Portugal is a country of rugged mountain landscapes, beautiful beaches, sophisticated cities, a range of Roman ruins, medieval walled towns, country festivals, rural backwaters, sandy coves, pretty fishing villages, steeply terraced vineyards, and sharply contrasting traditions. A tour of Portugal is like a journey back in time, past townships completely enclosed by medieval walls. This part of the Iberia peninsula has existed within borders virtually unchanged for nearly 800 years, with castles perched on craggy heights, the filigreed stonework of cathedrals.

Its twelve million people speak their own language, Portuguese, and follow their unique cultural traditions. Portuguese is the third most widely spoken European language after English and Spanish in the world and is an important language on all five continents.

Portugal is about the size of Scotland and has tremendous variety both geographically and in its ways of life and traditions. Along the coast around Lisbon, and on the well-developed Algarve in the south, there are highly sophisticated resorts, while the vibrant capital Lisbon has much going on. But in its rural areas this is still an underdeveloped country with plenty of opportunities to experience smaller towns and countryside regions that have changed little in the past century.

Between the north and south, there are striking differences in population and customs. North of the River Tagus, the people are of predominantly Celtic and Germanic stock. It was here, at Guimaraes that the "Lusitanian" nation was born, in the wake of the Christian reconquest from the North African Moors. South of the Tagus, where the Moorish and Roman civilizations were most established, people tend to be darker-skinned and maintain more of a "Mediterranean" lifestyle. More recent events are woven into the pattern. The 1974 revolution came from the south - an area of vast estates, rich landowners and a dependent workforce - while the conservative backlash of the 1980s came from the north, with its powerful religious authorities and individual smallholders wary of change.
The Portuguese are very conscious of themselves as a seafaring people; mariners like Vasco da Gama led the way in the exploration of Africa and the Americas, and until less than thirty years ago Portugal remained a colonial power. The colonies brought African and South American strands to the country's culture: in the distinctive music of fado, sentimental songs heard in Lisbon and Coimbra, for example, or in the Moorish-influenced and Manueline architecture that abounds in coastal towns like Belém and Viana do Castelo.

Since Portugal is so compact, it's easy to take in something of each of its elements. In the north, one can find the more scenic view: the Minho, green, damp, and often  startling in its rural customs; and the sensational gorge and valley of the Douro, followed along its course by the railway,  off which antiquated branch lines edge into remote Trás-os-Montes. For contemporary interest, Lisbon and  Porto are the stops. And for monuments, the center of the country, Coimbra and Évora - retain a faded grandeur. The coast is virtually a continuous beach, and apart from the Algarve and a few pockets around Lisbon and Porto, resorts remain low-key and thoroughly Portuguese, with great stretches of deserted sands between them. The most beautiful are along the northern Costa Verde, around Viana do Castelo, or, for isolation, the wild beaches of southern Alentejo.

Portugal unveils forgotten civilizations; and epic events lived by a people with eight centuries of history. From North to South you will find testimony to the past, providing memories that will enrich you.




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