Semester i Portugal
Portugal, in Southern Europe, shares the Iberian peninsula at the western tip of Europe with Spain. Geographically and culturally somewhat isolated from its neighbor, Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside. Although it was once one of the poorest countries in Western Europe, the end of dictatorship and introduction of Democracy in 1974, as well as its incorporation into the European Union in 1986, has meant significantly increased prosperity. However it may be one of the best value destinations on the Continent. This is because the country offers outstanding landscape diversity, due to its North-South disposition along the western shore of the Iberian peninsula. You can travel in a single day from green mountains in the North, covered with vines and all varieties of trees to rocky mountains, with spectacular slopes and falls in the Centre, to a near-desert landscape in the Alentejo region and finally to the glamorous beach holidays destination Algarve. The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has also turned the country into a golfing haven. Portugal was recently named "Best Golf Destination 2008" by readers of Golfers Today, a British publication. Fourteen of Portugal's courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. If you want a condensed view of European landscapes, culture and way of life, Portugal might very well fit the bill.
If you plan to have restful, quiet holidays do not go to the Algarve (in Southern Portugal the Alentejo is fine all year around) during the high season (roughly mid-July to mid-September), when facilities are packed.
Beiras, part of the central region
Estremadura, the western section
Azores (Açores) Islands
Cities and towns
Lisbon (Lisboa) - national capital, city of the seven hills.
Aveiro - the "Venice" of Portuga.l
Braga - city of Archbishops.
Coimbra - home of the ninth oldest university in the world.
Évora - "Museum City", Alentejo regional capital.
Funchal - the capital of Madeira.
Guimarães - the founding place of the nation.
Porto (Oporto) - the northern capital, "Invincible City", along the river Douro and the Atlantic Ocean.
Tomar - Templar city.
Viseu - In the heart of Portugal (No Coração de Portugal).
Praia D'El Rey
Peneda-Gerês National Park
Douro & Coa - river valleys
Cabo da Roca - the westernmost point of mainland Portugal and European continent, near Cascais
Sintra - stunning views, and a royal castle
Serra da Estrela
Coa Valley a registered World Heritage Site
Portugal is one of the warmest European countries. In mainland Portugal, yearly temperature averages are about 15°C (55°F) in the north and 18°C (64°F) in the south. Madeira and Azores have a narrower temperature range as expected given their insularity, with the former having low precipitation in most of the archipelago and the latter being wet and rainy. Spring and Summer months are usually sunny and temperature maximum are very high during July and August, with maximums averaging between 35°C and 40°C (86°F - 95°F) in the interior of the country, 30°C and 35°C in the north, and occasionally reaching 45°C (113°F) in the south. Autumn and Winter are typically rainy and windy, yet sunny days are not rare either. Temperatures rarely fall below 5°C (41°F) nearer to the sea, averaging 10°C (50°F), but can reach several degrees below 0°C (32°F) further inland. Snow is common in winter in the mountainous areas of the north, especially in Serra da Estrela but melts quickly once the season is over. Portugal's climate can be classified as Mediterranean (particularly the southern parts of the Algarve and Alentejo, though technically on Atlantic shore).
If you are into visiting beautiful monuments and enjoy remarkable views, then Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto are the top three places, and all of them are well worth a visit. But don't overlook Viana do Castelo, Braga, Guimarães, Coimbra, Tomar, Aveiro, Amarante, Braga, Bragança, Chaves, Lamego, Viseu, Vila Real, Lagos, Silves, Évora, Angra as they also have wonderful monuments and places of interest.
The most popular beaches are in the Algarve, which has stunning coastlines and gobs of natural beauty. The water along the southern coast tends to be warmer and calmer than the water along the west coast, which is definitely Atlantic and doesn't benefit of the Gulf Stream. For surfing, or just playing in the surf there are great beaches all along the west coast, near Lisbon and Peniche.
For nightlife Lisbon, Porto and Albufeira, Algarve are the best choices as you have major places of entertainment.
If you want to spend your holidays in the countryside, you might want to visit Viana do Castelo, Chaves, Miranda do Douro, Douro Valley, Lamego, Tomar, Leiria, Castelo Branco, Guarda, Portalegre, Évora, Elvas or even Viseu.
And even if you wish to observe wild life in its natural state, Madeira and Azores Islands are places to remember, not forgetting of course the Natural Reserve of Peneda-Gerês, the Douro Valley and Serra da Estrela.
Beaches: Surrounded by sea in almost its entirety, the Portuguese beaches are well worth visiting. A lot of activities are offered, from surfing, to kite-surfing, and during the summer months the most frequented beaches offer sand based activities such as aerobics. If you're not the type of breaking into a sweat during holidays, almost every single public beach will have a bar where locals sit. Some of the most popular beaches are (from north to south):
Espinho, near Oporto, in Costa Verde/Green Coast, northern region.
Figueira da Foz, near Coimbra, in Silver Coast/Costa de Prata, central region.
Praia das Maçãs and Praia Grande[Sintra], Carcavelos and Estoril[Cascais], near Lisbon, in the Costa de Lisboa.
Zambujeira do Mar, in the Alentejo region/Costa Alentejana e Vicentina.
Salema, Praia da Rocha, in the Algarve.
Golf: The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has turned the country into a golfing haven. Portugal was recently named "Best Golf Destination 2006" by readers of Golfers Today, a British publication. Fourteen of Portugal's courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. Portugal is also a great location to learn the game and perfect technique. Many resorts offer classes with the pros. Courses can satisfy the most demanding golfer, while newcomers won't be intimidated, unless they find the beautiful landscapes and stunning vistas distracting to their game. Locals have mixed feelings about golf courses, namely due to the huge amounts of water required to maintain them and their apparent pointlessness.
The countryside also offers a great deal of possibilities, although you will have to incite the travel agent's advice a little more than usual, as they tend to just sell beach holidays. Cycling through the mountainous terrain of Geres or white-water rafting in the affluents of river Douro is an exhilirating experience.
There are several Fairs, specially in the Summer months, particularly in Northern Portugal. During the summer, music festivals are also very common. In the north of the country two of the oldest festivals such as Paredes de Coura and Vilar de Mouros. The regions chosen for the festivals are most of the time surrounded by beautiful landscapes and pleasant villages. In the south, the most famous one is Festival do Sudoeste, in the west part of the south cost with a summer landscape and never ending beaches.
English is spoken in many tourist areas, but it is far from ubiquitous.