When you hear "Route 66" for the first time, you think of kilometre-long highways in the USA and not necessarily of your upcoming holiday in Portugal. But the Portuguese "Route 66", also called Rota da Estrada Nacional 2 (N2 for short), is at least as worth seeing. To be more precise, the N2 runs for 739 kilometres from the town of Chaves in the north of Portugal to the Atlantic coast in the south, to Faro. On the way, 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 11 rivers and 35 municipalities are crossed, where you can even pick up stamps for an N2 passport and thus get a special souvenir at the end of the journey.
National Road 2 is actually only one of three roads in the world that crosses a country completely. In addition to the N2, Route 66 in the USA and Ruta 40 in Argentina are comparable roads. In Europe, the Portuguese N2 is therefore unique and very popular, especially with the Portuguese.
But the more than 75-year-old route is also becoming increasingly well-known internationally. Two years ago, the US travel guide Frommer's reported on the N2 and immediately put it on the list of the best travel destinations in 2019.
Described as an "iconic road trip", the journey on the N2 begins in the small town of Chaves in the north of Portugal. There, anyone can pick up a so-called N2 passport, with which you can experience a little scavenger hunt through Portugal. This is because you can have the passport stamped on the spot in the 35 municipalities you pass through on your way to the Atlantic coast, and you will receive a special souvenir at the end of the journey.
The idea to also market the existing route for tourism came up only a few years ago, as a large part of the route runs through the poorest regions of Portugal. Therefore, every euro spent is worth a lot for the local economy in the small communities.
In addition, the scenery along the route is more than worth seeing. While the first section of the route to Vila Real is dominated by pine forests, the second section to Lamego turns into vineyards. The rest of the route is dominated by low mountain ranges with eucalyptus trees, and the last section leads through the "Serra do Caldeirao", the only mountain range in the country.
The often-mentioned highlight of the 700-kilometre route is at kilometre point 86, where the mountainous landscape slopes gently and the road leads down to the Douro River, amidst scenery that strongly resembles Tuscany. Nevertheless, with such a variety of beautiful landscapes, it is difficult to choose a favourite, as almost every section of the 739 kilometres has something special.
Overall, however, Portugal's "Route 66" is still largely unknown as an excursion destination, which will probably change in the coming years. In addition to car and motorbike riders, there is also a lot on offer for cyclists, hikers and e-bikers, and there are even around 300 kilometres of well-developed cycle paths next to the hardly used "Route 66". The Estrada Nacional 2 (N2) is therefore one of the few places in Europe where cyclists can enjoy such beautiful, quiet and relaxed scenery.
Source photos: Associação de Municípios da Rota da Estrada Nacional 2 (www.rotan2.pt)