Once a powerful seafaring kingdom that dominated the merchant routes to Africa, South America and the Orient, Portugal today is a friendly, low-key place with a laidback vibe and a fantastic coastline, much of it fringed by golden sands and endless dunes. Its rolling interior is perfect for exploring on foot, by kayak, by bike or even on horseback – though a large part of the country’s charm comes from languorous days on the beach, dining on fabulously fresh seafood and kicking back with a beer to watch the sunset over the Atlantic. The legacy of Portugal’s former wealth and power can be seen in its historic cities like the capital, Lisbon, superbly sited on the Tejo river estuary, is as popular today for its lively clubbing scene as for its grand Manueline monuments and medieval alleyways. Porto meanwhile, the country’s second city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the best place to sample some of the many varieties of Portugal’s other notable contribution to the world, port wine.
The Portuguese have embraced contemporary life without ever quite getting rid of the more appealing aspects of previous centuries.When times were hard at home, the Portuguese traditionally emigrated to pastures new, but their homeland’s blend of tolerance and tradition, its bucolic scenery and year-round sunshine, persuade most emigrants to return at some stage and it is this same allure that makes the country so appealing to visitors. Portugal on its own is a perfect destination to spend some memorable holidays.