Portugal shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south. Its long, varied coastline, sunny climate, and the relaxed lifestyle of the inhabitants of its charming towns and villages have made it a sought-after holiday destination. The delight of Portugal is that, although it is undeniably part of modern Europe, it retains some rural enclaves where time has stood still and traditions flourish. In the southern province of the Algarve, modern high-rise resorts line the coast and buzz with all the trappings of a package tour destination; the capital city, Lisbon, on the west coast, is a bright, busy, crowded metropolis surrounded by bustling tourist resorts. Travel a few miles north or east, however, and discover a largely undeveloped picturesque countryside full of medieval villages and towns where life has changed little over several centuries.
The Portuguese have a close affinity to the sea: for centuries their famed mariners led the way in the exploration of Africa and the Americas, and opened trade routes to the East. The country became a strong colonial power, and remained so until the mid-20th century, resulting in distinctive foreign influences on the local culture and architecture. From Africa, for example, was imported the now traditional, sentimental fado music, which is one of the country's unique experiences for visitors, particularly in the cafés of Lisbon.
In recent years Portugal, long overlooked on the list of the world's top vacation stations, has been investing time, money and effort into ensuring it is discovered by the world's travellers, just as once it was the Portuguese who discovered the world. This new age of discovery is paying off, as increasing numbers of visitors arrive each year and hotel and resort construction has exploded. From the visitor's point of view the compactness of the country makes it easy to take in all the best elements: sandy beaches, scenery, history, wonderful cuisine, lively entertainment, charming handcrafts, thrilling nightlife, country fairs, excellent sporting facilities and warm, friendly people.
From the cobbled winding streets of Lisbon's medieval citadel to the cork forests in Alentejo, and from fishermen mending their nets on remote beaches to the shopping malls and sophisticated glitzy resorts, Portugal is a country well worth discovering.