There’s more to Portugal than you know!

Landscape of Lisboa | Photo credits: Turismo de Portugal/Antonio Sacchetti

You can pretend that you are either Vasco Da Gama or Ferdinand Magellan, both famous Portuguese explorers, and discover this land that is rich in culture, history and picture-perfect sites to explore.

Portugal is a gem on the Iberian Peninsula that will charm you with its grand castles, sacred sites and picturesque villages attesting to over 900 years of history. Also blessed with sun-kissed beaches and dramatic rocky coves, Portugal deserves close attention for both its natural splendour and culture- and history-laden cities.

Portugal’s rich way of life has been shaped by the various civilizations that have passed through the country throughout history. First settled by the Celtic people in the 1st century BC, the lands of the Iberian Peninsula have been invaded by numerous peoples; including the Romans, Moors and Christians, each leaving their marks the country.

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is chock-a-block with historical attractions, Art Nouveau architecture and winding medieval streets. Make sure to visit the Belem Tower, which was built in the early 16th century to commemorate the expedition of Portuguese hero Vasco de Gama during the Age of Great Discoveries. Other sights to see include the Monument to the Discoveries and the suspension bridge across the Tagus River, reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Wine enthusiasts should find their way to Oporto, home of the sweet wine Port. Here you’ll also see magnificent bridges, the baroque Church of St. Francis and the grand Stock Exchange. For a sacred experience, visit the pilgrimage city of Fatima, where three young shepherds saw the apparition of the Virgin at a basilica. Evora, Portugal’s most important town in the Renaissance period is a unique walled town with a heady mix of sights, such as the macabre Ossuary Chapel and the Roman temple.

It’s so easy to get joyfully lost in the narrow medieval streets of some of Portugal’s most charming cities. In the picturesque town of Castelo de Vide, you can wander through the narrow alleyways of the Old Jewish Quarter, filled with whitewashed buildings. In the old Roman town of Coimbra, you can stroll the ancient streets and visit one of the oldest universities in the world and also visit the ornate Baroque library on campus.

And you will want to spend some time under Portugal’s famous sun. Holidays in Portugal usually conjure up images of beautiful Algarve beaches. With the highest amount of sunshine in Europe it is easy to understand why the Algarve remains such a popular destination.

Portugal truly can be a vacation experience is a country with something for everyone.

Time permitting, you can go beyond the the shores of Portugal and visit the islands of Madeira and the Azores. Both are jewels in the Atlantic Ocean.

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in south-western Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira are part of Portugal. The country is named after its second largest city, Porto.

Portugal by the sea | Photo credit: Turismo de Portugal

Portugal is 900 years old, and even though it occupies a relatively small geographic area, it played a crucial role in world history. During the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal initiated a major chapter in world history with the New World Discoveries. It established a sea route to India, and colonized areas in Africa, South America (Brazil), Asia. The Portuguese language continues to be the most significant tie between these countries.

Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside. Although it was once one of the poorest countries in Western Europe, the end of a dictatorship and introduction of Democracy in 1974, as well as its incorporation into the European Union in 1986, has meant significantly increased prosperity.

However, it may be one of the best value destinations on the Continent.

The country offers outstanding landscape diversity, due to its North-South disposition along the western shore of the Iberian Peninsula. You can travel in a single day from green mountains in the North, covered with vines and all varieties of trees to rocky mountains with spectacular slopes, to a near-desert landscape in the Alentejo region and finally to the glamorous beach destination Algarve.

The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has also turned the country into a golfing haven. Portugal is often named a “Best Golf Destination.”

Portugal features – and can boast of – a Mediterranean climate, and is one of the warmest European countries.

Tourism is a well-developed and mature industry in the country. Every want, every desire can be fulfilled.

The hotspots in Portugal are Lisbon, the Algarve and Madeira, but the Portuguese government is currently developing new destinations: the Douro Valley, Porto Santo Island, and Alentejo.

If you enjoy a city; the sights, sounds, dining and nightlife, then Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto are the top three. But don’t overlook Viana do Castelo, Braga, Guimarães, Coimbra, Tomar, Aveiro, Amarante, Bragança, Chaves, Lamego, Viseu, Vila Real, Lagos, Silves, Évora, Angra as they also interesting.

If you want to spend time in the countryside, you might want to visit Viana do Castelo, Chaves, Miranda do Douro, Douro Valley, Lamego, Tomar, Leiria, Castelo Branco, Guarda, Portalegre, Évora, Elvas or even Viseu.

And if you wish to observe wild life in its natural state, Madeira and Azores Islands are places to visit, not forgetting of course the Natural Reserve of Peneda-Gerês, the Douro Valley and Serra da Estrela.

Central Portugal

Roman ruins, Conimbriga | Photo credit: Turismo de Portugal/Antonio Sacchetti

Central Portugal stretches from the capital Lisbon in the South to the university town of Coimbra in the North and includes the regions traditionally known as Estremadura, Ribatejo, Beira Litoral, Beira Baixa and the Alto Alentejo.

The capital of Portugal, Lisbon (Portuguese: Lisboa) (Also called City of the Seven Hills) has experienced a renaissance in recent years, with a contemporary culture that is thriving and making its mark in today’s Europe.

Perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon is one of the rare Western European cities that face the ocean and water defines the city. You may become enchanted with this charming city. Lisbon is a captivating city with narrow winding streets, beautiful architecture and views, lots to see and do, good shopping and restaurants and a buzzing nightlife.

The city stretches along the northern bank of the river Tejo as it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. As the terrain rises north away from the water, steep streets and stairways form the old tangled neighborhoods or give way to green parks in the western suburbs.

Lisbon lacks a defined “downtown”, but the the vast Praça do Comércio, facing the river at the base of of Baixa (lower town), occupies a central position. Further northwest from Baixa stretches Lisbon’s “Main Street”, Avenida da Liberdade, a broad boulevard resplendent in leafy trees, chic hotels and upscale shops, terminating at the circular Praça de Pombal. To the east are the old neighbourhoods of Mouraria and Alfama.To the west the hill rises steeply into Bairro Alto (upper town; prepare to trek up, or take one of the elevadores, or funiculars); still further west are the rapidly gentrifying former docks of Alcantara, dominated on the western end by the supports of a bridge over the river, and the suburbs of Santo Amaro and Belém.

As you drive further along the road from Lisbon to Guincho you’ll come across lovely beaches which are popular.

The Silver Coast (Costa de Prata) above Lisbon is increasingly popular with visitors and home buyers. The sea side towns of Ericeira, Peniche, Nazaré and Figueira da Foz are renowned for top quality surfing, body boarding, diving and other water-sports and excellent fish restaurants. Note: It is not unusual for women to sunbathe topless in the beaches of Portugal, and there are several naturist beaches too.

In recent years a selection of luxurious and championship golf courses have been created in central Portugal to take advantage of some spectacular views. The area was named European golf destination of the year.

The Algarve in southern Portugal is one of Europe’s top holiday destinations, and has the most popular beaches in the country. Stunning coastlines and grand natural beauty attract visitors from across Europe and indeed the world.

Falesia beach | Photo credit: Regiao de Turismo do Algarve

The Algarve is known for glorious year round sunshine and excellent sandy beaches, which vary from secluded coves with astounding cliffs to vast stretches of golden sand caressed by the Atlantic Ocean.

Inland you can find quaint villages barely touched by tourism. Traces of the Moorish presence are still evident in the local architecture. The orange groves and blossoming almond trees add colour to this fertile region in contrast with the whitewashed traditional houses.

As a result of the mild nature of the weather, the Algarve is ideal for many outdoor sporting activities such as water sports, golf in one of the numerous world-class golf courses, horseback riding, and many more.

Way above “Par for the Course”, the Algarve is one of the finest golfing destinations in Europe, and regarded as an elite destination by top golf professionals.

Course designs by internationally recognised golf-course architects, together with the splendid landscapes in the background, satisfy the requirements of the most demanding golf enthusiasts, marking out the region as a first-rate golf destination.

The Algarve is not only known for its cosmopolitan nightlife but also for the many waterside restaurants serving fresh fish and “cataplana” (a local shellfish speciality).

You may be ‘adopted’!

Portuguese people are of generally excellent humour when they are talking with someone who cannot speak their language. This means that all types of shop owners, sales-folk, and people curious about you will take time to try to speak with you by any means of communication, often with funny and unexpected results.

Helping a foreigner is considered a pleasant and rewarding occasion and experience. If you attempt to speak correct Portuguese, especially if slightly beyond the trivial, with locals, you will be treated with respect and often the locals will apologize for how difficult it is to learn Portuguese, or how “hard” the language is, and will almost adopt you. You might want to try and learn the very basics of Portuguese, such as daily greetings and the routine “please and thank you” exchanges.

Hearty Cuisine / Popular Ports

Portuguese cuisine evolved from hearty peasant food drawn from the land and seafood from the country’s abundant coast. From these humble origins, spices brought back to the country during the exploration and colonisation of the East Indies and the Far East helped shape what is regarded as ‘typical’ Portuguese cuisine.

Soup is the essential first course of any Portuguese meal. The most popular is the Minho specialty, caldo verde, made from kale, potatoes and spiced, smoked sausage. You will see another Portuguese staple bacalhau (salt cod) everywhere. Locals will tell you that there are as many ways to cook this revered dish as there are days in the year, or even more.

The most common of Portugal’s delicious fish (peixe) dishes revolve around sole (linguado) and sardines (sardinha) although salmon (salmão) and trout (truta) are also featured heavily. In most places you will easily find fresh seafood such as lobster, lavagante, mussel (mexilhão), oysters (ostras), clam (amêijoas) and goose barnacle (perceves).

Portugal is also famous for its wide variety of marvellous pastries. The best-loved pastry, pastéis de nata, is a flaky pastry with custard filling topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Make sure you try them, in any “pastelaria”.

When traveling in Portugal, the drink of choice is wine. Red wine is the favourite among the locals, but white wine is also popular. Also Portugal produces a variation of the white wine that is actually green (Vinho Verde). It’s a very crisp wine served cold and goes best with many of the fish dishes.

But Portugal is well known as the home of Port wines.

Porto is famous for the eponymous port wine, a fortified wine made by adding brandy to the wine before fermentation is complete. According to EU laws, port wine can only be named as such if the grapes are grown in the Douro Valley, and the wine is brewed in Porto. The end product is strong, sweet, complex in taste and if properly stored will last 40 years or more.

There are many, many grades of port, but the basic varieties are: Vintage, which is considered the real deal, is kept in the bottle for 5-15 years. Tawny, aged for 10-40 years before bottling, distinguishes itself by a more brownish red color and a slightly smoother bouquet and flavour. As with any wine, the older it gets, the more rounded and refined it will be. Ruby, being the youngest and least expensive, is popular. And there is also a White port …

Portugal is a complex destination to visit. You should certainly, when planning to visit, consult a travel expert. And when doing so, state your priority of wants and desires. No doubt you will be satisfied. All-in-all, Portugal, with its rich history, enticing regional diversity, incredibly lovely places to stay, excellent weather, and genuine warmth of welcome make Portugal an ideal travel destination. After all, there’s more to Portugal than perhaps you know!

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