Sunday, December 28, 2008

Portugal Vacations: Graciosa Azores

Graciosa Azores

On the last post of Portugal Vacations I told you about Sao Jorge Azores, a gorgeous island in the central Azores archipelago. Today I'll tell you a little about Graciosa, another of the Central Azores islands and a pristine Portuguese Gem.

Discovered 1n 1450 by Portuguese explorers, Graciosa was first settled by Vasco Gil Sodré and his family. Vasco left his home in Coimbra (Northern Portugal) searching for a for his riches in the Azores.

Today, most of the 4700 residents on this island are descendants of settlers from northern Portugal and France. This absolutely stunning oval shaped island is the northernmost island of the central group. The island has a total area of approximately 61 km² with a length of 10 km and width of only 7 km making it one of the smaller islands. The majority of the island's population reside in the Santa Cruz municipality.

Graciosa means (Graceful in English) and it lives up to its name. Like all the other islands, it is a green paradise, with soft rolling hills and tranquil gardens. Graciosa is the flattest of all Azorean islands, but also one of the most intriguing. Hidden in the islands Caldeira is the "Furna do Enxofre" (Sulphur Cavern), a breathtaking cavern rising up to 80 meters high and concealing a magnificent underground lake. Since Graciosa is one large dormant volcano, hot springs and thermal baths are a specialty on the island and a great way to rejuvenate. See image to the left of the thermal spa.

Graciosa is a must see on your Azores Travel and a perfect way to enjoy your Portugal Vacation.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Portugal Vacations: Sao Jorge Azores

Sao Jorge Azores

Last week I told you about the island of terceira. Sao
Jorge (St. George in English) is a knife shaped island in the center of the Azores, approximately 17 km northeast of the island of Pico. Sao Jorge is approximately 56 kilometers in length and only 8 kilometers wide with a total area of about 248 sq, making it the fourth largest of the Azores islands. It is a sparsely populated island with approximately 10 thousand inhabitants. In the 15th Century, many Flemish families migrated to the island of Sao Jorge and integrated with the existing Portuguese population at the time.

Most of the island is above 300m and is noted for it's sheer cliff walls to the North. The average height of the central ridges is approximately 700m and many of the coastal cliffs are as high as 400m. The vast majority of the Sao Jorge population reside on the south part of the island. Sao Jorge is a great place for those who are looking to escape from it all, it is indeed a a place where tourism has yet to form. Many of the residents here still live a very rural existence with agriculture being the main economic engine. Possibly the most famous of all things coming from the island of Sao Jorge is it's famous cheese. St. Jorge cheese is famous for its full bodied spicy flavor and should not be missed on your next travels through the Azores.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of the Island of Sao Jorge Azores. Please come back again as we explore the other islands of the Azores on Portugal Vacations.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Azores: Island Of Terceira

Terceira Azores

Last week on Portugal Vacations I told you about the awe inspiring Island of Pico, the second largest island in the Azores, and possibly the most stunning. Today I will tell you a little about the Island of Terceira, Azores.

The Island of Terceira was thus named due to it being the third island to be discovered in the Azores by Portuguese explorers (The name ‘Terceira’ means 'Third' in English). As mentioned before, Sao Miguel and Pico are the largest and second largest of the Azores Islands. Terceira is also the third largest island so it is fitting that it would get the name Terceira. Terceira is approximately 29 km long and up to 18 km wide with a total area of approximately 385 km2. The closest island to Terceira is São Jorge (St. George in English) 55 km to the west.

Like the other islands of the Azores, Terceira is a beautiful green paradise in the middle of the Atlantic, but it can also be one of the noisiest depending on which part of the island you reside due to the incoming European and North American Military aircraft at the Portuguese Airbase, Lajes. The Lajes airbase was initially constructed in 1934 by Portuguese Fascist Dictator Salazar's Regime and has served as a refueling, Reconnaissance, patrolling, and support base for almost a century. Over the years, many upgrades have been made to the base, along with American Military who have used a portion of the base under lease by the Portuguese State since the WWII.

Terceira is also home to the oldest established city in the Azores, called Angra do Heroismo (Meaning 'Cove Of Heroism' or 'Heroism Cove' in English), first established in 1478. Angra do Heroismo got its name due to the bravery of the people of the island who battled invading armies and pirates from Europe and the New World. It is today on the UNESCO Heritage List. You can see the city on the image at the top of the page.

Terceira is also the bullfighting capital of the Azores, where each year centuries old traditions of running with the bulls is still practiced. Unlike the running with the bulls held in Spain, the ones in Terceira are held in an open square, making it less dramatic than the Spanish one, and the bulls are tethered to a rope to prevent them from roaming free through the city.

Hope you liked this short overview of the Island of Terceira. In the next few posts of Portugal Vacations, I will tell you more about the other islands of the Azores.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Portugal Vacations: Pico Azores

Pico Island Azores

In the last post of Portugal Vacations I told you about Sao Miguel, the administrative capital of the Azores. On this post I will tell you a little about Pico, possibly the most fascinating of all the Islands of the Azores.

The island of Pico is 42 km long and 15 km at its widest point, with a combined area of 447 km², it is in fact the second largest island in the Azorean Archipelago. The name Pico is a Portuguese word for peak, which is obvious when you look at the island and it's remarkable volcanic cone rising to 2351 m. The volcanic cone is officially inactive, with the last major eruption occurring back in the 1700's.

The largest town in Pico is Madelena which is located on the western side of the island. There are just over 15,000 inhabitants residing on the island of Pico.

Up until the early 1980's, Pico had a very active commercial whaling industry, that at the time was the major economic engine on the island. Today, ironically, Pico is the place to go for whale watching, with many sightseeing expeditions taking tourists on breathtaking expeditions.

Another interesting part of the Pico economy is its viticulture. Built over many centuries, Pico's lattice work of protective stone encapsulations help protect the native 'Verdelho' grape from the harsh weather and conditions of Pico winters. Recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage, this wine region of Pico is a marvel to behold, as it is a green landscape amidst jagged volcanic rock in a virtually treeless environment offer spectacular vistas.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of the Island of Pico, Acores. Come back for more information on the other islands of the Azores on Portugal Vacations.

Source of First Image:
Source: File produced by Christer Johansson

Source of Second Image:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Portugal Vacations: São Miguel Azores

The Island Of São Miguel

I'll start up my description of the 9 Islands of the Azores with São Miguel.

São Miguel (St. Michael in English) is both the capital of the Azores and the largest of the 9 Azorean islands, roughly 67 k in length and 15 km wide. On the east side of the island you will find the highest mountain summit, Pico de Vara, which is a height of 1105 m. On the western side of the island is where you will find the picturesque Sete Cidades, ( Meaning 'Seven Cities' in English) with a summit of 874 m. In the Centre of the island the highest peak is Pico da Barrossa at 949 m, which includes the nature reserve Lagoa do Fogo(Meaning "Fire Lagoon" in English).

Sete Cidades is a must see for anyone visiting São Miguel. With its breathtaking panoramic views and luscious green hills, it is a place of inspiring beauty. Sete Cidades main attraction are the two lagoons, affectionately known as the Green Lagoon and the Blue Lagoon due to the different color of water in each lagoon. You can see the two lagoons in the image to the lower left.

There is a local legend regarding how the two lagoons were created. It is a tale of a blue eyed Princess and a green eyed Shepard boy and it goes something like this:

Early one summers day, a blue-eyed princess was playing on the green rolling hills when, by chance, she met a green-eyed Shepard boy. That summer, their friendship grew until they were deeply in love.

Rumor spread that the Princess was spending all her time with a Shepard boy, until it eventually reached the ear of her father, the King. Upon hearing of the princess and the Shepard boy, the king became furious and confronted his daughter. He scolded her and reminded her status as a princess was being tarnished by her love for the boy.

The king forbid the princess from seeing the Shepard boy again and devised a plan to send the princess far away from that place. Upon hearing the king's horrible plans, the Princess ran away, seeking the boy.

When the the Princess found the Shepard boy, she told him that she was running away from the king and wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. The Shepard boy realized that the Princess' plan were folly, and that the king would never let them be together. The Shepard boy, fighting back tears, convinced the princess that it was best that she do as the King demanded. Unable to bare the pain that his own words brought him, the Shepard boy ran away from the Princess. In absolute horror, the Princess sat at the top of the highest ridge and wept. The tears from her blue eyes fell deep into the valley below, creating a blue lagoon.

After some time, the Shepard boy realized the mistake he had made and ran back to where he left the princess, but she was nowhere to be found. Heart-broken he sat on that same ridge and wept, his tears falling into the valley below creating a Green Lagoon. To this day, when it rains and if you listen closely, you can still hear them weep.

There are many variations to the tale, but the above is my favorite.

On the east side of the Sao Miguel, you will also find the hot springs and mineral springs of Furnas, a very popular place for locals and tourists alike. Among the many natural springs abundant there, you can also partake in mud baths which are reputed to offer skin and toxin cleansing properties. Furnas is also the place where a peculiar island custom of underground cooking is popular. Locals and tourists bring bring along their own pots from home, pre-filled with an assortment of meats and vegetables. On-site workers will then attach the pot to a rope and slowly drop it into deep man-made holes. Underground, the volcanic heat will gently cook the contents of the pots. When deciding to get involved in this Island custom, it's important to mark the place where your your pot is buried, as it's not unusual for people to mistakenly pull up the wrong pots.

Sao Miguel's capital, Ponta Delgada is the administration capital of the Azores. It is the largest city in the Azores, but still relatively small when compared to cities in North America or Asia. It's recommended that you park your car and take a stroll around this island city, as there are many great old buildings to see and breath-taking vistas to be experienced.

Possibly the most interesting town in Sao Miguel is Villa Franca do Campo. This picturesque little town comes complete with it's own small islet that is used by locals and tourists alike as a natural swimming pool. If you get the chance, why not take a boat out to the islet and enjoy an afternoon in the warm water and sun. You can see the Islet on the picture to the left.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of Sao Miguel, Azores. Stay tuned for more as I explore the other Azorean islands with you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Portugal Vacations: The Azores

The Azores (Os Açores)

Your next vacation to Portugal should include the Azores. Some say that the Azores (Açores in Portuguese) is the most beautiful of all the Portuguese territories. With fantastic blue lagoons, green rolling hills and flowers seemingly bursting out of every nook, one soon loses all knowledge of the troubles left behind. The Azores is truly a feast for the senses, with the scent of the ocean, crisp and clean as it caresses the gentle beaches. The sounds of birds chirping from old growth forests that seem bathed in sunlight, you could be forgiven if you thought you were in heaven. The Azores is absolutely stunning and a perfect place to travel.

Nestled in the mid-Atlantic ocean, the Azores is made up of 9 islands in total, and has a combined land area of 2,355 sq km. The Azores is classified into three groups of islands, The Eastern Group which is composed of the capital Sao Miguel and Santa Maria, the Central Group of which includes Graciosa, Terceira, Faial, Sao Jorge and Pico and the The Western Group of Flores and Corvo. Each one of these islands offers something unique, and are all worth visiting. And as mentioned in a previous post, the Azores historically , has had very little industry, and that means that it is one of the least polluted places on Earth. Each island has something a little different to offer you on your travels, but the common theme is tranquility. There is no doubt that the Azores is the perfect place for those looking for a quiet, peaceful vacation experience in Portugal.

An autonomous region of Portugal since 1439, the Azores was discovered in 1427 by Goncalo Velho, a Portuguese explorer sailing for the legendary Prince Henry The Navigator, while on an expedition westward. The Azores islands were not inhabited when discovered, and there was no indication of any civilization on any of the islands, contrary to myths espoused by some who believe the Azores to be the resting place of the lost city of Atlantis.

The origins of the name Azores (Açores) in Portuguese, is contested by Historians. Many suspect that the name originates from the word Azures or Azul, meaning blue in Portuguese. Others speculate that the Azores got it's name from goshawk (Açor) in Portuguese, but since that bird did not exist on any of the islands, it is assumed by historians that it is unlikely that the Azores was named after the bird. Still others believe that the original inhabitants on the islands may have misclassified a local bird called the (Buteo buteo) buzzard as the Açor, once again lending credence to the goshawk as the original inspiration for the name Azores. To the Azorean people there are no conflicting theories, to them the Azores synonymous with the goshawk, as can be seen in their regional flag.

There is much to do in the Azores, from boat cruises, to whale watching expeditions. Recently, echo-tourism has become very popular on the islands, with nature walks and cycling becoming popular. There are also off-road ATV excursions that are absolutely amazing and not to be missed if you are Vacationing in Portugal.

In the next posts I will tell you more about the Azores with emphasis on the individual islands, so stay tuned to Portugal Vacations.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Portugal Vacations

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Vacation In Portugal

The following is my top 10 list on why you should choose Portugal as your next vacation.

  1. Portugal All Inclusives: Portugal has got some of the best all inclusive resort deals anywhere in Europe.
  2. Portugal For Honeymooners: Portugal is the ideal location whether you're celebrating your 50th anniversary or your honeymoon. It is a romantic paradise.
  3. Portugal Tourist Information: Portugal's Board Of Tourism was voted as Europe's best at a recent The World Travel Awards in Slovakia.
  4. Mainland, Azores & Madeira: Portugal has something for everyone. Whether you love to island hop or journey through historical Portugal. You will never run out of things to do.
  5. Golf Courses: Portugal is world renown for having some of the best golf courses anywhere on this planet. It is an ideal golfer's paradise.
  6. Pousadas: As I mentioned earlier, Portugal's Pousadas are a vacationers dream.
  7. Portugal Properties: Whether you're looking to spending 1 week or a whole lifetime, Portugal has some of Europe's best standards in construction, with many homes considered estate homes here in North America.
  8. Boating: Portugal has always been known as a seafaring nation. Watercraft is always just hours away, no matter where you are.
  9. Food and Wine: Portugal's long history as a nation of explorers means that the Portuguese have been exposed to many different herbs and spices throughout the world. They have brought the spices home and incorporated it into their cuisine, making Portuguese cuisine one of the most unique, anywhere.
  10. The People: The Portuguese are some of the friendliest and welcoming people you will ever meet. Once you've made a Portuguese friend, you have one for life.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Portugal Vacations Famous Portuguese Landmarks

In the previous post of Portugal Vacations I told you a little about some important things to remember while on your Portugal vacation. In this post I would like give you some travel information on Portugal's landmarks. Since Portugal has thousands of historically important buildings, this is by no means an exhaustive list. That said, this short Portugal guide is intended to show you some of the more eye-catching structures in Portugal.

But first, imagine that you've just started your family vacation and are now in Portugal. The warm Portuguese sun is shining, and you've just checked into one of the beautiful Portuguese Pousadas. Let's imagine that you are staying the night at one of the beautifully restored Portuguese castles and are now looking out into the gorgeous Portuguese mountainside.

Now that you've settled in, what next? In my opinion, a stroll around the Pousada grounds is in order. I suggest getting familiar with the history and culture, perhaps a drive to a local town for an espresso would be a good start. After settling in and getting acquainted with the lay of the land, I suggest that you start your Portugal vacation by heading over to one of the thousands of historical monuments.

For such a small country, Portugal has one of the largest number of historical monuments, ancient cathedrals and castles per square kilometer in Europe, if not the world. Portugal is indeed unique, because the former kings of Portugal decided to convert much of their wealth gained during Portugal's age of discovery into building Portugal's national treasures. In fact, Portugal is one of the few nations on the planet to claim honor to a unique form of architecture, called the Manueline style. Manueline is a form of Portuguese Gothic architecture that includes ornate designs primarily on windows and doorways. Many of the buildings are so lavishly designed that they may shock a more reserved tourist from Canada or the United States. I'll outline a small handful of Portuguese Monuments to give you an idea of the treat that's in store for you. Your Portuguese vacation isn't complete until you visited these amazing historical buildings.

Guimarães Castle

The Guimarães Castle is considered one of the most important buildings in Portugal due to its historical significance. It was from Guimarães castle that both an independent Portugal was born and from where Dom Afonso Henrique, Portugal's first King, continued the Christian Reconquest of Portugal, by capturing Moorish held lands to the south. Portuguese folklore says that so great was his strength that Dom Afonso Henrique could cut a man in half at the waist with a single strike from his heavy sword. He was indeed the most significant man in the birth of the Portuguese nation. Guimarães castle should not be missed on your next Portugal vacation.

The Batalha Monastery

The Batalha Monastery, is located in the town of Batalha, in the District of Leiria. It is a Late Gothic architecture spiced up with Manueline style.

King D. João I began construction of the monastery to thank the Virgin Mary after the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 where the highly outnumbered Portuguese defeated the larger Castilian army.

Although construction commenced in 1386 the monastery itself took almost 2 hundred years to build, in which time many architects were involved, each adding a different flavor to the majestic structure. The Batalha Monastery was put on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and today serves as a museum. Be sure to add the Batalha Monestary to your itinerary, as it is a must see in any Portugal vacation.

The Pena National Palace

The site where the Pena Palace stands was originally occupied by a small chapel built in the middle ages and dedicated to Our Lady Of Pena after a apparition of the Virgin Mary was seen in that place. For centuries the small chapel was used for meditative purposes, and many people generally have a feeling of calm in that area. The great earthquake of 1755, which left much of Lisbon in ruins also severely damaged the chapel, and it wasn't until 1838 when King Ferdinand decided to purchase the chapel ruins and surrounding territory to commence the building the Pena Palace. Construction spanned from 1842-1854, in which time ornate Manueline designs were infused into this Romantic style building. The Pena palace is an inspiring place to visit, and people often leave the premises in awe and amazement. It is today on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and a must see on your Portugal vacation.

Belém Tower

Located on the banks of the Tagus in Lisbon, this beautifully ornate Belém Tower is said to have been been used as a customs outpost for incoming ships during Portugal's age of discovery. It also offered protection to the city itself. It is a great example of Manueline architecture and a must see on your Portugal vacation.

Jerónimos Monaster

Just a stone throw from the Belém Tower, the Jerónimos Monastery is one of the most beautiful examples of Manueline architecture. Started in 1502 and taking about 50 years to build, the monastery is the resting place of the great Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, and is a must see on your Portugal vacation.

Convent of the Order of Christ

The Convent of the Order of Christ was built by the Knights Templar in about 1160 and remained under their control until the European backlash against the Templars in 1312. Portugal's king Dinis saw the Templars as an important and vital part of the autonomy of Portugal and refused to buckle to European pressure of jailing and executing the Templars as was done in much of Europe at that time. Instead, king Dinis renamed the Knights Templar, The Order Of Christ effectively saving the order. The Order Of Christ served Portugal well during both the Christian Reconquest as well as Portugal's Age Of Discovery. Don't miss this impressive structure on your next Portuguese Vacation.

Santa Maria da Feira Castle

Located between Porto and Aveiro in Portugal's central Region, the Santa Maria da Feira Castle is a gorgeous medieval castle that still resonates with history.

Quinta da Regaleira

Situated in Sintra and built between 1904 - 1910 the Quinta da Regaleira emanates mysticism. Infused with cryptic symbols of alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians, the Quinta should not be missed on your Portugal vacation.

As you can see from the above images, there is much to see in Portugal. But the above is only a small tip of a large iceberg in what you can see in this wonderful country. There are thousands of important historical sites dating from many historical periods. On your next Portugal vacation, be sure to put your walking shoes on and your city guides out, because you will be in for a real treat.

Images above:

The Quinta da Regaleira:: Lusitana

Monday, November 3, 2008

Portugal Vacations: Things To Remember

In the last post I told you about the great Pousadas de Portugal. They are an absolute great way to enjoy your Portugal vacation.

In the next few posts, I will tell you about interesting places in Portugal to make your Portugal vacation a memorable one, but first, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a few basic tips to help make your next Portugal vacation a good one.

The Portuguese are generally a very 'relaxed' people. Unfortunately, many of you may have found lists of do's and dont's on the Internet offering suggestions on how to behave in Portugal. Many of these tips tend to be either partly or completely wrong. I've put together a list of common misconceptions that I've found on other websites, and have added my perspective on each. This will be useful on your next Portugal vacation.

1) Myth: The Portuguese are loud.
1) Fact: Generally, the opposite is true. Portuguese tend to be soft spoken. That said it isn't unusual for Portuguese to greet each other from afar (often seen in small towns), it's just the Portuguese way. Otherwise, keep preconceptions to a minimum.

3) Myth: Never speak to the Portuguese in Spanish, as they will take offense.
3) Fact: I usually get a chuckle out of this one because it is absolutely far-fetched. The Portuguese are fairly comfortable with their National Identity. Many Portuguese speak Spanish and welcome an opportunity to try out their Spanish on a stranger. On the rare occasion that you have offended a Portuguese citizen, they will usually correct you and take the opportunity to tell you how Portuguese and Spanish are different, in which case you've made a friend or two.

But If you want to get a few brownie points, then I suggest learning a few Portuguese words. Although Portuguese is an infamously difficult language to speak, most Portuguese will take your desire to communicate with them, graciously.

4) Myth: The Portuguese love affection with strangers. You should expect them to touch and embrace you often.
4) Fact: I've seen this one scattered across the Internet, and I cringe every time I do. Becoming overly affectionate with your hosts is a sure way of, at best, getting a few mean stares and at worst getting yelled at. The Portuguese tend to show affection with with those they know ie. close friends and family, not necessarily with strangers.

5) Myth: Advise your children not to look at older Portuguese people in the eye.
5) Fact: Older Portuguese love it when younger children look at them, as long as it is done respectfully. For the Portuguese, family is highly valued and appreciated. The Portuguese will never find offense in a well mannered child's behavior.

Now that I've broken down some of the myths about the Portuguese, I'll outline a few basic rules, which will be of great value on your next Portugal vacation.

1) Be respectful. Respect is a universal concept and applies to any person, or country. By respect I mean not making rude comments about things that you may not enjoy. For example, if you don't like how the food you've been served tastes, kindly tell your waiter so, don't make rude gestures which may be interpreted as offensive.

2) Smile when you meet someone. The Portuguese are very people aware , and not smiling can often be taken as a sign of snootiness. Just smile, you're on vacation.

3) Always say 'excuse me' when asking for assistance or attention.

4) Men always shake hands.

5) Ladies, kiss on both cheeks. If you aren't accustomed to kissing a stranger, don't sweat it, the Portuguese haven't been living in a bubble and they know that not everyone lives by the same rules. But a small peck on the cheek isn't the end of the world and can be a great ice-breaker. It's the European way.

6) When you greet someone of the opposite sex, use your judgment on whether to kiss or shake hands. It's usually best to let the locals initiate and just follow suit. Once again, a small peck on the cheek isn't the end of the world, and can be a great ice-breaker. It's the European way. Steps 4 - 6 are directed at intimate gatherings and not done generally. ie. If you are invited to a new friend's home, or asked to join fellow diners at a table, it is perfectly fine. Kissing your waiter or porter is not ;-).

6) Display of anger in public places is frowned upon, just keep personal squabbles at home. The Portuguese, 'generally' do not openly express negative emotions in public. Be nice to one another, it will make your Portugal vacation a memorable one.

7) Politeness is key. Do not shove, wait your turn. Be gracious and accommodating to those older than you, and expect the same from those younger. It's just basic common courtesy which is still highly regarded in Portugal. In smaller towns, it is common to be greeted with a "Good Morning" or a "Good day", respond back and smile, much brownie points you will get.

8) If you ask for help while on your Portugal vacation, be prepared for an extra dose of it. The Portuguese love to help strangers in need. They will go out of their way to assist you. Thank them with a smile or a handshake and tell them what a wonderful person they are. If you are a man say "Obrigado" the ladies say "Obrigada" (It's Portuguese for Thank-You, notice the 'o' & the 'a' at the end of the word, the Portuguese language uses masculine and feminine to distinguish between men and women. The 'o' represents the masculine and 'a' represents feminine).

9) The Portuguese are generally very hospitable, and if you are in a small town don't be surprised if you are invited in to someone's home for a drink. Don't be alarmed, old world hospitality is still alive and well in Portugal.

10) Portugal is one of the world's safest countries, violent crime is virtually non-existent. Women traveling alone are rarely hassled. That said, as the saying goes "You are who you wear", and ladies, if you wear provocative clothing, don't be surprised if you are approached by young Portuguese men. That said, you will most likely get a 'talking to' from an older Portuguese lady first, so don't say I didn't warn you (This is applicable in small towns and not large cities). Either way, it may make your Portugal vacation an interesting one. ;-)

11) Most importantly do not to be too self-conscious, just be yourself within a respectful frame of mind, you will be amazed at how many doors will open for you. Respect goes a long long way.

If you remember to follow the above rules you will have a great Portugal vacation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Great Portugal Vacation: Pousadas de Portugal

In the last post I told you about the 7 regions of Portugal and how each region has something unique to offer you on your next Portugal vacation. In this post I will offer my opinion on how best to enjoy all that Portugal has to offer.

For me, a vacation to any country doesn't feel complete unless I can get involved in their culture and customs. Let's face it, if all you want out of a vacation is sun and surf, the United States has plenty of that. I feel that enjoying an authentic vacation comes down to accommodation. Often, people choose what feels familiar to them, often selecting well known hotels like the Hilton, rather than experimenting with more unique accommodation. The problem is, as you may have experienced, places like the Hilton aren't often culturally appealing.

For those who want to enjoy a little of what Portugal has to offer, I suggest staying at the many Pousadas that are scattered around the country.

What Is A Pousada?

Some years back, Portugal decided to convert many of its state owned, historically important buildings into a thematic hotel chain called the Pousada. One of the main reasons for this is that Portugal wanted to share with its citizens and tourists alike, the incredible history that the country possessed. In essence, Pousada's are renovated Palaces, Castles, Monasteries and other historically important buildings that have been tastefully restored, with key emphasis on historical preservation. They are scattered all around the country, which means that you can visit virtually every region of Portugal on your next Portugal vacation, immersing yourself in its culture and ambiance.

If you were thinking, "This must be expensive!"
The good news is that it is incredibly affordable, often costing less than a stay at one of the major Hotel chains. To top it all off, most Pousadas offer a complimentary breakfast, included at no extra cost, talk about value. Furthermore, every meal that is served reflects the local cuisine of the area, guaranteeing that you get an altogether unique perspective of the country.

When you are ready for a Portugal vacation, why not consider Pousada hopping? I'm including some images of a few of the many Portuguese Pousadas available on your next Portugal vacation.

The Crato Pousada

The Crato Pousada, which has been built over different periods, has served as a castle, palace and monastery/convent. This former monastery of the Knights of the Order of Malta, is immersed in medieval mysticism. It is a magical place and a great way to start your Portugal vacation.

The Pousada da Horta

The Pousada da Horta, Forte de Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Fort) was built in the 16th century as a maritime military base for Portuguese explorers and merchants on their journeys to the Americas as well as a protection from hostile enemies. It is located over Horta bay in the tiny island of Faial, Azores and is and has been a National Monument since 1947. To think that you can sleep in the same chambers that many famous Portuguese navigators slept, in a protected and cherished historically important Portuguese Fort, that to me is an incredible value and a perfect place to travel through on your Portugal vacation.

The Pousada Alcacer do Sal Hotel, D. Afonso II

The one thousand year old Alcácer castle overlooks the river Sado, in the Alentejo region. This region has a long historical past dating back about 5000 years to the later Neolithic period. Other civilizations that have dwelt in the region include Phoenician, Celt, German, Roman and Moors. It is a truly mystical building and one that should not be missed on your Portugal vacation.

Pousada de Gerês / Caniçada - S.Bento

This Pousada is a former hunting lodge, located in the heart of the Peneda/Gerês National Park overlooking the river Cávado. It has been tastefully restored and offers you with a tranquil experience in Portugals Norte(North) region. It is a exceptional Place to end off Portugal vacation.

The above are just a small handful of the number of Pousadas available on your next Portugal vacation. Just looking at the historically rich and gorgeous buildings takes my breath away. Aren't they incredibly beautiful? And can you imagine spending a day or two, or more here? Pousadas are great places for singles, couples, families, honeymooners as well as a one of the world's best wedding reception locations.

In the United States you could expect to pay hundreds and hundreds if not thousands to stay in one of these magnificent buildings, in fact it would be out of many people's financial reach. But the Portuguese have decided to keep the costs down in order educate tourists on the wealth of Portuguese heritage, I for one am glad of that. I highly recommend staying at the Pousadas on your next Portugal vacation, you won't regret it. For more information on how to book your Pousada vacation, visit Pousadas de Portugal .

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Different Regions Of Portugal

In the last post of Portugal Vacations, I told you a little about the Algarve. It is truly the vacationers paradise for those looking for sun and surf. But Portugal has so much more to offer. For those of you willing to tread off the beaten path, you will find that Portugal has an incredible variety of things to experience.

First a little information about the lay of the land.

Portugal is divided into 7 distinct regions. The regions themselves are Portugal's way of creating geographical divisions of the country, also taking into consideration, demographics. Before the 7 regions were introduced, Portugal had been divided into 18 regions. The following are the 7 regions of Portugal and they will help you understand a little about Portugal and what options are available to you on your next Portugal vacation.

1) Norte(North)
2) Centro(Centre)
3) Lisboa(Lisbon)
4) Alentejo
5) Algarve
6) Autonomous Region of Azores
7) Autonomous Region of Madeira

You can see the 7 regions in the image below.

The Norte(North), is also known as the 'Green Portugal', due to the large forests that cover much of this area. It is the region that gets the most rainfall, therefore making it an ideal place for a scenic tour. Northern Portugal is made up of large hills and small mountains, making travel an adventure. Some mountain roads are for the brave, but there are flat tollways too. This region of Portugal is known for it's strong Celtic influence, as can be seen in the people and customs. Northerners are generally more conservative than their outgoing cousins to the south and maintain a more formal view of relationships and customs. As mentioned above, most of the inhabitants of this region are Iberian Celts with some Germanic and Roman bloodlines. Each year, the inhabitants hold many festivals that include, Bagpipe processions known as Gaita-de-fole. This region of Portugal is ideal for those of you who are looking for a historical Portugal vacation, and because this is the birthplace of Portugal, there are many castles, palaces and estates for you to gawk at.

About 40% of Portuguese live in Northern Portugal, and it has historically been one of the most industrialized. You will find Portugal's second largest city Porto (Oporto, as it's known in English). Port Wine originated in Porto and many of the world's top table wines come from this region. I will discuss Portugal's wine industry and culture in later posts.

Interestingly, Northern Portugal and Galicia (Galiza in Spanish) are both Iberian Celts with similar customs and traditions, in fact, it is generally accepted that the Portuguese language has roots in Galiza. Both these regions are peaceful and the inhabitants welcome tourists, warmly. Your next Portugal vacation in Northern Portugal should include Galicia (Galiza) you will not regret it.

The center is often referred to as Lusitania. Lusitania was the name given by the Romans to this part of the Iberian peninsula. The Great Tribal Cheif Viriathus( Viriato in Portuguese), King of the Lusitanians is possibly the most famous of all pre Roman Iberian Kings and fought the Romans most of his life until he was betrayed by his own tribesmen. He is most known for his bravery and fearlessness in war, introducing a modern form of Guerrilla warfare that involved using small war units, to ensnare Roman legions, which he did successfully. Incorporating the famous Lusitano horse, known for it's bravery and intelligence, Viriathus was feared by the Romans, who's only option in defeating him was to bribe his own men to assassinate him. Once assassinated, the Romans easily incorporated Lusitania into the Roman Empire. I'll tell you more about the great King Viriathus in later posts. This region is the most mountainous, and contains the great mountain range of Serra Da Estrela, in English translated into The Star Sierra. This region is ideal for those of you who like everything from history to nature. You can spend days exploring ancient ruins, shopping in sophisticated towns and cities or if you prefer you can walk on the mountaintops of Serra Da Estrela. It is an ideal Portugal vacation.

As most people know, Lisbon is the capital of Portugal. It is one of the smallest regions but receives the most direct investment. Lisbon is comprised of both a modern city including modern skyscrapers, and the old city that most of us see in pictures. The Lisbon skyline follows the same guidelines as skylines throughout Europe, being smaller in height than North American, or Asian skyscrapers. The Portuguese skyline is legislated, meaning that buildings can only rise to a specific height so as not to spoil the beauty of the older buildings. The Portuguese tend to hold a disdain of economic excess that permeates North American or Asian society. The idea of family and leisure is highly valued. This of course is also changing, and with Portugal running out of space along it's core economic zones, we can expect to see a change in legislation to allow for larger buildings. Lisbon is Portugal's international city, boasting everything that you could want in a modern city, with history, culture and leisure activities. It is the ideal place to start your Portugal vacation.


The word Alentejo comes from the Portuguese words Além-Tejo which translates into Beyond the Tejo (Tejo is the Portuguese word for the Tagus river that flows through Lisbon). This land has history dating back at least 3000 B.C. with indications of Phoenicians, Celts, Germans, Romans and Arabs, all of whom have left an imprint on this land. Alentejo is also one of the least inhabited regions of Portugal and has seen a decline of inhabitants as the younger generation move to large cities like Lisbon, turning away from agriculture which dominates the region. The largest and most famous city is Evora, and it too was a Roman city and later a getaway for Kings and Queens. For those of you looking for nature and solace, Alentejo offers it aplenty. Your Portugal vacation isn't complete unless you travel the gorgeous rolling plains of the Alentejo.


As mentioned in previous posts, the Algarve is the Portuguese playground. Sun and surf can be enjoyed till heart's content. In the last 10 years, Golfing has become big business. Some of the world's best and beautiful golf courses can be found in this part of the country. As mentioned in previous posts, due to it's very warm climate, it is also a birdwatchers paradise, with many African migratory birds using it in their migratory paths. It is also a great place for the whole family with concerts, games, tours, you name it it's all in the Algarve. As mentioned before, the Algarve is a perfect place for you and your family's Portugal vacation.

Autonomous Region of Azores

The Azores is possibly one of the least known places outside of Portugal. It is comprised of 9 islands, the largest being it's capital Sao Miguel (St. Michael) in English. The Azores or AÇores in Portuguese, are a group of volcanic islands that were found by Portuguese explorers in 1427. The Azores are known for their luscious green hills and sea. The warm summer climate is suitable to grow many tropical fruits like bananas and pineapples. The islands are a great place to get away from it all, and because the Azores has very little industry, these islands are pristine. You will find a perfect getaway from your daily urban life. But if you prefer, the Azores capital city Ponta Delgada, in Sao Miguel has more than enough to do. The Azores should not be missed, it is a great Portugal vacation.

7) Autonomous Region of Madeira

Madeira is the birthplace of Portugal's famous Soccer/Football player Cristiano Ronaldo. Madeira, which means 'wood' in Portuguese was discovered in the year 1418 when Portuguese explorers were diverted off course by a storm. These explorers, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, found the smaller island of Porto Santo (named Holy Port for saving their lives) and returned the following year where they discovered the large Island Madeira, so named because of the incredible abundance of timber. The Portuguese kept these two islands a secret until 1433, when fortifications could be completed. Madeira is a true Portuguese gem, lying off of the coast of Africa and not Europe. This island boasts some of the most beautiful mountain views anywhere in the world. It is an ideal place for the whole family and one that should not be missed. If you are planning to add Madeira to your Portugal vacation, please bring a pair of good walking shoes as Madeira is a generally steep grade. Plenty of rest between walks is recommended.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of the regions of Portugal. I will be adding posts relating to each region with more detail. Until then, don't forget, make your next vacation a Portugal Vacation.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Great Portugal Vacation Starts In The Algarve

In my last post I told you a little bit about the Algarve, and how it can be the perfect place for your Portugal Vacation. Before I tell you about the other regions of Portugal, let me tantalize you with the Algarve a little more.

Deciding to spend your next Portugal vacation in the Algarve makes sense. The Algarve has been, for many years, a Portuguese getaway from city life. Many Lisbon residents have owned properties in the Algarve for many many years and have generally headed south to enjoy their month long yearly Portugal vacation. There are always things to do, and as the saying goes, "You will never be bored, unless you yourself are boring". With southern Portugal's warm, almost tropical climate, water sports like swimming and sailing are absolutely incredible.

For those of you who feel that boating is the way to vacation, then look no further than the Algarve. Just west of city of Faro you will find secret coves amidst gorgeous rock formations and grottoes. There you can find absolute seclusion and enjoy a day of fishing or just lounge in the sun. For those of you who feel that a perfect vacation includes long stays at the beach, then you won't be disappointed. You will find it to the east of Faro, where you will discover beautifully stunning quiet beaches stretching for miles and miles.

Vacationing in the Algarve is not just about sun and sand though, for those of you who love history, then you're in luck. With Portugal's immense history you will see an unusually large number of historical sites.

Since the Algarve is a place where wealthy Portuguese and tourists alike vacation, you will notice that many of the homes are in fact Mansions. On your boating trip, be sure to look to land to get a breathtaking view of the beautifully designed and gated mansions that dot the coast.Then head into any of the towns and villages along the Portuguese coast to get a delicious Portuguese lunch or snack. Seafood is always fresh and delicious, perhaps afterwards you can browse the shops of Faro and purchase a memento of your Portugal vacation. A Portugal vacation is indeed one to be cherished and perfect for both adults and children alike.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Algarve Is A Great Portuguese Vacation

In the next posts I will be telling you about the different regions of Portugal to help you in your next Portuguese vacation.
I will start off with probably the most well known part in all Portugal, the Algarve.

The Algarve

The Algarve Region was close to the epicenter of the 1755 earthquake which destroyed most of the coastline by a tsunami. Fortresses were destroyed, along with homes which lay in the lower lands. The tsunami created by the earthquake which was felt as far away as France and Northern Italy left a trail of destruction in Mainland Portugal. The Algarve and Lisbon areas were hardest hit because of their close proximity to the epicenter. Buildings were brought down by the large tremors, which were then left burning by many fires which broke out.

The years upon years of reconstruction has paid huge dividends to the area. Many of the southern Portuguese districts see tourists as an important part of the local economy. The Portuguese, especially in the south of the country, value tourists and will warmly welcome everyone. Your next Portugal vacation can be one of beauty and serenity, or a wild party that never stops.

Many tourists who vacation in Portugal may be familiar with the Algarve region in southern Portugal. The Algarve is a hot tourist destination for many Europeans because of its beautiful beaches, warm weather and safety. The Algarve´s southern facing coastline is 155 kilometers, and stretches a further 50 kilometers to the north. During the Algarve´s peek tourist season, the population more than doubles from an approximate 410,000 people to just over a million. That means that in the summer, there are more tourists vacationing in the Algarve than there are locals.

The Algarve is divided into 16 municipalities. Albufeira, Lagos, Monchique and Faro are probably the most touristic areas of the Algarve region. It´s important to note that the Faro District and the Algarve Region are co-existent, and contain the exact land mass of one another.

In the capital city of Faro, you will find the region´s international airport and many other administrative buildings. Most people who vacation in Portugal will land in Faro and then drive to the numerous resorts from there.

Lagos is very popular with tourists because of it´s scenic grottoes which are easily accessible by boat. Lagos also has a booming nightclub district which is very popular with the younger crowd. It is said that once you have visited Lagos, you will not want to leave. It is one of the true vacation paradises in the world.

The municipality of Albufeira has gone through a major reconstruction in the last 10 years, with many resorts, and newly built condos in the area. Most of course facing the water which stretches out into the horizon.

The Algarve region´s highest point, is the mountain range of Monchique, which has an altitude of 906 meters. It also has a nature reserve (Ria Formosa Lagoon) with attracts 100´s of different species of birds. The Algarve is also well known for its abundance of figs, almonds, oranges and cork.

You can start your Portugal vacation in the Algarve, but don't forget, the 'real Portugal' as they say, is in the North of the country and I will tell you about it in later posts.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Make Portugal Your Next Vacation Destination

It's time that you took a Portugal vacation. In the last 5 years, Portugal has steadily been rising as a hot vacation destination for Europeans. Tourists from the U.K., Spain and Germany comprise the larger groups of non-Portuguese visitors. These vacationers have been coming to Portugal for the beauty of the land, the friendliness of the people and the value. Europeans have known for many years that Portugal is a great vacation destination, but outside of Europe, especially in North America, Portugal is virtually unknown. One of the reasons for this is that there is just not enough known about Portugal, and since Portugal doesn't hit the front-page news often; it doesn’t always come to mind.

Portugal has been very low key about promoting itself, relying more on word of mouth and staying away from mass marketing, although this too is changing. Due to this fact, many parts of Portugal are virtually unknown by non-Portuguese tourists and this can work to your benefit in choosing Portugal as a vacation destination. Unlike other countries that have a saturated tourism industry like the U.K. and France you often get the feeling that you aren't getting an true sense of culture, but in Portugal you can still get an authentic vacation experience. Furthermore, Portugal remains one of the best value vacations in all of western Europe meaning that your dollar goes much further there than anywhere else.

The Portuguese are graced with one of the sunniest climates in all of Europe, with long summers and moderate winters in the South and more moderate to cooler temperatures in the north.

The cost of living is incredibly inexpensive, and the Portuguese tend to take a life at a more human pace, although you will still find the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life in the big cities like Lisbon and Porto. This means that you can enjoy the fast pace of everything cosmopolitan, or lay on a beach or Quinta in some far away nook, away from the worries of everyday life.

The Portuguese haven’t forgotten that tourists get bored easily and have created a very diverse vacationing experience that includes anything from watercraft, horseback riding and trekking excursions to robust nightlife. If that weren’t enough to whet your appetite, Portugal also boasts some of the best golf courses in the world.

In the next posts I will acquaint you with Portugal, it's people and its history. Please come back to my travel blog often to see why you should make Portugal your next vacation destination.

Great Portugal Vacations

Welcome to Great Portugal Vacations. This site provides information for people interested in learning about Portugal. You will learn about the country's history, people and great destinations throughout the country. We will show you a side of Portugal that most people have never seen. If you have questions not covered in Great Portugal Vacations please feel free to email your question to

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

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