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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