Portugal has a rich seafaring past, superb beach resorts, wistful towns and a landscape wreathed in olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage sites and graced by one of Europe’s most relaxed and attractive capitals, it also remains refreshingly affordable.
Savouring life slowly is a Portuguese passion, and much of the best is humble – traditional folk festivals; simple, honest food drowning in olive oil; music that pulls at the heart strings, recalling past love and glories; annd markets overflowing with fish, fruit and flowers.
Four decades of dictatorship sidelined the country from modern progress and Europe’s power centers, but like its neighbor, Spain, it has spent much of the last 20 years trying to move in from the periphery, forging new ties with the rest of Europe, restructuring its economy, and struggling to maintain what is best in its national culture despite the sudden onslaught of international influences.
Full country name: Portugal
Area: 92,391 sq km
Population: 10.4 million
Capital City: Lisbon (pop 535,740)
People: 999% Portuguese, 1% African
Religion: 97% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant, 1% other
Government: parliamentary democracy
Head of State: President Jorge Sampaio
Head of Government: Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes Longest river of Portugal: Douro
GDP: US$195.2 billion
GDP per capita: US$19,400
Annual Growth: 3.3%
Major Industries: Textiles, footwear, wood pr
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Spain, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands & the UK), US
Member of EU: Yes
Portugal occupies the western part of the Iberian Peninsula and is slightly smaller than Indiana. The country is crossed by three large rivers that rise in Spain, flow into the Atlantic, and divide the country into three geographic areas. The Minho River, part of the northern boundary, cuts through a mountainous area that extends south to the vicinity of the Douro River. South of the Douro, the mountains slope to the plains around the Tejo River. The remaining division is the southern one of Alentejo. The Azores stretch over 340 mi (547 km) in the Attlantic, and consist of nine islands with a total area of 902 square mi (2,335 sq km). Madeira, consisting of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two groups of uninhabited islands, lie in the Atlantic about 535 mi (861 km) southwest of Lisbon.
Portugal has a maritime temperate climate that varies according to elevation and proximity to the ocean. The heaviest precipitation occurs in northern Portugal. The northern coast receives about 1,500 mm (about 60 in) of rain annually. Rainfall increases with altitude, and th
In southern Portugal summers are long and hot and winters are moderate. In the northwest summers are shorter and wetter, while winter temperatures are generally mild and moderated by maritime influences. In the northeast summers can be scorching and winters are typically long, cold, and snowy. The mean annual temperature north of the Douro River is about 10°C (about 50°F); between the Tajo and Douro, about 16°C (about 60°F); and in the valley of the Guadiana, about 18°C (about 65°F).
Festivals and celebrations
Festivals or “Festas”, allow travelers to experience Portugal’s rich history and culture. The Portuguese people hold a deep respect for festivals which have its origins in ancient tradition and religion. Some of these festivals have been in existence for many centuries. Newer festivals (featuring art and movies) are also showcased throughout the country, illustrating modern culture. Portuguese “Festas” include religious festivals, pilgrimages, traditional dances, gastronomy, processions, firework displays, music, literature and dance.
Corpus Christi (Early June)
It is traditional for each Municipality (Concelho), to reserve one annual day as a holiday for its commerce. This day is used as an excuse for local events and celebration. You will find restaurants open but normally most commercial shops are closed .
Going to Portugal
International airports are: Lisboa, Porto, Faro, Funchal (Madeira), Ponta Delgada (São Miguel, Açores), and Lajes (Ilha Terceira, Açores). The national airline is TAP–Air Portugal. The regional air company, SATA, flies connections to the Açores Islands. There are also air links between Funchal (Madeira) and Porto Santo. Portugalia (www.pga.pt) and Air Luxor also operate schedule flights to and from Portugal in Europe. Every day, international trains run between Paris and Lisbon (Sud Express); Lisbon-Madrid train Lusitânia, and Porto-Vigo .
Residents or non-residents who leave or enter Portugal territory are free to take with them national and foreign currency in coins and notes, travelers cheques and other securities intended to pay for the travel expenses, but are obligated to inform the customs authorities if the values involved exceed 12,000 Euros (approximately US$13,000.00).
Travelers over 17 years old, may bring in the following items, duty free: 2 bottles of table wine, 1 bottle of hard liquor, 200 cigarettes or
Continental Portugal and Madeira Island are on the Greenwich time – five hours ahead of Eastern Time & eight ahead of Pacific Time. The Azores Islands are 1 hour behind the Portuguese mainland. Daylight savings time begins the last Sunday in March (clocks are turned one hour ahead) and ends the last Sunday in October (clocks go back one hour).
Urban public transport In the main towns there is a complete public transport network. In Lisboa there are buses, the underground, and trams. One may also use public elevators (lifts). Tourism Information Centers at Carris (Lisboa) and STCP (Porto) sell tourist tickets every business day from 8 am to 8 pm.
Taxis are painted mostly cream with a roof-light to identify them. However, there are still some taxis which keep the old colours, green and black. In towns they use taximeters, but once outside urban boundaries the service is charged by the kilometre, and includes the price of the driver’s return trip to his starting point. From 10 pm to 6 am the rate increases by 20%. It is normal to give a tip of 10% on top of the fare. Luggage is charged according to a fixed rate. All taxis have an updated chart in two languages.
Express trains run between Lisbon and Porto stopping in Coimbra (Alfa trains), while regional trains (Intercidades and Inter-regional) connect the different parts of Portugal. These trains have first and second class carriages, except for local and suburban trains, where there is only one class. Special tickets – including tourist tickets valid for 7, 14 or 21 days, may be bought, while there are special return ticket discounts on “blue days” for trips exceeding 100 km.
Banks open from 8:30 am to 3 pm from Monday to Friday; closed on bank holidays. Shops open from 9 am to 1 pm and from 3 pm to 7 pm (working days). On Saturdays, most shops close at 1 pm. In the shopping malls located in larger towns, shops are normally open on 7 days a week and holidays from 10 am to 11 pm.
Museums open from 10 am to 12:30 am and from 2 pm to 5 pm. Closed on Mondays. Some palaces also close on Wednesdays. Pharmacies open from 9 am to 1 pm and from 3 pm to 7 pm, Monday to Friday, and Saturday mornings. There are also 24 hour pharmacies which operate according to an official chart displayed on Pharmacy windows.
Gastronomy and Tradition
A moderate and healthy climate, a rich fishing coast, and smooth, protected valleys. Not surprising therefore that Portugal, wealthy in olive and wine, had already been grudgingly coveted by the Romans. In the 8th century, during the Moorish occupation and thanks to the techniques of irrigation, tree and garden culture developed considerably. Early in the 15th century, the Portuguese built their first caravel and sailed away to discover Madeira, the Azores Islands and Brazil. In 1498, Vasco da Gama discovered the maritime route leading to the valuable spices up to then treasured in the Far East.
The Portuguese will introduce coriander, pepper, ginger, curry, saffron and paprika in Europe. Thanks to the expansion of their overseas empire, they will also actually be the first European to dock in the Mollucas, in China, in Japan and in Ethiopia. They will bring back with them many other exotic products up to then unknown to Europe, such as rice and tea from the Orient, coffee and peanuts from Africa, and, of course, pineapples, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes from the New World.
A Paradise of Fish and Crustaceans
The neighboring Atlantic Coast naturally lead to a sea product oriented-gastronomy. There is, however, a first and unavoidable dish that is part of the Portuguese everyday menu: soup. The most popular soup in Portugal is the “caldo verde”, emerald green like the province of Minho where it was first conceived. It is definitely a must.
The recipe is rather simple – green cabbage shredded in very thin strings and cooked in a light stock of potatoes and olive oil, spiced with a few slices of Portuguese pork sausage (“chouriço”) .lt is delicious ! You will also enjoy the “cozido”, the actual national dish, very similar to the Irish “beef and cabbage”, and the tasty “caldeirada”, prepared with the best fish in the country.
Nonetheless, let credit be placed where it is due: dried codfish, “bacalhau”, finds its place of honour several times a week at every table. Traditionally, it is said that there are as many different ways to cook it (more or less sophisticated) as there are days in the year. Among other fishing specialities, you will relish the sole (“Iinguado”), the red mullet (“salmonete”), the swordfish (“peixe espada”) and the conger eel (“eiroz”). And last but not least, one of the less expensive but more tasteful fish – the sardine (“sardinha”), an essential delicacy in the barbecues and outdoor celebrations throughout the whole country. Unless, of course, you prefer the succulent stuffed crabs, the excellent mussels (‘mexilhões”) or the Algarve clams cooked in the “cataplana” with sausage, bacon and herbs.
As far as freshwater fish is concerned, you can savour the lamprey (“lampreia”) and the salmon (“salmão”) from Minho, the exquisite trout (“truta”) from the Serra da Estreia or from Madeira, or the shad (“savel”) from the Tagus and the Douro rivers.
Meat, fowl and game: In the Kingdom of Fancy
In spite of the quality and wealth of their fish market, the Portuguese love meat and they cook it according to the most varied and flavorful recipes.
The sautéed or grilled steak (“bife à Portuguesa”), very often cooked in a Port wine sauce, is served throughout the whole country. Just as popular is the kebab (“espetadas”), marinated in wine and garlic that add their special relish to the meat as it cooks. To the mutton (“carneiro”) you will prefer the delicious kid (“cabrito”) or the sucking lamb (“borrego”), either stewed (“ensopado”) or marinated in spices and then baked.
Pork meat is also very popular. The pig enjoys the acorn and white truffles widely spread in the cork oak groves of the Alentejo. Do not miss the famous “carne de porco a alentejana”, made with diced marinated pork meat with red peppers and clams or the roasted piglet (“Ieitão assado”), golden and crunchy as desired. The sausages are excellent and you can delight with the smoked ham (“presunto”) and the smoked pork sausages like the “paio” and the “salpicão”. For those who like tripe, the Portuguese have a dish that will totally seduce you! The “Tripas à moda do Porto” is a popular dish made of veal and chicken tripe, sausage, smoked ham, dried beans, onions, smoked pork sausage (“chouriço”), herbs and spices.
Cheeses of Portugal
The most popular Portuguese cheese, the “Queijo da Serra”, is a sheep cheese, made in the Serra da Estrela region, where the highest peak of Portugal is located. Its smooth consistency and delicate flavor are very much comparable to the best Bries.
You must also taste the delicious creamy little cheeses of Azeitão, especially popular in the spring. And rejoice in flavouring the “Serpa” from the Alentejo, sweet and unctuous when it is fresh, and stronger and dryer after one or two years of aging in a cool environment. Unless you prefer the “cabreiro”, a strong goat cheese, or the “Queijo da Ilha”, an extraordinary cheese from the Azores Islands that is also used grated (like parmesan) in numerous regional dishes.
The Desserts: Eggs, Sugar and Fantasy!
Portuguese people are sweet toothed! Their specialties include a least two hundred different types of pastries. This national taste to sweets seems to have originated during the Moorish occupation; and in the 15th century there was the sugar cane planted in Madeira. Later on, in the 17th and 18th century, the convents became famous for their pastries, as can be told by the allusive (!) names of their specialities: “toucinho do céu” – heaven’s lard, or “barriga de freiras” – nun’s belly.
The best among the egg paste pastries are the “ovos moles”, originally from Aveiro. They play a major role in Portuguese pastrymaking, and you can find them in little shells, complementing tarts and pies or decorating cakes: sometimes these are sprinkled with cinnamon or with grated walnut or almond.
In this Portuguese paradise of daintiness, all you have to do is let yourself be carried away by the endwise varieties of “pão de ló” (light sponge cake), by the delicious “palha Abrantes” (golden thin strings of egg yolk based paste), by the rich “pastéis de nata” of Belém, by the marvellous almond paste (marzipan) of the Algarve, or yet by the “pão de rala” of Évora, made of white pumpkin candy wrapped in almond paste.
The Wines of Portugal
From the North to the South, the country is wealthy in good wines and, apart from the unique Port and Madeira, there are more than one hundred different varieties of wines, ranging from table wines to special ones, all of them reflecting the individual character of their respective soil.
History It is impossible to say from what period Portuguese grapes were turned into wine. The probability of in excess of 5.000 BC. is a safe assumption. Even during the Moorish occupation with the ban demanded by the Koran, it is recorded that wine was being made at a Monastery at Lourvćo. More modern records show that wine was being exported to England in the early twelfth century. In 1353 Portugal and England signed a treaty allowing Portuguese fishermen to fish off the English coast and thus encouraging Portuguese trade. A later record shows that in 1365 the Mayor of Dartmouth found himself in trouble for seizing a shipment of sweet wine named “Osey and Algarve”. The trade in wine became so intense that a British vice-consul was appointed to the town of Viana do Castelo to represent British interests. In 1703 this trade increased even further due to the Treaty of Methuen granting Portuguese wines preference over French for importation into England. Throughout the ages Portuguese exported wine have been referred to using names such as “Bastardo”, Charneco” and “Riptage”. The names refer back to the region within Portugal of their origin.
After the adhesion of Portugal to the EU, the following designations were applied to wine in order to control the “Appellation”.
The Portuguese wine industry has sine the 90’s made a positive mark on the international stage of quality wine. In 2004 it won 19 Golf Medals at the prestigious International Wine Challenge. Below are listed some of the notable winners from an earlier period
This 12-day vacation shows you all of Portugal without any rushing thanks to the well-planned two-night stopovers in Lisbon, Oporto and the Algarve. The full circle from Lisbon to Lisbon shows you the interior and almost the entire coastline of Portugal. Local guided sightseeing in Lisbon, Oporto and Evora includes Jeronimos Monastery, the Stock Exchange, the Arabian Hall, the Ossuary Chapel and many other must-see sights. Visits to Obidos, Fatima, a Port wine cellar, the Roman ruins of Conimbriga with its excellent museum, Villa Real and Belmonte are included as well. The 11 day Portugal Tour will also allow you to explore the Alentejo with by stopping in Evora, an historic and quaint town as well as Algarve and its coastline of beaches and Mourish architectural influence.
Day 1 Arrival in Lisbon, Portugal. (Mon.) Free time to rest or start exploring the Portuguese capital. At 6 p.m. meet your tour director and traveling companions and have a welcome dinner at your hotel.
Day 2 Lisbon. (Tue.) Now the capital of a small country on the western fringe of the Iberian Peninsula, Lisbon was the center of Europe’s longest-lived overseas empire. Portugal’s imperial ambitions date back to Prince Henry the Navigator’s 15th-century discoveries in West Africa and did not subside until the 1970s. History has left its marks on the city, in striking contrast with modern features. Morning sightseeing on the banks of the Tagus River includes two Manueline jewels: Belem Tower guarding the mouth of the Tagus and JERONIMOS MONASTERY with the tomb of Vasco da Gama. Drive past the Bull Ring to Pombal Statue and on along the grand Avenida da Liberdade. Then enjoy a walk through the cobbled alleys of quaint Alfama, the quarter of the seamen. Afternoon and evening at leisure; your tour director will propose an optional excursion to the royal palace of Sintra in the park-like area west of Lisbon, and tonight an optional dinner at a typical tavern with Fado-style entertainment. (BB)
Day 3 Lisbon – Fatima – Tomar. (Wed.) First stop on your northbound journey is medieval Obidos. Go back in time as you pass the main gate in the impressive perimeter wall and walk along the narrow streets. Continue to Alcobaça to visit the church of SANTA MARIA MONASTERY, built in the 12th century for 999 Cistercian monks. See the elaborate tombs of King Pedro I and his Castilian lover Inês de Castro and hear how she was murdered at the order of Pedro’s father. The fishing harbor of Nazaré is the perfect place for a leisurely lunch break. In the afternoon mix with the pilgrims at the country’s hallowed national shrine, Fatima’s BASILICA OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY. Overnight in Tomar, the historic seat of the mighty Order of the Knights of Christ. (BB,D)
Day 4 Tomar – Oporto. (Thu.) On the way out of Tomar visit the hilltop CONVENT OF CHRIST with its famous Manueline window. Further north, the ROMAN RUINS OF CONIMBRIGA are eloquent testimony to centuries of Roman influence. Tour the excavations, view the well-preserved mosaics, and visit the excellent MUSEUM. On to Coimbra, strategically situated on a hill overlooking the Mondego River. After a visit to the gilded baroque LIBRARY of its 700-year-old university, drive through the ancient BUÇACO FOREST. Marvel at its luxurious variety of plants from various parts of the world, carefully protected for centuries. (BB,D)
Day 5 Oporto. (Fri.) Morning sightseeing with a local guide in Portugal’s second-largest city, the bustling capital of the north. After a panoramic drive to the mouth of the Douro River see the soaring cathedral, admire the richly decorated CHURCH OF SAO FRANCISCO, and visit the STOCK EXCHANGE with its contemporary ARABIAN HALL inspired by Granada’s Alhambra. Before lunch there’s time to visit a PORT WINE CELLAR where the famous wine produced from grapes of the Douro Valley is aged in huge vats. Afternoon at leisure, and tonight your tour director will suggest an optional dinner at one of Oporto’s typical restaurants. (BB)
Day 6 Oporto – Viseu. (Sat.) Having seen Portugal’s prosperous urban life, today you’ll catch glimpses of a different reality: a rural population living off tiny patches of land tended with traditional farming methods. Head inland to Guimaraes, often referred to as the “Cradle of Portugal” because of its association with the country’s first king, Alfonso Henriques. Next you reach Vila Real, former capital of Portugal’s northeastern region of Trás-os-Montes. Just outside town visit the splendid park and manor of PALACIO DE MATEUS, whose picture graces the label of the excellent Mateus rosé wine. From here a scenic road cuts right through the valley of the Douro River, which flows between terraced slopes where port wine grapes grow. Spend the night in Viseu, believed to have been the home of the Lusitanian leader Viriate who resisted the Roman conquest. (BB,D)
Day 7 Viseu – Evora. (Sun.) The new fast road provides splendid views of mainland Portugal’s highest mountain range, the Serra da Estrela. Pass Guarda, the country’s highest city, and stop in Belmonte, birthplace of Pedro Alvares Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil. Today Belmonte is a symbol of Jewish awakening. Some of its inhabitants have reconverted to the belief of their ancestors who, during the dark days of the Inquisition, were forced to accept the Catholic religion. Cross the Tagus River, enter the Alentejo plain and look forward to an afternoon break in Castelo de Vide, an enchanting small town. Time to walk through the Jewish Quarter with its white-washed houses and take pictures of the 14th-century castle. Continue to Evora, the cultural center of southern Portugal and a former royal residence. (BB,D)
Day 8 Evora – Algarve. (Mon.) A massive wall surrounds Evora’s medieval center, classified as a World Heritage Site. A guided walking tour through its narrow alleys takes you to the Roman Temple, the early Gothic CATHEDRAL, Portas de Moura Fountain, and SAO FRANCISCO CHURCH. Visit the OSSUARY CHAPEL, whose walls are covered with thousands of human bones and skulls. After lunch proceed across the arid Alentejo plain to the Algarve, Portugal’s most popular holiday area. (BB,D)
Costa Verde – Hotels in Povoa de Varzim Area
Hotel Torre Mar **
Feel at home with our special personal attention. Enjoy the tranquility of the sea, the countryside, and our Hotel. Ideal for holidays, trips or business visits.
Rua Gomes de Amorim – 4490-091 Aver do Mar – Povoa de Varzim
252 298 670
252 298 679
Lisbon Coast – Hotels in Estoril Area
Hotel Atlantis Sintra Estoril ****
The Hotel is about 25 from Lisbon Airport and only 5 Kms from the popular towns of Estoril, Cascais and Sintra. It is an ideal location to relax after business meetings or as an excellent holiday location for sight-seeing.
EN 9 – Alcabediche – 2765 Estoril
Algarve – Hotels in Albufeira Area
Estalagem do Cerro ****
Family-run Hotel of 100 apartments, mainly all with good sea views and 10 minutes walk from town centre. Ideal location throughout the year to spend your holiday.
289 598 480
289 586 194
Algarve – Hotels in Tavira Area
Hotel Porta Nova ****
Hotel located just above the historic town with great views of the sea from its 137 rooms. Within easy walking distance of the centre of Tavira.