Portugal: Ox-drawn ploughs or golf-course buggies - the choice is yours
Beaches, hilltop villages and some serious wilderness in between - Jeremy Atiyah finds something for everybody in Portugal's seven provinces
Sunday 31 May 1998
This is the far north-western corner of the country, hard up against the coast and the Spanish province of Galicia. One feature of the area is a countryside which is one of the poorest in Western Europe: farmers still rely on ox-drawn carts and ploughs. A great way to explore the region is by staying in Turismo Habitacao accommodation, otherwise known as Turihab, which is particularly plentiful in this area - grand old manor houses or farmhouses right off the beaten track (call the Portuguese tourist board on 0171-494 1441 for a brochure). The two urban centres in the region, neither of which are large, are Braga - packed with historic churches - and the finely preserved mediaeval city of Guimaraes, which incidentally has two of the country's finest pousadas (Portugal's de luxe, government- run hotels).
If anything, this province is even poorer than , and wolves are said to roam the mountain villages. It is a harsh landscape, freezing in winter and broiling in summer, but its two national parks offer some serious wilderness for hiking in. The top end of the Douro River valley runs through the southern part of the province, including the most important port-producing area.
This is actually three provinces: the litoral (coastal), alta (upper) and baixa (lower). As a whole, the region includes the country's highest mountain - the Serra da Estrela - as well as its longest river, the Rio Mondego. The highlands were the heartland of the Lusitani, a fierce indigenous people whose leader, Viriato, is a national hero for his stubborn resistance to Roman invaders 2,000 years ago. The highlight of the area is the ancient and hilly university city of Coimbra, perched above the Rio Mondego.
Curiously, Estremadura is not adjacent to the Spanish province of Extremadura, but squeezed up against the coast above Lisbon. Apart from Lisbon and Sintra, the main attractions are a few seaside resorts such as Ericeira, full of Lisbonites enjoying themselves at weekends in summer. In the north of the province are a couple of architectural masterpieces: a 12th-century Cistercian monastery in Alcobaca and the Gothic-Manueline monastery in Batalha.
There is not much to shout about in this thin little province to the east of Lisbon, except for a couple of historic little towns, Santarem and Tomar, the latter being the one-time headquarters of the Knights Templar.
The alto (high) and baixo (low) Alentejo between them make up most of the lower half of Portugal. In summer, the rolling plains are monumentally hot and empty - the land is divided into vast agricultural estates still based on the old latifundia, the original country estates established by the Romans two millennia ago. The place to aim for is the fantastically historic city of Evora. Fortified hilltop villages surrounded by miles of cork and olive are also a feature; Monsaraz is the best known.
This is Euro-holidayland par excellence. Parts of the coast, especially between Faro and Lagos, have been predictably over developed and Albufeira probably takes the biscuit as the local Torremolinos, with its crowded pubs and restaurants catering exclusively to German and English holidaymakers. That's the bad news. The good news is that the sun shines warmly almost all year round, the beaches are excellent and, in recent years, luxury villa resorts and golf courses have been added to what is generally a low-cost market.
Leading specialist tour operators featuring Portugal include Destination Portugal (01993 773269), Portugala Holidays (0181-444 1857), Caravela Tours (0171-630 9223) and Latitude 40 (0171- 229 3164).
Simon Calder: Until this disaster South Korea's ferry safety record fared well compared to its Asian neighbours
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
The 10 Best hiking boots
Where to go on holiday 2014: These are the top 10 destinations that everyone will be talking about this summer
The 10 Best city bikes
- 1 Poveglia: 'World's most haunted island' up for sale...is anyone brave enough to buy it?
- 2 Babies cry at night to stop mothers procreating, scientists claim
- 3 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 4 Andre Johnson: Wu-Tang Clan-discovered rapper severed his penis and jumped from LA building
- 5 Mrs Doubtfire 2: Robin Williams set to star in sequel to 1993 comedy
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...
Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...
Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...
Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...