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THE POOREST COUNTRY IN WESTERN EUROPE HAS KNOWN GLORIOUS DAYS OF EXPLORATION AND EMPIRE
The word Portugal usually brings to mind sunny, sandy beaches and luxury hotels, or the port wine, which has been produced for 400 years in the DOURO valley. In many ways the country, its people and its landscapes remain largely unknown.
Today, Portugal is the poorest country in Western Europe, but it had the first great European overseas empire. Prince Henry the Navigator inspired the great Portuguese discoveries in West Africa and beyond in the 15th century. Vasco da Gama sailed round Africa to reach India in 1498 and the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach China and Japan by sea. By 1550 they had claimed Brazil. Today, 200 million people around the world speak Portuguese.
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Portugal has modern cities and ancient lifestyles. The hustle And bustle of the capital, LISBON, is a world removed from the oxcarts creaking their way up hillside tracks in the MINHO region.
In the northeast are the gorse-clad, steep-sided valleys and mountains of Tras-os-Montes, cold and damp in winter, and still the haunt of wolves and wild bears,
The coastal plain of the northwest, with its woodlands of pine and eucalyptus, has a patchwork landscape of small fields of maize and beans, surrounded by arbors of vines. The rapes are used to make the sparkling white vinho verde wines.
The Douro River is the artery of port wine, the route down which countless barrels have been shipped. It runs from the steep slopes of the upper valley between the Spanish border and Peso da Regua, to the lodges at Vila Nova de Gaia, opposite OPORTO.
Moving south, across the MONDECO River, are the high granite peaks and glacial valleys of the SEOA DA ESTRELA, Portugal's winter sports area. Farther south one reaches lands increasingly hotter and drier in summer; the vast expanses of the ALBNTEIO, with its wheat fields and cork plantations.
High-walled towns such as EVORA, ESTREMOZ, ELVAS and Marvao stand on the skyline like guardians watching over the toil of generations of peasant farmers.
In the west, at the mouth of the TAGUS river. lies Lisbon, built on seven hills, surrounded by wealthy suburbs and the tourist haunts of the Serra da Arrabida and the Serra de Sintra,
The Alentejo continues to the hinterland of the ALGARVE, with its beautiful groves of almond, fig and olive trees. Here the climate is warm and equable even in winter. Along the southern coast of the Algarve are the old fishing harbors of PORTIMAO, FARO and Tavira - centres of an extensive tourist region along the sandy beaches washed by the Atlantic Ocean. The fishing fleets still operate, landing catches of sardines and tuna.
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