Situated at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Americas, Portugal benefits from fortunate diplomatic, economic and commercial relations worldwide. Portugal is located on the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, standing beside the vast Atlantic Ocean, and sharing an eastern and northern border with Spain. Southwest and west of Portugal, far out into the Atlantic, are the Azores and Madeira Archipelagos.
Portugal is a relatively sunny country with diverse geographic features and terrain, where olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields flourish. During a cruise of Portugal, be sure to visit the northern and central regions of the country. These areas tend to be more heavily populated – but it is hard to resists the regions many beautiful rivers, valleys, mountains, and forests.
Characterized by their laid-back, humble culture Portugal stands out from its European neighbors. Many unique festivals reflect Portugal’s distinctive cultural heritage. Bullfighting plays an important role in Portuguese culture. Bullfighting spectators are treated to an exhibit of fine showmanship as the matador strives to immobilize and exhaust the bull into submission.
Portugal is home to many other activities including surfing, windsurfing, sailing and scuba diving, which are especially popular along Portugal's long stretch of coastline. A Portugal cruise is a great option for birdwatchers. The westernmost tip of continental Europe lies along the main migration routes between the warm wetlands of Africa and the cooler breeding grounds of northern Europe.
Portugal’s Ancient History
Portugal has witnessed a constant flow of different civilizations during the past 3,100 years. The country’s history goes back to around 700 BC when the Celts settled in the Iberian Peninsula. Several waves of Celts invaded Portugal from Central Europe and intermarried with local peoples, the Iberians, forming the Celt-Iberians. Visitors on a tour of Portugal will be interested to find that Celtic remains dating from invasions in the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. have been unearthed.
The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Visigoths went on to colonize the Peninsula. Romans lived on the land from the 1st to 5th century A.D., leaving behind their mark on the landscape and contributed to the development of the Portuguese language; Portuguese is largely Latin-based with some Arabic influences.
The Moors occupied Portugal from the 8th to mid-12th century. Moors introduced their culture to Portugal, bringing unique architecture (including the famed glazed-tile used for both interior and exterior decoration) as well as innovative agricultural techniques. Resistance against the Moors escalated until they were finally ejected from the country.
In 1140 AD, after nine years of rebelling against the King of Leon-Catile, Afonso Henrigues went on to become the first king of Portugal. Afonso and his successors expanded their territory southward, capturing Lisbon from the Moors in 1147.
The Inviting Portugal Culture
Visitors on a Portugal cruise will enjoy the laid-back, humble Portugal culture that stands out from its European neighbors. 99% of the population of the country is Portuguese, while 1% is of African origin. Portugal’s official language is Portuguese, which is also the third most widely spoken European language in the world. Many citizens of the country can speak Spanish, French, English, or German as well. Portugal has religious freedom, but a majority of the population remains as Roman Catholics. Many unique festivals reflect Portugal’s distinctive cultural heritage.
Bullfighting plays an important role in Portuguese culture. If you would like to experience a bullfight while on a cruise of Portugal, the season lasts from April until October. The largest difference between Portuguese and Spanish bullfighting is that in Portugal the bull is not killed in the ring. Bullfighting spectators are treated to an exhibit of fine showmanship as the matador strives to immobilize and exhaust the bull into submission.
Portugal is also known for its high-quality handcrafts, like intricately-woven embroideries, woolen carpets, and ceramic tiles. During your tour of Portugal enjoy the street markets in town squares that are an integral part of Portuguese life, selling everything from food to antiques. Stores and businesses close down during a siesta hour that typically lasts from 1pm to 3pm daily.
Magnificent Lusitano horses live in the countryside; the Portuguese have developed a heritage of renowned equestrian riding skills. Portugal is home to many other activities including surfing, windsurfing, sailing and scuba diving, which are especially popular along Portugal's long stretch of coastline.
The Protected Portugal Environment
Portugal is a relatively sunny country with diverse geographic features and terrain, where olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields flourish. The northern and central regions of Portugal tend to be more heavily populated, and offer plenty of lovely rivers, valleys, mountains, and forests to enjoy during a trip to this region. The Douro, Tagus and Guadiana rivers flow across the border from Spain, thru Portugal, to the ocean. The southern region is less populated and, apart from Algarve, is quite dry and flat. Many areas of the coast have lush vegetation and chalk-white cliff faces.
Portugal has made a commitment to ecosystem preservation, and has established protected areas, one National Park, two Natural Reserves and an area of Protected landscape. A popular park to include in a Portugal trip is the Arrábida Natural Park that was formed in 1976 and covers an area of 10,800 hectares. Setúbal, Palmela, Azeitão, Sesimbra and the sea make up its boundaries. There also is the Natural Reserve of the Sado Estuary, which was created in 1989 and covers an enormous area of 23,160 hectares.
Throughout these preserves and the rest of the mainland Portugal there are scenic hiking, rambling, cycling, climbing and bird watching opportunities. The islands of Madeira and the Azores are centers for unspoiled natural beauty, ideal for all types of outdoor activity.
Sample the Delicacies of Portugal
Portuguese food is both distinctive and eclectic. Foods tend to have a lot of spices, deriving from the country’s navigation history and the flood of spices and savory foods brought into Portugal. Various recipes with rice, potatoes, bread, meat, seafood, and fish are the staple dishes of the country. While on a Portugal cruise you can sample some of Europe’s best seafood that is found along the country’s Atlantic Coast. Pastry is an art in Portugal, and traditional rich recipes remain popular across the country.
Traditional foods include a variety of soups. Vegetable soup (sopa de legumes) is common and so is caldo verde, a soup made with potatoes, shredded cabbage and smoked sausage. Fish soup (sopa de peixe), made from fresh pieces left over from the main dishes is often found in seaside regions. Feijoada, or bean stew with black pudding, and pork knuckle, is another Portuguese soup specialty.
Portuguese pork (porco) is an important livestock product in Portugal’s rural settlements. It is rather tasty, and meat harvesting occurs each year between December and Easter, and serves as a major village event. Roast sucking pig, is another dish that people can make at home or order in a specialized restaurant.
As for fish, sardines (sardinhas) and dried codfish (bacalhau) tend to be most popular. You can sample over 365 cod dishes while on a Portugal cruise. Hake, sole, salmon, trout and monkfish are other ordinary fish in Portugal. Lobster is generally available, and crab, prawns, clams and mussels are typically harder to find making them a more elite dish.
Wines in Portugal are distinct and pleasing; many have won multiple international awards. Madeira wine is made in the country and has four varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey. Sercial is a pale, dry, light-bodied wine. Verdelho is tangy, medium-bodied wine, with an elegant drier taste. Bual is full-bodied, with medium sweetness as well as a touch of smoky intricacy that is complemented nicely with desserts and cheese. Malmsey is the richest of the Madeira wine. It is robust, full-bodied, sweet, and is an ideal dessert wine. One may also enjoy Portuguese port during their travel. Port is a dark full-flavored wine that is rich and fortified in the Douro region of Northern Portugal. To make port, one follows similar steps to winemaking, but instead stops the fermentation process before completion and adds grape spirit or brandy.
Explore Portugal’s Geography
Portugal is located on the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, standing beside the vast Atlantic Ocean, and sharing an eastern and northern border with Spain. Southwest and west of Portugal, far out into the Atlantic, are the Azores and Madeira Archipelagos. Portugal is the westernmost continental country in Europe. During a Portugal tour, visitors have over 88,000 square kilometers of mainland to explore. Portugal’s Atlantic coastline is an extensive 832 kilometers.
Northern Portugal is mountainous, with the highest point at Serra da Estrela where the land reaches 6540ft (1993m) tall. Snow accumulates here throughout the winter months and serves as a popular ski destination. Portugal is split into two regions by its main river, the Tagus. Terrain is mountainous in northern plateaus. Lisbon is Portugal’s capital city and a popular stop for people on a tour of the country. In the south there is a stretch of vast plains known as the Alentejo region. Low-lying mountains divide the Alentejo from the southern coast of Algarve. In Algarve there is wide sandy beaches and attractive bays. In Porto Santo Island, a dune formation appeals to many tourists.
A Glance into Portugal’s Modern History
Portugal, one of the oldest nations in Europe, has been an independent kingdom since 1143; its official borders were secured in 1249 by King Afonso III. By 1337, Portuguese explorers reached the Canary Islands. In the 15th century, Prince Henry the Navigator inspired the Portuguese to explore the world. Even today, visitors can feel this adventurous spirit throughout the country. In 1415, Portuguese mariners set sail on an epic voyage that led them to discover ocean routes to India, Brazil, China and Japan, many of which became important trade routes. While this was occurring, the Portuguese also founded settlements on the east and west coasts of Africa.
The Portuguese were exposed to a variety of different civilizations of the world. This exposure allows Portuguese language to expand and become one of the most popular world languages for a period of time. Those enjoying Portugal travel may be interested to know that the country eventually became a colonial empire, holding territories in Brazil and Africa, and outposts in East Timor, Macau and Goa.
Disputes prior to 1580 led to the crowning of Felipe II of Spain, and Spain took control of the country. Spanish hegemony ended when a revolt occurred in 1640, and the House of Branganca became Portugal’s ruling family.
Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the independence in 1822 of colonial Brazil. A 1910 revolution deposed the monarchy and for the next six decades, more repressive governments ruled the country. Wars in the 1960s started to drain Portugal of its precious labor supplies and wealth. On April 25th, 1974 the Armed Forces Movement seized power in a relatively non-violent coup, and they established a military government.
The Politics of Portugal
Enhance your travel experience by learning a little more about Portugal’s political system. In the Republic of Portugal, a Parliamentary democracy is in place. The four main divisions of power include the President of the Republic, the Assembly of the Republic, the Government, and the Courts, while the Constitution grants separation between these powers.
Portugal has a head of state, currently held by President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, who was elected for a five-year-term. Portugal also has a head of government, Prime Minister José Socrates, who was appointed by the Parliament. The Parliament, or Assembly of the Republic, is a unicameral body with 230 members who are elected by universal suffrage for terms of four-years. Seats are determined using the d'Hondt method where the number of representatives is proportional to the respective population, which means there are 18 for each district in Portugal, 1 for Madeira, 1 for Azores and 2 for the diaspora within and outside of Europe.
The above powers are required to adhere to constitutional restrictions. In particular, approval from the presidential advisory body, or Council of State, is necessary. Six senior civilian officers serve on this council, all former presidents that have served in office since 1976, plus ten citizens – five of these citizens are appointed by the President and the other five by Parliament.
Lisbon is a favorite destination for people enjoying Portugal travel. The city is the current capital of Portugal and persists as a port city with an important heritage. Since 1986, Portugal has been a member country of the European Union and has enjoyed steady economic growth since.
What to Expect from Portugal’s Climate
A Portugal trip offers its travelers agreeable, mild weather year-round, and is characterized by both an Atlantic and Mediterranean climate. Regulating currents from the nearby Gulf Stream contribute to this and help to make it one of the warmest countries in Europe. Southern mainland Portugal is warmer and receives less rain then in the north, where summers are shorter and rainfall is heavier. Overall, the most precipitated season is from November to March.
Spring and summer temperatures are very high during July and August, with highs reaching between 35°C and 40°C (86°F - 95°F) in the interior of the country, 30ºC and 35ºC in the north, and occasionally reaching 45°C (113°F) in the south. Autumn and winter temperatures average 10°C (50°F) along the coast, but can reach several degrees below 0°C (32°F) further inland.
Madeira boasts a warm subtropical climate throughout the whole year. In Alto Douro and Alentejo, summers may reach temperatures that are unpleasantly hot and extremely dry. In the areas where skiing is possible the best months to take a trip to Portugal are from January to March, February being the best month for skiing.
Wildlife Discovery on a Portugal Tour
The soil and mild climatic features, sometimes considered the best in Europe, have produced lush vegetation that supports a variety of species. The moist, rugged terrain of northern Portugal is especially suited for nature watching, particularly around Peneda-Gerês, where wild horses, wild boar, and wolves still roam through hills and forests. During a Portugal tour you can also find playful dolphins, along with the European otter, in the country’s surrounding waters.
Hiking in Portugal is great for birdwatchers. The westernmost tip of continental Europe is along the main migration routes between the warm wetlands of Africa and the cooler breeding grounds of northern Europe. Herons, white swans, flamingoes, river birds, ducks, and birds of prey call this region home.
A wonderful place to take a Portugal wildlife tour is in the Sado estuary in the western part of the country. This area has been declared a natural reserve that encompasses 23,971 hectares. There are some 300 species of vertebrate recorded here and more than 40 species of fish, including undulate ray, Lusitanian toadfish, European conger, shore pipefish and dragonet, plus a large population of Twaite shad. Notable amphibians and reptiles in the reserve include southern marbled newt, west Iberian painted frog, both common and stripeless tree frogs, Spanish (stripe-necked) terrapin, natterjack, spiny-footed and ocellated lizards, large and Spanish psammodromus and Montpellier snake. Impressive mammals include the rare barbastelle bat, Cabrera's vole, western polecat, otter and bottle-nosed dolphin.