Spotlight on Portugal

Portugal has a rich seafaring past, superb beach resorts, wistful towns and a landscape wreathed in olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage sites and graced by one of Europe's most relaxed and attractive capitals, it also remains refreshingly affordable. Savoring life slowly is a Portuguese passion, and much of the best is humble - traditional folk festivals; simple, honest food drowning in olive oil; music that pulls at the heart strings, recalling past love and glories; and markets overflowing with fish, fruit and flowers.

Lisbon - Portugal’s capital is an 18th-century city - elegant, open to the sea and carefully planned. Most places of interest are within easy walking distance. Rossio Square, the heart of Lisbon since medieval times, is an ideal place to start exploring. Many rebuilt houses with original façades provide stores and restaurants with modern interiors. High above Baixa is Bairro Alto - with its teeming nightlife. There are many monuments and museums, such as São Jeronimos Monastery, Royal Coach Museum and Gulbenkian Museum. Two well-known landmarks are the Monument to the Discoveries and the Tower of Belem. A statue of Christ looms above Europe’s longest suspension bridge. Madragoa, Bica and Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s older sections, offer a variety of sights: the Church of São Roque, with its beautiful tiles; St. George Castle, which offers a splendid view from its location above the Alfama quarter; the botanical gardens, featuring an unusual, cold greenhouse; and the cathedral, stunning with its Moorish design. Renowned Gulbenkian Museum is the cultural center of Portugal.

Porto, Portugal's second largest city, is full of interest, and the district it heads offers the visitor plenty to see. Along the coast, there are resorts like the cosmopolitan beach of Espinho, busy ports like Matosinhos, with splendid seafood, or traditional fishing towns like Póvoa de Varzim, and there is also an animated casino. Charming Amarante has 17th century mansions overlooking the river and is famous for sweet egg pastries called "papos de anjo" (angel bellies). In Vila Nova de Gaia, there are lodges where Port wine is blended and aged and where tasting are offered, or visitors may take a river cruise along the Douro. The whole district is filled with prosperous towns, but there are also many calm roads with wonderful views over the river and a rugged and still unspoilt coastline.

Coimbra is one of the most romantically beautiful cities in Portugal, and it's ancient and ornate buildings are rich in historical and cultural importance. Also, being a university town the city is inevitably dotted with cafes, and lively night clubs. Beyond the university, Coimbra has much else to offer the visitor not least an array of medieval churches, ancient Roman archaeological sites, and Portugal's largest national park, the Serra da Estrela, a popular destination with all visitors.

Albufeira, located in the Algarve region, is famed for its beaches, and for the countless shades and tones of its rocks and cliffs. This is a place where people live for sunbathing during the day, and at sunset, flocking to enjoy the restaurants, bars and discos that enliven the night-time hours. Just a few miles inland and everything changes. The green of the countryside is dotted with almond, fig, orange and pine trees and decorated chimneys stand out against the ochre of tiled roofs.

Evora is considered a seat of learning with its University founded in 16th Century by Cardinal Dom Henrique. Within the surrounding wall the most prominent feature is the 2nd or 3rd Century ruins of a Roman Temple dedicated to Goddess Diana. Another attractive feature is the 15th Century Convento dos Lóios. The city’s 13th century cathedral took 50 years to build and is reminiscent of a fortress. The main square with its 16th Century fountain has a sad history. Among other events, Dom João II witnessed the beheading by his orders of his brother-in-law. Equally unpleasant were the sights caused by the Inquisition in this public place. A macabre reminder is the Capela dos Ossos in the 15th Century Igreja de São Francisco - where the bones of 5,000 monks lie. There are several museums - the Museu de Arte Sacra, Galeria de Arte Casa Cadaval, the Museu de Artes Decorativas Religiosas and the Museu de Évora. The museum, formerly the palace of the Bishop, built with many worked stones from previous buildings in the city, has some outstanding religious items.

Fatima – The city of Fatima in Portugal is most famous for the religious visions that reportedly appeared in the early 20th century. The marian shrine attracts a large number of pilgrims from around the world every year. If shopping is your weakness you will be delighted to find a variety of local crafts such as jewelry, statues, paintings, and clothes in stalls all around the hotels. There are also a number of restaurants specializing in Portuguese cuisine, including the National dish called Bacalhau (salted cod stew).

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