Portugal

Portugal

Sun-drenched beaches of the Algarve, exclusive golf resorts, medieval hilltop towns, colorful fishing villages, a cosmopolitan capital, the vine-filled valley of the Douro, wild remote mountains—Portugal has it all. But Europe’s oldest country, which has had its eyes melancholically set on the sea and on a lost and glorious past, has turned its head toward Europe and is undergoing a profound modernization. Still, things move a bit more slowly in Portugal, devagar as residents say, and some 11 million tourists seem to like the pace.

The social contrasts are still bigger there than in any other country in western Europe. But Europe’s former “poor house” is on its way to becoming a nice mansion with a sea view. The young Portuguese still listen to fado, and the students of Coimbra still wear their traditional outfits, but they party in stylish cafes and bars.

There is no better way to experience Portugal than to sit down in a street cafe with a bica (espresso) or a glass of port as you watch the world go by. And when you leave Portugal, you will probably feel saudade (a feeling of longing for something that is gone but might return). But unlike King Sebastian, you can always return.

Geography

Portugal is a long, narrow country on the Iberian Peninsula, at the southwestern edge of Europe. Mountains run through the eastern part of the country, and to the west the Atlantic Ocean meets an extensive seacoast, creating many excellent harbors. In the southernmost province of the Algarve, beaches, marshes and cliffs mark the coast.

Two island groups in the Atlantic, the Azores and Madeira, are also part of Portugal. Both are green and fairly remote.