A country of history, beaches and amazing natural beauty, Portugal is one of Europe’s gems.
Portugal shares the Iberian peninsula at the south-western tip of Europe with Spain. Geographically and culturally somewhat isolated from its neighbour, Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside. Although it was once one of the poorest countries in Western Europe, the end of dictatorship and introduction of Democracy in 1974, as well as its incorporation into the European Union in 1986, has meant significantly increased prosperity. It may now be one of the best value destinations on the Continent. This is because the country offers outstanding landscape diversity, due to its North-South disposition along the western shore of the Iberian peninsula. You can travel in a single day from green mountains in the North, covered with vines and all varieties of trees to rocky mountains, with spectacular slopes and falls in the Centre, to a near-desert landscape in the Alentejo region and finally to the glamorous beach holidays destination Algarve. The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has also turned the country into a golfing haven.
Portugal was recently named “Best Golf Destination 2008″ by readers of Golfers Today, an English publication. Fourteen of Portugal’s courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. If you want a condensed view of European landscapes, culture and way of life, Portugal might very well fit the bill. As well as sedate golfing, Portugal is THE epicentre of the finest surfing in Europe, its pristine beaches during autumn/winter time attracting surfers with the massive waves rolling off the mighty Atlantic.
Especially popular with tourists from Northern European countries such as England, Germany, Holland, Norway and Sweden, Portugal’s great draw is the same as it has been for over 40 years, a country blessed with a magnificent coastline, warm climate and some of the most majestic beaches in the world.
If you are into visiting beautiful monuments and enjoy remarkable views, then Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto are the top three places, and all of them are well worth a visit. But don’t overlook Viana do Castelo, Braga, Guimarães, Coimbra, Tomar, Aveiro, Amarante, Bragança, Chaves, Lamego, Viseu, Vila Real, Lagos, Silves, Évora, Angra as they also have wonderful monuments and places of interest. Although in Portugal most of the monuments in existence are somewhat neglected from a tourist point of view, one can easily find very old romanic churches, some with almost 900 years and still quite unchanged from that time. Old monasteries like Alcobaça or luxurious palaces like Mafra (one of the biggest palaces in Europe) or Queluz are not to be missed either. In most of these places you will have no queues.
The most popular beaches are in the Algarve, which has stunning coastlines and gobs of natural beauty. The water along the southern coast tends to be warmer and calmer than the water along the west coast, which is definitely Atlantic and doesn’t benefit of the Gulf Stream. For surfing, or just playing in the surf there are great beaches all along the west coast, near Lisbon and Peniche. Don’t forget also some of the almost deserted beaches along the Costa Vicentina, in Alentejo.
For nightlife Lisbon, Porto and Albufeira, Algarve are the best choices as you have major places of entertainment.
If you want to spend your holidays in the countryside, you might want to visit Viana do Castelo, Chaves, Miranda do Douro, Douro Valley, Lamego, Tomar, Leiria, Castelo Branco, Guarda, Portalegre, Évora, Elvas or even Viseu.
And even if you wish to observe wild life in its natural state, Madeira and Azores Islands are places to remember, not forgetting of course the Natural Reserve of Peneda-Gerês, the Douro Valley and Serra da Estrela.
Some of the most popular beaches are (from north to south):
– Espinho, near Oporto, in Costa Verde/Green Coast, northern region.
– Figueira da Foz, near Coimbra, in Silver Coast/Costa de Prata, central region.
– Praia das Maçãs and Praia Grande[Sintra], Carcavelos and Estoril[Cascais], near Lisbon, in the Costa de Lisboa.
– Zambujeira do Mar, in the Alentejo region/Costa Alentejana e Vicentina.
– Salema, Praia da Rocha, Praia da Oura, Praia dos Pescadores (Fisherman´s beach), Praia de São Rafael, Praia do Castelo in the Algarve.
Thanks to Wikitravel.org for the tips !