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Portugal is divided into five major regions (seven if including the Azores and Madeira). While the North is characterized by green and lush landscapes, the Southern and Eastern parts of the country are dry and Mediterranean. History is alive in all regions of Portugal, creating a unique mix of Roman relics, Moorish and medieval towns and fortifications and sumptuous Portuguese palaces.
PORTO & THE NORTH
The Northern part of Portugal is by far the greenest area of the country and is often labelled as the vegetable garden of Portugal. The conditions along the coast are wet and mild, summer temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees and in the winter it hardly ever drops below 10 degrees. The Northeast is characterized by hot summer with often more than 40 degrees and cold winters where snow and frost are common. The climatic conditions are perfect for the cultivation of grapes.
The main center in the area is Porto, famed for its famous wine, the bustling downtown and the historic UNESCO world heritage classified Ribeira quarter. The Douro river connects the city to the Douro Valley region, world famed and UNESCO listed for its good quality wines and the traditional cultivation structures. The Douro Valley Internacional at the border to Spain is a paradise for bird watching with around 60 different species and some rare birds of prey nesting and living along the steep cliffs and the preserved habitat.
The area boasts history and besides some Celtic or Roman relics, many towns and villages show strong medieval or renaissance influences and impressive cathedrals, churches, convents or baroque staircases are commonly found. The medieval town of Guimares is referred to as the birthplace of Portugal.
Northern Portugal makes a great place for outdoor activities to enjoy the varied and often unspoiled natural scenery. The Peneda-Geres National Park in the very North of Portugal is the only national park in Portugal and is popular for hiking, walking, cycling and fun activities like canyoning or river climbing. The long distance Portuguese and Portuguese Coastal Caminos both cross the North Western area and you will find a few popular surfing spots along the coast.
The region South of the Douro and North of the Tagus river is one of deep contrast - from the Atlantic coastline with mild temperatures, sandy beaches and pine forests to the Eastern interior with high mountains, ancient forests and historic villages. “Torre”, the highest mountain in mainland Portugal, rises from the Serra da Estrela and it is possible to ski here during winter.
Central Portugal is steeped into history and much of the
region’s historical and artistic heritage has been recognized by the UNESCO, including the Convent of Christ at Tomar or the university of Coimbra, listed as one of the oldest universities in Europe. Small towns and villages are guarded by ancient castles and the region is rich in traditional crafts, including glass, ceramic, pottery and weaving.
LISBON & THE TAGUS VALLEY
The Tagus is the longest river on the Iberian peninsula, rising in the Montes Universales in Mid-Eastern Spain and flowing 1,007km towards the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon. The green and fertile riverbed provided favorable conditions for the settlement of towns and villages along the Tagus and finally the settlement of Lisbon at its mouth, which was originally established as a Roman port. After the city was devastated by a major earthquake in 1755, many parts were reconstructed
and today visitors enjoy to explore the medieval alleys around the Sao Jorge Castle, the historic quarters of Alfama and Bairro Alto or visit the iconic Belem Tower and the UNESCO listed Jeronimos Monastery.
Portuguese history reflects in the area Northwest of Lisbon, where majestic palaces tower on the hills of the royal city of Sintra, the dominance of Catholicism reflects in historic monasteries and convents and where times stands still in historic villages with cobbled alleys and white washed houses. The area is spoiled with UNESCO classified heritage, including the monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha, the Mafra palace and the cultural landscape of Sintra.
Small beach resorts line the Atlantic coast, where you will find steep cliffs and small secluded sandy beaches around the Sintra Nature Park while you will find longer flat sandy stretches further up North along the coast and the high waves make the area a popular spot for surfers from all over the world.
The area between the Tagus river in the North and the Algarve in the South boasts itself with remarkable traces of successive cultures and the Roman, Arab and medieval heritage is omnipresent. From the historic medieval villages in the Northeast, the rolling green hills covered by vineyards, oak and olive trees in the Southeast to the dramatic coastal scenery along the Costa Vincentina in the West, Alentejo reveals impressive ancient structures and a deep rooted
traditional heritage that shows in local arts and crafts, excellent food and wine and in a slower pace of life.
The wealth of history and heritage shows best in the pretty town of Evora, whose center is classified as UNESCO world heritage and holds the highest number of national monuments in Portugal. Eno-tourism has spread widely across the region with established estates offering exclusive experiences centered around wine, food and activities. The Alqueva Reservoir is the biggest water body in Portugal and the area is popular for outdoor activities like hiking, cycling or several water sports. Further, the long distance walking route along the Costa Vincentina stretches from Porto Covo all the way down to Sagres on the Algarve, taking hikers along the dramatic scenery of cliffs, sandy beaches and alluvial bays.
Being famed especially for its beautiful coastline made off rugged red cliffs and glorious sandy beaches, the Algarve in the very South of Portugal is also a region steeped deep into history that offers fantastic opportunities for outdoor activities of any kind. If hiking along the slopes of the Monchique Mountains or along the beautiful Costa Vincentina, discovering hidden grottoes and caves along the Southern coast or discovering the strong Roman, Moorish
and medieval influences of the beautiful historic towns and villages, the area has much more to offer than pretty beaches and resort towns.