Portugal's pousadas are similar to Spain's famous paradors – a network of state-owned hotels synonymous with the history, culture and traditions of their particular region. On this spectacular self-drive, you’ll knit together some of the finest examples – from medieval castles to 19th-century palaces – travelling scenic coastal routes and valley-framed roads to reach idyllic beaches and spectacular slices of rolling greenery. It’s all populated by a fascinating collection of historic settlements, with charming seaside villages, Roman ruins and Moorish whitewashed towns among the highlights.
Days 1-2: Tavira
Fly into Faro, pick up your hire car and drive to Pousada de Tavira, a former 16th-century monastery that's retained its Renaissance cloister and Baroque central staircase. You'll have two days to explore, with Tavira displaying its 500 years of Arab rule in its Moorish fortifications, built into a 13th-century castle by the Portuguese King Denis. But its origins date back even further, evidenced by its Roman arched bridge. However, at its heart, Tavira is a traditional fishing town, complete with traditional whitewash and fresher-than-fresh seafood. There's even no less than 37 churches. You’ll also want to find some time to relax, with the town’s café-lined plazas and idyllic beaches a delightful proposition.
Stay: Pousada De Tavira (Deluxe)
Day 3: Beja
After breakfast today, drive to Beja in the Alentejo, a region known for its rolling hills and warm weather. Spend the night at the Pousada de Beja, a restored 13th-century convent in the centre of this historic town. Beja Castle is well worth visiting, as is the basilica of Santo Amaro, one of the few surviving buildings from when the Moors ruled Portugal. Other notable places include Serpa, a typical Alentejo market town inhabited since Celtic times, the village of Pias, renowned for its vineyards, and the spa town of Moura.
Stay: Pousada de Beja (Superior)
Day 4: Alcácer do Sal
Head to the town of Alcácer do Sal, 90km southeast of Lisbon. This historic town is dominated by the Moorish citadel (al qasr) that gives the town its name and which now houses a magnificent pousada. The hotel maintains the castellated walls and towers of the original structure, and stands on a site that has been occupied since Neolithic times, overlooking the broad green valley of the River Sado. After the Reconquista, the building housed a convent, of which the elegant cloister remains, but today the keynote is luxury, and tasteful modern touches in both art and woodwork complement areas of rough ancient stonework, oriental rugs and Baroque coats of arms. The pousada also has a small garden, a pool, and a dining terrace.
Stay: Pousada Alcácer do Sal (Superior)
Day 5: Sagres
Today's destination is the Pousada de Sagres, overlooking deserted beaches and the Atlantic Ocean in the far west of the Algarve, away from the commotion of the package resorts. It's surrounded by what forms the Algarve's wildest scenery, with sea-beaten cliffs host to pretty villages and imposing fortresses that give way to jagged coves. It's the idyllic setting for a collection of laidback fishing villages where boats are still built, lobsters caught and restaurants serve homemade delights.
Stay: Pousada de Sagres (Superior)
Day 6: Estoi
Drive through the busier part of the Algarve to reach the sanctuary of Pousada de Estoi. Though just 10km from Faro, this 19th-century palace offers beautiful Versailles-style gardens and an impressive pool and spa. It's a sightseeing experience in itself, with its distinctive pink hues and intricate cravings forming the finest example of the Algarve's Rococo palaces. But the region is also home to a more ancient past, with the Roman ruins of Milreu nearby. Here, you'll find mosaicked evidence of a Roman villa so large that it was first thought to be an entire town.
Stay: Pousada de Estoi (Deluxe)
Day 7: Faro
Make the short drive to Faro to return your car and fly home.
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
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