Flag of Portugal
A few hundred years ago the country of Portugal was chocked full of Explorers ready to make their mark on the world all for their country. Today Portugal is still making its mark on the world. This time not with Explorers ready to settle New Worlds, but for those looking to come here to play and experience its grand history.
While Lisbon might be Portugal's capital city, it's the country's smaller towns that really shine. Places like Alfama, twisting lanes full of churches and medieval stairs, bordered by little taverns serving up a good drink.
Braga's history dates back even further, to the Romans. Roman ruins are the highlight, but so are the many Baroque churches that came along more than a thousand years later.
Further back in Portugal's history are the rock carvings found at the Coa Valley Archaeological Park, with a UNESCO designation no less.
But it always comes back to the Middle Ages in Europe, doesn't it? Towns like Tomar offer a chance to see a Knights Templar Castle, while Ribeira has both a a part Romanesque- part Gothic Cathedral, and a palace.
Over in Sintra, a hillside town, there's a castle that was the summer home of Portugal's Royal Family.
Sinta's where you'll get the chance to try some Queijadas de Sintra, a locally made cheese tart. Some people might say that Portuguese cooking doesn't get the respect it rightfully deserves compared to neighboring Spain, or countries like Italy. But, you'll find it to be quite delicious, often using curry spices to flavor the freshest ingredients.
With good food comes good wine, which you'll find in the Douro Valley. Whites or Reds, doesn't matter--they're both good. A ride along the Douro River can only be better if you've got a glass of wine to go along with you.
Save the vino for after you've tackled most of Portugal's sports. You'll need a clear head to come in under par at one of the country's many golf courses; or if you're going to try windsurfing, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and just about any other sport you can think to do along 500 miles of coastline.
Speaking of the sun, best to take care to avoid sunburn or sunstroke. Portugal's summers are exceptionally hot, so make sure you drink plenty of water, as well as wear a hat will help.
The island of Madeira is also a sun-lover's paradise; and easily reached by ferry from the mainland. Getting around on Portugal's mainland itself is easy, too. Domestic flights are available if you want to be there quick, while the country's extensive network of trains will get you almost anywhere you want to throughout its 92.000 square kilometers.
Driving on the roads isn't as hazardous as some of the Portuguese drivers themselves, so caution is advised if you're going to drive yourself around. Maybe it's best to let the professionals do it. Taxis are inexpensive, and no tipping is really required--although it's good form to round up the fare.
Hmm, is it possible that the Portuguese stopped exploring new worlds because they realized how wonderful they had it home?