Portugal has a rich seafaring past, superb beach resorts, wistful towns and a landscape wreathed in olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage sites and graced by one of Europe’s most relaxed and attractive capitals, it also remains refreshingly affordable.
Savouring life slowly is a Portuguese passion, and much of the best is humble – traditional folk festivals; simple, honest food drowning in olive oil; music that pulls at the heart strings, recalling past love and gglories; and markets overflowing with fish, fruit and flowers.
Four decades of dictatorship sidelined the country from modern progress and Europe’s power centers, but like its neighbor, Spain, it has spent much of the last 20 years trying to move in from the periphery, forging new ties with the rest of Europe, restructuring its economy, and struggling to maintain what is best in its national culture despite the sudden onslaught of international influences.
Full country name: Portugal
Area: 92,391 sq km
Population: 10.4 million
Capital CCity: Lisbon (pop 535,740)
People: 99% Portuguese, 1% African
Religion: 97% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant, 1% other
Government: parliamentary democracy
Head of State: President Jorge Sampaio
Head of Government: Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes Longest river of Portugal: Douro
GDP: US$195.2 billion
GDP per ccapita: US$19,400
Annual Growth: 3.3%
Major Industries: Textiles, footwear, wood products, metalworking, oil refining, chemicals, fish canning, wine, tourism, agriculture
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Spain, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands & the UK), US
Member of EU: Yes
Portugal occupies the western part of the Iberian Peninsula and is slightly smaller than Indiana. The country is crossed by three large rivers that rise in Spain, flow into the Atlantic, and divide the country into three geographic areas. The Minho River, part of the northern boundary, cuts through a mountainous area that extends south to the vicinity of the Douro River. South of the Douro, the mountains slope to the plains around the Tejo River. The remaining division is the southern one oof Alentejo. The Azores stretch over 340 mi (547 km) in the Atlantic, and consist of nine islands with a total area of 902 square mi (2,335 sq km). Madeira, consisting of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two groups of uninhabited islands, lie in the Atlantic about 535 mi (861 km) southwest of Lisbon.
Portugal has a maritime temperate climate that varies according to elevation and proximity to the ocean. The heaviest precipitation occurs in northern Portugal. TThe northern coast receives about 1,500 mm (about 60 in) of rain annually. Rainfall increases with altitude, and the western slopes of the northern mountains receive about 2,300 mm (about 90 in) annually—the heaviest rainfall in western Europe. Precipitation decreases toward the south, and in the extreme south, in Algarve, rainfall averages only about 380 mm (about 15 in) a year.
In southern Portugal summers are long and hot and winters are moderate. In the northwest summers are shorter and wetter, while winter temperatures are generally mild and moderated by maritime influences. In the northeast summers can be scorching and winters are typically long, cold, and snowy. The mean annual temperature north of the Douro River is about 10°C (about 50°F); between the Tajo and Douro, about 16°C (about 60°F); and in the valley of the Guadiana, about 18°C (about 65°F).
Festivals and celebrations
Festivals or „Festas“, allow travelers to experience Portugal’s rich history and culture. The Portuguese people hold a deep respect for festivals which have its origins in ancient tradition and religion. Some of these festivals have been in existence for many centuries. Newer festivals (featuring art and movies) are also showcased throughout the country, illustrating modern culture. Portuguese „Festas“ include rreligious festivals, pilgrimages, traditional dances, gastronomy, processions, firework displays, music, literature and dance.
Corpus Christi (Early June)
It is traditional for each Municipality (Concelho), to reserve one annual day as a holiday for its commerce. This day is used as an excuse for local events and celebration. You will find restaurants open but normally most commercial shops are closed .
Going to Portugal
International airports are: Lisboa, Porto, Faro, Funchal (Madeira), Ponta Delgada (São Miguel, Açores), and Lajes (Ilha Terceira, Açores). The national airline is TAP–Air Portugal. The regional air company, SATA, flies connections to the Açores Islands. There are also air links between Funchal (Madeira) and Porto Santo. Portugalia (www.pga.pt) and Air Luxor also operate schedule flights to and from Portugal in Europe. Every day, international trains run between Paris and Lisbon (Sud Express); Lisbon-Madrid train Lusitânia, and Porto-Vigo .
Residents or non-residents who leave or enter Portugal territory are free to take with them national and foreign currency in coins and notes, travelers cheques and other securities intended to pay for the travel expenses, but are obligated to inform the customs authorities if the values involved exceed 12,000 Euros ((approximately US$13,000.00).
Travelers over 17 years old, may bring in the following items, duty free: 2 bottles of table wine, 1 bottle of hard liquor, 200 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco, 1.75 ounces of perfume and small quantities of tea or coffee for personal use. Bringing fresh meat into Portugal is forbidden. For further information, contact the Embassy services or the Portuguese Consulates.
Continental Portugal and Madeira Island are on the Greenwich time – five hours ahead of Eastern Time & eight ahead of Pacific Time. The Azores Islands are 1 hour behind the Portuguese mainland. Daylight savings time begins the last Sunday in March (clocks are turned one hour ahead) and ends the last Sunday in October (clocks go back one hour).
Urban public transport In the main towns there is a complete public transport network. In Lisboa there are buses, the underground, and trams. One may also use public elevators (lifts). Tourism Information Centers at Carris (Lisboa) and STCP (Porto) sell tourist tickets every business day from 8 am to 8 pm.
Taxis are painted mostly cream with a roof-light to identify them. However, there are still some taxis which keep the old colours, green
and black. In towns they use taximeters, but once outside urban boundaries the service is charged by the kilometre, and includes the price of the driver’s return trip to his starting point. From 10 pm to 6 am the rate increases by 20%. It is normal to give a tip of 10% on top of the fare. Luggage is charged according to a fixed rate. All taxis have an updated chart in two languages.
Express trains run between Lisbon and Porto sstopping in Coimbra (Alfa trains), while regional trains (Intercidades and Inter-regional) connect the different parts of Portugal. These trains have first and second class carriages, except for local and suburban trains, where there is only one class. Special tickets – including tourist tickets valid for 7, 14 or 21 days, may be bought, while there are special return ticket discounts on “blue days” for trips exceeding 100 km.
Banks open from 8:30 am to 3 pm from Monday to Friday; cclosed on bank holidays. Shops open from 9 am to 1 pm and from 3 pm to 7 pm (working days). On Saturdays, most shops close at 1 pm. In the shopping malls located in larger towns, shops are normally oopen on 7 days a week and holidays from 10 am to 11 pm.
Museums open from 10 am to 12:30 am and from 2 pm to 5 pm. Closed on Mondays. Some palaces also close on Wednesdays. Pharmacies open from 9 am to 1 pm and from 3 pm to 7 pm, Monday to Friday, and Saturday mornings. There are also 24 hour pharmacies which operate according to an official chart displayed on Pharmacy windows.
Gastronomy and Tradition
A moderate and healthy climate, a rich fishing coast, and smooth, protected valleys. Not surprising therefore that Portugal, wealthy in olive and wine, had already been grudgingly coveted by the Romans. In the 8th century, during the Moorish occupation and thanks to the techniques oof irrigation, tree and garden culture developed considerably. Early in the 15th century, the Portuguese built their first caravel and sailed away to discover Madeira, the Azores Islands and Brazil. In 1498, Vasco da Gama discovered the maritime route leading to the valuable spices up to then treasured in the Far East.
The Portuguese will introduce coriander, pepper, ginger, curry, saffron and paprika in Europe. Thanks to the expansion of their overseas empire, they will also actually be the first European tto dock in the Mollucas, in China, in Japan and in Ethiopia. They will bring back with them many other exotic products up to then unknown to Europe, such as rice and tea from the Orient, coffee and peanuts from Africa, and, of course, pineapples, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes from the New World.
A Paradise of Fish and Crustaceans
The neighboring Atlantic Coast naturally lead to a sea product oriented-gastronomy. There is, however, a first and unavoidable dish that is part of the Portuguese everyday menu: soup. The most popular soup in Portugal is the „caldo verde“, emerald green like the province of Minho where it was first conceived. It is definitely a must.
The recipe is rather simple – green cabbage shredded in very thin strings and cooked in a light stock of potatoes and olive oil, spiced with a few slices of Portuguese pork sausage („chouriço“) .lt is delicious ! You will also enjoy the „cozido“, the actual national dish, very similar to the Irish „beef and cabbage“, and the tasty „caldeirada“, prepared with the best fish in the country.
Nonetheless, let credit be placed where it is due: dried codfish, „bacalhau“, finds its place of honour several times a week at eevery table. Traditionally, it is said that there are as many different ways to cook it (more or less sophisticated) as there are days in the year. Among other fishing specialities, you will relish the sole („Iinguado“), the red mullet („salmonete“), the swordfish („peixe espada“) and the conger eel („eiroz“). And last but not least, one of the less expensive but more tasteful fish – the sardine („sardinha“), an essential delicacy in the barbecues and outdoor celebrations throughout the whole country. Unless, of course, you prefer the succulent stuffed crabs, the excellent mussels (‘mexilhões“) or the Algarve clams cooked in the „cataplana“ with sausage, bacon and herbs.
As far as freshwater fish is concerned, you can savour the lamprey („lampreia“) and the salmon („salmão“) from Minho, the exquisite trout („truta“) from the Serra da Estreia or from Madeira, or the shad („savel“) from the Tagus and the Douro rivers.
Meat, fowl and game: In the Kingdom of Fancy
In spite of the quality and wealth of their fish market, the Portuguese love meat and they cook it according to the most varied and flavorful recipes.
The sautéed or grilled steak („bife à Portuguesa“), very often cooked in a Port wine sauce, is served throughout tthe whole country. Just as popular is the kebab („espetadas“), marinated in wine and garlic that add their special relish to the meat as it cooks. To the mutton („carneiro“) you will prefer the delicious kid („cabrito“) or the sucking lamb („borrego“), either stewed („ensopado“) or marinated in spices and then baked.
Pork meat is also very popular. The pig enjoys the acorn ...