Most people visiting the country will be heading for the perennially sunny climes and golden beaches of the Algarve and its Mediterranean Coast in the south. More exclusive than the Spanish Costas yet less elitist than the French Riviera, the region is undeniably one of Europe’s top coastal areas. But it is a mistake to think that this is all there is to this incredible country.

Head off the fairways of the Algarve and into the interior of Portugal and you’ll be rewarded with a picturesque countryside, similar to that of rural Greece or Spain. Or make your way to one of the former seats of colonial power – the fine capital city of Lisbon or picturesque Porto.

Portugal was once one of the richest countries in the world. You can see the evidence of this faded majesty in its larger towns and cities as well as the ruins that litter the countryside. Head north and inland to discover a hidden Portugal, surprisingly green and verdant, and sparsely populated with tiny hill towns and valley villages.

Portugal more than most of Europe has managed to preserve its traditional culture and you’ll find the people live the way they have done for centuries. Celebrations and festivals are observed with an enthusiasm that has nothing to do with tourism and more to do with a genuine joie de vivre (joy of living).

But if Portugal benefits from its history and geography it is the people that truly make it one of the best touring destinations on the continent. Polite to a fault, you’ll always find a warm welcome no matter how far off the tourist track you might wander. Cultural and language boundaries are crossed effortlessly by genuine hospitality.

A narrow strip along the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal manages to cram in an amazing diversity of art, architecture and culture and all under an incredibly clear azure sky.

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