It’s strange to think that the small European country of Portugal was once a world superpower. But that’s exactly what it was back in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, life is a little less about world domination and more about its warm Mediterranean culture. Why not try it for yourself?

About Portugal

With one side made up of Atlantic coastline and the other bordering Spain, Portugal is known for its warm hospitality, mild climate, wide sandy beaches, attractive bays and clear blue skies. Its diverse geography comprises mountains, arid plains, sub-tropical volcanic islands, lush-green meadows and picturesque beaches. There really is something for everyone. The Portuguese are warm people and extend a genuine welcome to visitors from other countries. As in other Mediterranean countries, both locals and tourists take advantage of the warm summer evenings to spend time outside in the town and village squares. So if the Portuguese are so friendly, what’s the story behind their world domination back in the 16th century? It was Europe’s “Age of Discovery” and Portugal’s strong naval strength allowed it to build up a vast empire built on commerce. This included possessions in South America, Africa, Asia and Australasia. We can still see echoes of this global reach today. Portuguese is spoken in parts of Africa, South America (Brazil) and in Asia (East Timor). It is also the official language in Macao Special Administrative Region of China and is the third most spoken European language in the world. There are so many places to visit and enjoy in Portugal that it’s difficult to know where to start. So here’s just a flavour of what you can do:  the former fishing village Cascais has lovely beaches and is a favourite among weekending Lisboêtas and travellers; in the north (where Porto is located) you’ll find a rolling landscape interspersed with dense forests and dramatic mountains; and let’s not forget Lisbon, with its cultural melting pot (see ‘Major university cities’). And finally, take time to visit historic Braga, ‘the Rome of Portugal’. Marinha beach at Lagoa, Algarve

When it comes to food, Portugal’s long Atlantic coastline and proximity to the Mediterranean will give you a clue about what to expect. The daily menu features a lot of fish and shellfish with perhaps salt cod (bacalhau) being one of the most famous dishes. Also look out for the staples of bread, wine and olive oil, while meat and sausages make up the base of core products in many Portuguese dishes, especially in the north. There’s a lot to offer wine lovers here. Portugal has a wonderful array of quality wines. It comes in every style, from fizz to port, from crisp dry whites to elegant reds. Port, of course, is named after the city of Porto in the region responsible for the production and export of the wine. There are two wine producing regions protected by UNESCO as World Heritage sites: the Douro Valley Wine Region (Douro Vinhateiro) and Pico Island Wine Region (Ilha do Pico Vinhateira). For sporty types, you’ll find that most outdoor sports are popular, with football being the chief spectator sport. And not for the fainthearted,  bullfighting is a close second when it comes to spectator sport.

The Douro, Portugal: river and the vineyards

Presidents are elected for five years in Portugal, currently it is Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa who was elected in January 2016.  The Prime Minister is the Head of Government and is accountable to Parliament and also keeps the President informed politically.

At a glance facts

  • Population: 10,291,196 (2018)
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Timezone: GMT (same as the UK)
  • International Dialling Code 351

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