|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Awaken my beauty from your centuries of slumber
Sometimes a nation catches fire, and like a shooting star flames for a few generations across a dark sky of history, then exhausted, it sinks again into the dreaming sleep of centuries, the people who once made the world's destiny had in the end to resign themselves to it, and this describes Portugal.
Bordering Spain and the Atlantic coast, the capital, Lisbon, has a vivid history, beautiful monuments, parks, excellent restaurants and superb shops.
Portugal is totally unspoiled, and the country is very different from north to south, and east to west. Southern Portugal has little towns and villages, castles crowned on hillsides, and bejewelled churches on hills so far away from one another, with vast sweeps of brown soil and green cork-wood rolling between.
The Algarve is famous for its beautiful, sandy beaches, some of the best in the world, with Blue Flag awards to prove it! Quarteira, Lagos, Albufeira, Praia de Rocha are ideal family resorts and the Golden Triangle of Almancil, Quinta do Lagos and Vale do Lobo are up for a luxury holiday trip. Vilamoura and Ferragudo are up and coming hotspots.
The fantastic weather delivers dry sunny days for most of the year, makes enjoying outdoor life a way of life. For culture and history try Silves, Tavira, Lagos or Sagres and the small villages, a short distance inland, still appear untouched by tourism and the modern day world.
In northern Portugal beyond the vine covered slopes that run down to the River Douro, lies the least developed region of Portugal - the Tras los-Montes, translated means "Beyond the Mountains", so named because it lies stranded from the rest of Portugal between three mountain ranges and the Spanish border. Geographically this is the last area of Europe and is probably 50 years behind, which is part of its attraction, because it has a traditional and unspoiled feel.
The medieval cities of Braganca, Braga and Chaves are hidden away behind the mountain peaks in this isolated region, with Chaves the most visited. Chaves was founded by the Romans partly due to its spa waters, and is now an attractive collection of medieval streets, churches, and two imposing 17th century forts. In contrast is the wild, lonely landscape of the Peneda-Geres National Park.
From Villa Real is a heart in the mouth road linking the town of Lamego in the Douro Valley, where port wine has made this region wealthy, with row upon row of vineyards cascading down the valley to the Douro River. The town of Lamego attracts many pilgrims who flock to the church Nossa Senora dos Remidos built on a hill in the 8th century.
Portugal's green and wooded Central region is gorgeous; springtime meadows are carpeted in wildflowers, gold and silver daisy-like blooms, and scarlet poppies. Storks build their straggly nests on tops of pylons, and wildfowl weave in and out of the reeds of the Aveiro lagoons. Some trees are laden with orange blossom, others are clouded in lacy white blossom, and little old ladies wearing long gray socks potter among their cabbages and onions.
Centro is for lovers. Lovers of live and all the best qualities it has to offer. The wines of the region are a creation of love and pride, as is the architecture which houses their production. Set on a hillside near the town of Malaposta, the wooden, barrel-shaped winery of Quinta do Encontro surveys its landscape of vineyards and calls the followers of Bacchus to its tables. This Duo winery offers some of Portugal's best wines; fruity reds, fresh, dry whites and deeper, more flavoursome reds, which retain their fruitiness with age. Centro is a wine lover's paradise.
The inhabitants of Centro are a friendly and welcoming people. A smile is always waiting to greet each new visitor, and the sound of Portugal's native song the Fado is never far away. In the gardens of Quinta das Lagrimas, as the sun sets peach-coloured over the city's red-tiled roofs, and the sonorous tones of a Fado trio, mixed with the gentle warble of flowing water. you can feel the loved infused in this land.
For lovers of history and natural beauty the area is also the gateway to a land of castles and mountain fortresses, set among idyllic hillside villages, where life continues unchanged in centuries.
Nestled on a hilltop in the virtually undiscovered region of Centro, just ninety minutes north of Lisbon, there is an air of youth about the city of Coimbra, which belies the antiquity of its butter-coloured stone buildings.
In this little-known region of Centro there is a love story which spans time. Coimbra is a city whose foundations are laid solidly on a story of undying love. A story to rival Romeo and Juliet, or Anthony and Cleopatra, the story of Pedro and Ines has captured the hearts of this romantic nation.
In the 14th century 19 year old Crown Prince Pedro of Portugal was joined in matrimony, and an alliance of nations, to a 16 year old girl, Constance, the daughter of the King of Castile. Pedro did not love Constance and never would, instead his heart was consumed by one of his wife's handmaidens, a Galician noblewoman, Ines Perez de Castro. Their affair was scorned upon by those to whom it mattered, and the four children she gave birth to outside of marriage brought the nations close to war.
Despite this Pedro vowed never to give up Ines, the love of his life. After the death of Constance in 1355, Pedro refused to marry anyone but Ines, a woman who was not considered worthy of a seat on the Portuguese throne. King Alfonso IV, Pedro's father, decided upon a course of action that would change the direction of Portugal's history and set hearts aflutter throughout the world, and plunge Portugal into a bitter civil war.
Three assassins acting upon the King's wishes brutally murdered Ines. Pedro, consumed by rage, rebelled against his father plunging the country into war. The war was short-lived and the pair negotiated a truce, however, Pedro never forgave his father.
After the King's death Pedro assumed the throne and declared he had secretly married Ines making her the rightful Queen, and their children the rightful heirs. Although the nobility had only Pedro's for this marriage, he exhumed Ines' body and made them swear loyalty to her memory as the one true Queen.
In the Monastery of Alcobaca Pedro re-buried his darling Ines where he too would eventually be buried. The tombs of the lovers face each other from across the monastery, where on judgement day they will both rise to greet each other and re-ignite a love that has spanned even the bridge of death.
But love in the Centro region reaches beyond matters of the heart. Stretching between the mountains and the sea, the rolling countryside bears witness to another great love, the love of food, wine and a balanced quality of life. As a gastronomic getaway Centro will capture the hearts, (and stomachs), of its visitors with its native foods. From steaming dishes of mixed seafood and grilled meats, to the national icon of bacalhau - dried cod, whose appearance in each new dish is always as delicious as it is inventive Centro offers a world of delights.
Obidos since the 13th century was a bridal dowry of Portugal's Kings to their Queens. Architecturally "the Wedding Village" is a picture perfect walled settlement with an imposing castle, cobbled lanes, tiled archways, and a blossom feast bursting from tiny gardens, flowerpots and even wheelbarrows. Undeniably pretty, Obidos attracts thousand of visitors each year.
The Costa de Perata-the Silver Coast, washed by the Atlantic, takes its name from the light silvering of the ocean. The villages inland are exquisite and almost untouched by modern day living. Tomar, dating from 1160, was the last city in Western Europe founded by the Knights Templar. Condemned and persecuted all over the rest of the continent, the Knights were driven ever westward, and although they were banished by the Moors and Islam from the Iberian Peninsula, they were still welcomed in Portugal.
Step back eight centuries and visit Castelo Templario which encloses the Convento de Cristo. The Porta de Sangue,(Bloody Door) recalls the 1190 defense of the castle when the Knights fought the besieging Moors for six days under the command of their 72-year old Grand Master, Gualdim Pais. Go through the Porta del Sol,(Door of the Sun) and you're in the heart of the Templar's religious world, the circular chapel where the Knights actually attended mass while still on horseback.
The village of Sintra is summed up by Lord Byron who said, "this is the most delightful in Europe, with beauties of every description and artificial, it unites itself with the wildness of the western highlands of Scotland and the verdure of south of France". Come and see this little gem for yourself, it will delight all who do.
Golden plains that disappear out of sight combine with the sun and the heat to impose their own slow, steady rhythm. This is the Alentejo. Inland, the vast golden wheat fields undulate in the wind; along the coast, unspoiled beaches look rugged and unexplored.
Remnants from the past, challenges to our imagination, are all around in the Alentejo, offering a real journey in time. Two thousand years ago the territory that would later be Portugal was part of the Roman Empire. This source of the language and culture left many records in the Alentejo, written on stone and mosaics, cisterns and forums, in vanished cities and on old monuments. Other civilisations, older and less well known, covered the region with impressive megalithic monuments, majestic and mysterious in their simplicity, erected in honour of unknown gods.
These remnants from the past, challenges to our imagination are all around you in the Alentejo, offering you a real journey in time.
Discover the 'towns' of Pisces and Suo Cucufate, where the inhabitants lived in luxury, with hot baths and cool pools amid the heat of the plain. In Mirebriga, remember the racing chariots pulled by Lusitanian horses, which attracted crowds to the town hippodrome, and then try to imagine in the ruins of the town's first-century buildings what daily life was like two thousand years ago.
Don't miss the chance to pay a visit to Castro da Cola, whose riches transport you to the life of our ancestors, from the Neolithic Age to the medieval Christian world, not forgetting the precious legacy of the Moors. Take a leisurely tour around the antas, or Iron or Bronze Age settlements, set in fertile land traversed by the River Mira.
The open, ample landscape is peppered with cork-oaks or olive trees that have withstood the ravages of time. Occasionally sturdy fortress walls rise up from hills, as at Marvo or Monsaraz, or you'll see just a simple dolmen reminding you of the magic of the place.
Atop small hills stand white one-storey farmsteads, while the castles are reminders of the battles and conquests that once took place here. The patios and gardens bear witness to the influence of the Arabs, who helped to shape the people and the nature.
In the Alentejo, the brute force of the land dictates the march of time. Perhaps this is why the region's culture has its own particular character. All you need to do is visit Evora and discover its Roman roots and the delightful charm of its heritage to understand why the city has been classified as a world heritage site. When you see the temple of Diana and some of the city's churches, you'll regard your time as well spent.
But don't travel northwards or southwards without exploring the region's coastline. There the landscape consists of high sheer cliffs sheltering tiny beaches. And there are also the sweet smells of the countryside, the herbs and spices used to season fish and seafood dishes.
Here the time passes slowly, because the Alentejo follows the rhythm of the land itself.
Portugal, beautiful, unspoiled, untouched by the ravages of time, a gem in Europe. All who visit stay a while and then are so bewitched by this gorgeous country they never want to leave.