on the E8.
  • Via Norway; from the north the E10 entry into Abisko is an outstanding route or on E6 in the south, crossing at Seläter.
  • Via Denmark crossing the Storebælt and Øresund Bridge (which are chargeable.) 

 

If you are travelling with your camper, then why not check out this comprehensive blog offering you our Top Tips for Touring Sweden in a Camper?

 

Things to remember

A couple of tips worth remembering whilst you are in this delicious country.

  • Sweden has its own currency – Swedish Krone  –  SEK. We used XE.com to get a handle on the exchange rates.
  • Sweden is generally a cash-less society, so don’t load up with too much of the paper stuff. Just your pre-loaded cards will do fine. Even for small amounts, cards are generally used. 
  • Shopping in Sweden is more expensive than some of its European cousins further south, although in comparison to say UK, is on a par in many ways. Prices particularly in the cities will be significantly higher as a general rule.
  • Swedes are great linguists and many will speak excellent English, although coming armed with a few Swedish phrases will be appreciated. 

 


 

Our Conclusions

Sweden has been a fabulous experience. Three Bucket List ticks and a host of fabulous memories to add to our Travel Journal. Warmth, generosity, community spirit and an enchanting land await you. Sweden stands firmly in our affections for all that it has given us and is another country we can add to our Must Return To list. We hope that this inspires you to put Sweden on your travel agenda and explore it wealth of natural, historical and cultural offerings.

 

 

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Denmark Highlights & Interactive Map

Denmark Highlights & Interactive Map

Denmark is not a destination – it’s a lifestyle.  Pintrip.eu

Let’s be honest for a moment about Denmark… Why would you want to put it on your European itinerary? Surely there are more exciting destinations to visit, like the Swiss Alps! Or more dramatic locations like Norway! Yet perhaps for you a trip to Denmark is about heading to Legoland with the kids or may be just a city-break to Copenhagen. Perhaps you see it just as a transitory country to pass through en route to Sweden or the Norwegian fjords! 

Although before you read any further, let me be clear! Come to Denmark! Explore! Stay awhile! Denmark may well be an unassuming country on the European stage, although a visit here is a must. I feel so passionate about persuading you to come here that our 7 Reasons to visit Delicious Denmark’ must be enough to whet your appetite.  If not, then perhaps this more in-depth look at our road-trip may seal it for you. We share with you our Interactive Map that gives you our route, POI and overnight stopovers. Now surely there are no excuses – come you must.  Join us as we cover all corners of this Danish journey and invite you along our 900 mile exploration. Come on in!

 

Interactive Map

 

As with any road-trip, it is never a complete journey as there are so many roads, miles and corners that you can’t possibly cover. Although we hope that following our path will give you an insight to some of the off-the-beaten track places and some of the more tourist ones that you could build into your trip. And whatever your passions, there is something for everyone. The sporty types, the historians, the nature lovers and everyone in between. 

 

Our Regional Highlights

Denmark has five main regions that are neatly organised into; South, North, Central, Zealand & Copenhagen/Bornholm.  Whilst we decided against Copenhagen, we did visit each of the other four regions and we have split our highlights into those nicely organised categories. So sit back, fasten your seatbelts and let’s get that engine roaring!

 

1.  South Denmark

Rømø Island

Crossing into Denmark on the south-west fringes gave us our first opportunity for an off-the-beaten-track destination. For sure Ribe – Denmark’s oldest town, is a major draw as you cross the border. Although turning left across the five mile causeway to Rømø was perfect for us. Rømø is famous for three things; Being part of the UNESCO Wadden Sea National Park, home to the smallest school and Lakolk beach – one you can drive onto! Whilst the drive can result in a bit of ‘stuckage’ for larger vehicles, generally driving on this compact beach is a real experience. Just having some time to chill out whilst parked up on golden sands is pretty unique and surreal. Definitely one to put on your list. 

We stayed at any beautifully manicured Aire alongside a lake with the best showers we’ve ever experienced. 

 

Ribe

About 45 minutes further north, you reach Ribe. Now this will undoubtedly be on everyone’s must visit list. And who can blame them. Think classical old town, cobbled streets, coloured facias, iconic steepled cathedral and a soul that is 1100 years old. Just imagine how many ghostly footsteps you’ll be walking in. Yet for something different, if you time it right, (unlike us sadly) at 8.00pm you can have a 45 minute walking tour with the Night Watchmen, whose role it is to keep the peace. These days it’s more of a tourist attraction although worth doing for a stroll around the old streets. Tours depart from the Restaurant Weis Stue in the Market Place during summer months. 

We stayed in the main car park for the town, which has allocated motorhome spaces. Although used by college kids until 3.00pm.

 

Billund

Surely on every child’s list must be a visit to Legoland in Billund. Home to the world’s most famous brand, Billund has a theme park to satisfy every child curiosity – both young and old. Although if muscling your way through summer crowds at the park isn’t your cuppa, instead venture into the town centre where you will find Lego House. The outside terraces of this lego building are free to explore and with its six different roofs to enjoy, what’s not to like? If you want to expand your experiences to something a bit more interactive, then you can enter the bowels of the house, although this will set you back £27pp for ages 3+. Babies up to 2 can go in for free.

 

Fåborg

Part of Denmark’s south region is strangely the island of Funen or Fyn as it is often referred to. Funen is one of Denmark’s 400 islands that forms its archipelago and is home to castles, quaint thatched villages and coastal delights. The islands take on a slightly different feel to the Jutland peninsula with a more curvaceous shape to them. Middelfart is the gateway to the island (famous mostly for being one of only 3 places in Denmark where you can get LPG. And for those campers amongst us, this is like liquid gold in DK!) Thereafter it is worth taking the coastal road that winds you through towns like Assens and Fåborg. With its atmospheric port to the boutique style high street with charming shops, it’s worth an hour’s mooch. The Ymerbrøden statue is one of those pieces of artwork that just needs to be seen. Whilst the main square offering is a bronze replica, exploring its symbolism will have you staring in wonder. Just think man suckling from a cow! Yes not an every day occurrence. The rest of the town is gorgeous with its yellow painted church and medieval cobbled streets.

 

Astrup

As you pass Astrup, your breath will be taken away by the Stofmollen. An 1863 windmill that today is home to an incredible emporium of fabric. Every colour imaginable is stored in this charming mill. Whatever you imagine goes with sewing, this place has it all. It’s pretty unique and definitely worth a little stop for coffee. Or if chocolate is more your thing, then drop into Konnerup Chocolatier just five minutes up the road. Handcrafted chocolate to satiate every sweet-toothed lovely out there. Why not grab a coffee, indulge in a bit of Hygge and some sweet treats.

 

Egeskov Castle

And finally in this southern region, a castle to end all castles; Egeskov. Ranked as one of Europe’s Top 50 most beautiful places to visit, Denmark’s Egeskov is a dream – an expensive dream although worth  it.  With a £23pp price tag, you want to make a day of it, although with the gardens, classic car museum and the castle itself, there’s plenty to do for you and the kids. Not our usual attraction although every now and again it’s good to indulge. 

You are allowed to stay in the car park overnight. 

Check our Southern Region gallery below.

 

2.  Central Denmark

Denmark’s Lake District

Our first view of Denmark as we headed from Ribe to Billund was flat and agricultural. Whilst the endless fields of rape seed certainly broke up the view of green, the Lake District was a welcome sight. With a gently undulating landscape, forest and mirror lakes, this is a region unique to Denmark. This area holds the country’s longest river – Gudenå at over 90 miles long, the highest point – Møllehøj at the heady heights of 171m, Denmark’s largest lake – Mossø to name just a few of its best bits. For its outdoor pursuits and water heritage this area alone is worth visiting. 

 

Himmelbjerget

Just 15 minutes drive from Silkeborg, a short diversion to see Sky Mountain (Himmelbjerget) is worth doing. It is Denmark’s second highest point and the views from the tower across the countryside is lovely. Himmelbjerget is particularly famous for being the seat of many political discussions and strategic decisions over the course of history. You can take a boat from Silkeborg to Himmelbjerget if you don’t fancy the drive and 10DK parking fee.

 

Silkeborg

Whilst as a town there is not much to hold your attention, there are a couple of highlights that make Silkeborg a worthy stop for an hour. The first is its Hjejlen the world’s oldest coal-fired paddle boat. Then there’s one of only two sluice locks in Denmark and finally, its piece de resistance is Mr Tollundman. The preserved body of a 30 year old man, murdered and buried in the peat soil close to Silkeborg dating back to 400BC. That alone is worth the 60DK entrance fee.

We stayed overnight at a parking area in the forest and alongside the river, with toilet facilities. 

 

Viborg

North west of Silkeborg is the quaint cathedral town of Viborg. Alive with its luscious gardens, cobbled streets and magnificent cathedral, this University town has a lovely energy. Although compact you will still need a couple of hours to enjoy all its aspects. From the Bibelhaven and Latinerhaven gardens, to the lake, the elegant shopping street and weekly market, there’s plenty to enjoy here. A beer in the Nytorv Square is a must, if for no other reason than to sup a Danish beer and watch the world go by. 

Free parking in the University is allowed for motorhomes for 24hrs.

 

Denmark’s Fjords

Whilst perhaps not on the scale of New Zealand’s fjords or its neighbouring Norway, Denmark has plenty of them. And if you want a bit of off the beaten track exploring, walking or camping, then go no further. This Central Region of Denmark has a plethora of fjords to choose from where the sea is master of all. Except perhaps the wind, which seems to have a dominant role in Denmark’s economy because there is so much of it. Try exploring Ulbjerg Strand and Nymølle Strand where you and the wind can be alone with your thoughts. 

We stayed at Ulbjerg Strand and Nymølle Strand for two nights. Alone and in the most stunning areas alongside the fjord.

Check our Central Region gallery below.

 

3.  Northern Denmark

Cold Hawaii and Thy National Park

The north western coast of Denmark is a landscape shaped entirely by nature. With North Sea winds whipping up tempestuous seas, this is stark yet beautiful scenery. Classed as Denmark’s last wilderness, you will experience a unique coastal perspective that takes you through ancient sand dunes that are constantly shifting and reshaping, forests that do their best to protect the land and lakes. And with more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the country and thanks to the wind – there’s waves. Lots of them! Waves that attract surfers! Lots of them! Kitmølle or Cold Hawaii as it is endearingly known, is a curvy bay where fishing is still the ancient art. They ably retain their grasp over the surfing camps that have more recently emerged, attracting those wishing to master the waves. 

 

Hanstholm Bunker Museum

During the German occupation of Denmark during World War 2 German armies made their presence known along this coastline. Evidence of their coastal defences against the Allies are everywhere in this northern region. Huge concrete bunkers that look like something from an alien planet, occupy strategic positions poised for attacked. The outdoor bunker museums, like the one at Hanstholm, are free to explore; the museum houses have a nominal entrance fee if you want to learn more. 

 

Lys og Glas – Tranum

For one of those unique artisan crafts that allow you a peak into a country’s culture, then take a little diversion to Tranum. Here you will find an old candle factory that has since been turned into a Guest House and Ceramic Workshop. This is a feast of colourful loveliness and if you adore hand-made crafts, then this is a gorgeous off-the-beaten-track visit.

 

Rubjerg Knude Fyr

In 1900, the lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude was built and since that time the sand and sea have taken their toll on this magnificent building. A hundred years ago it was 200m inland and now it teeters on the edge of the five mile sand dune awaiting its inevitable fate. A fate that will have the sea reclaiming its hold. It is one of those places that needs to be seen much like the Dune du Pilat in France. Whilst this may be second to the French giant, these dunes are incredible and with their natural shaped artistry, treading this fragile yet tenacious land is quite an experience. And do it soon as they predict within the next couple of years, this lighthouse will disappear forever. Be one of those people who can say ‘I went there before it fell.’

 

Grenen Point

Grenen Point is Denmark’s most northerly point and it is far more than just a spit of sand. This area has a very special quality that, like so many places around the world, has to be experienced rather than described. Although I’ll do my best to craft a visual description. The visitors aside, imagine a place where two seas converge, each one searching for supremacy. The angry sea gods fight as if on a front line, each side wearing different battle colours. Undeterred by their wrath, sea life continue their daily routines as they dive bomb the sea’s surface looking for their next meal. And the winds that punish the lands whip up the sands like you’re in a desert sandstorm. There’s a eery silence here that blends with the noise of nature that just needs quiet reflection and of course the odd selfie. The 30 minute walk from the car park is an easy saunter along the coast where gannets and seals can be spotted. Or you can take the tractor taxi if you  need to for a mere 30DK (about £3.50). 

We stayed at the Grenen Point car park for free.

 

Voergaard Castle

As you head on the E45 south, a small diversion will break up your journey. Voergaard is a 15th century castle surrounded by a moat that oozes opulence. Although not open until 11.00am for Guided Tours, you can wander around the moat alone, for free listening to the serenade of the cuckoos. Whilst Denmark boasts 177 castles, this one is rarely on the tourist list and so you can share this with just your thoughts and plunge yourself into Danish history. 

 

Hobro and Mariager

We love going to places that others may by-pass for the bright lights of a cityscape. Given that built up areas are not really for us, we tend to search out the quieter places and are always rewarded with a treasure. And this is so true of Hobro and Mariager. Situated on Denmark’s longest fjord, they each hold a space in the country’s history book. Hobro with its Viking settlement and museums and Mariager – known as the City of Roses is Denmark’s smallest merchant town. Legend has it that this humble fishing village is named after Maria who tragically drowned herself after two rivalling knights died in a duel fighting for her hand in marriage. Mariager also has a Cittaslow title, showing the depth of its historical soul. Also if you’re here, the Salt Mine is apparently worth experiencing. 

We stayed at the Marina for the night that had free services for a 150DK payment.

Check our Northern Region gallery below.

 

4.  Zealand

One of Denmark’s most important and largest of its 400 islands, Zealand is accessed by the Storebælt Bridge at Nyborg. Like the Øresund Bridge to Sweden, this is a magnificent structure that will set you back 370DK/£43 if in a vehicle over 6m.  Zealand is classified into north and south. In the north you have the important town of Roskilde and of course the infamous Shakespeare setting for Hamlet at Kronborg castle. In the quieter south you have a multitude of islands to explore before you hit the inevitable city lights of Copenhagen.

 

Island of Enø

We loved our little saunter over to the island of Enø, which was more by luck than judgement. With its Kroen Canal and draw bridge, this is a fisherman’s haven. With fishmongers everywhere, artisan bakeries and coastal paths strewn with nesting swallows in the cliffs, Enø will delight. It’s only 3 miles long, which is easily hiked or cycled and is known for its musical festivals. 

We stayed at two spots overnight. One night was at the Marina with full services for 165DK (£19.50) and the other was a wild spot at the furthest end of the Island, which you will see on the interactive map. 

 

UNESCO Stevns Klint

Stevns Klint is a geological and historical delight. Its church, that balances on the cliff edge toppled into the sea in 1928 and has since been rebuilt. With a steep descent to the bouldered beach beneath that is not sadly disabled friendly, although if you can reach it, you will see millions of years history embedded in the chalk cliffs. It is classed as one of the best exposed Cretaceous-Tertiary boundaries in the world. That means fossils to you and me. The colour of the water, best seen from the cliff-top walk is just amazing when the sun’s out. Also to top it all, Stevns has a Cold War/Nato history, given that it was Denmark’s first line of defence in the protection of Copenhagen. So plenty to experience here.

It is possible to stay in the large car park overnight for 40DK – just under £5 payable with credit card, DK or Euro coins.

 

Denmark to Sweden – Øresund Bridge

Bridges are pretty important to a Dane’s life as whether crossing from the archipelago or hopping across to Sweden, they provide a cultural and practical lifeline. We have always loved these incredible structures; there’s something spiritual about them; from the design, build and the symbolism of leaving and arriving. So we were excited about heading south around Copenhagen, avoiding the Low Emission Zone and across over to Sweden on the Øresund Bridge. As you leave Zealand you drive through a two and a half mile tunnel and then emerge into the bright light revealing the technically brilliant architecture. Øresund is five miles long and is a great feat of engineering. It’s not cheap though. If you go on line you can save money although for any vehicle between 6-10m, it will cost 704DK (£83.00). You can get a reduction on this if you buy an annual Bropas for €43 entitling you to a 50% reduction. This is only cost effective if you intend to return back over the bridge. 

Check out our Zealand gallery by clicking the image below.

 

Closing Thoughts

Denmark with its coastline, forests, history and archipelago is a must. Be willing to look at Denmark with new eyes. Eyes that see its potential, its limitless beauty and its understated depth. You’ll not be disappointed. Give Denmark a chance and linger longer. We did and we’ll be back. For an even more detailed perspective of your trip to Denmark, keep your eyes open for our soon to be launched free eBook. 

 

 

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Other posts you may be interested in…

 

Our Portugal Road-Trip Guide

Our Portugal Road-Trip Guide

Portugal, a gem on the western edge of the Iberian Peninsular may be the farthest west of its European neighbours although don’t let its distance fool you. This is a chocolate-box of goodies that, once you open will have you hooked. After 40 days and 40 nights exploring this Iberian beauty in March 2019, we have plenty to share of our adventures both inland and along its award winning coast.

Whether Portugal is new to you or may be just a little known, let us inspire you to consider travelling to this western treasure. Sit back and indulge yourself in thoughts of how Portugal could become your next expedition as we share our route highlights, discoveries and delights.

 

14 things we learned and discovered about Portugal 

1. Portugal’s countryside so often felt like the ‘green, green grass of home’. With rolling hills and a lusciousness that had a feel of UK, Portugal had an instant appeal. No parched lands; instead acres of green pastures that felt instantly comfortable.

2. Portugal has a strong affiliation with UK dating back to 1386 with the Treaty of Windsor. That alliance is still in place today and so the two countries remain intrinsically linked and there is evidence of this everywhere. From red pilar boxes and telephone kiosks to the warmest welcome from a gracious population.

3. Like every country Portugal has its motorway network, some of which are payable. Although for the whole of our 40 days we navigated our way around the country without touching one single motorway. 

4. On paper the Portuguese language may look similar to Spanish, yet the sounds are completely different. Although with a few basics we were understood. That said a lot of tourist Portuguese speak English, whilst the locals in towns do not, so be prepared. Check out our Getting by in Guide to languages, where you will learn essential phrases for Portuguese on Page 55.

5. Portugal has a rich cultural and historical diversity. With influences going back to the Romans and through to the bloody battles between the Moors and Christians, scars are etched into every town.

6. Portugal has the best coastline we have seen throughout Europe. If you want long stretches of iconic golden sands, that would feel at home in any Caribbean Holiday brochure, come to Portugal.

  1. Portugal has been shaped by seismic activity for thousands of years due to the close proximity of a number of major fault-lines, evidence of which you can see all around the coast. In particular, the earthquake of 1 November 1755, which destroyed Lisbon, impacted hugely on the Algarve coast thanks to the resulting tsunami. The more recent tremor of 1969 further moulded the coastline and the threat of earthquakes remains a constant threat to the Portugal landscape. So be mindful of this as you hike the coast.
  1. From a gastronomy viewpoint, Portugal will not disappoint. You must try Naters; a sweet pastry tart filled with cream-custard. They are a delicious if not a decadent treat. Then there’s the fish, which with a coastline as extensive as Portugal’s, you can guarantee taste and quality.  And do not forget the Douro Valley for its tawny and ruby alchemy – Port. This is elegance personified and is a Portuguese must.
  1. Portugal is a proud nation with values that give it an authentic and classic feel. Families are honoured, the earth is nurtured and respected and their heritage fiercely protected. Everywhere we travelled there was a depth and character to their towns, traditions and people. Sometimes those invisible yet intrinsic features of a country are what create the meaningful memories of a trip.
  1. Cork production is a major industry, especially in the Alentejos and Algarve regions. Roads are bordered by cork oak trees that stand naked; their bark stripped for this local commodity that, once processed is made into all nature of products from shoes, handbags and bottle stoppers. Check out Loulé for its cork selling shops which will have you mooching for hours.

11. Whilst Portugal’s flag may well be green and red, be in no doubt that yellow is more akin to Portugal’s natural hew – especially in spring. From the tiny yellow balls of the evocatively smelling Mimosa and the Ice flowers along the coast, to Lupins and Daisies – yellow covers every vista you see. 

12. I learnt that with so much time on the coast I became really dehydrated, despite drinking four pints of water a day. Being in the salt air, so consistently does make hair and skin dry out – so drink plenty of water.

13. Intermarché is well set up with washing machine facilities (€4-€8 for a wash and €2 per 20mins to dry). Some even have drinking water, waste and toilet cassette dumps too. Also if you travel in a campervan, then most of Lidl supermarkets have motorhome specific parking bays.

14. Camping is cheap in Portugal. For 40 nights we spent less than €100, which makes it by far the cheapest country we have stayed in. 95% of our overnight stops were either free because we camped wild or in cheap Aires. We had one night in a commercial campsite which cost us €25, although it did have every facility and activity you can imagine.

Click on the image below to see our floral gallery

 

 

Our interactive route map

Over 40 days, whilst we travelled around 800 miles, we really didn’t even scratch the surface of this fair land. Still it has made enough of an impression that we will return without argument or dispute. 

Below you will find our comprehensive Interactive Route Map that shows you the routes we took, our POI and the overnight stops that we called home. Click on the map to see the detail.

 

 

Getting the most from your trip to Portugal

There is so much gorgeousness we could share with you, that it’s difficult to know how best to present it. So after much deliberation, we have decided to structure it shaped around Portugal’s mainland regions – well the ones we visited! Each section has a Quick Reference Guide so you know what to expect (based on our experiences). 

As we haven’t seen the whole country, a guide like this is always a little bias and incomplete. Although our intention is to simply share our love for the places we explored, and hope it might inspire you to visit some of those off-the-beaten-track places that we loved so much. 

 

Portugal’s sunshine state – Algarve

Quick Reference Guide 

  • The central area of Algarve is great for golf courses, marinas and nightlife
  • Capital Faro, is the main airport servicing the region
  • West is best for dramatic coastal scenery
  • Alvor is where we found some of the best rock formations – go at low tide to walk amongst them
  • Algarve has one of the world’s Top 100 Beaches – Praia de Marinha
  • It has some of the best coastal hiking using way-marked walks
  • Is one of the most built up and touristy regions of Portugal
  • If you love water sports or want to visit the famous caves, it’s best to visit from May to September when the weather calms. Winter and early spring is great for dramatic waves and so is often too rough for boat trips
  • Cheap Aires for campervans are available throughout the region ranging from €4 – €9 many with electrical hook up 
  • Eating out is cheap and fish is particularly good along this southern coast. 

 

Whilst Portugal’s Algarve is one of the most ‘go to’ destinations, there are so many more delights along the coast and inland that will enrich your visit. For example the authentic and cultural joys of Loulé with its Saturday market and traditional way of life. Or try Silves with its ancient walled city and castle that is the largest of its kind in the region.

Paradoxically not all of Algarve’s draw is the golf courses and nightlife. Go west and you will be treated to an art form fit for a king. It has a coastline carved by the ferocity of Mother Nature; from Armacão – Lagos you will be awed by the sheer beauty of this coastal artistry. Known as the Rocky Algarve, the coves, caves only accessible by boat, and cliffs will have you kneeling in some sort of bizarre ritual of respect. Such is the beauty of the rock formations along this coast that they seriously compete with those we saw in New Zealand. 

So if you are a photographer, nature lover, geologist or hiker, the Rocky Algarve will have you speechless. Here, we have profiled five hikes that will take in some of the best scenes along this coastline – there are more although sadly a foot injury prevented any further exploration. 

Do check out Alvor, which is a stunning little seaside fishing town. It comes with a diversity that will entertain all manner of visitor. From its coastline extraordinaire to its white sandy beach and lagoon to the genuine fishing culture, Alvor will steal a little of your heart. The fishing community is key to this little town, away from the commercial hub. The community of fishermen’s huts that provide shelter from the sea’s wroth and the atmospheric estuary, offer a great composition for any artist at sunset. The cobbled streets of the old town are pretty much wall-to-wall restaurants  although out of season it is cute, if not a bit touristy. Check out A Tascado restaurant (R. Pedro Alvares Cabral 19).

Sagres is the furthest point southwest of mainland Europe and so a visit to its fortress and lighthouse is a must for this reason alone. For a mere €3 you can enter the grounds and loose yourself for an hour in the maritime history that goes back centuries. The limestone pavement reminds you of nature’s role in the region and the kamikaze fisherman that hang off the 100ft cliffs looking to catch their supper will colour your visit beautifully. 

Before you leave this seaside town, visit the São Vicente lighthouse, if only to take your first glance at the Wild West coastline that has wind and surf as it natural sculptures. Framed by the pink, yellow and purple Ice flowers, you will feel drawn to move north as the salt air massages your face with anticipation.  

Check out our gallery by clicking on the image below.

 

Wild West Coast

Whilst geographically not classed as one of Portugal’s regions, it seems important to have a section dedicated to this incredible stretch of land. It touches each of the country’s five mainland regions so seems worthy of specific mention.

Quick Reference Guide

  • Approximately 500 miles in length from Cabo de Sao Vicente in the south to Caminha in the north
  • Home to the largest surf in Europe – Nazaré where the World Championship are held in October
  • There are few signs of mass tourism along the southern shores – just quaint fishing villages
  • Fishing has been a crucial way of life here; look out for ancient Islamic village at Amado Beach
  • Roads are lined with mimosa and eucalyptus trees
  • Wild camping is tolerated along much of the coast – just be mindful of the National Park restrictions in high season
  • Bird life and photography opportunities are enormous, especially rock nesting storks  
  • Getting around Lisbon can be tricky – head inland to Évora to avoid it and its toll bridges
  • Has the best and most diverse coastline we have ever experienced
  • Visit the unique town of Costa Nova and her candy stripped fishermen’s houses
  • Great area for cycling with its quiet roads and coastal boardwalk routes

In all our years of travel we have been blessed with some incredible coastal scenes from India’s Goan beauties to New Zealand’s belles… And yet nothing prepared us for the raw essence of Portugal’s western coastline. Battered by Atlantic winds and views out towards US, this route will stun you into silence. There are two major hikes from Sagres that show off the full extent of this coastline’s magnificence; The Heritage Way and The Fisherman’s Way. The latter particularly has become a bit of a pilgrimage by backpackers as they make their way towards Porto Covo in the north.

The biggest difference between the west and southern sibling is its quietness and the lack of tourism. I recognise that we visited out of season, yet this aside, there are no high-rise hotels or gated residential estates, south of Lisbon at least. Just Portuguese working towns who go about their business to the exclusion of visitors. Partly because so few come this far north as they choose to hug the southern coasts. Although we implore you to check out this area. 

Explore the coastline and learn how ancient and modern fisherman live their lives. The remains of an Islamic fishing village can be found at Amado Beach just south of Carrapateira and a more modern view of life on the ocean waves is hidden in an alcove just south of Almograve. Watching how the fishermen navigate the treacherous waters around this volcanic coast is mind-boggling. You cannot miss the evocative and visually appealing fishermen’s pontoons at Carrasqueira just ten minutes from Comporta. Their rustic wooden platforms that extend out into the lagoon is a masterpiece waiting for the amateur photographer, capturing the essence of their formidable mariners’ lives.  

And if you happen to be bird-lovers, then watching the kites and storks will be timing-wasting enough. Especially unique is to see the storks nesting precariously on pillars of rock on the coastal edges, seemingly blissfully unaware of the danger of their house of choice. It is here that the battle between life and death is played out as peregrine falcons attack the storks in search for their precious eggs as a breakfast treat. The best place for this theatre ensemble is at Sarbadão Lighthouse, just south of Almograve Beach, which is pinned on our map. 

Another great place to watch the storks’ antics is at Comporta, just south of Lisbon and the Sebútal peninsula. This small fishing community, amidst the salt flats, dunes and lagoon, seem to have adopted the storks as their emblem and fiercely protect the nesting pairs. Church towers, roof-light windows and pylons are acceptable residences for these magnificent birds and you can easily while away an hour watching their territorial antics. 

The Wild West characteristics alters so dramatically like the chapters of a thrilling novel. From the south with its craggy rock and inhospitable landscape looking like something from the moon to the miles of golden sandy beaches further north. Dunes, pine forests and eucalyptus dapple the landscape and you can be in awe at how the coastline changes its look more often than a Kylie Minogue concert. Try not to miss out the charming villages of Vila Nova da Milfontes, Porto Covo and Peniche. Further north towards Porto, you must see Costa Nova, which is iconic for its candy stripped fisherman’s houses that have centuries old tales of mariners’ lives. 

Click on the image below to see our gallery of this wild west coastline 

 

Alentejos

Quick reference Guide

  • Portugal’s largest region, spanning the whole width of the country
  • Roman hub Évora is its capital
  • Cork production capital of the country
  • Neolithic evidence strewn throughout the inner uplands around Évora

 

Alentejos encompasses both the joys of the coast and ancient history that combine to honour deeply held traditions and cultural heritage.  If you travel along the eastern edge where Portugal rubs shoulders with its neighbour Spain, you can imagine the intrigue that this is likely to offer. Battles for supremacy and territory, fortresses for protection and towns set to historical high alert. Whilst we didn’t see much of this eastern bord, we did have our first steps on Portuguese soil at Mértola. 

Nestled in the heart of the Natural Park, its lofty position high above the river is the epitome of this fortress style town. Its castle walls still in tact, its cathedral sat on the site of an ancient Mosque and its Roman bridge giving you just a few clues as it to its historical heritage. 

Further west unfolds more Roman secrets – who knew their armies travelled so far west to conquer, build and dominate. Évora is a classic example of this. Capital of Alentejos, Évora has amazing city walls, museums to satisfy the curious and the remains of a Roman temple. Its central square is charming as you settle for a coffee and a Nater and just around the corner the must visit Chapel of Bones.

Click on the image below to see our gallery

 

Central Region 

Quick Reference Guide

  • Home to the Surfing Capital of Europe, Nazaré
  • Costa da Roca is the furthest point west in mainland Europe closely followed by Peniche
  • Check out the amazing geology of the Peniche peninsula 
  • If the weather is calm, catch a boat for €25 to the island of La Berlenga
  • Watch the windsurfers on the sheltered waters of the lagoon at Figueira da Foz
  • Visit the most beautiful and authentic walled village of Obidos
  • Drive the inland Atlantic Ocean way and see the devastation of the 2018 forest fires
  • Visit the charming village of Costa Nova and her candy-stripped fishing houses
  • Pop across to Aveiro, which is known as Portugal’s Venice with its small canal network
  • Drive inland to Viseu, which is the centre of granite production and explore its ancient buildings and street art
  • Take the N2 route and enjoy its beauty

 

Perhaps you are or have visions of becoming a surfer dude – and if so then Nazaré has to be a destination stop for you  and your board. This home to the largest waves in Europe – scaling a humungous 30m. With its unique factors of on-shore winds and underwater topography, it creates perfect professional surfing conditions and is why the European Championship are held here every October. What a spectacle that must be. 

For geologists, once more this coastline will regale you with its tales of evolution as strata form the most incredible pieces of natural art out on the Peniche peninsula. Their composition seems so different to other craggy areas of the coast further south, leading to a thesis or two from the academics about the different seismic influences in this region over the epoc. 

For lovers of history and culture, a short trip to Obidos will certainly appeal. This picture postcard walled city is charm personified and whilst compact and bijou, scale its walls and you will see how size has no impact on this village’s delight. Cobbled streets, terracotta roofs and rustic buildings give a medieval feel to it, coming straight out  of a Dicken’s novel. We had too little time here although enough to entice  us to return. 

We absolutely adored the coastal route north where our final coastal destination was Costa Nova. Shaped along a narrow strip of sand dunes, with golden sands one side and a lagoon the other, this town proffers more maritime history. Over and above this, visually  this  place is one that Instagram must surely adore. With its candy-striped houses it felt like you had walked on the film-set of a Willy Wonky candy making factory. It was truly  magical to see how the fishermen lived centuries ago in their brightly painted houses. What a delight it was to cycle around this appeal and almost delicious town. Do check out the fish market where you will be amazing by the variety of marine life  you can purchase. Clams were our gift of the day – truly delicious.  

Viseu – whilst its superficial greyness and busyness didn’t do much for its reputation, when you enter its hub, it was quite lovely. The vernacular that takes you just 200m uphill is the first surprise – second is that it is free. The route scales you up to the hilltop, on which the museum and cathedral are based. The gardens and parks built within the bosom of the city are charming and the riverside is just cute. Whilst you might imagine the street art having a negative visual impact, I actually think it is quite an endearing feature to the town. 

Click on the image below to see our gallery

 

Northern Region

Quick Reference Guide 

  • Porto is the capital of this region
  • Home to the famous Douro River valley and its Port drink
  • Find a Quinta and do some Port tasting along the ancient river as it carves through 586 miles
  • Continue your N2 route through the most beautiful mountain ranges
  • Visit Lamego and the Nossa Senhora dos Remedios
  • Turn right before Peso da Régua and drive along the Douro Valley’s most beautiful route N222 to Pinhão
  • Catch the train from Pinhão to Pincho – one of Europe’s most beautiful train rides €7.80 pp
  • Take a boat ride from Pinhão up the Douro river €10 pp per hour

 

Whilst Porto may well be the biggest draw of northern Portugal, if cities are not your thing, then a quick calibration of your compass to the east will reward you plenty. You have the central draw of Lamego, which is certainly worth a visit, in our book. Its characterful and pristine old town are gorgeous and its fountain clad avenue that leads the eye and the feet towards the mammoth 686 steps up to the Church of our Lady of Remedies which will get your heart pumping.  

And then you have the Alchemy of the North…. The Douro Valley. This depicts everything you can imagine about the partnership between man and nature working in harmony. With nature’s role taking the lead part in this staged masterpiece, you will be rewarded with fertile soils, carved terraces, curvaceous lands and a network of vineyards. Clinging to every inch of this landscape looking to capture the sun’s powerful rays, these vines are the very source of the tawny nectar that graces our table with cheese. Port, that magnificent and elegant tipple stakes its claim to the Douro valley and with the sparkling waters of the river, this must surely be some sort of Utopia. At the beating hub of the valley is Pinhão, a classical working town where the locals collaborate with each other and the land to produce not only history and a productive export, they also create a cultural experience for the visitor. Pinhão and its Douro is a must. Check how to make the best of our visit by clicking here. 

 

 

 

 

And finally…  Portugal’s answer to Route 66  – N2

The longest continuous road in Portugal, the National route N2 is a must if you enjoy getting off the beaten track. Whilst the newly built motorway infrastructure may well be favoured by those who need to travel far and fast, it will certainly not enrich your life like the N2. Covering around 450 miles, this road covers the full length of the country; north at Chaves to Faro in the south. Winding your way through valleys, forests, mountain ranges and river floors, this is a beautiful road to encounter, in part or as a whole. 

We drove two sections of the route; the first was south from Almodõvar in Alentejos to just north of Loulé. The second was north from Viseu to Chaves as we finally and with heavy hearts, exited Portugal back into the arms of Spain. 

We thoroughly enjoyed this exhilarating drive which is favoured by motorcycles and bicycles although can equally be relished by drivers too. Passing through such gems as Viseu and Lamego, it is just worth a cruise.

 

Some practicalities

Before we leave you with temptation running through your veins, let us leave you with some practicalities about your stay in Portugal. Whether coming by camper, plane or cruise liner, here are some tips that might be helpful. 

 

  • Fines are heavy if you enter a motorway by mistake without a vignette. Not all tolls are manned, so either set your navigation to avoid tolls or buy a vignette that will last for the duration of your stay. We decided against it as we didn’t feel the need to use them although your circumstances might require faster travelling. Check out this website for comprehensive guidance about Portugal’s Toll Routes.
  • Wild camping in Portugal is easy and profuse especially along the west coast where the volume of campers diminishes. We saw plenty of people parking in forbidden areas, which seemed to be tolerated out of season. I suspect the further into April you go, the trickier it becomes. Parking is not allowed in National Parks, so beware of the GNR’s presence and ensure no ‘camping behaviour’.
  • Portugal caters well for those on wheels as there are very cheap Aires along the coast and towns inland, which will cost you between €4 – €9 per night with services.
  • Most towns have speed restricting traffic lights. So as you approach they will turn red and then immediately green.
  • Drivers are sedate and respectful we found, making travelling through Portugal very pleasurable.
  • We were lucky with the weather when we visited, although if you visit during winter and early spring, be prepared for a variety of conditions. Layers is the name of the game. Being on the Atlantic, it is often windy.
  • Portugal is on Western European Time (WET) – so operates the same as UK time, and an hour behind its European cousins.
  • Portugal has a wide variety of Supermarkets from Lidl, sometimes Aldi, plenty of Intermarché (which was more expensive than Lidl) and a few Leclerc in larger towns/cities. Pingo Doce was a nice store that was generally cheaper and slightly better quality than Lidl.
  • Petrol and Diesel was more expensive than Spain – averaging around €1.39. The cheapest we saw was €1.23 at an Leclerc in Santagem and the most expensive was €1.45.
  • LPG was available throughout the country, although not at every garage. We had no problems with filling up our Gaslow tanks.
  • If you want fresh produce there are markets everywhere – some towns have their own market halls for everyday fruit and veg, whilst others have special Saturday markets. If you want daily bread, go to a Pandeira.
  • Credit cards are widely available although we suggest you take plenty of coins for Aires, washing machines and for tips.

 

Closing thoughts

Portugal wowed us. After a visit 15 years ago, we experienced the central Algarve with its golf resorts and marinas, which weren’t our cup of tea. Years on, with less stressful lives, more time and an open mind to travel diversity, we have been able to appreciate the Algarve. More than that, we have been able to relish in the fruits of Portugal’s inland gems and road less travelled destinations. Portugal has definitely leapt ahead to warrant a place in our Top 5 Favourite European countries. We have really appreciated its natural and cultural joys. We hope if you have the chance to come, that you too may feel inspired to travel this amazing country and feel richer for the experience. 

 

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7 Highlights of Évora

7 Highlights of Évora

Come to Portugal and immerse yourself in so much more than golden sand between your toes. Whilst the beaches entice any sun seeker, Portugal cries out to be heard on the historical stage. A saunter inland will open up a history lesson that will give your Portuguese experience a depth and context that will not disappoint. And it is the Alentejos region’s capital Évora that offers our classroom today… Come on in and check out our highlights of this ancient capital steeped in Roman and Gothic ghosts.

 

Where to find Évora

 

Évora is one of those places that whilst is built up on the outside, offers a compact and charming presence on the inside, sheltering its Roman ruins, cobbled streets and ample churches by protective city walls. Évora sets the scene for battle, conquests and supremacy which vibrate in its very foundations. And such is its importance that it has earned itself UNESCO status and is a member of the Most Ancient European Towns network according to Wikipedia.

No more than 2 hours away from Lisbon, Évora is in easy reach, albeit probably not in a day trip. We headed east from the coast at Comporta for a bit of a beach break and found some amazing off-the-beaten track routes through rural Portugal. Surrounded by landscape littered with ancient megaliths, Évora has a real tale to tell going back 5000 years!

The Roman’s took charge of Évora in 57BC where baths and much of the city walls remain as a testimony to this period. Nearly 600 years later the Moors conquered Évora and they ruled for over 400 years until the Portuguese took charge in 1166. Much of Portugal under the reign of King Alfonso was released from Moorish rule and its identity today is significantly shaped by this epoch. Since then Évora has endured more battles and each time it seems that this small town has been a stalwart standing the test of time and war. 

With Évora’s colourful past, each building knits together a visual storyboard to entertain its visitor and these are the magnets that draw thousands of tourists each year. We took our bicycles in to the city, which is not to be recommended as the streets are steep, cobbled and a lot of them are one-way making it difficult to reach places. So we suggest using the map below to do a self-guided tour. Click on the map for an Interactive Tour of Évora.

 

Évora’s 7 Highlights

 

1. Aquaduct

The Roman Empire is known for its engineering prowess and the aqueduct is one of their legacies still visible today. And Évora’s aqueduct is a great example of their genius. We were lucky enough to be able to park alongside this magnificent and ancient symbol and just a two minute stroll through the city gates, and you can walk the length of the structure to its origin (38.57596, -7.91292).  What is lovely to note is how the houses are built into the arches. There are examples of this throughout the town; modern supporting ancient, what an interesting symbiosis. (38.57147, -7.90975)

 

 

2. Praça do Giraldo

Évora’s beating heart can be found in the Giraldo Square. Not really square, more of an oblong, although characterful none the less. It is here that you will find the Tourist Information office which we suggest is your next station stop for a map. A useful phrase is Posso ter uma mapa por favor? Can I have a map please? (38.57063, -7.90941)

From here you can look up towards the regal Saint Antonio church, which has so much personality yet is dressed in simplicity compared to the Gothic architecture that frames the Square’s edges. Giraldo invites you to stop for a coffee and people watch or may be indulge in a Portuguese Nater, especially good if you have a sweet tooth.

 

3. Roman Temple and Cathedral

Perhaps one of Évora’s most famous landmarks are her Roman ruins. (38.57259, -7.90729). The temple known as the Diana Temple is in the heart of the museum quarter and somehow conveys a robustness about the Roman Empire. It has itself so much history with its identity changing throughout the centuries. Its role has evolved from being part of the castle, an abattoir and a log store. The ruins are in a remarkable condition and with the backdrop of the Cathedral and the little park, it’s a lovely area to hang out for a bit.  Do check out the view from the edge of the gardens, overlooking Évora’s rooftops and to the city’s exterior. 

 

4.  Town Hall and Roman baths

This old palace is now home to the political hub of the town and its area. This is a magnificent Square bordered by a church and financial buildings.  Entry into the Town Hall is permitted for free, as are the Roman baths, which we wish we had visited. (38.57228, -7.90963)

 

5.  Chapel of Bones

Aside the Roman ruins, Évora’s other significant draw is the Capela dos Ossos – Chapel of Bones. (38.56873, -7.90884)  For a €5pp entry ticket you can get access to this most eery and yet fascinating place of worship and meditation. This tiny 16th chapel in the grounds of the Church of St Francis is a thought-provoking visit. Built by monks as a solution to the growing number of cemeteries around the town; they interned the bones and in a bid to honour the dead, decided to put them on display within the structure of this building. 5,000 corpses today form the fabric of the chapel; bones and skulls don the walls, the pillars and the architrave. It is the most bizarre form of art; art that holds a message for its viewer, prompting them to think beyond the visual display in front of them – the transitory nature of life. The Chapel makes you reflect on the journey of life and how we rush through the days without pause for the moment. It’s a sobering visit. 

 

6.  Church of St Francis

Whilst dropping in to pay your respects to the bones, you may be forgiven for feeling so overwhelmed that you miss the Church of St Francis, which is the main body of this area. It sits on the roots of a church dating back to 1200’s. Its Gothic design is impressive and as you walk into the longest nave of any Portuguese church, its gilting will wow you. There’s gold everywhere. It really does deserve a short visit. 

 

7.  Cycle/Walk around the city walls

After the reflections from the Chapel of Bones, heading to the gardens just beneath the church brings your mind back to the beauty of the world. (38.56734, -7.91001).  There were lots of repairs going on when we visited, although I imagine it is full of splendour in the summer months. With its bandstand and peacocks, it’s a lovely place to wander. And from here you can access part of the upper walk around the walls, feeling the past beneath your feet. And then continuing your route on the lower level, you can trace your steps back to the beginning of your walking tour and end up at the aqueduct once more.

 

 

Évora – our conclusions 

If you love history, culture and context, then Évora will be a great place to visit. If you need a break from the coast, Évora will satisfy your need for curiosity – just for a day. Its cobbled streets are not just atmospheric, they are a piece of history’s jigsaw that will leave you understanding just a little more about Portugal. It will leave you richer for standing in the footprints of our ancestors before we head back to the inevitable draw of the western sunsets and crashing waves. We highly recommend this little detour in your Portugal tour. 

 

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