Cities with ancient and contemporary attractions, colorful medieval villages, charming seaside towns; ancient castles, romantic palaces, and a rich architectural and archaeological heritage. Constant sunshine, green natural parks and mountains, grand rivers, and a vast coastline. It all adds up to Portugal's surprising variety of landscapes and cultural treasures -- an astonishing variety for such a small country, which combined with lower prices than in other European destinations, makes it one of the most rewarding travel experiences in the world and one of the most beautiful countries.
Portugal is proud of its UNESCO-protected World Heritage Sites, since no other country of comparable size has more. There are currently 16 sites on the list, with several others hoping to join soon (Marvão,
Lisbon's Baixa district,
The country's 16 World Heritage Sites are:
Tomar's Templar Castle and Convent
Porto's Old Center
Prehistoric Rock Art of Côa Valley
Angra do Heroismo
Pico Island Vineyard Culture
These 3 experiences capture the essence of Portugal:
THE AGE OF DISCOVERY
All of Portugal recalls the Age of Discovery -- in ornate stonework inspired by India (Batalha Abbey, Convent of Christ, Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower), in marvelous blue-and-white tile panels evocative of Chinese porcelain, in the gastronomy influenced by the sea and with the flavors of Africa and the Americas, in the art, Indo-Portuguese furniture, and porcelain that decorate the royal palaces and fill Lisbon's museums, and in the fantastic gilt and baroque church interiors made with the gold discovered in Brazil. And gazing into the horizon from dramatic capes (Cabo de São Vicente and Cabo da Roca) is just as inspiring today as when Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, or Magellan stood on the same spots and dreamed of discovering the world.
It's impossible not to become enchanted by Portugal's perfectly-preserved medieval villages, such as Obidos, Marvão, and Monsaraz. It's inescapable falling under Sintra's spell with its bewitching atmosphere of surrealist palaces and lush vegetation. Portugal is a country that invites you to travel back in time and scale walls of ancient castles and wander around extravagant royal palaces, many of them converted into fabulous hotels where you can live like a king amid lavish old furnishings or stylish modern design. It tells tragic love stories and episodes of epic battles as you admire World Heritage monuments in Alcobaça and Batalha. In Portugal it is possible to experience a fairytale.
SUN, SEA, & SAND
Algarve, the southernmost province, has the most annual sunshine hours in Europe and some of the continent's most beautiful beaches. In the island of Madeira, with its exuberant landscape, it's spring all year long. Throughout the country, the climate is mild and the entire coastline offers sandy beaches, many of them deserted, others among the most popular in the world for water sports such as surfing and windsurfing. The islands of the Azores have always been one of the world's best sites for whale-watching. The country's golf courses were designed by the world's most renowned architects and rank among the best in the world. In charming fishing villages it is still possible to feel ultimate relaxation and the breeze and spray of the ocean without maddening crowds. Award-winning resorts such as Vale do Lobo, Quinta do Lago, and Vilamoura are among the best you'll find anywhere in Europe. Best of all, in Portugal you can have a beach all for yourself -- just head to the Alentejo coast or to a secluded cove in Algarve.
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