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Portugal

Portugal

Great Destination:

4.5

Value for Money:

3.5

Total Stars:

8.0

Personality Types that Like it Best

More favored by Mid-Venturers and Centric-Venturers but Centric-Authentics also beginning to like it

Did You Know…?

  • Portuguese began tiling building exteriors in the 19th century to avoid paint jobs required by law.
  • Portugal is party to the world’s oldest formal alliance between two countries (England, 1386).
  • Bulls are not killed in the ring during Portuguese bullfights, but most die or are butchered anyway.
  • The Romans considered the Portuguese part of Iberia Lusitania.
  • The Douro area was the world’s first officially designated wine region, in 1756.

Of Port, fado and cod

Portugal offers remarkable variety in a space about the size of Indiana. The north has its rugged mountains and famed liquid highway, the Douro River; in the south, the landscape turns to rolling hills and eventually the beaches of the Algarve.

Its key port cities, Porto in the north and Lisbon to the south, boast historic town centers combined with modern urban life, whereas Portugal’s rural life can be quite traditional with ox-drawn carts and the like.

Portugal is noted for a fascinating history of seafaring; Port wine; fado music; tiles; lace and other handicrafts, and salt cod.  Geography dictated Portugal would be a seafaring nation; Portuguese sailors — Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and others — traveled far and wide and, in time, the small nation had colonies in Asia and the New World.

Portugal shares a peninsula, lots of history and some of the same terrain and climate with its neighbor Spain, and arguably, it should be just as well known and popular. In addition, it has billed itself as a nearby European alternative to the Caribbean, at a reasonable price.

Nevertheless, few travelers have discovered the distinct and different pleasures available on the Atlantic-facing side of the Iberian Peninsula. For Americans wanting to get away and relieve stress, few places can match Portugal with its beautiful beaches, historical treasures, warm people, safe cities and sensible prices. And, it offers the opportunity to explore a fascinating western European country with its own story to tell.

Start in Lisbon, with its excellent museums, but take a look at some other cities from north to south; compare the magnificent medieval churches, monasteries and castles. The Algarve boasts some of Europe’s finest beaches. This area also was the western extremity of the Moorish occupation in Europe, and here visitors find the remnants of Arabic influence.

Thanks to its “undiscovered” status, Portugal is still a destination for the more venturesome, but it has all the attributes to attract a broader group. Due to a pleasant climate, visits to Portugal can only be spoiled by rainy springs and autumns. It’s quite warm in summer, pleasant in winter.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Stomp on the grapes during the fall harvest at the vineyard Lagarada in Douro.
  • Listen to fado, a musical style that evolved in Lisbon’s old quarters and largely consists of deep, plaintive laments sung to a guitar accompaniment. Listen to the music by candlelight; some venues serve food.
  • Stay in a farmhouse in the Alentejo region in southeast Portugal, where you may have chances for cycling, horseback riding, even waterskiing on area lakes or reservoirs.
  • Eat salt cod. Portugal claims to have a different recipe for every day, though it is not to every visitor’s taste. Or, order any fresh seafood; try clams a Bulhao Pato.
  • Climb the mountains of the Serra da Estrela in the north central part of the country.
  • Go scuba diving in the Algarve where you can dive year-round. Do a night dive. Other options include surfing, waterskiing and windsurfing.

Things to do for Centrics

  • At Funchal on Madeira, ride a cable car up into Madeira’s mountains for the views, then ride down a mountain road in a wicker toboggan.
  • See the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) in Alentejo. The walls are lined with the bones and skulls of 5,000 monks, laid out in a variety of intricate patterns.
  • Travel the olive oil route in Alentejo (also, track the wine route), and visit the area’s olive oil museum. Add tastings of the area’s sheep and goat cheeses to this list.
  • Sample Portugal’s green wine. It is not green, merely consumed when young. Follow the Vinho Verde route through the Minho region.
  • Go to Madeira for New Year’s. Or go for its Carnival.
  • Visit ghost towns, and we’re talking about towns that were emptied hundreds of years ago. For example, Arouce, one of many tiny abandoned villages dotting the Serra da Lousa landscape; Ourem, with a charred and allegedly haunted castle, and the abandoned medieval Marialva, with its decayed churches, houses and walls.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Go to the beach on the Algarve, then check out the casinos in the evenings.
  • If history is your thing, visit the town of Tomar, which has the most romantic castle in Portugal and a 12th century church established by the powerful Knights Templar.
  • Go shopping. Portugal is known for carpets, ceramics, cutlery, lace, leather goods and linen.  Then, drop in at a cafe or cake shop for refreshments. Some of these types of establishments are so well preserved they are veritable museums.
  • Play golf. Portugal seems to have been made for duffers.
  • Tour the Douro wine region in the north, the home of Port wine. Travel by car or train, or take a one- or two-day boat trip on the Douro from Porto, which gave its name to the wine, to the Port-producing estates. Viewing by helicopter is an option, too.
  • See any number of Portugal’s historical hilltop villages located in the heart of the country. One of those is Belmonte, home to a Jewish quarter whose residents practiced their rituals in secret for so long beginning with the Inquisition that, by the late 20th century, they did not know they were Jewish. A pousada (historic building converted into a hotel) in town is a former convent.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Portugal at www.visitportugal.com