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This is a country that has the oldest borders in Europe, with an exceptional range of different landscapes just a short distance away, lots of leisure activities and a unique cultural heritage, where tradition and modernity blend together in perfect harmony. Its superb cuisine, fine wines and hospitable people make this a tourist paradise of the highest quality.
Portugal lies along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula in south Western Europe. It shares a border with Spain in the east and north, while the Atlantic dominates the coastline in the west and south. Occupying about 16 percent of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal (including Madeira and Azores) has a population of over 10 million people.
Lisbon is Portugal's capital and the hub of a multifaceted area that appeals to different tastes and senses. In a city that has been influenced by many different far-off cultures over time, there is still a village feel in each historic neighborhood. We like to say that Lisbon is the center of a vast resort. Along the coastal road you’ll find beaches and beach resorts that combine villas and hotels from the beginning of the 20th century with marinas, terraces and excellent golf courses.
Valid passport needed for entry
Official language: Portuguese (English is widely spoken)
Official currency: Euro
Stroll through the Pombaline grid of streets in the Baixa district that opens on to the Tagus in Praça do Comércio, then follow the river to discover some of the city's most beautiful parts: the monumental area of Belém with its World Heritage monuments, the medieval quarters and the latest contemporary leisure places, such as the Parque das Nações.
Portugal's cultural heritage as well as the friendly, welcoming nature of the Portuguese themselves have been marked by African, American and Asian influences and also by the peoples who lived here before the country was founded. The villages and cities, festivals, Manueline architecture, sacred sites and traditional fado music of Portugal enrich any visitor's experience.
Portugal's coastline is bathed by the Atlantic ocean, offering countless opportunities for surf lessions, sunset cruises, horseback riding or just a lazy beach day.The sun fills the fine white sands of the beaches with light and joy. Whether they are immense stretches of sand as far as the eye can see, or little coves sheltered by rocks, each beach has its own dazzling and surprising beauty.
The cuisine of Portugal is as rich and varied as its landscape. Fresh seafood abounds and cozido a portuguesa, a mixture of meats, vegetables and sausages, preserves the taste of the old times. Wine tourism abounds in the Douro and Alentejo regions, as well as the Alto Douro Wine Region, a major producer of port wine and home to the Douro valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sun-drenched beaches of the Algarve, exclusive golf resorts, medieval hilltop towns, colorful fishing villages, a cosmopolitan capital, the vine-filled valley of the Douro, wild remote mountains—Portugal has it all. But Europe's oldest country, which has had its eyes melancholically set on the sea and on a lost and glorious past, has turned its head toward Europe and is undergoing a profound modernization. Still, things move a bit more slowly in Portugal, devagar as residents say, and some 16 million tourists seem to like the pace.
The social contrasts are still bigger there than in any other country in western Europe. But Europe's former "poor house" is on its way to becoming a nice mansion with a sea view. The young Portuguese still listen to fado, and the students of Coimbra still wear their traditional outfits, but they party in stylish cafes and bars.
There is no better way to experience Portugal than to sit down in a street cafe with a bica (espresso) or a glass of port as you watch the world go by. And when you leave Portugal, you will probably feel saudades (a feeling of longing for something that is gone but might return). But unlike King Sebastian, you can always return.
Portugal is a long, narrow country on the Iberian Peninsula, at the southwestern edge of Europe. Mountains run through the central, northern and eastern parts of the country, and to the west the Atlantic Ocean meets an extensive seacoast, creating many excellent harbors. In the southernmost province of the Algarve, beaches, marshes and cliffs mark the coast.
Two island groups in the Atlantic, the Azores and Madeira, are also part of Portugal. Both are green and fairly remote.
Outsiders have flocked to Portugal's shores before—as invaders. The region—called Lusitania by the Romans—was occupied by Phoenicians, Celts, Romans, Germanic tribes and Arabs, among others. The foundation of the nation-state we know today as Portugal was laid in 1139 when Afonso Henriques, the country's first king, declared independence from Leon and Castile.
As a result of naval expansion, from 1400 to 1600 Portugal was a major colonial power, developing territories in South America, Africa, India and Asia. That 200-year era has come to be known as Portugal's Golden Age. (Portugal only relinquished the last of those colonies in 1975.)
The Golden Age ended in a series of costly wars with Spain. The Portuguese monarchy gradually lost the respect of its citizens, who ousted the last king in 1910. After two decades of turmoil, Dr. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar emerged as Portugal's unquestioned leader. Salazar, who ruled as prime minister for more than 35 years, isolated Portugal from the rest of Europe and clung to power through a brutal police force that censored virtually anyone who opposed him.
Salazar suffered a stroke in 1968 and died two years later. His regime died shortly thereafter, and by 1976 Portugal had become a true democracy. It joined the European Union in 1986, which led to widespread development and investment in infrastructure. However, the financial crises precipitated by the banks resulted in the country having to apply to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union for bail-out loans to help stabilize its economy.
Portuguese culture today contains remnants of the conquering and conquered cultures, but the modern Portuguese way of life is not entirely constrained by the past, as evidenced by the development of tourism, particularly in the Algarve.
Portugal's main attractions include old-world European culture, beaches, resorts, deep-sea fishing, archaeology, history, scenery, festivals, churches, monasteries, castles and friendly people.
Those who like beaches, pretty scenery, good food and a wide variety of active nightlife (in the main cities and resorts) will enjoy Portugal.
Lisbon and Coimbra are rivals when it comes to fado, a traditional, mournful style of music whose lyrics express longing and sorrow. Both cities claim to have preserved the purest form of the music. In either city, however, you can hear the black-clad singers, accompanied by guitar and viola.
Portugal's King Sebastian, who ruled in the 16th century, is one of the most charismatic figures in the country's history. A sickly, unstable young man—or a visionary dreamer, depending on your point of view—he launched a crusade against the Islamic infidels in 1578. At the Battle of the Three Kings in Morocco, he was killed and his army of 18,000 completely routed. Well into the 19th century, many clung to the belief that Sebastian had only been captured and would someday return to claim the throne.
Legend says that the Algarve's numerous almond trees, whose white petals cover the ground during January and February, were planted by a Muslim king whose Scandinavian wife missed the snow of her homeland.
Algarve gets its name from the Arabic term al-Gharb (the West). The province once marked the westernmost point of Muslim expansion in the Middle Ages.
Portuguese writer Jose Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.
Half the hotel beds in the country are in the Algarve.
Porto or Oporto? The two spellings for the northern Portuguese city stem from a misunderstanding. Foreign visitors to Porto often heard the locals say, "O porto," meaning "to the port," and they took it to be the name of the city. The new version became the accepted name in most languages (other than Portuguese, that is).
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