Destination of the Month - Portugal

 
PORTUGAL is situated at the south-west point of Europe and also includes the MADEIRA and AZORES archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean. With its mild climate, 3000 hours of sunshine per year and 850kms of splendid beaches bathed by the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal is the perfect holiday destination all year round. This is a country which has the oldest borders in Europe, with an exceptional range of different landscapes, many leisure activities and a unique cultural heritage, where tradition and modernity blend together in perfect harmony. Its superb cuisine, fine wines and hospitality make this a tourist paradise of the highest quality. 
 
LISBON
This cosmopolitan city and Portuguese capital has much to offer.
Highlights here include: The Castle of São Jorge where you can stroll through Alfama, the highest point in the city. It is a unique opportunity to feel and understand the city’s relationship with the river Tagus.  Visit Terreiro do Paço which is the largest square in the city and also one of its most iconic symbols which was rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1755.  An ascent in the Santa Justa elevator is a must as this offers enviable views over the ‘old city’. Take a tram ride, a common means of transport for Lisbonites but it is also one of the best ways to travel through the historic neighbourhoods. The no. 28 is the best known, but there are others.  Visit the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém, two of Lisbon’s unique monuments which are World Heritage Sites. They are both impressive jewels of the Gothic Manueline style. The vaults are carved in stone, a remarkable piece of engineering and are adorned with decorations of local maritime history. Visit the National Tile Museum and the Coach Museum which are unequalled anywhere in the world. One tells the story of ‘tiles’ in Portugal from its first uses in the 16th century walls to the present day. The other has an unrivalled collection of carriages with fine examples from the 18th century, exuberantly decorated with paintings and gild work. Lisbon is also known for its very lively and busy nightlife. After an afternoon shopping in the elegant Chiado district, there’s nothing like a late afternoon at one of the viewpoints of Santa Catarina or São Pedro de Alcântara, then staying for dinner in the Bairro Alto. This is the place to be for those who enjoy a night out having fun. A short drive from Lisbon is the World Heritage Site of Sintra, the Estoril Coast and the natural parks of the Rivers Tagus and Sado estuaries. Alongside the Sado, is the Arrábida Natural Park and the towns of Palmela, Sesimbra and Setúbal, all of which offer stunning sea views.
 
ÉVORA
Around an hour south of Lisbon, this World Heritage Site is a book of Portuguese ‘Art History’. The best way to see this town is on foot, exploring its narrow streets lined with white houses, whilst discovering monuments and details which reveal the history of Évora and its rich heritage. Is it is easy to see why this town which dates from Roman times, was chosen by the Kings of Portugal in the 15th century as their residence. This contributed to its development and cultural importance in the following centuries, which today has been preserved by UNESCO.
 
PORTO & THE NORTH
From Porto the cities of Braga and Guimarães (the latter a World Heritage Site), Gerês National Park, Arouca Geopark and the River Douro are options worth considering. It has heritage on both banks of the river including bridges and monuments, many tiles, flowering balconies and an historic centre. On the Gaia side of the river are the Port Wine lodges which are classified as World Heritage.
 
THE RIVER DOURO
Through to the end of the 19th century, the Douro was the major means of accessing inland parts of the region and the way of transporting products and people from near and far. Difficult to navigate and impeded by natural barriers, only a unique and ancient vessel the rabelo boat, could manage this journey due to its robustness and also the courage of the men who crewed it. Nowadays, after the building of various dams the river is navigable for 210 km between Oporto and Barca d´Alva. Cruise boats travel between Porto and Peso da Régua, passing through the locks of Crestuma/Lever and Carrapatelo. Beautiful stepped slopes of Port wine terraces, start at the heights of Barqueiros and stretch to Pinhão offering views of the most impressive hand-built rural landscapes. A longer cruise up the river provides a wonderful vantage point for this region´s unique landscapes and the opportunity to encounter its traditions, culture and gastronomy. 
 
SCHIST VILLAGES (Central Portugal)
The 27 villages spread across the Lousã and Açor Ranges quite close to Serra da Estrela, are called Schist villages because this is the stone used in the construction of houses which is abundant in this region. Various shades of rock are also used for paving the narrow winding streets which blend seamlessly into the colours of the natural landscape. Hidden between mountain slopes of leafy vegetation, the schist villages are one of Portugal’s best kept secrets. This is a magical world where time seems to pass more slowly and where local people are keen to share their stories, crafts and traditions. Visitors to this region are equally enthusiastic to savour the local gastronomy, many of which are made from recipes passed down over the generations!
This region also boasts preserved castles which appear out of the mist, just as in fairy tales as well as museums and monuments which bear witness to life here over many years.
Much of their charm though is reflected in the flora and fauna,  the river beaches with crystal clear water and the forests. Walkers can explore further by following the ‘Schist paths’ whilst for cycling enthusiasts, there are also trails defined by the Mountain Bike Centres with varying levels of difficulty. There are also other extreme sport alternatives such as canoeing, climbing, abseiling and rope slides.
 
THE ALGARVE
With over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year and a low annual average rainfall, the Algarve enjoys mild weather throughout the year. The calm and warm sea in every shade of blue and the fine white sand beaches are the hallmark of the region. With around 200km of coastline, this is the perfect destination for all types of water sports including sailing, surfing and windsurfing. Yachting enthusiasts will find modern marinas spread all along the Algarve coast.
Nature is at its best in three specifically protected areas: The Vicentina Coast which is the best preserved stretch of coast in Europe, The Ria Formosa which is a maze of channels separated from the sea by a strip of sand and the Marshland of Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António, which is rich in fauna and flora. There are also the hills which can be explored either by bike or on foot, following the footpaths of the Via Algarviana which connect the eastern end of the region to the westernmost point via the interior ending at the Rota Vincentina. For the walking enthusiast, there are a number of trails here which are not to be missed. Heritage also offers many treasures to discover including Silves which was formerly the capital of the Arab Kingdom. Sagres and Lagos were very important towns during the 15th-century and Tavira has a wealth of traditional architecture, whilst in the old centre of Faro there is a beautiful cathedral.
 
CYCLING & WALKING
If you enjoy cycling and walking, then the Algarve has a vast network of routes and trails to discover. Not only will it be an unforgettable experience but you are sure to have sunshine for company, as the Algarve has good weather almost all year round. As an added bonus, the scenery is extremely very varied: winding trails through hills and inland valleys; a steep and almost completely unspoiled western coast; and to the south and east, flatter routes alongside the seashore or in the tranquil settings of the Ria Formosa and River Guadiana. Among the top choices are four major routes that interconnect with each other, allowing you to explore the entire region: the Rota Vicentina, Via Algarviana, Rota do Guadiana and Ecovia do Litoral. Cyclists or Walkers taking any of these routes will discover challenges to suit varying fitness levels which also have varying degrees of difficulty.
 
RELIGIOUS TOURISM
Portugal offers a roadmap of temples, devotions and religious festivals which can be followed. Fátima is the ‘Capital of Peace’ and one of the world’s most important Marian pilgrimage sites.
The Cathedral Route is also popular or simply explore the many shrines and chapels in honour of a local patron Saint. Jews also left their mark particularly in Central Portugal, providing another reason for exploration. There are also many paths travelled by pilgrims today which retrace the steps taken long ago to Santiago de Compostela.
 
NATURE
Portugal may be only a small country, but the variety of its landscapes and species is such that any trip, however short, is a pleasure of discovery.
From the towering mountains to the vast plains, from the wide sandy beaches with their gently rolling waves to the jagged coastline battered by rough seas, the country has a little of everything. And there are also the islands of Madeira and Azores, oases of calm and tranquillity in the middle of the Atlantic, with lush vegetation, extinct volcanoes and caves full of natural carvings. Wherever you are, the climate is mild and ideal for enjoying nature and the outdoors. Some of these places are true sanctuaries that have been preserved intact since the beginning of time. Others are the habitat of rare species of flora and fauna that enjoy the ideal conditions here..
 
GOLF
Excellent courses in dazzling scenery, a mild climate all year round and the hospitality and friendliness of qualified pros. There are around ninety golf courses, with different layouts and levels of difficulty. The greatest challenge however is to resist the beauty and light of the surrounding landscape whilst remaining focused. There are ocean-facing greens flanked by cliffs and white sand dunes. Others are framed by lakes and mountains where the fragrances of flowers and herbs produce a blend of sensations.  Many have been designed by famous architects such as Henry Cotton, Rocky Roquemore and Arnold Palmer and they all share environmental quality and harmoniously blend into the landscape.
 
For further details of our tailor-made Portuguese Group Holidays, which can also be combined with ‘Green Spain’, please contact our team to discuss your group holiday requirements.

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