If we haven’t made it clear yet in our posts, we are huge fans of rural tourism, and farm stays in particular. It is a style of traveling that while often overlooked is perfect for kids. Rural tourism also helps you flex those spontaneity muscles and embrace the unexpected. Our trip to the area around Porto in northern Portugal demonstrates these points well. If you read our Top 10 Tips and Tricks for Traveling with Kids post, these are Tip # 2 – Be Flexible and Tip # 7 – Stay Outside of the City.
Day 1 – Flight and Lots of Port
Arrive, Lunch, and Explore
One of our main goals was to a Port tasting. Given Porto’s significance in Port wine production, it seemed like sacrilege to visit Porto without a stop at a wine house, even with a 2 and 4 year old. Our plan was to land, pick up our rental car (see tip #10 on our Top 10 Tips and Tricks post) and head to Gaia, the area on the south side of the Duoro River where most of the wine houses are located.
Parking can be tricky in unfamiliar cities. Luckily there is a public parking lot called Parque Estacionamento Cais de Gaia which is super easy to navigate located right at the start of the Gaia area. It is connected to a large open-air shopping area with tons of great restaurants, bars, and shopping. We were hungry so stopped into the first open restaurant, Tasca do Cais for a quick bite. Finding a table at 11AM was easy given most locals eat at around 1PM. Thankfully they were open so early! We had a great meal of Portuguese tapas and were on our way.
Boat Ride on the Duoro and the Funicular Dos Guindais
It wasn’t part of the plan, but we realized quite quickly that a boat ride up and down the Duoro was a must. There were plenty of folks selling tickets, and we were there during the off season, so getting a seat was easy. You might want to plan ahead if going in the summer. We had about a half hour wait until the boat left, so we spent the time playing at the playground, walking the promenade, and, of course, eating Churros con Chocolate. The boat ride was fascinating. It winds up and down the Duoro and gave us a great taste of Porto, especially given this was the only day we would be in the city.
Next up was the Funicular dos Guindais which left from our side of the river. What kid doesn’t like a Funicular ride? As you can see by the pictures below, ours surely did! Even on our cloudy day it provided incredible views of this colorful and interesting city.
The Main Event – Port Tasting
The only real “to-do” on our list was a port tasting. Neither of us are wine connoisseurs. We know we like to drink it and do our best to experience local products wherever we travel. How can you go to Port with out a port wine tasting? We weren’t picky so we stopped at the first one we saw, which was Ramos Pinto. It was close, open, and a brand we’d never tried. If port is your thing, do a little more research ahead of time. Your options are endless!
The tasting was everything we’d ever thought it could be, and came with a LOT of wine. We were able to keep the kids occupied enough to truly enjoy the experience. The cellar tours stopped earlier in the day, which was probably OK given the limited attention span left in our kids. We drove the 90 minutes to our farm stay and put the kids to bed. Then it was time to relax and enjoy that nice bottle of port we had just purchased at our tasting!
Day # 2 – Rural Tourism at its Best
Our Farm Stay – Basics
We stayed at Casa Das Palmeiras, which is a traditional rural farm stay/agritourism stay/Casa Rural with a focus on kids. They even call it a Casa Das Palmeiras – Pedagogical Farm. They have a huge, heartfelt focus on travel for children and an inclusive environment, with most of the property set up to accommodate people with special needs. We have stayed at many farms over the years and would easily put this one in the top three.
The property has four guest houses and the main farm house. Breakfast comes with your stay and includes a bag of fresh baked bread delivered every morning from a local bakery. The kids loved running up to the main house to pull ours off of our hook and to try all of the wonderful local breads. We stayed in the Casa Dos Aromas, which had a bedroom, huge living/kitchen area, bathroom, and HUGE windows throughout. Kid Kits are available for free, so just ask if you need a high chair, pack and play, etc.
Our Farm Stay – Pedagogical Farm
They also have the pedagogical farm, which has tons of animals. Our kids were fortunate enough to be able to feed the goats, pigs, chickens, geese, and pretty much every other critter on the property. Often the ducks and geese just walking around looking for grubs.
The property is huge and has a soccer field, tons of areas to sit and relax, a natural pool for swimming, a huge library, trees and plants galore, and a mud kitchen. I think the kids spent most of their free time cooking there! Johana, the owner, is a true gem and is 100% dedicated to making sure everyone has a great time. We would come back in a heartbeat.
Day 2 – Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela and a Surprise
Our main goal for Day 2 was to visit Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela, the largest nature reserve in Portugal. We were looking for some easy hiking and heard they would still have snow at the top. Having lived in Malta for five years now, we missed our winter wonderland home of Minnesota. You can also run into large flocks of sheep grazing in the mountains being cared for by Serra da Estrela mountain dogs.
The nature park was intended to be the highlight of our day. After a wonderful breakfast at the Farm, we set off and route to the park went through a small town called Seia. As we approached the town, we realized something was off. It was far busier than one would expect for a town of 7,000 people! As our luck had it, they were having the Feira do Queijo Serra da Estrela (local cheese festival)! We love trying new cheese and cured meats, so knew this would be the place for us. The weather was a bit rainy so we decided to push back the park until later. This is the benefit of being flexible in your travel itinerary. Sometimes great opportunities pop out of nowhere. You need to be ready when they do!
Feira do Queijo Serra da Estrela
The event is dedicated to the famous sheep’s cheese, Queijo Serra da Estrela DOP, to which other endogenous products are added (sausages from the mountains, bread, honey, wine, crafts, etc.). These festivals are great opportunities to try new food, buy some goodies for later, and to experience something unique to a rural area. I am quite certain we were the only non-Portuguese attendees, and we stood out! The folks there were very accommodative of our complete lack of knowledge and were excited to test our taste buds with their products.
I must say, the cheese was amazing! It is a raw sheep milk cheese made from two sheep breeds found in the area. It was a hit with the kids and we brought far too much home. We also had our fair share of cured meats and sausages, including our first taste of blood sausage. We hate to admit it but we all liked it. The highlight for the kiddos was the craft fair. Vendors were selling all kinds of cool items. As a reward for their flexibility and patience we agreed to let them each buy something. Betty came back with a handmade strawberry themed jewelry set and Henrik a cool wooden car transformer. There was live music, old tractors and cars, and enough going on that we lost track of time.
If you learn one thing from this post, it is to include that flexibility. This was one of the highlights of our trip, and we never would have enjoyed it had we not had the flexibility in our itinerary and the curiosity to check it out!
Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela
With full bellies we made the drive up the mountain to Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela. It was overcast and rainy, so we had less chances to hop out of the car than expected. We did encounter the last remnants of the winter’s snow, which we were all excited to see. We saw the infamous sheep that produced our cheese grazing over beautiful vistas. It was definitely worth doing, but paled in comparison to the experience we had at the cheese fair. Maybe better weather would have given us more of an opportunity to hike and explore. Or maybe we just prefer gathering with the locals and feeling, even if for a fleeting moment, that we are experiencing their unique culture.
Day 3 – Bread Museum and Another Festival
Birth on the Farm
Like every other morning, the kids went up to get our bag of bread. They came running back because Johanna told them the mama goat had her baby. It was a quick change out of our PJs and a run to the goat barn. Johanna wasn’t kidding, the baby was born literally minutes before we arrived. It was such a unique experience and something I doubt our kids will ever forget. It is also one of those experiences you can only get via rural tourism.
Bread Museum (Museu do Pão)
Once the excitement had worn off, we sat down for breakfast. As we ate, we recapped our exciting day and game planned for today. Johanna heard about our fun visit to Seia and told us there is another stop there that is worth looking at, the Museu do Pão (Bread Museum). Kristen had seen this in her research but we weren’t sure if it was worth a stop. We were wrong, it was well worth the stop!
It is extremely well done, with a huge restaurant, museum with multiple exhibitions, store, and trolley. At the end the kids even are able to make their own bread ornaments that they kiln dry to take home. We still have them, however after many breakages they are more superglue than dough. Anyone visiting the northern half of Portugal should make this part of your itinerary. You can even have a glass of Portuguese wine at the bar, hit up the museum, and then go back for more at the restaurant ;).
Nelas Town Festival
Johana mentioned at breakfast that there was another town festival nearby. It would be smaller than the cheese festival, but would be an even better representation of the local culture. We had our afternoon/evening open so made it a date. The kids loved the parade and more importantly the churros. We ordered a small bag, but I think the vendor could tell we were not from around there and handed out a giant bag full to the brim. Needless to say we did not need much of a dinner that night!
It was a busy day and we were wiped. We decided to go back to the farm and make a meal out of some of the groceries we picked up upon arrival. After dinner we walked outside to check on the animals. Johanna happened to be milking one of the goats and asked if anyone wanted to try. The kids were a bit nervous but managed to convince mom to give it a shot.
Shortly thereafter we retired to our rooms and prepared for our last day.
Day 4 – A Quiet Day at the Farm
Usually on these trips we spend a lot more time just hanging out. It seemed that at every turn something interesting was going on in rural Portugal so we never had the time. We reserved our final day for just that. There are some cool walks that originate at the farm, so we spent the morning exploring the small villages and the countryside around us. The great thing is we could just bring our bag of morning bread along as a fun pick-me-up on the hikes.
After that, we played with the animals, cooked in the mud kitchen, and enjoyed the peace and tranquility of Casa Das Palmeiras. This was one of our favorite trips with kids. It may seem simple compared to the itineraries you see online, but for us it was perfect.
You should give it a try! Use ours as a GENERAL outline, stay at Casa Das Palmeiras, and then explore what that region has to offer in the season in which you are visiting. If visiting Portugal for a week, you could easily spend a couple of nights on the beach, a couple at the farm, and a couple at another destination of your choosing.