The Azores. The name itself conjures images of warm, blue waters, tranquil sunsoaked beaches and lazy days. Portugal, too, is rich in imagery and history. As the world's first global empire, thanks to its seafaring explorers, it's little wonder that this is the perfect place to discover by boat, snorkel or surfboard.
Situated on the south-western tip of Europe, bordering Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, here you'll find an incredible range of different land and seascapes, a multitude of leisure activities wrapped in an unique cultural heritage, all in a relatively small space.
Just 560km tall and 220km wide, the vine-covered mountains of the North, the spectacular rocky mountains and desert landscapes in the Centre and Alentejo region and the gorgeous beaches in the South are all easily accessible. Some 1,500km off the Western edge of the mainland lie the 9 volcanic islands of the Azores. Due to sporadic settlements spanning two centuries, the dialect, cuisine and traditions here vary considerably. However, and perhaps, due to its size, Portugal and the Azores mix culture and modernity effortlessly.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal established the first global empire, becoming one of the world's major economic, political and military powers. During this time, Portuguese explorers pioneered maritime exploration in the Age of Discovery. Now it's your turn.


People

As a hard-working and industrious people, some at first may appear uninviting but the Portuguese are easy-going, welcoming and friendly. A smile and a smattering of Portuguese will reveal that they are willing to go out of their way to help. As in many European countries, the Northerners can be more formal and conservative, while Southerners are often more laid-back. You’ll discover for yourself how much this generalisation holds true. As a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, the Portuguese festivals are extremely important, especially in the Minho province and the Azores Islands. Often in honour of a patron saint, these can last for days, with dances, processions and fireworks.
Perhaps the most widespread local activity is spending hours gossiping over coffee at café tables. In both cities and small villages, the scene is picture-perfect with older men gathering in the cobbled squares to watch the world go by, while women cluster in their own coffee-morning cliques. Very proud of the country and their towns - each believes that theirs is the best within the country.


Places

This is a country that has the oldest borders in Europe, so it's no surprise that Portugal and the Azores pack an historical punch. Diverse in land, sea and beach scapes, here you’ll find attractions for both the tourist and the adventurer who prefers to go off the beaten track. Read on to discover 6 of the most interesting.

Albufeira

The most popular resort town of the Algarve on the South coast, Albufeira, has everything you could want in a holiday destination. Boasting a huge beach and an old town crammed with restaurants, shops, clubs and bars this is the place for sunbathers and party goers. As Portugal's largest resort, the summer season runs longer than most with many activities still available during the low season. For those who want a respite from the beach, day trips can be taken from the town inland and out to sea.

Nazaré

Located at the mid-point of its Atlantic coastline, Nazaré is Portugal's most traditional fishing village. Brimming with historic and colourful traditions, including women who wear 7 skirts, Nazaré is also the place to surf the wild Atlantic waves. With a vibrant community of surf camps, this is a young and hip spot. The seafood and fish are to die for and, if you're around for New Year's Eve, the beach really comes alive with music and fireworks throughout the night.

Praia Dona Ana

A short distance from the charming resort town of Lagos, the Praia Dona Ana is regarded as one of Portugal's finest beaches. Set amidst golden coloured sandstone cliffs that stretch along the western Algarve, this smallish beach tilts down to crystal clear waters that are teeming with sea life. Perfect for snorkelling and other water sports, the magical setting is worth exploring on foot to discover the Ponta da Piedade cliffs with their unique weathered formations, further along the coast.

Comporta

The locals know this off-the-tourist-radar village as a favourite beach destination. While international celebrities are rumoured to have holiday villas nearby, Comporta has an unique vibe of rustic elegance. The 13km strip of golden sand at the corner of Tróia‘s peninsula backs on to dense forest and rice fields. Comporta is an undiscovered natural beauty spot that feels very much more like home than a stereotypical tourist destination.

Lisbon

Winding up amongst 7 hills and stretching along the Northern banks of the Tagus River, Lisbon is Portugal's capital city. An alluring mix of quaint alleys, undulating streets, old shops, cathedrals, bridges and distinct neighbourhoods, Lisbon pulses with traditional Fado music. A visit to the old Moorish quarter of Alfama is a must with its maze of cobbled streets, rustic architecture and St. George’s Castle. Take a vintage tram to catch the sights and stop off for a Bitoque, a fried steak with an egg on top and fried potatoes on the side. Scrumptious!

Berlengas

Just 10km off the coast lies the small group of Berlengas islands. The largest and only inhabitable island, Berlenga Grande, has an area of only 2.5 square kilometres, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with wild beauty. Home to many protected species of plants and birds, the whole island is a nature reserve. Turquoise waters, weather-beaten cliffs and remote bays and beaches make this the undiscovered place to dive and snorkel amongst shipwrecks and sea life.


Pleasures

Wining and dining is a favourite local pastime and the variety available will make it tough to try it all. Hearty meats and vegetables harvested from the land along with seafood from the country's abundant waters make for robust and delicious dishes. Combined with spices first brought back to the country during the exploration and colonisation of the East Indies and the Far East, the result is irresistible and authentic Portuguese cuisine. Essential to any meal is soup; the first course of any Portuguese meal. The most popular is the Minho speciality, Caldo Verde, made from kale, potatoes and spiced, smoked sausage. Bacalhau, salt cod, is also a must. You'll find it everywhere in many variations - the locals say there 1001 ways to cook it. Grilled chicken, marinated in chilli, garlic and olive oil, is world famous as is roast suckling pig "Leitão" from Mealhada's, near Coimbra. Try them both with the local sparkling wine and bread.
Top off a meal with a ruby or white port. A fortified wine made by adding brandy before the final fermentation. The place to try is in its birthplace of Porto in the Northwest.


Do

Greet with a firm handshake, a smile and a lot of enthusiasm. When a woman offers, kiss her cheek.
Wear appropriate clothes when visiting churches or other religious monuments. Shoulders and knees should be covered.
Be informal at the first encounter, but refrain from asking personal questions.
Compliment the country, food or anything else that impresses you; the Portuguese are very proud of their country and culture


Don't

Assume that Portuguese speak Spanish. Most do but it’s preferable to try some Portuguese or use English when communicating.
Be too punctual. Arrive 5 to 20 minutes late, as the Portuguese consider it rude to be on time.
Be surprised by women sunbathing topless on the beaches.
Exchange business cards at the beginning, always at the end.


Best time to go

Portugal is one of the warmest European countries. The mainland averages about 15°C (55°F) in the North and 18°C (64°F) in the South. The Azores islands have a subtropical climate with high humidity and often experience fluctuations in weather patterns. Spring and Summer months are usually sunny while Autumn and Winter can be rainy and windy, but interspersed with sunshine too. Nearer the sea temperatures tend to be warmer, while the mountainous areas of the north can get snow. All in all, Portugal and the Azores provide a perfect holiday destination year round.


Best way to go

Not surprisingly, Portugal and the Azores are best visited by boat. Sailing from port to port is a delight and incredibly easy. Taking a luxury cruise out into the Atlantic to visit the 9 islands of the Azores is an adventure of its own and extremely rewarding too, not least for it whale and dolphin spotting. Dipping in and out of the many ports along the Portuguese coast is a wonderful way to see the country and make roads inland at each stop. Be sure to dock at Porto, Figueira da Faz, Lisbon, Albufeira and Faro. Travelling across country is best done by hiring a car. Map out your trip and you can cover many of the best spots within a short time. The train is also a great option if you prefer to sit back and watch the spectacular countryside pass by.
If you're more strapped for time, domestic flights cross the land and make an ideal way to get to your preferred destination - any of our luxury boats can pick you up anywhere along the coast and drop you off wherever you decide, all you need to do is pick your personal itinerary. You can also pick your perfect boat from a timeless wooden sailing yacht, an elegant catamaran, a magnificent schooner or any of the beautifully equipped vessels.
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Portugal