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.
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.