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|Introduction to Portugal
Portugal has a rich seafaring past, superb beach resorts, wistful towns and a landscape wreathed in olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage sites and graced by one of Europe's most relaxed and attractive capitals, it also remains refreshingly affordable.
Savouring life slowly is a Portuguese passion, and much of the best is humble - traditional folk festivals; simple, honest food drowning in olive oil; music that pulls at the heart strings, recalling past love and glories; and markets overflowing with fish, fruit and flowers.
Four decades of dictatorship sidelined the country from modern progress and Europe's power centres, but like its neighbour, Spain, it has spent much of the last 20 years trying to move in from the periphery, forging new ties with the rest of Europe, restructuring its economy, and struggling to maintain what is best in its national culture despite the sudden onslaught of international influences.
Full country name: Portugal
Area: 92,391 sq km
Population: 10.4 million
Capital City: Lisbon (pop 535,740)
People: 99% Portuguese, 1% African
Religion: 97% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant, 1% other
Government: parliamentary democracy
Head of State: President Jorge Sampaio
Head of Government: Prime Minister Jose Socrates
GDP: US$195.2 billion
GDP per capita: US$19,400
Annual Growth: 3.3%
Major Industries: Textiles, footwear, wood products, metalworking, oil refining, chemicals, fish canning, wine, tourism, agriculture
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Spain, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands & the UK), US
Member of EU: Yes
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Visas: None required for EU nationals. Nationals of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the USA can stay for 90 days visa-free. Everyone else needs a visa. Being a member of the Schengen Agreement, business travellers from the Schengen group of nations can obtain a 90 day Schengen Visa when entering Portugal.
Health risks: sunburn (In the tropics, the desert or at high altitude you can get sunburned quickly and seriously, even through clouds. The southern reaches of the continent suffer from scathing ultraviolet, so be extra careful there. Use a strong sunscreen, hat and barrier cream for your nose and lips. Calamine lotion and aloe vera are good for mild sunburn. Protect your eyes with good-quality sunglasses, particularly if you will be near water, sand or snow)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0
Dialling Code: 351
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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Portugal abounds with romarias (religious pilgrimages), festas (festivals) and feiras (fairs) that bring whole towns to a standstill. At the core of many are religious processions. The further north you go, the more traditional and less touristy these celebrations get. Carnaval is one of the biggest events, featuring partying, parading and painted faces about six weeks before Easter. There are vast and colourful processions during Braga's Easter or Holy Week Festival. The Festa de São João in June is biggest in Porto where everyone dances through the streets, amicably hitting each other over the head with leeks. The Feira de São Martinho (Golegã, November) showcases all manner of horses, riding contests and bullfights.
New Year's Day - 1st January
Carnaval Tuesday - February/March - day before Ash Wednesday
Good Friday - March/April
Liberty Day - 25 April - celebrating 1974 revolution
Labour Day - 1 May
Corpus Christi May/June - ninth Thursday after Easter
Portugal Day 10 June - also known as Camões & the Communities Day
Feast of the Assumption - 15 August
Republic Day - 5 October - commemorating 1910 declaration of Portuguese Republic
All Saints' Day - 1 November
Independence Day - 1 December - commemorating 1640 restoration of independence from Spain
Feast of the Immaculate Conception - 8 December
Christmas Day 25 December
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|Best time to Visit
Peak tourist season is roughly from mid-June to September, except in the Algarve where it really only quiets down in the dead of winter. Carnaval and Easter are two holidays celebrated with gusto all over the country and are worth going out of your way for.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Although costs are beginning to rise as Portugal falls into fiscal step with the EU, this is still one of the least expensive places to travel in Europe. On a rock-bottom budget - using hostels or camping grounds and mostly self-catering - you could squeeze by on about EUR25-30 per person in the high season. With bottom-end accommodation and the occasional inexpensive restaurant meal, daily costs would hover around EUR30-45. Travelling with a companion and timing your trip to take advantage of off-season discounts, you could eat and sleep in relative style for about EUR50-70 for two. Outside major tourist areas, prices dip appreciably.
If you're not unhappy with the service, a reasonable restaurant tip is about 5% to 10%. For a snack, a bit of loose change is enough. Taxi drivers appreciate about 10% of the fare. Good-humoured bargaining is acceptable in markets but you'll find the Portuguese tough opponents. Off season, you can sometimes bargain down the price of accommodation.
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Lisbon's position on seven low hills beside a river once lured traders and settlers, and it's still a stunning site. Add to that its cultural diversity, laid-back feel and architectural time warp, and you have one of the most enjoyable cities in Europe - and also one of the most economical.
Lisbon is the kind of place where you can sit at street cafes - sampling food or fado - and watch the world go by. But for the eager there are also plenty of cultural activities. In addition to architectural masterpieces at Belém, Lisbon has over 50 museums to visit.
Lagos, on the south coast of the Algarve, is one of the country's most popular tourist resorts. Most visitors are drawn to the superb beaches, which include Meia Praia, a vast strip of sand to the east, and the more secluded Praia do Pinhão to the south.
The town has abundant facilities for renting bicycles, mopeds and horses, and there are also boat trips from the main harbour. Apart from the sun and sand, the resort's other highlight is the Museu Municipal, which has eccentric displays of ecclesiastical treasures and other intriguing curios.
The town of Sintra, northwest of Lisbon, was long favoured by Portuguese royalty and English nobility (Lord Byron was mad about it) as a summer destination. Its appeal is still evident today, with its thickly wooded setting, romantic gardens, amalgam of Manueline and Gothic architecture, 16th-century hermitages, and ramshackle glamour.
The walled town of Évora is one of the architectural gems of Portugal. Situated in a picturesque landscape of olive groves, vineyards, wheat fields and brilliant spring flowers, it's a charming town whose attractions include a cathedral, a roman temple and a ghoulish ossuary chapel constructed from the bones and skulls of several thousand people.
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