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Portugal's architecture is renowned for its Moorish and surrealist flourishes, culminating in the development during the 16th century of the Manueline style characterised by the extravagant use of twists, turns, spirals and nautical themes for decoration. The nation's best-known musical form is the melancholic fado (songs believed to have originated from the pinings of 16th-century sailors), while traditional folk dancing remains popular in rural towns. The most striking craft is the making of decorative tiles known as azulejos, a technique the Portuguese learnt from the Moors. Portugal's rich literary tradition also has its origins in the 16th century, with the publication of works by the dramatist Gil Vicente and the poet Luís de Camões. Arguably the country's finest poet and dramatist to emerge in the 20th century is Fernando Pessoa. Portuguese food is cheap, delicious and served in gut-expanding portions. Classic Portuguese meals include sardinhas assadas (charcoal-grilled sardines), pastéis de bacalhau (cod fishcakes) and caldo verde (a soup of cabbage and potatoes). Seafood dishes such as linguado grelhado (grilled sole) and bife de atúm (tuna steak) are appetising staples. Meals can be washed down with Portugal's good-quality wines (vinhos) or port - the drink synonymous with Portugal. Portugal lies immediately west of Spain, and is buffeted along its southern coast by the Atlantic Ocean. To its west and southwest lie the islands of the Azores and Madeira, far out in the Atlantic.
Portugal lies immediately west of Spain, and is buffeted along its southern coast by the Atlantic Ocean. To its west and southwest lie the islands of the Azores and Madeira, far out in the Atlantic. It measures just 350mi (560km) north to south and a paltry 135mi (220km) from east to west. The northern and central regions are heavily populated and characterised by rivers, valleys, forests and mountains - the highest range is the Serra da Estrela, peaking at Torre (6540ft/1993m). The south is less populated and, apart from the rocky backdrop of the Algarve, much flatter and drier. The lush landscape of the north is rich viticultural country but also features corn, potato and rye. The central and southern regions are less green, yet they support corn oaks, olive groves, vineyards, and orange and fig trees, and are a delight in spring when the almond blossoms are in full bloom. Portugal's climate is temperate. The country is generally warm from April to October, though somewhat less so in the north, while the southern region of Algarve can experience uncomfortably hot temperatures in midsummer. During winter, the north receives plenty of rain and temperatures can be chilly. Snowfall is common in the mountains, particularly the Serra da Estrela range.
TAP (Air Portugal), the national airline, has direct flights to Lisbon from a number of destinations, including England, France, Spain, the USA and Canada. There are also international flights to Porto and Faro. International departure tax is US$10, but this is included in the price of your ticket. Direct and regular bus services operate from France, Spain and England. Train connections from France and Spain are just as routine, with a number of scenic stops en route. You can also drive, ride, pedal or walk into Portugal, with major border posts open around the clock. If you're driving from England, the quickest route is via the Plymouth-Santander or Portsmouth-Bilbao ferries to northern Spain and then on to Portugal.
Flights inside Portugal are expensive and hardly worth considering, given the short distances involved. A domestic departure tax is levied, but it's included in the price of the ticket. Trains are much cheaper, but it's almost always quicker to go by bus - especially as a number of private companies operate express services between major cities and the Algarve. Note that bicycles are not permitted on trains. There are dozens of car-rental agencies in Portugal, though you should bear in mind that petrol is pricey. Bicycles can also be rented in some tourist areas. Local transport includes trams, buses and plentiful and cheap taxis. Lisbon has an underground metro (which is being expanded) and some stately funiculars.