It’s difficult to tell what’s making this drive so incredible—the scenery or the car. Cruising through Portugal’s lush Douro Valley, I am behind the wheel of the 2021 Jaguar F-TYPE, a vehicle that takes each hairpin curve and transforms it into an ecstasy-inducing turn of the wheel. It’s a far cry from the Toyota Camry Hybrid I drive at home in a cluster of bumper-to-bumper Los Angeles traffic. Here, on even the tightest corners, I glide past emerald vineyards and quaint stone farmhouses as one of the few on the highway.
I couldn’t have picked a better car for this road—a road designed for cars like this.
My journey begins outside Porto on the Estrada Nacional 222, which is no ordinary route. When the car rental company Avis set out to determine the best driving road in the world—with the help of a race track designer, a scientist, and a roller-coaster designer—this one topped the list. I quickly understand why.
Their research didn’t focus solely on landscape or speed; instead, they wanted to find a drive specifically made to thrill, and this one perfectly pairs sharp turns with exciting straights. While I enjoy those times I can really accelerate, the moments that really stand out are the ones where I hang on a curve, seemingly defying the laws of physics on four wheels. I cruise through the famed winemaking region of the Douro Valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001), all the while bobbing and weaving alongside the peaceful Douro River and through the area’s terraced hillsides.
Like any road trip, it’s the stops along the way that truly make the journey, though. In Almendra I head into a small café for a hot tea and scrumptious pastel de nata (perhaps the best of my entire trip). Meanwhile, a crowd of local townspeople emerge from their homes to chatter amongst themselves and ogle my car, undoubtedly one of the flashier rides to roll through town that week. I stop at the exact centre of Portugal according to geodetic coordinates and enjoy some conversation with fellow travellers. Halfway through the trip, I rest my head at Convento do Seixo, a former convent turned luxurious boutique hotel. And sometime before I get to the outer edges of Lisbon, I pull the car to the side of the road to simply climb a small, rocky hill dotted with moss and marvel at nature from above.
I relished my time in Porto and Lisbon, but the journey in between is what really made me feel connected to Portugal. I wasn’t merely a spectator driving through the countryside. As I lay in bed, my mind filled with visions of the journey I made with my own two hands on the wheel—through adorable towns dotted with quaint coffee shops, past locals pausing to wave a friendly hello, and around the seemingly endless vineyards. My body was there still, too, sensing every swerve in the road as I dozed off to sleep.
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