The Portuguese describe their country as a land of ‘brandos costumes’ – gentle ways and there is no doubt there is something very alluring about this astonishingly beautiful country, with its soft, verdant landscapes awash with dense forests and wild flowers, dramatic coastlines and magnificent rivers, where the pace of life seems slower and the people charmingly courteous.
For such a small country there is a huge cultural diversity too – from the cosmopolitan sophistication of Lisbon with the stunning architecture of its grand public buildings, wealth of excellent museums and galleries, and world-class restaurants to the undiscovered rural villages and smaller towns, still off the tourist beaten track where life seems unchanged for centuries.
Once a powerful seafaring kingdom that dominated the merchant routes to Africa, South America and the Orient, today, the legacy of Portugal’s former wealth and power can still be seen in its beautifully historic cities; the capital, Lisbon, is superbly sited on the Tejo river estuary, with its grand monuments and maze of medieval alleyways it is a delight to explore. 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.
As a Catholic country, there are ancient churches in every community – and while support for the institutions of the Church may have waned, a belief in traditional values remains. The Portuguese have embraced contemporary life without ever quite getting rid of the more appealing aspects of previous centuries and it is this delightful mix of old and new which makes the country such a delight to discover.
Gilbert Denton & Phyllis Put
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