Portugal has a colourful and interesting history; think picturesque countryside vistas, lively happening cities and intriguing culture. Democracy was only introduced in 1974 and Portugal was admitted to the European Union in 1986. Thanks to her more well-known neighbour Spain taking the limelight, Portugal retains a certain charm whilst also offering great value.
Portugal’s landscapes are diverse, with lush green mountains in the north, Porto e Norte and undulating hills in the Centro (central) districts. The buzzing capital Lisbon is in the central Lisboa Regiao and further south is the Alentejo region with haunting desert landscape. The far southern tip is Portugal’s best known region; The Algarve, which is home to luxury beach resorts, superb beaches and of course scores of world-class golf courses. Together with Madeira Island and The Azores Island chain, this is Portugal.
Explore Lisbon’s Alfama District
Lisbon promises a different experience from the other European capital cities as it has somehow managed to escape the overwhelming hoards of sight-seeing tourists. For that reason, Lisbon is a breath of fresh air, even though it is one of the oldest European cities, out-dating even Rome. The oldest district in Lisbon is Alfama, whose winding cobblestone streets are alive with centuries of rich history and culture. Alfama hosts a wonderful intimate feeling, where you can step out of your tourist status and enjoy the experience of traditional, local Lisbon culture. Alfama is one of the only towns to have survived the great earthquake of 1755 and has also evaded a trendy makeover, meaning it allows a sincere glimpse of historic Portugal. These beautiful, tree-lined, labyrinthine streets are spilling with European patio cafes, alive with neighbourhood chatter and drama. Here you can witness the bittersweet, aching songs of the local Fado musicians, a melancholic style of traditional Portuguese music. Look out over the city from the Castelo de São Jorge aka St. George’s Castle. Wander Alfama and admire the Moorish architecture and culture where the buildings are so close they almost touch and the streets meander and weave.
Succumb to Porto’s Charms
The second largest city in Portugal, Porto offers an eclectic mix of tastes and style, from its architecture to its music. Located along the Rio Douro, Porto’s seaside appeal runs right through the city itself. Porto hosts a UNESCO World Heritage zone in its historic center, the Ribeira district. Here you can find a wonderland of old jigsaw staircases and roads spiralling together. Ornate tiled buildings mix with some of the most elaborate and beautiful street art, popping up in alleyways and building tops. Be prepared for some of the most vibrant nightlife in all of Europe as Porto is home the most sought-after DJs and nightclubs that will keep you out all night until sunrise.
Did you know that the city of Guimarães in the Braga region, in the north of Portugal was the European Capital City of Culture 2012? Guimaraes shared the honour with Riga in Latvia.
Chill out on Cascais’ Pristine Beaches
Get a true taste of the seaside in Cascais and visit some of the most lively and stunning beaches in Europe. This town is a popular vacation destination for the Portuguese. Its pastel colored houses and buildings bring a youthful and colorful charm to this hilly beach town. Cascais is renowned by surfers for its thundering waves and is a favourite for beach-goers as it offers many relaxing and picturesque spots to take in the ocean.
Sintra feels alive with fairy tale as it is full of thick, dark, foggy forests, and hosts the remnants of Moorish castles. Sintra is a popular destination because of its magical and picturesque streets. The city is filled with stunning, medieval and gothic architecture, including gargoyles. Sintra is also a UNESCO World Heritage site as its city center breathes living history, hosting many different eras and styles of architecture. Sintra is alive with eccentric and lavish mansions, elaborate rolling gardens, and glowing palaces. Be sure to take a long walk through Sintra’s historical streets.
The Algarve is a BIG vacation destination, as its beaches are lined with resorts and is host to a flood of tourists and parties come summer. Yet, it remains a center of excitement and is filled with breathtaking ocean beaches and white-washed villages. If you are a golf aficionado, Algarve offers some beautiful, pristine golf resorts that are definite musts for international golfing destinations. The Portuguese courses always fill the lists of the ‘top golf courses in the world’, such as North Monte Rei in the east Algarve foothills that look over the Sierra do Caldeirao Mountains, Old Oceanico the oldest golf course at world-famous Vilamoura and Quinta de Cima which offers American-style golfing opportunities.
The coast offers a variety of tastes from young, wild, nightlife towns like Lagos, to calm, quaint and historic escapes like Tavira. If you are looking for some of the most beautiful and dramatic coasts you will ever see, be sure to visit the Algarve; the pristine and luminous beaches are lined with sculpted, rugged cliffs, overlooking the warm, rich blues of its Mediterranean waters.
By Julie Bowman