Having been here once before, I can tell you that Portugal is a very underrated place to visit. The weather is great, the food is both hearty and interesting, the wines are inventive, and the people are friendly. Portugal is pricier than a super cheap getaway to the Southern United States, but compared to the rest of Europe, it’s very economical, which is one reason why so many Americans are retiring here. With the dollar about even to the euro, you can expect to pay around $75 for a mid-range hotel and $20 for a three-course meal with drinks. That’s quite a bargain for some of the world’s best cuisine.
One fact I did not know: Portugal has the oldest (1139) borders in Europe. Portugal is situated at the south-west point of Europe and also includes the Madeira and Azores archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean. Mainland Portugal occupies an area of 88,889 km2. It is 218 km wide and 561 km long. It has 832 km of Atlantic coast and a 1,215 km border with Spain.
Portuguese cuisine evolved from hearty peasant food drawn from the land and abundant seafood found in the country’s lengthy coast with the cows, pigs and goats raised on the limited grazing land of its interior. From these humble origins, spices and condiments brought back to the country during the exploration and colonization of South America, Africa, the East Indies and the Far East, contributed to the development of what become regarded as ‘typical’ Portuguese cuisine which inherently, also helped shape the cuisine in the regions under Portuguese influence, from Brazil and Cape Verde to Thailand and Japan. Today, traditional Portuguese cuisine is served alongside the latest trendy and fusion cuisine styles. Several establishments have been awarded Michelin stars.
Portugal is mainly characterized by a Mediterranean climate ( in the South, central interior, and the Douro river valley; in the North, Central west and Vicentine Coast), temperate maritime climate in the mainland north-western highlands and mountains, and in some high altitude zones of the Azorean islands; a semi-arid climate in certain parts of the Beja District far south and in Porto Santo Island, a warm desert climate in the Selvagens Islands and a humid subtropical climate in the western Azores, according to the Köppen-Geiger Climate Classification. It is one of the warmest countries in Europe: The Algarve, separated from the Alentejo region by mountains reaching up to 900 meters (3,000 ft) in Alto da Fóia, has a climate similar to that of the southern coastal areas of Spain or Southwest Australia.
Portugal is located on the Mediterranean Basin, the third most diverse hotspot of flora in the world. Due to its geographical and climatic context – between the Atlantic and Mediterranean – Portugal has a high level of biodiversity on land and at sea. It is home to six terrestrial ecoregions: Azores temperate mixed forests, Cantabrian mixed forests, Madeira evergreen forests, Iberian sclerophyllous and semi-deciduous forests, Northwest Iberian montane forests, and Southwest Iberian Mediterranean sclerophyllous and mixed forests.
Native Portuguese are an Iberian ethnic group and they form 95% of the whole population, whose ancestry is very similar to Spaniards and have strong ties with fellow Atlantic Arc countries like Ireland, British Isles, France and Belgium due to maritime trade dated as far back as the Bronze Age. These maritime contacts and the prevalence of R1b haplogroup as the main genetical marker of these countries suggest a common ancestry and cultural proximity. Other maritime contacts with the Mediterranean especially with Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans and Moors added some phenotypes in southern Portugal and particularly southern Spain (the Tartessos culture), making Portugal and north-western Spain a bridge between north-western Europe and the Mediterranean but maintaining the Atlantic character.
Some famous people from Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Henry the Navigator, Jose Saramago, Salvador Sobral, Luis Figo, Eusebio, Fernando Pessoa, Daniela Rush, Paula Rego, Nelly Furtado, Mariza, Antonio Guterres (Secretary General of the U.N.), Rosa Mota, and Antonio Salazar. And now my dear friend, Sian.
Livaria Bertrands holds the Guinness world record for the oldest bookstore still in operation, having been founded in 1732.
There are over 250 million Portuguese speakers around the world. Only 5% of Portuguese speakers like in Portugal.
Portugal is home to the world’s largest cork forest. Portugal is the largest cork producer in the world and produces 50% of the world’s cork supply.
Cabo do Roca is the westernmost point in all of Europe, located at the western end of the Sintra mountains on the Atlantic Ocean.
The most famous dessert in Portugal: But it’s not just any old custard tart; this is the famous Pastéis de nata. These were created by many Catholic monks sometime before the 18th century. At the monastery, they used egg whites for starch (laundry and all that), but what to do with the egg yolks? Bake them, of course! Thus, the tastiest custard tart in the world was born. You can enjoy it everywhere, from Brazil to Japan, but Portugal is the best place for it.
Tempura is Portuguese! That most Japanese of delicately fried goodness originates in Portugal. On their adventures around the world, the Portuguese came across Japan in the 16th century. Before Japan decided to close its doors to trade, Portugal offloaded several gastronomic goodies onto the island nation – tempura being just one of them. The custard tart just mentioned, castella cake, and even bread are loved by Japanese people today. This is definitely one of our favorite facts about Portugal (how couldn’t it be?).
Britain might have been the most publicized and famous slavery abolishment in 1833, but Portugal did it far sooner. In 1819, Portugal, which admittedly (like Britain) played a big part in the slave trade, then abolished it. It makes the British Empire look more and more like copycats compared to progressive Portugal.
Dating back to the 1820s, Fado sprung up in Lisbon’s bars, cafes, and restaurants and became an instant hit. Fado comes from the Latin fatum, which literally means “fate” but can also mean “death.” As you might expect, the music is loud and mournful but ultimately zapped with unmatched power and energy all of its own. This brings us to… Believing in their fate, whether it’s good or bad, is part of Portuguese culture. That’s what Fado is all about. Another good example is the amazing word “saudade.” This is one of those allegedly “untranslatable” words that mean an intense and sorrowful longing or nostalgia over someone – or something – that you miss and can’t get back. Missingness, maybe?
All that water around Portugal means a lot of fishing grounds. There are a lot of coastlines for fishermen to use as their base and waters for the fisherman to access. This adds up to Portuguese people eating a lot of fish. No, Portugal is the third-highest consumer of fish on the planet. That’s after Iceland and Japan.
I am certain this is more than you ever wanted to know about Portugal. But I assure you, this country should be on your water pail list of places to visit and experience.
Sidebar: I was invited to Portugal, specifically the beach town about 20 minutes west of Lisboa, called Cascais. But my friend’s home is not ready for occupancy due to a series of problems related to escrow.