Portugal: A pocket guide
The highlights of Portugal are culture, hearty food, wine & port, unspoilt beaches, top golf courses, a lot of history, a wide variety of landscapes and the warmth of the Portuguese people. Lisbon is the capital and Porto is its second largest city, located to the north of the country. They are both fun cities, filled with historic districts, monuments and tile façades. Lisbon is called the white city because of the sunlight that reflects off the River Tagus. Porto, which gave its name to the fortified wine is one of the top 14 cities chosen by British Airways to visit. It has an old-fashioned quality still and the people really are very welcoming. Go soon before it gets spoilt and the locals become jaded by the tourist hordes and the constant intrusion.
The Portuguese coast has a single beach 850km long, made even more beautiful by vast stretches of golden sand and small coves nestled in the cliffs. The Algarve is the most famous destination for coastal fun in Portugal but there are many other excellent beaches. In the Southwest Alentejo, the beaches are quite wild and probably Europe’s most pristine stretch of coastline, whereas the Lisbon area has the busy beaches of the Estoril Coast and the longest beach at Costa da Caparica. However all along the coast, there are wonderful beaches and with such a long coastline on the continent and in the islands of Madeira and the Azores, it has ideal conditions for surfing. Ericeira is Europe’s 1st Surf Reserve. They have perfect waves for all types of surfing, with barrel waves on the beaches of Peniche, giant waves in Nazaré and the longest in Europe at Figueira da Foz. They are the setting for some of the most important championships in the world, such as Rip Curl Pro Portugal.
Since 2014 Portugal has been awarded the world’s best golf destination prize, which isn’t that surprising considering the exceptional year-long climate, particularly in the Algarve and in the Lisbon region, where there are many award-winning courses that host major championships throughout the season. A lot of the courses have been designed by the likes of Robert Trent Jones, Rocky Roquemore, Henry Cotton and Arnold Palmer. But what perhaps best defines them is their quality & natural beauty, often located in scenic areas with the sea to their rear. Besides the many awards that the region’s golf courses have won, the prestigious IAGTO elected the Algarve, a European Golf Destination of the Year for 2014, an honour that was awarded to the Lisbon region in 2015.
The history and culture of Portugal and its people is reflected in the country’s 22 sites classified as having World Heritage status. The Convent of Christ in Tomar, the Monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha, the Monastery of Jerónimosand and the Belém Tower in Lisbon all have huge historical and artistic importance. The historical towns of Guimarães, Porto, Évora and Angra do Heroísmo are also classified and there are many other monuments and architectural gems, such as the University of Coimbra or the fortifications of Elvas. We should also mention the landscapes of the Alto Douro Wine Region, Sintra and the Vineyards on the island of Pico, which offer some of the most breathtaking scenery in Portugal.
The best part of Portuguese food is its fish, with its location and the Atlantic waters making it the best fishing area in the world. Of course there are countless reasons why Portugal is a gastronomic treat. The fish and the seafood are joined by a huge variety of good quality table wines, enhanced by other delicious dishes and their famous olive oil. Port Wine has also been a great ambassador for Portugal and it is joined by other Portuguese products like the pastel de nata (custard tart) and other tempting convent sweets. The country boasts some wonderful chefs and famous dishes include Alheira de Mirandela (a type of Fowl sausage), Arroz de Tamboril (Monkfish), Bacalhau (Cod dish), Caldeirada de Enguias (Eeel soup), Cataplana de Marisoc (seafood stew), Francesinha (rich meat pancake) or Porco Preto (Black pig). Olive oil is a vital ingredient of Portuguese culinary fayre, as the basis of a varied and healthy diet, which also includes bread, olives and other fruits, vegetables and local herbs. The cuisine in Portugal can be quite rich but cooked with fresh local ingredients and balanced with plenty of salads and delicious vegetables, you can dine very well and of course nearly always al Fresco.