Travel - Hot Spots - Portugal
Portugal in Southern Europe, shares the Iberian peninsula at the western tip of Europe with Spain. Geographically and culturally somewhat isolated from its neighbor, 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. However it may 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, a British 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.
Best of Portugal
Oporto:The town is second largest city after Lisbon. Oporto sits astride a great gorge at the point where the River Douro enters the Atlantic, and although it is mainly industrial, the city centre has plenty of charm with some art treasures, medieval cathedrals and museums, along narrow streets sporting wrought-iron balconies and bright splashes of potted geraniums.
Vila Viçosa: Vila Viçosa is about 55km/34mi northeast of Évora, on the slopes of hills covered with orchards. Everything around Vila Viçosa's peaceful broad streets lined with orange and lemon trees seems to be made of marble. Benches, pavements, framing of windows and doorways, and even the toilets in the bus station are made of this shining "white gold," the local marble from the enormous quarries outside the town.
Évora: Is one of Portugal's finest and most delightful cities. It's a true open air museum with a large number of wonderfully preserved monuments and buildings of public interest that led UNESCO to protect it as a World Heritage Site.
Obidos: Is on a hill rising out of an agricultural plain, Óbidos is actually one of Portugal’s picturesque gems. From its lofty centre one gazes upon expanses of vineyards speckled with whirling windmills and terracotta-roofed homesteads.
Cabo da Roca: The town is a cape at the western coast of Portugal in the Lisbon Region. It's the westernmost point of the European continent.
Figueira da Foz: Figueira da Foz is home to a gigantic sandy beach that is the country's largest, stretching for more than 3km (2 miles), and so wide, that it is a good five minutes walk across the sand to the sea. It was a venue for the 1996 World Surfing Championships.
Travel Tips in Portugal
To make a holiday trip to or through Portugal can be a delight. It is a smaller country to its neighbour Spain and therefore has a more personal and endearing character. The major resort areas, such as the Algarve, offer the holidaymaker as many attractions as anywhere in Europe. Throughout Portugal there is a chain of Tourist Offices manned by bilingual staff to assist the tourist. As the Portuguese are by nature hospitable they are keen and proud to share their country with foreign visitors.
The normal shopping hours are from 09.00 hrs. until 19.00 hrs on Mondays to Fridays. Saturdays is from 09.00 hrs. until 13.00 hrs. There are some shops that extend their hours and their days of opening. Shopping Centres are open from 09.00 hrs. to 23.00 hrs all week except for certain Public Holidays.
There is a great a lack in past design and facilities to provide their needs. Happily, awareness is now showing and this is evident with the appearance of special parking spaces in public areas, special toilets at airports, stations, and centres of entertainment. In Lisbon (217 585 676) and Porto (226 006 353), there is a dial-a-ride disabled bus service. Also in Lisbon (218 155 061), Braga (253 684 081), and Coimbra (239 484 522), there are taxi services for disabled persons.
The current all over Portugal is 220 volts AC and connection is made by a two-pin plug. The plug today acts also as an earth except in older buildings that use older models of this two-pin plug.
By calling anywhere in Portugal on 112 you will be connected to Fire, Police and Ambulance services. Every Fire Brigade also maintains one or more ambulances for emergencies. Chemists can give advice on simple health problems and suggest appropriate treatment. They are also permitted to sell many medicines without a doctors subscription. A green cross on white background denotes a chemist. A red cross on a white background denotes a "Red Cross" station. In many towns there are Emergency Treatment Centres (SAP) that will provide medical assistance 24 hours a day.
Security in cities and towns is handled by the "Polícia de Segurança Pública" (PSP), rural areas by the "Guarda Nacional Republicana" (GNR), and the traffic by "Brigada de Trânsito". On motorways and several major roads there are SOS phone boxes for help in case of an accident or breakdown.
Corpus Christi (Early June)
It is traditional for each Municipality (Concelho), to reserve one annual day as a holiday for its own town commerce. This day is used as an excuse for local events and celebration. You will find restaurants open but normally most commercial shops are closed.
When written the Portuguese language has a visual relationship to both Spanish and Italian. When spoken it takes on another character. Although today the language has been influenced by modern means of communication, the educated form can be likened to "Dickensian English" in its style. It is courteous in content and suitable flowery in description. Spoken Spanish can be understood by the Portuguese but is best avoided. Anybody with knowledge of some Portuguese history will be able to understand the reason. The inhabitants have a wonderful ability to learn foreign languages and you will find that the English language is normally readily understood. This has been helped by the fact that all foreign films on TV and Cinemas are shown in their original language with subtitles.
The word "Correio" denotes a Post Office or services. First class mail is denoted by the words "correio azul" and normally associated with the colour of blue. From Post Offices there is an express service named "EMS" that also records delivery. These offices are normally open from 08.30 hrs. until 18.30 hrs. from Monday to Friday. In bigger towns they may also will also be open on Saturday.
The local currency is Euros. Money can be changed at Banks, "Bureau de Change" (Cambio) or at one of the currency exchange machines in the streets. These facilities will offer a better rate than in Hotels and Receptions. Banks are open from Monday through to Friday, from 08.30 hrs. to 15.00 hrs. Euro Cheque is a cheaper method than a Traveller Cheque in obtaining cash. All well-known Credit Cards are usually accepted.
Although the majority of the museums and art galleries are State owned there are a number of private Foundations and individually owned exhibition places. This fact is particularly evident when wishing to see contemporary art where they tend to reflect the taste of the owner. State Museums charge a small entrance fee that is often waived on Sundays and Public Holidays. They are open from Tuesday through to Sunday and pensioners receive a 40% discount on the entrance fee. Sometimes there is no charge at all for pensioners on showing your ID. Opening times are normally from 10.00 hours to 17.00 hours, but sometimes closed during lunchtime.
In Lisbon there is an excellent ticket system for tourists provided by "Carris" kiosks. The holder of his ticket can visit 26 of the main museums in the city and enjoy free public transport during the time period. They are available for one, two, or three days.
Private Art Galleries
Throughout the country there are many galleries exhibiting contemporary art for sale for all tastes and pockets. There is normally no charge to enter these galleries or their exhibitions.
Young people between the ages of 12 and 25 may purchase a "Cartão Jovem" costing about € 5.00. This card offers the bearer special discounts on public travel, travel insurance, and discounts to certain shops and museums. A useful advantage is this card also provides a discount on Youth Hostels within Portugal. Bearers of the International Student Identity Card (ISDC), receive the same advantages as the "Cartão Jovem".
This tax that is the same as VAT is known as IVA in Portugal, and is at present 21%. Persons from outside the European Union (EU) and visiting for less than 180 days, can reclaim this tax by requesting a form named "Isenção de IVA". This form is presented to customs when leaving the country.
Time to Travel
It is safe to suggest that the whole year is a good period to visit. Mainland Portugal has an attractive climate with long hot summers and mild pleasant winters. In the north winters are obviously cool and wet, whilst in the Algarve temperatures seldom ever fall below freezing except in the mountain regions. Inland areas have hotter summers and cooler winters except for mountainous regions that even enjoy snow. Madeira Islands and the Islands of the Azores enjoy a temperate climate the year around.
Nationals of the EC (European Community), Australia and New Zealand, require only their passport or Identity Document. They may remain for a period of up to 90 days. American and Canadian nationals may stay for a period of 60 days with a valid passport. Other countries are subject to Visa controls and as regulations can change overnight it is recommended that a potential visitor should check with the Portuguese Consul in their respective country prior to making a visit to Portugal.
Fresh fish and crustaceans enhance all the regional dishes, like the popular "caldeirada" but you can also enjoy the eel "caldeirada" of Aveiro. You can also try the relishing meat dishes, like the grilled pork kebab made in Barraida, the kid "chanfana" from Coimbra. The regional pastrymaking also enjoys a well deserved reputation. There is the "pão de ló" from Alfeízerão and Ovar, the "arrufadas" from Coimbra and Aveiro, the delicious TentugaI, pastries or the famous "cavacas" (dry cookies) and
'trouxas de ovos" from Caldas da Rainha. Not to mention the Aveiro "ovos moles" or the "S. Bernardo" bread, the almond paste from Arouca, the "brisas", the Aljuborrota pie, the flavourful beans paste cakes from Torres Vedras ("pastéis de feijão") . As for as wines are concerned, you will have to hesitate between the various liquor wines, the sparkling Bairrada wines, the buçaco wines and the, wines from Cantanhede and Rio Maior.
Portugal BeachesAlbufeira beach; big, soft and spectacular surrounds, but what lies behind the pretty face?
This is a Portugal's version of Spain's Torremolinos, a town dedicated to supplying the downmarket punter with everything he might desire, from eggs and bacon for breakfast [gotta be an improvement on the traditional roll and jam, that!] to big-screen football with fish and chips for dinner. Pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap, Albufeira is a place to party hard at the right price and stuff the foreign ways, though at least the cramped pedestrian streets do have some local architecture and charm, which is more than can be said for rival Portimao.
Portimao beaches are terrific but package hotel territory these days. In previous lives this port town was fought over by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Christians and Moors. Then in 1755 the monster quake that flattened Lisbon did the same for this area, encouraging its next incarnation as a major fishing port. Until very recently it remained so - until the developers invaded and established a hundred high-rise hotels all at once onto the coastal strip. Now it's solid gold, pack-man land, an upmarket Albufeira but with even less traditional Portugal style; like, er, zero.
Praia da Rocha, next door, is the best known surfer's beach on the Algarve's south coast.
Lagos is without question the most interesting town on Portugal's Algarve coast, offering not only great beaches nearby but also a real history and a pretty town with varied and sophisticated bars and restaurants.
Lagos' convenient and well-protected river port was fought over by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Moors - who left their usual mark in the shape of massive town walls. Later Lagos became a base for the country's dramatic 'Age of Discoveries' naval world power era.
In 1444 Lagos was the site of the first sale of black slaves to Europeans and soon developed into a major slave trading port, growing in power and stature until the big quake of 1755 inflicted a crushing and permanent defeat on their military pretensions and barbaric trade.
Praia do Guincho is the best of all Portugal's surfing beaches within easy striking distance of Lisbon. A bus or train from Lisbon [or Sintra] to Cascais will take not more than 45 minutes, then Guincho is 9km [5miles] further north. The beach is big, beautiful and well supplied with all surf's necessities, and has been the site of of World Championships. Waves are often outsize - though not on the day this photo was taken - and can be tricky for novices, as can the rip. Kite surfers also enjoy this location, but regular swimmers will find the rollers tough to handle without the benefit of a chunk of fibreglass.
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