Going north to south, we can start on the coast at Porto, which is smaller than Lisbon. Porto had the very big textile factories as well as port wine, which gets its name from Porto and which the English did with the Portuguese.
Then, still in the Porto region, there is the river D’ouro. It is a beautiful trip coming down on the D’ouro River by boat for either two hours, two days or four days, going through the wine country in the north, which is completely different from the wine from down in the Alentejo, south of there. You’ll see hillsides full of wine grapes.
I have friends who live in Porto and I have been there several times, but I haven’t lived there. I think that it’s perhaps a calmer way of living because the city is not as big as Lisbon. It’s quieter maybe in Porto, even though it is cosmopolitan and a real city. There are lots of foreigners in Porto.
Moving south, the next significant are is Coimbra. Coimbra is a university city. It has a lot of big hospitals that are well known, especially the eye hospital there. A lot of the history of Portugal started within that area, when there was still the monarchy here. There’s a very good book for anyone coming to Portugal, written in English, that you can pick up at the airport, written by an Englishman who lives in Cintra, called The First Global Village. It’s very interesting to read, covering from the start of Portugal up until the time of the revolution. It’s exceedingly interesting in that we don’t give credit enough in the history of Portugal. We talk about Christopher Columbus but there are other Portuguese discoverers. This book is very, very interesting in terms of language as well and where the Portuguese where and what they did and how even some of Japanese comes from Portuguese.
Continuing south, there are several other places along the coast where a lot of foreigners would go as well. Then there is Fatima, which is also in that area and is very significant for Catholics. After that, you start coming towards Sintra and then you come all the way down the coast until you get to Cascais. Cascais is about twenty minutes due west of Lisbon. It used to be a fishing village but now it’s a very big residential area where there are separate municipalities. There’s the Bay of Cascais, which has many boats.
Going from Cascais, east towards Lisbon, there is Estoril, which has the biggest casino in Europe. There are several areas until you get to the western outskirts of Lisbon, which is quite historical. In this area is Belem, which in English is Bethlehem, and is where the kings and queens used to come down to wave goodbye to the explorers.
There are seven hills in Lisbon, which sits on the Tagus River as it empties into the Atlantic. There’s a lot more money available in Lisbon now, and there’s a lot of places that have been done up. I compare it a little bit with San Francisco because San Francisco is one of the places that is a little bit more like Europe than many other cities of the States. Lisbon is a little bit like that in terms of architecture and it’s become more built up now. There has been a lot of restoration work and they’re quite strict about the restoration because of the old buildings and they won’t let you just pull it all down and put up a modern building. If a building you own has historical value you have to keep the façade on the outside and then you can build.
Lisbon has a lot of very nice little narrow streets and yet then you have the main street, which is Avenida da Liberdad, and you have the Marquese de Pombal, which is the center. Marquese de Pombal was a marquese (nobleman) at that time of the huge fire that destroyed the whole of Lisbon and who arranged to have it all rebuilt. There’s a huge statue of him in the center of Lisbon and a big main avenue comes down from there. And then there is the castle of St. George. These are all the historical parts of Lisbon and history at the time of the oligarchs. Lisbon has a tremendous amount of history.
Continuing south, before you get to the Algarve there is the Alenteijo, which has very nice beaches along the coast. Most of Portugal’s cork production is in Alenteijo, which has cork trees and the olive trees. It’s a big farming area that extends all the way to the coast; you can be inland or you can go along the coast.
And then you come down to the Algarve. There are several different areas of the Algarve. There is Albufeira, which is the main and the most popular area, and there are many other areas as well. The roads in the area are plentiful and good quality. You can get to Seville in Spain in two to three hours.
The Algarve has become very popular with the English, Germans, and other foreigners who were going down and buying family holiday houses and coming out for the summer. It’s a little bit warmer down in the Algarve and the sea is a bit warmer than in the Lisbon area. The Atlantic is not the warmest sea in the world but it is a little but warmer down in the Algarve.
The English were the primary group who purchased properties in the Algarve. Then they started building a lot of golf courses, a lot of big hotels, and it just spread and spread. In the western part of Algarve is Lagos, which is probably the least over developed area. The month of August is when most of the Portuguese will go down to the Algarve. Foreigners are there pretty well all year round.
There is a huge selection of houses and apartments in the Algarve. You can buy houses from €15 million to €150,000 (about $15.9 million / £10.5 million to $158,000 / £105,000). So there’s a tremendous amount of building, a lot of sailing, a lot of golf, and a lot of condominiums. The lifestyle in some ways is the same as here but it’s more restricted because you’ve got the sea and you’ve got boats as opposed to here where you’ve businesses. Down there it’s more restaurants, hotels and holiday companies.
(Coimbra,the largest Roman settlement in Portugal, pictured.)