Trips to Portugal

The country of Portugal situated on the Iberian Peninsula, with its inviting climate, an endless stretch of coastline and unique cultural heritage makes it a wonderfully tempting location for visitors drawn by the beaches, the sunshine and increasingly by the wealth of gastronomic, cultural and environmental experiences that its landscape and people offer.

Today a developed country with a high living standard, Portugal has some of the oldest borders in Europe and a long history of settlement from prehistoric times, with its land fought over by the Celts, Romans and Visigoths to name but a few.

In the late 15th and 16th century, as a result of the pioneering age of discovery, Portugal expanded its influence and established the world's first global empire. Spreading throughout the world in vast numbers of territories which are now part of 53 different sovereign states, including regions in Africa, Asia and America this incredible empire has left a legacy of 250 million speakers worldwide. In Portugal, it has had an influence on everything, from culture to language to cuisine.

This enticing mix of modernity and various traditions make Portugal among the top 20 visited countries in the world.

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Geography and Climate
Portugal's location on the southernmost point of Europe includes the Madeira and Azores archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean and the country offers a plentiful array of geographical features and regions of heritage. In the southern destination of Alentejo, the landscape reflects a simple way of life, dotted with cork oaks and olives trees as well as knots of small whitewashed houses.

The landscape of the coastal regions where we feature our trips are hilly and rugged, with small sheltered coves between the dramatic cliff backdrops. The coast stretched over 832km, ensuring endless golden beaches and picturesque locations for visitors.

The climate is defined as a Mediterranean one with hot dry summers and mostly mild winters, with the temperatures influenced by the country's latitude and proximity to the sea. The country is one of the warmest in Europe, with an annual average temperature of around 12°C with summer temperatures peaking as high as 46°C. This, in combination with the 10-12 hours of daily sunshine in the summer months, attracts millions of visitors each year.

The Portuguese have perfected the art of cooking simple and delicious meals that are influenced by both its historical empire and its geographical location.

The most distinctive feature of its cuisine comes from the sea and the country consumes some of the highest amounts of fish in the world. Fish is served at all meals and is cooked in a variety of ways including fried, roasted, grilled and baked.

It is said that in Portugal, the dinner table is the focal point, with every meal offering an opportunity for socialising and sharing. As well as fish, a typical Portuguese table will also feature freshly, baked bread, olives, cheeses and smoked meats that are typical of most Mediterranean diets. Commonly served dishes include 'cozido á portugesa' – a mix of meats, vegetables and sauces and the soup 'caldo verde' which is made from potato puree, thinly sliced kale and chorizo.

The influence of Portugal's colonial expansion is notable in the wide variety of spices such as piri piri, cinnamon and saffron which feature commonly in dishes as well as the staple of olive oil which is one of the country's highest exports.

When it comes to desserts, Portugal excels in puddings based around egg yolks. The reason for this is shrouded in historical legend, with some sources suggesting that it is the influence of nuns in the middle ages who baked and sold pastries to supplement their income. It is thought that the nuns required a lot of egg whites to stiffen their habits, and consequently developed a multitude of recipes for the surplus yolk! Whether this has a basis in truth or not, famed Portuguese desserts include caramel custard and the famous egg custard tarts which are always a much sought after treat.

When it comes to alcohol Portugal is renowned for its fortified wine with its selection of port enjoying widespread popularity both within the country and abroad.

Culture and economy
The land that is now Portugal has been inhabited for thousands of years, with its national borders having been defined for the last eight centuries. This long history is reflected in the unique and particular culture that is the result of the variety of people who have settled here and also those that the Portuguese people encountered on their journeys of discovery.

The landscape presents a huge variety of culture to explore and Portugal boasts 17 UNESCO sites including monuments, historical city centres and landscapes. This in addition to the golden sandy beaches, cobblestone villages and mediaeval castles, gives visitors a huge amount of Portuguese culture to appreciate and embrace.

As one of the world's leading global economies, since the 1970s Portugal has seen more of a diverse focus on exports, private investments and a focus on a high-tech sector. These industries are slowly overtaking more traditional Portuguese ones such as textiles, cork production, wood products and wines.

Traditionally a sea power the country also has a strong tradition in the Portuguese fishing sector and also produces a wide variety of livestock and crops such as tomatoes, olives and berries.

Travel and tourism continue to be extremely important for Portugal with visitor numbers forecast to increase in the future. Competition from eastern European locations such as Croatia has meant there is now an increased focus on niche tourism such as health, nature and rural tourism.

Visitors are drawn mostly to the locations of Lisbon, Algarve and Madeira, but there has been recent promotion and developments in some of its more unknown and beautiful locations such as the Doro Valley, Porto Santo and the Alentejo Coast.

Photography by Variety Cruises

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