Portugal has a rich seafaring past, superb beach resorts, wistful towns and a landscape wreathed in olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Graced by one of Europe’s most relaxed and attractive capitals.
Portugal is one of the oldest countries in all Europe. Outstanding monuments, castles and churches meet the futuristic new buildings and technologies.
If you want relaxation look for the small villages spread all over the mainland, inside old castles walls or amidst untouched natural countryside, or visit the long beaches on the Algarve, surrounded by amazing cliffs and crystal clear waters. This is the Portuguese region with the best weather all year round.
Savouring life slowly is a Portuguese passion. – traditional folk festivals; simple, honest food drowning in olive oil; music that pulls at the heart strings, recalling past love and glories; and markets overflowing with fish, fruit and flowers.
Regions to visit:
The Green Coast, Mountains, Silver Coast, Plains, Lisbon Coast, Algarve.
Parque National da Penada-Gerês
This wilderness park in the far north of Portugal is extremely popular with Portuguese day-trippers and holidaymakers has spectacular scenery and a wide variety of flora and fauna. There are plenty of good short-distance trails with places to swim along the way, as well as facilities for horse riding, mountain biking and canoe rental.
With almost 3,000 hours of sun annually, it is difficult to pick a rainy day. And there is much more to explain why the Algarve has become Europe’s leading golfing destination.
How to get there
The international airports are Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Funchal (Madeira) and Ponta Delgada (Azores). Throughout the country there are a number of small airports with limited facilities. It is possible to travel from the international airports to many of these smaller ones.
Transport from Lisbon city centre is 7 Kms. from the airport is by bus every 20 minutes.
There is the national network of “Rodoviária Nacional” (RN), and competing private operators who run quick non-stop services on the more popular routes and often to destinations not covered by trains
You can also drive to Portugal, with major border posts open around the clock. If you’re driving from England, the quickest route is via the Plymouth-Santander or Portsmouth-Bilbao ferries to northern Spain and then on to Portugal.
Only the capital city Lisbon has a Metro system, why not take your time on the Tram.
Train connections from France and Spain are good, with a number of scenic stops en route. The Portuguese railway system is State owned and has the name of “Caminhos de Ferro Portuguese (CP)“. The system provides a very reasonably priced transport within the country. Major lines are fast, efficient and comfortable.
There are new express trains “Alfa” between Lisbon and Braga to the north of Porto. To make this journey it is necessary to change trains.
Corpus Christi (Early June)
Portugal abounds with romarias (religious pilgrimages), festas (festivals) and feiras (fairs) that bring whole towns to a standstill. There are many religious processions. The further north you go, the more traditional these celebrations get. Carnaval is one of the biggest events, featuring partying, parading and painted faces about six weeks before Easter. There are vast and colourful processions during Braga’s Easter or Holy Week Festival. The Festa de São João in June is biggest in Porto where everyone dances through the streets. The Feira de São Martinho (Golegã, November) showcases all manner of horses, riding contests and bullfights.
Eating Dining Shopping
In the tourist areas it is usual to see restaurants offering a “ementa turística” that is a three-course meal served with a drink and all at a lower price than from the menu.
The grape in Portugal produces some very satisfying wines and especially in the case of the red. White wine is also bottled in quantity and is very palatable but their grapes do not generally produce any spectacular results. After eating it is a must to sample the two most famous Portuguese fortified wines and known throughout the world, Port and Madeira. It is normally quite safe to order the “vinho da casa” (house-wine) to accompany your meal.
Vegetarians are not particularly well catered for, although there are in major areas you will find a limited number of specialized restaurants.
Nearly every region of Portugal has a variety in shapes and sizes when it comes to restaurants. It can be a lowly “Tasca” (Tavern), a “Casa de Pasto” (a set three-course Tavern meal), a “Cervejaria” (Beerhouse with food), a “Restaurante” (offering a choice of dishes), a “Marisqueira” (specialising in fish and shellfish), or a “Churrasqueira” (spit or grilled food). It is not unusual for some small cafés to serve a “prato do dia” (dish of the day).
Catholic influence and decades of repression under Salazar, Portugal remains a traditional, conservative country – romarias (religious festivals honouring a patron saint) are taken very seriously. Seafood and wine both figure prominently on local menus, while dreamy, arabesque forms are the strongest features of local architecture.
The Iberian Peninsula has been occupied for around 500,000 years. About 5500 BC Neolithic fortified hilltop villages appeared in the lower Tagus valley.
Portugal’s history goes back to the Celts, who settled the Iberian Peninsula around 700 BC. The region soon attracted a succession of peoples and was colonised by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Visigoths. In the 8th century, the Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and commenced a long occupation that introduced their culture, architecture and agricultural techniques to Portugal. But resistance to the Moors grew and they were finally ejected during the 13th century.
In the 15th century, due to the efforts of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal entered a phase of overseas expansion. Mariners set off to discover new trade routes and helped create an enormous empire that, extended to India, the Far East, Brazil and Africa. This period marked the peak of Portuguese power and wealth, but it faded towards the end of the 16th century when Spain’s Felipe II claimed the throne. Although Spanish rule lasted only a few decades, the momentum of the empire declined over the following centuries.
At the close of the 18th century, Napoleon sent expeditionary forces to invade Portugal but they were forced back by the troops of the Anglo-Portuguese alliance.
During the 19th century the economy faltered and republicanism took hold. National turmoil led to the abolition of the monarchy in 1910 and the founding of a democratic republic.
Portugal’s democratic phase lasted until 1926, when a military coup ushered in a long period of dictatorship under António de Oliveira Salazar. His reign came to an end in 1968 when he had a stroke. Anachronistic attempts to hold onto colonies in the face of nationalist independence movements resulted in costly wars in Africa and led to the Revolution of the Carnations, a nearly bloodless military coup on 25 April 1974.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Portugal underwent some painful adjustments: the political climate vacillated between right and left, and the economy suffered from wrangles between government and private ownership. The granting of independence to Portugal’s colonies in 1974/75 resulted in a flood of over 500,000 refugees into the country. Entry into the European Community (EC) in 1986 restored some measure of stability, which was buttressed by the acceptance of Portugal as a full member of the European Monetary Union in 1999. Portugal’s last overseas territory, Macau, was handed over to the Chinese in 1999.
Useful telephone numbers
By calling anywhere in Portugal on 112 you will be connected to Fire, Police and Ambulance services.
National Enquiries; 118
International Enquiries; 171
Pre-paid Calls; 172
Tourist information: (1) 346 3643 or 793 4660 or 793 4627
Airport (Lisbon)tel;(0)21 841 3500