GEOLOGY & FORMATION
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Even though Portugal is not a large country and covers only around a sixth of the territory on the Iberian peninsula, you will find great natural diversity with high mountain plains, low lying coasts, wide limestone areas and major rivers connecting Portugal to Spain.
The geological formation of Portugal is strongly connected to the formation of the Iberian peninsula and geologically, Portugal can roughly be divided into three major areas - the North between the Minho and Douro rivers, the interior North Tras-os-Montes and the South spanning Alentejo and the Algarve.
The folded mountain ranges in the North consist of metamorphic and granite rocks and fault lines are marked by rising hot springs. Rolling plateaus, deep gorges and flat-floored valleys carved into the ranges by streams are characteristic for the area.
The Northern interior spans the area North and South of the Eastern Douro bordering Spain. Heavily faulted, high plateaus made of Precambrian rock characterize the area with rivers running along structural weaknesses and carving deep gorges and canyons that today reach depths below sea level. High plains and mountain ranges continue to the Southeast with the Serra Estrela and Gardunha mountains representing a continuation of the central mountains of Spain, which eventually drop to the Tagus river in the South.
The Southern region spans from the area South of the lower Douro through the Western central areas down to Alentejo and the Algarve. Jurassic limestone and sandstone areas are typical for the Western central areas Northwest of the Tagus and erosion has formed a landscape made of rolling sandy hills and steep escarpments between basaltic plateaus. Favoured by wind and wave erosion from the Atlantic ocean, the decomposition of sandstone formed large dunes along the coast.
Alto Alentejo between the Tagus and Guadiana river in the East is a continuation of the Spanish tablelands made of plateaus and poor soils and the warmer Algarve in the South with a rocky coastline with steep cliffs and bays and extensive scarps and hills in the hinterland made of lime- and sandstone from the Mesozoic era.
While the North resembles typical European areas, the South is characterized by Mediterranean and African plants and shrubs. Today around 30% of mainland Portugal is covered by forest and deciduous trees are typical for the green and lush areas in the North. Oak trees are still common, but eucalyptus, pine and cork trees are more predominant now in many areas. Vineyards dominate the scenery on the Douro river while olive, fig, almond and carob is more typical in the drier and warmer regions in the East and South.
With no exception to the rest of the Iberian peninsula, wild goats, pigs and deer can be found in the countryside in various parts of Portugal. Foxes, rabbits and the Iberian hare are a common sight while wolves can still be found in remote parts of Northern and Northeastern Portugal and Lynx inhabit the Malcata mountains. In the mountains of northern Portugal, Peneda Geres park features the Garranos, one of the last races of wild horses in
Europe. Portugal lies on the winter migration route for many Western and central European bird species and therefore has rich bird life all year round, including some rare species like griffon vultures, several types of eagles, kites, owls, warblers and larks.
Geology & Nature