Portugal has a population of about 10 million. The population density is at its greatest in Lisbon, the capital and its suburbs, where about 1,9 million people live. The second largest city in Portugal is Oporto (Porto) in the north. Generally speaking, there are more people living in the country's coastal regions than in the inland areas.
Portugal is situated at the south-east point of Europe and includes the Madeira and Azores archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean. Mainland Portugal occupies an area of 88,889 square kilometers and is 218 km wide and 561 km long. It has 832 km of Atlantic coast and a 1,215 km border with Spain.
The Azores are situated in the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and North America. The Madeira archipelago lies in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 500 km from the African coast and 1,000 km from the European continent (90 minutes flying time from Lisbon).
Most visitors know Portugal through the mass tourist area of the Algarve, a land of hot sunshine and little rain with the houses and names reflecting the fact that it was ruled by the Moors for centuries. Unfortunately, the delightful fishing villages are now hard to find in the concrete jungle.
A very different Portugal is found in the north. This is an area of Celtic people where you can find some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. An area of craggy mountains, endless beaches and productive valleys. The area, Costa Verde, well justifies its title, The Green Coast.
Between these two extremes is an area of wide open plains, dotted with olive trees and cork oaks. Scattered around this area are some beautiful towns of great historical significance with their castles, churches and palaces. Lisbon, the capital city, is located in this central area.
Porto (Oporto), further north, is the industrial centre of Portugal with Lisbon being considered the cultural centre.
Portuguese is a latin language which is evident from the written word but when spoken is entirely different from other western European languages. It is the 5th most commonly spoken languages in the world and is the native tongue of approximately 200 million people. The Portuguese-speaking countries are scattered all over the world, Portuguese is spoken in Africa (Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome e Principe), in South America (Brazil) and in Asia, (East Timor, the youngest nation in the world).
English and German are commonly understood in the tourist areas of the Algarve but in the north French is the second language. This is because approximately 50% of the working population of the North of Portugal is working overseas. Paris is the second largest Portuguese city as measured by the number of Portuguese residents.|
The culture of Portugal is divided between traditional rural cultural events and the international culture of Lisbon.
Portugal has its own theatrical tradition and also has many small Museums and Galleries, the best known being the Gulbenkian Foundation based in Lisbon. The foundation also sponsors an Orchestra.
Most towns have a cinema which usually shows English language films with Portuguese subtitles.
The regions have their own fairs and 'festas'. This tradition is probably strongest in the north where celtic drums and bagpipes play and the villagers, wearing the attractive 'traje' regional costume dance in celtic fashion.
The style of singing in the north and also the Fado singing of Coimbra and Lisbon is 'an acquired taste' .
Portugal's rich history has left a present day reminder in the exquisite architecture throughout the country including Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Baroque. The magnificent Baroque became an eighteenth century symbol of great economic wealth generated by gold and diamonds from Brazil and the sudden development of port wine exports. These buildings virtually bankrupted the country at the time but they are now available for our enjoyment.
Manueline architecture is peculiarly Portuguese and is comprised of exotic flowers and vegetation intertwined as a symbol of overseas exploration. Also contained are Crosses of the Order of Christ and armillary spheres which commemorate the influence of Henry the Navigator.
The vast majority of the Portuguese people are Catholic, however the Portuguese Constitution guarantees religious freedom and so there are a number of different religions in Portugal.|
The climate of Portugal, as everywhere is influenced by its geographical location. Being on the west coast of the Iberian peninsular it is affected by the land mass while at the same time being a coastal country, the weather is also influenced by the sea.
In summer, when the Azores high is established, there are hot sunny days with the coastal areas kept cool by the Portuguese trade winds (the Nortada) which blows strongly every afternoon. The interior, away from the sea, can get very hot in summer. The Algarve coast is sheltered from the north wind and has the higher summer temperatures favoured by the holiday makers who want to lie on the beach.
Winters are mild in Portugal being south of most of the other mediterranean countries. The north has a mixture of rain and sunny days not unlike an English summer. Central areas have gentle dry summers and short mild winters whilst winter in the Algarve is usually dry and warmer than the north.
Winter in Portugal is very pleasant without the hot weather many people find oppressive. Everywhere in Portugal at this time of year you need a pullover packed in the suitcase and an umbrella.
To the Portuguese, food is probably the second most important thing they think about. Meal times are very important, details of the dish that was eaten the day before makes an interesting topic of conversation and the Sunday lunch with the extended family must be attended.
Outside the main cities and tourist areas, the food has developed over the years as the Romans started agriculture, the Discoverers found new ingredients and spices and colonists returned from the colonies.
The Portuguese eat more fish than any other country in Europe and also more rice (cultivated in Portugal).
The tradition of a specific area or village having its own dish remains very strong and the Portuguese will travel for an hour to eat the speciality of that village in one of its restaurants. For example the village of Mealhada has about one hundred restaurants filled by people from outside who come to eat suckling pig.
Quantity is almost as important as quality and, especially in the north, it is not usual when ordering a dish to ask if it is enough for two people.
High quality food can be found throughout the country. The surroundings are not important, it is the quality of the food that matters. Do have the courage to join the locals in the 'tascas' and try the dishes.
For those on a budget, try the dish of the day (Prato do Dia) served at lunchtime in many restaurants. This will cost about 4 euros outside the main cities and will include a glass of wine or beer.
The Portuguese restaurants are worth trying but do try the traditional dishes. Be careful if you order a steak and chips since meat is not hung and it is likely to be tough.
Portuguese wines are of good quality overall and are inexpensive. It is rarely that you will be unpleasantly surprised if you order the house wine (Vinho da Casa) in a restaurant. In the country areas this may be produced by the restaurant itself and they will be proud that it has not gone through the co-operative and contains no chemicals (used for preserving wine). It presumably has not paid tax either!
When faced by a bewildering choice on the supermarket shelf, select a wine from the Dao region and know that all the wine, red and white, will be of good quality. Other regions producing red wines worth tasting are Bairrada and Borba.
The most famous of the whites is the Vinho Verde from the Northern region. These are light, crisp, fresh tasting and slightly sparkling, which are excellent with shellfish or even drunk throughout the meal.
When ordering red wine it is better to chose one produced in the hotter, drier areas to the south of the country. Be prepared for the Portuguese habit of drinking red wine chilled or ask for it 'natural' which is room temperature.
The most famous wine of Portugal is undoubtedly the 'Vinho do Porto' or Port Wine, which is fortified with brandy. The red Ports are usually drunk at the end of a meal but do try the white Port as an aperitif before the meal. White Port is best serve chilled.
A visit to the Port Wine Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, near Porto is a must for anyone visiting the north. The 'Caves' of all the famous producers are here and a guide will show you how the Port is produced most have an area to sit and sample the product. Many people think that a visit to the smaller, less commercialized, lodges is more rewarding than the well known names on the river front.
Going stronger, there are the Portuguese brandies of which the most common is Maceira although many foreigners seem to prefer Brandy Croft. The more adventurous might like to try the aguardente of which Bagaco will certainly give its effect all the way down.
Beers are good and strong with Super Bock and Sagres being the two main brands.
All drinks in Portugal are cheap. Even Scotch Whisky can be bought in the shops at less than the price charged by airport duty free shops.