Portugal Travel Guide
For a country which once shared an empire of over a third of the world and whose language was more widely spoken than any other on the planet, it seems a little poignant that Portugal today is generally famed for its pot cockerels and fortified wine.
Of course, holidaymakers flock to Portugal’s major tourist destination, the charming Algarve in their thousands. With miles of long golden beaches, exquisite restaurants and vibrant nightlife, the region has, for years attracted more tourism than all the other regions of Portugal added together.
But the rest of the country has so much to offer. Portugal has one of the most astounding histories in the whole of Europe. Early globetrotting by the Portuguese and even earlier occupancies by Celts, Romans, Suevians and Moors has given Portugal not only a huge cultural diversity but also a vast architectural and archaeological heritage. The country is famed for it's architecture with it's Moorish and surrealist ornamentation, the crowning glory being the 16th century Manueline approach which is identified by the use of spirals, turns, twists and nautical themes for adornment.
Portugal is divided roughly in half by the River Tagus (Rio Tejo) and visitors will discover a striking contrast between the north and south of this natural separator. In fact, Portugal has a greatly diverse range of landscapes from the lush green valleys, mountains, forests and sparkling rivers in the north to the smooth dry plains of the south.
The country’s capital Lisbon is situated on the banks of the Rio Tejo and has an air of the fusion of young trendy confidence and old style assurance. The centre of Lisbon is elegant with a series of Art Nouveau buildings on broad tree-lined streets. In contrast, the mystical Alfama district is a region of slim alleyways and winding streets echoing Portugal’s Moorish and medieval history. A great view over the city can be found at the open-air café up at Castelo de Sao Jorge, where you can sit amongst the wandering peacocks within the walls of this 5th century castle and enjoy a scrumptious bowl of Acorda de Pao (traditional soup with meat, garlic and coriander) with fresh crusty bread.
The rural southern province of Alentejo covers almost a third of the country and has some of the least populated areas. Brimming with scenic olive groves, cork trees and wheat fields the region is a country bumpkin’s paradise and here you will also find some of Europe’s greatest rural architecture.
One of the most picturesque areas and a must see, is the Douro Valley stretching from Porto city right the way to the border of Spain. In the higher ranges, port-wine vineyards blanket the hillsides with the odd bright white mansion dotted amongst the vines. The Rio Douro has now been opened up to navigation making an inland cruise the most relaxing way to enjoy this tranquil region.
The country is host to numerous festivals, fairs and religious pilgrimages, which cause whole districts to come to a standstill. These events include lavish, colourful processions and impressive partying. The Festa de Sao Joao, Porto’s biggest, sees everybody dancing through the streets whacking each other over the head with leeks! Southern festivals have more of a tendency to be staged for the tourists. The rule of thumb seems to be 'the more northern the region, the more traditional the celebration'.
Portuguese food is inexpensive, tasty and offered in gigantic portions. Traditional dishes include Sardinhas Assadas (fresh sardines), Lulas Rechadas (stuffed squid), and Carne de Porco a Alentejana (pork and clam stew). Desserts include Quiejo de Figo (compressed layers of stuffed figs) and Tarte de Amendoa (almond and caramel tart).
Whether you yearn for lazy days on the hot sands and crystal clear waters of the south or if you crave explore more of this somewhat forgotten yet astounding country, Portugal really has it all.
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