Once geographically isolated from the buzz of the Mediterranean, Portugal nevertheless made a way of its own—if they can’t share in the riches pouring into the Mediterranean from the East, then they shall go to the source itself! Portugal was one of the first European countries to explore Western, Southern, and Eastern Africa, reached India and soon began trading with China and Japan. The riches generated by this brave enterprise surely began to translate into a rich architecture of charming homes, palaces, cathedrals and splendid monuments and plazas strewn all around this westernmost European country. The Portuguese are known for their warmth, placid disposition, and coupled with being a low-budget destination, Portugal offers travelers an immense Atlantic coast lined with beaches, cafes; and in the cities and countryside, just pure Old-World charm around every corner.
Combining the charm of a bygone age and the liveliness of modern life, Lisbon offers visitors a great opportunity to explore Europe’s oldest and westernmost capital city while still having some compassion for the wallet. For charm, you might want to take a stroll through one of its most fashionable streets, Avenida da Liberdade, and enjoy a sight of alluring gardens and magnificent monuments in nearby Restauradores and Marquis of Pombal Squares, the latter offering a breathtaking view of the sea. Both places are filled with stylish cafes and fine restaurants as well as an endless array of shops housed in typical Portuguese-style buildings. If you’re looking for a more picturesque scene of boulevards and shops, don’t forget Baixa and its trendy boutiques and open-air cafes. Alfama is one of the capital’s oldest neighborhoods, dotted with red roof tiled homes arranged in what might seem a labyrinth that gets lost in history and that touch of Old-World charm. The most imposing building there is the Castle of Sao Joao. But by far, the city’s most impressive landmark is the centutries-old Belem Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (like most if not all of Lisbon!). Built in the early 16th century, the tower is the major exponent of the uniquely Portuguese Manueline style and is a monument to Portugal’s pivotal role as a maritime power and major contributor to the Age of Exploration. Near the tower is the equally imposing Jeronimos Monastery, one of the finest, most ornate Gothic buildings in Europe. Needless to say, the city is packed with Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Baroque, Modern and Postmodern buildings such as museums and theatres; the Dona Maria II Theatre as well as the Pimenta and Marquis of Fronteira Palaces are worth a visit. For an unforgettable memory of Lisbon, visit Sintra, a town replete with dozens of squares and palaces of such romantic beauty like the Arabesque-style Monserrate State and Pena Palace, the latter bearing a curious resemblance to Germany’s fairy-tale castles. All this picturesque scenery stands against the verdant Sintra Mountains and the many gardens and public parks that abound in the area. So lively is Lisbon that, as a matter of fact, Christopher Columbus had arrived in Lisbon to train and try to first persuade the Portuguese monarch to finance his historic escapade into the unchartered waters west of the Azores.
- The Algarve:
Derived from the Arabic word for ‘West’, Algarve refers to an area to the south where fine beaches, high-end resorts, golf courses, and endless boulevards flanked by cafes and shops thrive. Its mild climate, verdant expanses, beach fun, budget-friendliness have invited thousands of tourists, mainly English and German. Some of the area’s famous spots are the rocky Marinha Beach, deemed one of the most beautiful in Europe; Armacao de Pera, with its placid resorts; and spa town of Caldas de Mochique, rumored to posses healing powers and frequented by Romans.
A port city near Lisbon and Sintra, this was once the favorite exile spot of aristocrats and monarchs as well as the playground of the rich and famous, made more so with its casino, Casino Estoril, the largest in Europe. Though not flooded by yachts and glittering stars as Marbella and Monaco, nevertheless Estoril remains a placid, high-end resort town rivaling the ostentatious agitations of the more established French and Spanish Rivieras. The city also offers many museums, cafes, fine cuisine and stylish shops, all within reasonable distance.