– By Kim Feldmann
With a long-lasting history as a powerful maritime empire, known for fruitful explorations and diverse cultural influences, the Portuguese territory stretches to a series of archipelagos (the Azores and Madeira) in the Atlantic. This relatively small chunk of land on the tip of Europe’s Iberian Peninsula is sometimes overlooked by travelers; but it is precisely its size and location that make it such an interesting place to explore.
Portugal’s continental landmass has an extensive, easily accessible coastline dotted with villages and cities; while the autonomous Atlantic islands favour a more rustic lifestyle. As the three main touristic regions of Portugal, the Algarve, Lisbon, and the islands of Madeira somehow complement each other, portraying different dimensions of the rich Portuguese culture.
Lisbon is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; it’s also both Portugal’s capital and most populous city, where most of the country’s history is translated in the form of landmarks and monuments. By walking along the city’s hilly, pebbled streets, it is possible to grasp the magnitude of the cultural transitions it went through, currently perceptible in its diverse architecture: from Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, to Postmodern.
The Algarve is the southernmost region of continental Portugal and the country’s most popular summer destination. Unlike Lisbon, the Algarve boasts a more provincial air, where the landscape seems to dictate the pace of life and vast, arid plains contrast with an array of white sand beaches.
Meanwhile, the island of Madeira rests as an option for those willing to go the extra mile in order to see something different – which is definitely worth it. Not only is the island known for its refined gastronomy and wines, but its flora and fauna differ from mainland Portugal. A highlight is the northern slopes and their “laurisilva” forests, featuring an array of native plants and birds – attributes that have designated the area as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.