EN2 – Portugal’s ‘Route 66’

National Road 2 (EN2/N2) has often been referred to as Portugal’s version of Route 66. In their hey-days, both EN2 and Route 66 were the primary roads for crossing their respective countries, but they have both been rendered partially obsolete, by the building of larger and faster motorways. Yet they have retained an allure for motorists, who view these roads as a historic journey.

The EN2 (N2) starts at the city of Chaves, in the northern part of the country, close to the border with Spain. It extends for 738km, running south through the centre of Portugal, ending in the city of Faro, just short of the Atlantic Ocean.

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After I bought my bike, my friend Joao suggested that we ride the EN2, from top to bottom. It was a trip that he had always wanted to do and I was quick to agree. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to see more of this beautiful country, that I now call home. Joao planned the trip and we agreed on a departure date of 25th April, as the heavy rains of March/April seemed to have passed and there was a window of warm sunny weather.

Day 1 – Porto to Chaves

As we both live in Porto, we had to first get to Chaves before we could begin to ride the EN2. But rather than drive directly to Chaves, we decided to include a detour into the Peneda-Gerês National Park, an area of natural beauty that is situated in a mountainous area in the north-east of the country.

We started out on the A3 motorway towards Braga, and then made our way towards Peneda-Gerês. We enjoyed riding some twisties, as we climbed and descended mountains. We then dropped down into a picturesque valley and crossed a bridge towards the Rio Caldo.

From the Rio Caldo, we began the climb into the national park, with a stop at the village of Gerês for a pleasant lunch. In the park, we enjoyed some lovely views, including a nice waterfall on the Rio Homen, where visitors were sun-bathing and braving the chilly mountain waters. We contented ourselves with a few photos before continuing higher into the park.

As we reached the summit of the mountain, we passed an old border-post and we were in Spain. We wanted to see a nearby hot spring in Os Baños, but it wasn’t quite what we had expected. A concrete pool had been built around the hot-spring, which is located next to the Rio Caldo river. After a short break to take photos, we headed back over the border into Portugal.

We exited the national park and rode towards Chaves, but the lovely scenery wasn’t all behind us. The TomTom navigator surprised us with some enjoyable backroads and beautiful views along the way.

 

You’ll notice that, throughout the trip, we took way more photos of our bikes than of ourselves 🙂

Whilst we were riding through the national park, there was a lot of pollen blowing through the air. My bike was covered in it and so was Joao’s waxed-cotton motorcycle jacket. It started the day brown and ended it looking more yellow.

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Joao’s jacket, covered in yellow pollen

The day’s ride had covered 153 miles (246km) and taken a little under 9 hours. It had been an excellent first day. My main weakness in motorcycling is riding the twisties – mainly due to a lack of opportunities riding in Bermuda for the majority of my life. The twisty mountain roads provided an opportunity for me to improve my skills in that regard and also helped me to get more acquainted with the bike. I felt much more comfortable after the day’s riding.

We reached our hotel around 6.00pm, so there was time to take a look around Chaves before dinner.

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Day 2 – Chaves to Pedrógão Pequeno

About 9.00am, we left our hotel and headed to the starting point of the EN2. There is a km-zero marker in the centre of a roundabout at the beginning of the road, where people were lining up for photographs. When we arrived, a group of 4-5 motorcyclists were already on the roundabout and a large group of cyclists, in matching riding gear, were waiting their turn. We were next and a couple of cyclists arrived just after us. There was an air of excitement in the air, as each group prepared to embark on their EN2 journey.

 

Our first stops along the EN2 were in Vidago, to see a couple of historic buildings from the early 20th century. The Palace Hotel is classic hotel that was inaugurated in 1910 by King Manuel II and was considered to be the best hotel on the Iberian peninsula. Opposite the hotel, at the end of a narrow cobbled and tree-lined road, lies the former Vidago railway station, also opened in 1910, to service the Palace Hotel and the town’s thermal ‘medicinal’ mineral waters. A few km further along the EN1 at Pedras Salgadas, is another old railway station.

We continued to ride through some beautiful scenery, with terraces of vineyards, until we took a detour, around lunchtime, to visit Vila de Fontes. In the summer, the locals host what is called ‘the Craziest Race in the World’, where they race Portuguese manufactured 50cc mopeds (built prior to 1996) around a street circuit for a period of 3-hours. The riders race for the Xassos Urban Cup and each year’s winners are listed on a monument on a roundabout near the town. The monument features a moped inside a plexi cube. A short distance down the hill is a tall ‘tree;’ made of tyres with a moped attached to the top. I’m now contemplating a visit to Fontes for the next race in July.

 

As we made our way along the EN2, other stopping places included the Church of Our Lady of Remedies Sanctuary at Lamego, the birthplace of Portugal’s former dictator Dr. Oliveira Salazar, and a reservoir where the road disappeared into the water.

 

The last stop before reaching our hotel was at the Cafe da Picha, located in the village of Picha. In Portuguese, Picha is a slang term for penis – the equivalent of ‘dick’ in English. The enterprising owner of the ‘Dick Cafe’ sells dick measuring tools to visiting tourists.

 

By the time we reached our hotel in Pedrógão Pequeno it was about 8.00pm. Enough time for a shower and dinner, before going to bed.

We had been on the road for 11 hours and had ridden 223 miles (358km), with stops amounting to 1 hour 45 minutes.

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Day 3 – Pedrógão Pequeno to Faro

The third day started out beautifully, as we enjoyed the gorgeous panorama from the balcony of our hotel room. It proved to be the start of lots of amazing scenery for the second half of the EN2.

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After leaving the hotel, we stopped at the nearby dam for some photos.

 

And then we headed to the geodesic centre of Portugal, some 40-plus km along the EN1. Only as we were riding towards that stop did I realise that I’d forgotten to start the app that I was using to record the ride. So, for this leg of the trip, the mapping doesn’t start until the geodesic centre.

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The centre is conveniently located at the top of a hill with amazing scenery all around. I imagine that this place will be crowded in the summer months but, in April, we had the place to ourselves, so we were able to ride the bikes up to the central point for photos. There is an adjacent museum but it was closed.

 

We stopped at the 368km marker, thinking it denoted the half-way mark of the EN2. But, actually, marker 369 would be half-way to 738. Oops!

 

The Tejo River (aka Targus River) cuts across Portugal from Spain in the east, to the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon, on the west coast. It also denotes the change in topography from the hilly north of the country to the flatter south. Instead of wine-growing on the terraces, the climate and flatter land to the south encourage the cultivation of cork oak trees, olives, and farm animals. The character of the road also changes, south of the Tejo. The winding, curvy roads of the north give way to much straighter roads in the south.

 

One of our planned stops was to see an ancient dolmen that was located off-road, in a field. Joao knew roughly where it was, but we couldn’t identify the entrance gate. Fortunately, whilst we were stopped on the side of the road, a GNR police vehicle was passing. Joao flagged them down and asked for directions. The officers weren’t too sure themselves, so invited us to follow them back down the road. Along the way, they pointed out what they thought was the gate and then stopped to ask a gentleman who was sitting on his door step. The old man confirmed the location of the gate, we thanked them for their help, took some photos, and headed off to find the dolmen. And what a beautiful location it turned out to be! Once we got through the gate and rode along the dirt track, we found ourselves in a meadow full of wild flowers. We stopped close to the location of the dolmen and a frisky young horse entertained us for a while. The stone dolmen itself dates back to the New Chalcolithic period (approximately 4500 and 3500 BC). This was Joao’s favourite location of the trip.

 

We continued along more long, straight roads and stopped briefly at the only remaining fuel station from the 1940’s. As we pushed further south, we encountered more hilly terrain. With the sun going down rapidly, we pushed on to reach the end of the road after 7.00pm.

 

As previously noted, the map track of the day’s ride is thrown out somewhat, as it wasn’t turned on until part way into the ride. But here it is, showing us reaching the end point of the EN2.

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But the riding wasn’t over for the day. Our hotel was over 30km back along the EN2, so we had to hustle back along the road before it got dark. With the bikes secured for the night, we settled down for dinner and a couple of celebratory drinks. It had been a good day of riding. The roads allowed a faster pace than the previous day, but it still required 11 hours on the road to complete the EN2 and make it back to our hotel.

And here is the app map for the entire three days.

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Throughout the three days, we enjoyed some very tasty Portuguese food for lunch and dinner. Here are some photos of what I ate. All of it was delicious!

 

Day 4 – Faro to Porto

The objective of the trip had been achieved. We had completed the historic EN2. But now we had to get back home to Porto, which was 540km away. And there was a possibility of rain in the forecast.

We had enjoyed some nice riding roads over the past three days but now, the name of the game was to get home as fast as we could. And that meant riding the A-roads (motorways and toll-roads) all the way. Not much fun, but we had a long way to go.

Fortunately, we dodged the rain and got home about 4pm. The app said 337 miles (542 km) with a journey time of 7.5 hours.

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It was a very good trip that certainly lived up to expectations. Both of our bikes performed admirably without a single problem. I know that my riding skills have improved and I have become more comfortable on the GS800. I’m looking forward to much more riding over the summer months.

My bike is now proudly wearing an EN2 sticker to mark her completion of the journey.

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4 Comments

  1. Hello Craig. Your blog and photos are spectacular. Love your story along the way. We intend to do this route as we just heard about it on FB thru Frommers. We stay in the Algarve for a couple of months each year and drive throughout Portugal. Always finding gems like Mafra, Monsaraz, amazing beaches near Bordeira and other gems. We also indulge in local food and seek out spots that tourists wouldn’t go to. Can you let us know the hotels and restaurants that you would recommend along EN2. BTW …. your photos are great, what camera do you use. Cheers and the best to you in future adventures in Portugal.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Glad to hear that you are enjoying my blog and photos. I have a Canon EOS 80D DSLR, but most of my photos are taken with my Sony DSC-RX100 Mk4 due to its compact size being easier to carry and access whilst riding.

      The hotels that we stayed at whilst riding the EN2 were the ‘Hotel Premium Chaves – Aquae Flaviae’ in Chaves; dinner in Chaves at Taberna Tipica Benito; Hotel da Montanha in Pedrogao Pequeno (gorgeous views); and ‘Casa de Campo Cantinho da Serra’ in Cortelha (they also serve lovely traditional Portuguese food in the downstairs restaurant).

      I hope that you enjoy your EN2 adventure.

  2. Hello Craig. We finally made it. Lorrain and I took EN2 from Chaves to Faro this week. Quite the challenge, even by car. Especially south of Chaves to about Pedrogáo Grande. From there it was quick. We stayed at the Hotel do Montanha. Thanks for the references it was great and quite affordable. We ate at great restaurants along the way. Great Portuguese food. I will write to the Minister of Tourism about our endeavour and provide some feedback. This entire promotion is fabulous but they need to get better in letting folks know where to get the passport stamped. At times we had a real challenge finding the spots. Signage along the route at times was pretty worn out and could use a bit of a new coat of paint or EN2 signs. I did purchase a great book outlining the entire route but unfortunately it is in Portuguese. All in all a great memorable trip. Your write up really helped. Did you get a chance to go to the Contraband Festival in Alcoutim?

    Cheers. Bill

    BTW … there is a new 739 marker in Faro …. do you think that we could find it …. no way. I found a photo taken last fall commemorating stop 739 with a bunch of dignitaries. Just need to find out where it is in Faro. Where did you folks pick up the sticker. Love your blog on travel within Portugal. There is so much to see and discover here.

  3. Hi Bill,

    Good to hear that you completed the EN2 and enjoyed the trip. I wasn’t aware of the new 739km marker, but I’ll try to find it if we do the ride again. I bought the stickers online before the ride.

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