|Area||total: 92,391 sq km |
land: 91,951 sq km
note: includes Azores and Madeira Islands
water: 440 sq km
|Population||10,084,245 (July 2002 est.)|
|Religion||No official religion, with most of the population being Roman Catholic, some Protestant or other religions and sects, non practitioners and atheists.|
Portugal, in Southern Europe, shares the Iberian peninsula at the western tip of Europe with Spain. Geographically and culturally somewhat isolated from its neighbor, Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside. Although it was once one of the poorest countries in Europe, its incorporation into the European Union has meant increased prosperity -- and increased prices for travelers. Still, it may be one of the best value destinations on the Continent. This is because the country offers outstanding landscape diversity, due to its North-South disposition along the western shore of the Iberian peninsula. You can travel in a single day from green mountains in the North, covered with vines and all varieties of trees to rocky mountains, with spectacular slopes and falls in the Centre, to a near-desert landscape in the Alentejo region and finally to the glamorous Algarve. If you want a condensed view of European landscapes, culture and way of life, Portugal might very well fit the bill.
- The Azores Islands
- Beira Alta
- Beira Baixa
- Madeira Islands
- Douro Litoral
- Tr�s-os-Montes including Alto Douro
- Estoril Coast including Sintra
- Administrative divisions
- Districts (distritos, singular - distrito): Aveiro, Beja, Braga, Braganca, Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Evora, Faro, Guarda, Leiria, Lisboa, Portalegre, Porto, Santarem, Setubal, Viana do Castelo, Azores), Madeira
- Caldas da Rainha
- Porto (Oporto)
Almost all major full price airlines fly to Portugal (British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa), besides the country's own TAP (Air Portugal). However, there are some cheap fares to be had from the no-frills airlines, like Fly Monarch and Ryan Air, who have recently started flying to Lisbon and Porto at good prices. There are three international airports in the mainland: Lisbon (in the north of the city, and not far from the centre), Porto, and Faro. The Madeira and Azores Islands also have international airports.
Trains reach most larger cities from Lisbon. Lisbon is connected to Madrid, Spain.
Roads are generally good, and you can reach almost all major cities with ease, either by highway or by good, modern roads. The biggest cities are well served by modern highways (most have tolls), and you can travel the full North-South length of the country without ever leaving the highway, if you choose to. However, some secondary roads are ill-treated and may be dangerous if proper care is not taken. Also, Portuguese driving can seem erratic and, frankly, scary to the uninitiated. The country shares with most southern european countries something that the successive Portuguese governments have been trying to fight: terrible road behaviour from some drivers. This is getting a little better year by year, but still, there are many drivers whose dream is to own a Ferrari, but all they actually have is a Renault Clio or a Ford Fiesta, or that think that they can drink and drive without any kind of problem. In order to fight this national calamity, road laws changed recently in order to punish with great severity speeding, driving without license, driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, etc.
It is probably unwise for those unfamiliar with Portuguese driving to try to drive in the cities - be aware if you do that city drivers give no quarter and have limited respect for lane markings. If you do want to try, choose a weekend or an hour outside the rush hour periods. These are early mornings (8 am - 9.30 am) and late afternoons (5 pm - 7.30 pm).
Thanks to generous government subsidies, rail travel in Portugal is often cheaper and faster than travel by bus. Unfortunately the rail network is limited, so you may find yourself bussing about to get anywhere off the beaten path.
Lisbon and Porto also have a clean and modern metro system. Road traffic in Lisbon and Porto is pretty congested all day round and gets completely stuck in the rush hours.
The official language of Portugal is Portuguese. Although it's somewhat related to Spanish, Italian, and other Romance languages, it's not identical. Spanish-speakers may be able to make themselves understood, but considering that Spaniards play the tourist role here more even than English-speakers, you won't really be making much of a cultural connection. If you choose to speak Spanish (or have no alternative), try to speak slowly and evenly. Your chances of being understood that way are very high. English is spoken in many tourist areas, but is far from ubiquitous. However, the younger portuguese will speak at least some English, or French.
People familar with the Brazilian variety of Portuguese are completely intelligible, unless they use lots of Tupi words. They will however find that the continental variety sounds quite different, and some common words are different (e.g. comboio, rather than trem, for train) which will matter more when listening than when speaking.
See also: Portuguese phrasebook
Portugal is part of the Eurozone and uses the euro as its currency (symbol: €). ATMs accepting international cards can be found everywhere, and currency conversion booths spring up wherever there is a steady flow of tourists (although the closer they are to tourist attractions, the worse the rates they offer).
Portuguese cuisine evolved from hearty peasant food drawn from the seafood of the country's abundant coast and the pork raised on the limited grazing land of its interior. From these humble origins, Mediterranean ingredients flowing from Spain and spices brought back to the country during its exploration and colonisation of the East Indies and the Far East helped shape what is regarded as 'typical' Portuguese cuisine.
Soup is the essential first course of any Portuguese meal. The most popular is the Minho specialty, caldo verde, made from cabbage, potatoes and spiced sausage.
You will see another Portuguese staple bacalhau (dried codfish) everywhere. Locals will tell you that there are as many ways to cook this revered dish as there are days in the year.
The most common of Portugal's delicious fish (peixe) dishes revolve around sole (linguado) and sardines (sardinha) although salmon (salm�o) and trout (truta) are also featured heavily. These are fried, grilled or served in a variety of sauces.
You'll see grills, thick with the smoke of charring meat, in front of many restaurants during your stay. Other than traditional sardines and salmon, Portuguese grilled chicken -- marinated in chilli, garlic and olive oil -- is world famous.
Vegetarians may have a tough time of it in Portugal, at least in traditional Portuguese restaurants. In most restaurants, vegetables (usually boiled or fried potatoes) are simply a garnish to the main meat dish. Even 'vegetarian' salads and dishes may just substitute tuna (which locals don't seem to regard as a 'meat') for ham or sausage. However, the Portuguese really like their choose-5-items salad bars, and restaurants serving Indian, Chinese, Mexican, or Italian fare can be found in most cities. If you have kitchen facilities, Portuguese grocery stores are surprisingly well-stocked with items such as lentils, veggie burgers, couscous, and inexpensive fruits, vegetables, and cheeses.
In some grocery stores the scales are in the produce section, not at the checkout. If you don't weigh your produce and go to the checkout, you will be told Tem que os pesar ou Tem que pesar (You have to weigh them).
Portugal is famous for its wide variety of amazing pastries, or pasteis. The national pastry, pasteis de nata (called just natas further north), is a flaky pastry with custard filling topped with sugar (acucar) and cinnamon (canela). Buy one (or half a dozen) at the Pasteis de Belem a few minutes by tram from central Lisbon, where the best pasteis in the country can be found. Also excellent are the bolo de arroz and the orange-carrot cake.
Portugal and the city of Porto are known the world over for the sweet, dense wine known as port. Available in a boggling array of colors, ages, processes and vintages, the wine can be found in any cafe or restaurant in the country. White port makes a nice accompaniment to fruit, cheese, or as an aperitif; tawny and ruby ports are better for after dinner.
Although port gets most of the glory world-wide, one of the great delights of first-time visitors to Portugal is its amazing array of delicious and inexpensive wines (vinho). Portugal has a huge wine industry, but it's mostly for domestic consumption and very little of the product is actually exported. All the better for the country's visitors: a drinkable liter of wine can be had in a corner shop for �2-3 (really), and even the finer-quality stuff is usually under �15 in a restaurant. You can buy very good wine under �10 at any medium-sized supermarket. Here are some good bets: "Meia Pipa" (�5), and "Duas Quintas" (�9). Especially tasty is vinho verde ("green wine"), a young sparkling wine that (despite the name) comes in white and red varieties, and makes an especially nice dinner or evening accompaniment.
There are other drinks travelers may not be familiar with. One that is very worth trying is "Aguardente". This is a strong drink, obtained from the destillation of wine-grade grapes. If you can, try the "old" variety: "Aguardente Velha", usually left in oak casks for 10 or more years. This drink is similar in taste and quality to french Cognaq, however you can pick a bottle of the stuff for �12.
Imported from Brasil there is cacha�a, a hangover-inducing rotgut liquor made from sugar-cane, used to make caipirinha cocktails. Another is absinthe, a green, licorice-flavored liqueur infused with wormwood, a mildly psychotropic herb. Absinthe has been banned in many countries of the world, but it remains legal in Portugal. No spoons or sugar cubes here: it's normally drunk with tonic water, orange juice, or in shots.
The youth hostel network has a great number of hostels around the country, all with very good conditions although not very cheap. There's a wide and abundant hotel offering all through Portugal. If budget is a concern, and you want a true 'typical-portuguese' experience, gather your courage and try one Residencial, the home-like hostels ubiquitous in the cities. Be sure, however, of the quality of the rooms. On the luxury side, you might try the 'Pousadas de Portugal', a network of hotels remarkable for using very beautiful ancient buildings.
Portugal is a safe country. This does not mean that you should throw caution to the wind and let down your guard, but generally speaking, you are much safer in Portugal than in most other western countries. In particular, there is a refreshing lack of boozy stupidity at the weekends, despite the profusion of bars open to all hours in the major cities. Also, there are no internal conflicts to speak of, and no terrorism-related danger.
Major cities are well served with medical and emergency facilities. The national emergency number is 112.
The Portuguese are a very tolerant people. That said, you should not engage in hot discussions about football with the local unless you know them well! When visiting churches or other religious monuments, try to wear appropriate clothes. Yes, that means "avoid bikinis".
Public telephones are common throughout the country, but you'll find them even less generous than slot-machines: many times they'll swallow your change and give you no credit. You're better off purchasing a calling card or using your credit card, although support for this feature is limited and expensive. When looking for a calling card - try kiosks on the street, little shops... - you'll probably be given one from Portugal Telecom (Portugal's monopolist phone company), ask if they have from other providers. Most of the times they are cheaper, you don't have to insert them anywhere (just dial a code!) and it works in every fixed phone, even in hotels - and in this case you don't need to pay any phone bill in the hotel. If you have a GSM type cell phone, odds are that your provider has an agreement with one of the three portuguese providers. The cell phone networks are very well developed and cover almost 100% of the territory. Of course, roaming charges apply if you decide to use your mobile. To call an international number, dial 00 and then the country code.
Internet cafes can be readily found in major cities and tourist towns. Expect to pay between �2 - �3 per hour.