Portugal

Summer 2005 CSANews Issue 55  |  Posted date : May 20, 2007.Back to list

The Portuguese, it seems, discovered North America long before Canadians and Americans discovered Portugal. As far back as the late 1700s, that country's fishermen were sailing across the Atlantic to cast their nets into the Grand Banks and harvest cod from what was once considered an inexhaustible supply. They even discovered the caves of Newfoundland, an ideal place for the Iberian country's wonderful wines. For a period of more than 100 years, Newman's used the caves to age its world-famous sherry.

Relatively recently, Canadians started to pay attention to this European destination. Holiday-seekers from the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Germany and other domains have long looked to the Algarve, Portugal's southernmost province, as a spot in which to enjoy finer weather than their homelands could offer during the winter months. Now with direct flights to Portugal's playground, more and more Canucks are turning to Portugal as a pleasant change from such traditional cold weather retreats as Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.

But a beach is a beach, right? Not necessarily. The Algarve's Atlantic shoreline has wonderful, soft-sand beaches, but they are interspersed with jagged rock outcroppings, making the scene far more pleasant than row upon row of condominiums. There are condos, of course, many of them at rates far lower than one might pay for accommodations in North America. Many are located a block or two from the blue waters of the endless ocean. On your short walk to worship the sun and take a dip, you are likely to pass old world shops and food stalls chock-full of enticing fruits and vegetables. And most certainly fishmongers will be displaying their fresh catch of the day. Tantalizing aromas sensually announce that those wonderful Portuguese breads and rolls are ready for the table.

Your apartment will allow savings, should you wish to do your own cooking. However, one must try the local restaurants. Cafés with sidewalk service are abundant and fine dining is available, should you wish to splurge. At the former, you might find a spot with a view of colourful fishing boats. Your lunch probably arrived in one of them that very morning. One spot at Albufeira will keep passing succulent seafood through a window to your outdoor table until you tell them to stop. You won't go away hungry. For the full dinner treatment, one of the resort hotels will welcome you: appetizer (the squid will be tender); maybe soup (suggest caldo zerde – shredded kale and potato cream); entree (try the typical Bacalhau a Braz – cod with egg, shoe-string potatoes and onions); perhaps a salad (unless you are leery of greens in warm climates); dessert (ask for leite creme or molotov) and a nice wine. Expect to pay up to $100CAD for two, a little more if they provide entertainment.

Just for the experience of it, seek out a spot that offers fado. Fado is as Portuguese as you can get – sad, soulful songs about unrequited love, or perhaps a woeful narrative of a sailor who has not returned from the sea. All this, sung with the accompaniment of a guitar. Perhaps, just perhaps, there may be a joyful tune. In any case, there will be no fear of suffering the depression or exalting in the joy of the lyrics unless you understand the language.

That's another plus for a vacation in this part of the world. Most people you will meet can speak or understand English, and they are most willing to offer help if you need it. And you can always look for an English fish-and-chip shop or a British pub. A number of ex-patriot Brits have established a base in the Algarve to serve their vacationing countrymen. A draft of real ale or a Guinness may be your cup of tea, but be sure to try a Sagres, the Portuguese beer. Portuguese beer-makers have been around since the 1600s, so they know the brewing process as well as they know their wines and their fish.

If golf is your game, you will be overjoyed. The Algarve is lined with superlative courses. They are not as inexpensive as they once were, but you'll pay about what you would in the American resort areas. Shopping is not as cheap as it was before Portugal was accepted into the European Union. Now, everything is priced in Euros and you will pay just about the same for goods as you would in Canada. In Lisbon, there are now two pedestrian areas for shopping – Baika (downtown) and Chiada.

Wherever you decide to locate, your rented car will allow you to explore everything from the Spanish border at the Guadiana River to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe. Check out the lighthouse atop the 450-metre-high cliff, then take photos of the anglers perched precariously on the cliff-side before driving to the small community of Sagres (yes, the same name as the beer). This is where Prince Henry the Navigator established a school for seamen. A large circle of stones marks compass directions and a museum displays early navigational aids. Prince Henry's teachings helped such explorers as Vasco da Gama and Bartholomew Diaz discover new territories from the Azores, to Mozambique, to Goa and Macao.

The citizens of his country are very proud of Prince Henry. They erected a monument, in memory of him and the Discoverers, that graces the shoreline of the Tagus River at Lisbon. Also at the shore, take a tour of the 16th-century castle-like customs Tower of Belem.

In the city itself, take a trip up to St. Jeorge for a spectacular bird's-eye view. Drive back through the Alfama district and you will be rewarded with the sights, sounds and smells of the oldest part of the city. Above cobbled lanes, alleys and narrow streets, admire wrought iron balconies festooned with colourful plants, smile at the day's laundry hung across to dry, hear the chirps of caged canaries.

In the general vicinity of the capital, you will find many other attractions. Well worth a call is the Royal Coach Museum, a collection of lovingly cared-for horse-drawn caleches and landaus. Some may even have carried Prince Henry himself. Jeronimo, a one-time monastery nearby, now houses a museum and church. Then there are the two coastal communities of Esteril and Cascais. There is more action here, especially if you enjoy a few games of chance. It is said that Frank Sinatra used to play the tables at the Casino Esteril.

To be sure of a winning day, travel up the coast to Nazare to watch colourfully clad ladies assist their fishermen husbands in bringing their proud prowed boats ashore, just as their ancestors have done for generations past. Take the Sitio funicular to the height of land for a spectacular overview. Another panoramic view can be seen at the walled town of Obidos, famous for its castle. Before returning to Lisbon, call at a couple of centuries-old palaces at Sintra. Or, how about a drive further afield, to Oporto, the country's second-largest city and centre of the wine-growing industry. Tours and tastings can be arranged.

Most chain hotels have properties in Lisbon and Oporto, and they are also represented in the Algarve. However, you might want to immerse yourself in the history and culture of Portugal. Many unusual hostelries are set in centuries-old castles, churches or monasteries. Your professional travel advisor can provide a list of these charming, government-operated "Pousadas"?. To find out more, call the Portugal Tourism Commission at (416) 921-7376.

Remember, the high season on the Iberian peninsula is June through September, so rates are a little better when winter sets in. It is never too late to go on a voyage of discovery yourself, and Portugal may be just the place to start.

The Informed Traveller
A 2004 study conducted by Holiday Which? magazine in the UK compared costs among 21 popular European destinations. Prices surveyed included accommodations, car rental and sundries. How well did Portugal fare?

Note: all prices are listed in Canadian dollars - CAD

Hotels: Standard double budget hotel room for one night in high season, including tax.

Most expensive: UK, $242
Least expensive: Turkey, $45
Portugal: $88

Car Rental: Average week's rental of a small car, including insurance, collision damage waiver, unlimited mileage, tax and pre-booked.

Most expensive: Norway, $824
Least expensive: Spain, $264
Portugal: $264

Sundries: Basket of 200 ml Nivea sunscreen, one can of Coca-Cola, one bottle of Evian water, one large tub of Pringles chips, one 24-exposure roll of Kodak film, and 10 postcards and stamps.

Most expensive: Norway, $60
Least expensive: Czech Republic, $26
Portugal: $42

You can usually find helpful cost information on the Internet. For example, here are estimated costs for meals and accommodations found on www.lonelyplanet.com/
destinations/europe/portugal

Meals (in CAD)
Budget: $3 - $9
Mid-range: $9 - $18
High: $18 - $74
Deluxe: $75 +

Lodging (in CAD)
Budget: $15 - $18
Mid-range: $30 - $60
High: $60 - $223
Deluxe: $224 +

Portugal's slow season is between November and March. During this time, accommodations will be considerably cheaper. For example, a studio apartment will cost you $27 CAD for one night. Between June 1st and July 15, this same apartment will cost $107 CAD per night. And between July 16 and August 28, this studio will cost $138 CAD!! If you're looking to travel on the cheap, the slow season is definitely the time to plan a vacation. But take note: many hotels and restaurants close for the slow season.

The Algarve Average Yearly Temperatures
January to March: 17 degrees Celsius
April to June: 22.4 degrees Celsius
July to September: 27 degrees Celsius
October to December: 17.7 degrees Celsius

For Additional Information...
There are some very informative websites that can help you learn more about Portugal. When planning your trip, check out these helpful sites:

www.portugal-info.net – Chock-full of detailed info about accommodations, flights, property, vehicle rental, sports, entertainment, food and wine, weather, commerce and history.

www.visitportugal.com – Portugal's official tourism website; highlights tourist areas and vacation ideas.

www.portugal.org – Official government site; provides general travel information.

www.portugalvirtual.pt – Includes directories for restaurants, accommodations, health services, leisure activities and shopping.

www.lonelyplanet.com/
destinations/europe/portugal - Great fast facts and easy reading regarding history, tourism, attractions, prices and transportation.

www.algarve.org – Everything you want to know about the Algarve.

Types of Accommodations in Portugal
Depending on your personal preference, there are many different places in which you can stay in Portugal. Here are descriptions of the most common accommodations available:

Hotels

  • Graded by star system (1 to 5) by national tourist authorities
  • General level of comfort and facilities is on par with most other European countries
  • Majority are located in the Algarve and in Lisbon

Private Guest Houses

  • Known as Turismo de Habitacao, this is a program in which owners of private guest houses offer rooms to tourists
  • Most often, these are manor houses and stately buildings, which offer large guest rooms
  • Breakfasts are included and other meals may also be available on request. Dinner is usually a lavish affair
  • Most guest houses are found in the northern Minho region, with popularity spreading to Alentejo, the Algarve, Madeira and the Azores

Motels

  • Classified by star system, but between 2 and 3 stars only
  • Offer mid-range accommodation suitable for a handy stopover
  • Most have plenty of outdoor parking space that is within eyesight of guestrooms

Pousadas

  • Offer the best range of à la carte accommodation
  • Majority are located in small towns and have a limited number of rooms, therefore guests can expect friendly, personalized service
  • Serve breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Many are converted convents, monasteries, restored castles and palaces that offer travellers a glimpse into Portugal's historic past

Aparthotels

  • Self-catering apartments that normally include bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchenette
  • Many offer services that you would find in a regular hotel, such as maid service, bar, restaurant and 24-hour reception desk
  • Most aparthotels are located on the beaches of the Algarve

Quality Inns

  • High-end accommodations, graded with either 4 or 5 stars; similar in style to Pousadas
  • Often set in old, restored buildings, with exquisite interiors and exteriors
  • Usually offer wide range of facilities, such as swimming pool, tennis court, bar and restaurant

Tourist Apartments

  • Similar to aparthotels; ideal for vacationers looking for flexibility and independence
  • Majority are located in high tourist locations, such as the Algarve (in Albufeira, Quarteira and Vilamoura)

Tourist Villages

  • Commonly known as "aldeamentos"; most are located along the coastline of the Algarve; very tourist-oriented
  • Contain private apartments and offer a wide range of facilities, such as golf courses, water sports, swimming pools, children's clubs, restaurants, bars and supermarkets

Rural Hotels

  • Like name suggests, located in rural areas in the heart of the countryside
  • Can range from stately mansions and wine estates to small, rustic cottages and farmhouses.


Source: www.portugaltravelguide.com