Portugal occupies the southwest part of the Iberian Peninsula and is a country of contrasts. It is modern in some quarters , but the country still retains some rural enclaves to explore where it seems that time has stood still. North Portugal is mountainous and proves a popular area for skiing. On the south coast is the Algarve, one of the most popular resort areas with wide sandy beaches and attractive bays.
The country is traditionally know for its Port, but it is also establishing a good reputation for wines, and boasts a high number of different styles of wine and vineyards throughout the country.
Portugal ’s coastline offers excellent beach holidays with all the usual activities – swimming, snorkelling, waterskiing, sailing, windsurfing and more – widely available. The Algarve has a perpetually mild climate, and big-game fishing is popular here. The west coast is best for surfing. Canoeing is available in the Peneda-Geres National Park.
Population: 10.4 million
Religion: Roman Catholic.
Portugal is a well-known golfing destination and the south in particular has many championship golf courses (there are 19 in the Algarve alone). The climate allows playing all year round. Some of the best-known 18-hole courses include Estoril, Quinta de Marinha, and the Royal Golf course in the Algarve.
The Douro is one of Portugal’s scenic highlights, and has been made a World Heritage Site due to it being considered an outstanding traditional European wine-producing region. In the upper reaches, port-wine vineyards wrap around every hillside, and the river has been tamed by five dams making it navigable along its entire length for boat cruises.
Lagos is an important tourist spot on the south coast of the Algarve with many visitors being drawn by its superb beaches. There are many architectural signs of its ancient past and the town has a pretty marina where deep sea-fishing outings can be booked. One of the resort’s other main highlights is the Museu Municipal, which has displays of ecclesiastical treasures among others.
The country’s capital is built on seven hills, and some of the city’s streets are too steep for cars! The western side is mainly occupied by the Monsanto Natural Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. Lisbon is a culturally diverse city with a laid back approach making it an enjoyable one to visit.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
This Lisbon museum is well worth checking out with a collection so vast that only 1,500 of the 6,000 total pieces, including Persian art, Egyptian sculptures, and paintings the Old Masters, can be displayed at any one time.
Jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos)
This impressive 16 th century monastery is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. High arches, impressive columns and ornate spires make it worth a visit, while it is also the resting place of famous explorer, Vasco da Gama, who set sail from Bélem in Lisbon in 1497 to discover India.
Tower of Belém (Torre de Belém)
Completed in 1515, the Tower of Belém is one of Lisbon’s most famous sights. The tower has a famous 18th century statue of ‚Virgin and Child, Our Lady of Safe Homecoming’, built into the terrace of the bastion, as well as sentry posts on each corner. Access to the museum is over a gangway.
Parque National da Penada-Geres National Park/Reserve
A wilderness park in the far north of Portugal providing spectacular scenery and a wide variety of flora and fauna. There are plenty of good short-distance trails with places to swim, as well as facilities for horse riding, mountain biking and canoe rental.
The Roman ruins at Conimbriga
Arguably the finest you’ll see in Portugal and among the best preserved in the Iberian Peninsula. The Conimbriga site actually dates back to Celtic times but the Romans developed it into a major city.
Best time to go
Sun worshippers congregate in the Algarve and along the Costa de Prata during the summer, when decent weather is almost guaranteed. Late spring is probably the best time to explore the countryside and some of Portugal’s fascinating cities and towns. In May and June the crowds will be missing, the temperatures will be warm but not overpowering, and the country will look its best having not yet had time to be baked by the scorching summer months.