The land that is now Portugal has been inhabited for thousands of years and its national boundaries have been defined for eight centuries. This long history is reflected in a particular culture that is the result of the mixture of the many peoples who settled here and those that the Portuguese encountered on their journeys of Discovery.
It is found in the villages and towns, in the monuments and traditions, which bring together influences that the Portuguese have applied creatively. And the omnipresent sea has also shaped our personality and taken us beyond the continent of Europe, enabling us to learn and share with the rest of the world.
Manueline art, tiles and fado are unique expressions and genuine symbols of the Portuguese, but also a contribution to World Heritage. There are 18 such classifications by UNESCO in Portugal, including monuments, landscapes and intangible heritage.
By choosing a region, an itinerary or a specific theme, you can discover a unique heritage and different landscapes, all within a short distance, which still retain the authenticity of local customs. Moreover your tour will be complemented to perfection by the traditional cuisine and the customary hospitality in rural accommodation.
Portugal's Top 10 Cultural Features
There is a strong bond between Portuguese culture and the country's geographical location and history. Portugal is Europe's oldest nation and its Atlantic coastline provided the springboard for the Discoveries. Portugal's cultural heritage as well as the friendly, welcoming nature of the Portuguese themselves have been marked by African, American and Asian influences and also by the peoples who lived here before the country was founded.
Portugal has 17 sites or features classified as World Heritage, including monuments, historic city centres, landscapes and intangible heritage. In the "related items" below, you will find details of each.
It is worth noting that prior to Sintra's classification there was no such category as Cultural Landscape; Unesco created it specifically for this exuberant natural landscape where the mountain and nature park are dotted with palaces and farms bursting with history and culture.
Tiles are a constant feature in Portuguese architecture. There is no other country where you will see them used to such an extent to adorn the interiors and exteriors of houses, churches, palaces and other buildings. Of Muslim origin, the production of tiles in Portugal began in the late 15th century but reached its peak in the 18th century, with blue and white tiles.
You can learn about the history of tiles at the National Tile Museum in Lisbon, but to appreciate fine examples of this very characteristic Portuguese decorative art, all you need to do is travel around the country by train, visit its cities or simply use the Lisbon Underground (Metro).
At a time when Gothic cathedrals were being built all across Europe, Portugal introduced a style in its architecture and sculpture that featured elements inspired by the sea and by symbols of royal power, such as armillary spheres. This architectural style would become known as Manueline, the name taken from the fact that it began during the reign of D. Manuel I (1495-1521). This was the time when the Portuguese Discoveries were at their height and the best-known examples of the style are the Jerónimos Monastery, the Belém Tower, the Batalha Monastery and the Convent of Christ. However, Manueline style buildings and decorative features can be found throughout the country in churches, palaces, pillories and even in civil architecture.
Baroque is synonymous with the splendour and ostentation which were especially a feature the reign of D. João V (1707-1750), when gold and precious stones were being imported from Brazil and port wine exports began. This was a period marked by great works, such as the Convent of Mafra, the "Aqueduct of Free Waters" in Lisbon and the University of Coimbra Library. However, examples such as churches decorated with gilt carvings and tiles can be found throughout the country. Particularly worthy of note in the north, is the work of the Italian artist and architect Niccoló Nasoni, who designed the Clérigos Tower and Church in Porto and Mateus Palace in Vila Real. But there are other examples too, such as the extravagant collection at the National Coach Museum in Lisbon.
Villages and Cities
Portugal is renowned for its heritage and architecture. In addition to the World Heritage cities, many others also stand out, including Viana do Castelo, Braga, Caminha, Barcelos, Ponte de Lima and Amarante, in the north, Viseu in the centre, as well as Santarém and Setúbal, closer to Lisbon, Tavira and Silves in Algarve, and Funchal and Ponta Delgada in Madeira and the Azores, respectively.
While the Romanesque in the north clearly demonstrates that this was the birthplace of Portugal, the Border Castles and the Historical Villages, in central Portugal, also bear witness to almost nine centuries of history. So too do the Schist Villages and the many walled villages and towns, of which Óbidos, Marvão and Monsaraz are just a few examples. In the Alentejo, we find marble and single-storey, whitewashed houses. Like those in the Algarve, with a roof terrace.
There are many contemporary architects who have taken Portugal's name to the highest heights, including two Pritzker prize winners: Álvaro Siza Vieira, who won the award in 1992 and the 2011 winner, Eduardo Souto de Moura.
All across mainland Portugal and the islands, there are many sacred sites worth visiting, but the high point among them all is Fátima, with the worship of Our Lady. Out of all the sites which could be listed, the cathedrals are especially worthy of note, wherever in the country they happen to be. Almost all date back to the time when Portugal was founded but followed subsequent artistic movements. Other than the best-known and most-visited, it is worth mentioning the rural expression of the religious buildings known as "Impérios" and which are connected to the Divine Spirit festivities in the Azores and to the Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres festivities on the island of São Miguel.
Few sacred sites from Moorish times have survived to the present day but the town-museum of Mértola, in the Alentejo, is an exception that is worth visiting.
Fortunately, we do have plenty of sites from another religion, Judaism, with mediaeval signs scattered throughout the country, such as the ancient synagogue in Tomar, and especially next to the border with Spain, in Belmonte, Guarda, Trancoso and Castelo de Vide.
Fado has been Intangible World Heritage since 2011. For many years, fado was associated with the name of Amália but today the new generation of fado singers is so popular that performers such as Mariza, Gisela João, Camané, Carminho and Ana Moura are just a few of those who have made a name for themselves on the international stage.
There is no better way to truly experience fado, the emotion in the singers' voices and the sounds of the Portuguese guitar, than in the candlelit setting of a "casa de fados" or fado house. The Fado Museum, in Lisbon, is also a good place to familiarise yourself with this very characteristic Portuguese music genre.
Portugal is known as a land of poets. Our poetry began at the same time as the nation, with lyric poetry, but reached a high point during the Renaissance, when Luís de Camões (1524-1580) published his "Lusíadas", relating the feats of the Portuguese Discoveries. In the early 20th century, Portuguese poetry became more universal, with the work of Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), the most-translated Portuguese poet. However, it was the prose of José Saramago (1922-2013), which won a Nobel Prize in 1998.
Festivities and Festivals
In summer, especially, Portugal comes alive with traditional festivities such as those in Viana do Castelo, Tomar, Campo Maior or the Flower Festival in Funchal, Madeira. And not forgetting the Popular Saints' Parades, with the high points being in Lisbon on 13 June, and Porto, on 24 June.
Then there are the music festivals featuring a variety of genres from rock to jazz, ethnic and more... in fact, there is music to suit every taste and sometimes the venues are as attractive as the playbills. This is true of the Festival do Sudoeste, Paredes de Coura, Super Bock Super Rock and Nos Alive.
Today, interest in Portuguese cuisine is rising, with new, young chefs combining their contemporary flair with traditional flavours and recipes. Five hallmarks of our cuisine deserve their place in the spotlight: the best fish in the world; "cataplana" (a living symbol of Mediterranean cuisine); port wine (the one and only); Portuguese custard tarts ("a heavenly sweet"); and our chefs (who combine tradition with innovation and creativity). All of which is very much in line with the principles under which Unesco recently acknowledged Portugal as a country with a Mediterranean Diet. And, in Portugal, the table is a focal point when we have guests or are socialising, so every meal is a moment for sharing.
World Heritage in Portugal
In Portugal, culture and heritage have unique characteristics stemming from historical events and the outlook of a people who, as they learned from the rest of the world, adapted this new knowledge to their way of living and their land.
As you travel through the country, you’ll realise what these features are that make up the Portuguese character. You’ll see them in cities, monuments and landscapes, which in their own way also tell a part of the history of the world. For this reason, they were listed as World Heritage.
UNESCO has already granted World Heritage status to 18 cases, including historic centres, archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, natural parks and intangible heritage. These Portuguese contributions to world history are unmissable and the perfect excuse to know the country from north to south.
Historic Centre of Guimarães
Guimarães has a high symbolic value for the Portuguese identity as the birthplace of the nation in the 12th century. The well-preserved city reflects the progress of civic architecture from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. The specialist construction techniques developed here were applied the world over in the Portuguese colonies, from Africa to the New World.
Historic Centre of Porto
The landscape of cascading houses tumbling down to Ribeira, by the River Douro, and the waterfront area in Vila Nova de Gaia depict the history of this city linked to maritime activity since Roman times. The Cathedral and the Clérigos Tower, symbols of Porto, the opulence of the buildings, the Baroque churches, the Neoclassic Stock Exchange make this an exceptional urban landscape with a history stretching back thousands of years.
Alto Douro Wine Region
The vines that produce the famous Port Wine grow in the majestic River Douro valley, the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. Its characteristics and the work of Man who has fashioned the valley into terraces over the course of many centuries have transformed it into a unique landscape of exceptional beauty.
Pre-historic Rock Art Site in the Côa Valley
The River Côa Valley boasts an immense open-air gallery of rock art, along a 17km stretch, on which the modern building of the Côa Museum provides a contextualised view. This exceptional concentration of cave paintings from the Upper Palaeolithic (22,000 to 10,000 years BC) is the most important example of early human creativity, unheard-of until now at a similar level anywhere else in the world.
Coimbra University, Uptown and Sofia
Founded in 1290, Coimbra University is the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe. Particularly during the 18th century, it defined the character of the city as a student town, on the urban, architectural, artistic and social levels. Examples are the Paço das Escolas, the Graça and Jesus Colleges, the Joanine Library, the Botanical Gardens, Coimbra Uptown, Rua da Sofia and the ancient academic traditions and usages. From its inception, the university has been a disseminating hub of scientific knowledge and a reference of Portuguese language and culture all over the world.
Convent of Christ, Tomar
For its historical significance and artistic importance, the Convent of the Order of Christ in Tomar and the Templar Castle form a unique monumental group. Work done over the centuries reflects the history of Portuguese art, with examples from Romanesque art, Templar symbolism, the Gothic and Manueline styles from the era of the Discoveries, through to Renaissance art, then Mannerism in its various facets and, finally, Baroque in the architectural ornamentation.
Monastery of Alcobaça
This is one of the most important European Cistercian abbeys, a symbol of the Cistercian Order. It was founded in the 12th century, by donation to Bernardo de Claraval by the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. The church, begun from its apse, as was the custom, with three naves on the same level, the two-nave transept and the ambulatory, creates an impressive ensemble for its simplicity, grandeur and austerity.
Monastery of Batalha
A masterpiece of creative genius, the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória was erected on King João I’s orders in acknowledgement for the victory of the Portuguese over the Spanish at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. It is the major monument of Portuguese late Gothic, where one of the first examples of the Manueline style appeared. Bearing witness to an exchange of influences in the arts, it is one of the most beautiful monastic buildings in Europe from the late Middle Ages.
Monastery of Jerónimos and the Tower of Belém, Lisbon
The Monastery of Jerónimos is a remarkable work of architecture commissioned by King Manuel I in the early 16th century. It is considered the “jewel” of Manueline style, exclusively Portuguese, incorporating architectural features of late Gothic and Renaissance, associated with a royal symbolism that makes it truly outstanding.
King Manuel I also commissioned the construction of the Belém Tower, achieving an innovative and effective plan for the defence of the river and the protection of Lisbon, within a system of crossfire with other defensive structures at the entrance of the estuary. A symbol of the King’s prestige, it is decorated with Manueline motifs, including knots, ropes, ringed spheres, crosses of the Military Order of Christ and naturalistic features.
Cultural Landscape of Sintra
Sintra was one of the first places in Europe to experiment with Romantic architecture in the 19th century. King Consort Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, married to Queen Maria II, converted the ruins of a monastery into a castle, bringing together in a brilliant manner Gothic, Egyptian, Islamic and Renaissance features, surrounded by exuberant, exotic grounds to the taste of the period. The same model was adopted in other palaces of the Sintra Mountain and served as inspiration for other European landscapes.
Fado, Intangible Cultural Heritage
Sung by a solo performer and accompanied by the classical and the Portuguese guitars, Fado has its origins in the historic districts of Lisbon - Mouraria, Alfama, Bairro Alto and Madragoa, and is associated with the fate of destiny and love. Rendered with intensity and soul, it is today a music of the world, an acknowledged symbol of Portugal.
Historic Centre of Évora
Évora, dating back to Roman times, had its golden age in the 15th century, when the Portuguese Kings established their residence there. Its unique character lies in its whitewashed houses, the indoor tiled decorations and the wrought-iron balconies, all of which make it a representative urban landscape of an historical period (16th to 18th centuries). Its monuments had a decisive influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil.
Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications
Close to the border, you will find in Elvas the largest star fort in the world, about 10km in perimeter and with an area of 300 ha. A unique testimony to the development of military strategic design, it incorporates various monuments: the castle, two forts, three small forts, the walls and the majestic 7km long Amoreira Aqueduct with 843 arches.
The "Cante Alentejano" (Alentejo Song)
Sung in choir by groups of men and women and without any use of musical instruments, the "Cante Alentejano" is a unique and genuine musical expression from the Baixo Alentejo region. Not specific to any genre or social status, it consolidated itself at the beginning of the 20th century with the rural classes of a region that developed through the agricultural and mining industry.
Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroísmo, Terceira Island, Azores
Angra do Heroísmo, with its remarkable architectural setting, was a mandatory port of call between Europe and other continents from the 15th century to the advent of steam ships in the 19th century. Its imposing fortifications, built over 400 years ago, are rare examples in military architecture.
Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture, Azores
On Pico Island, you will find a remarkable example of volcanic rocky soil, seemingly barren, in an extraordinary viniculture landscape. The hills sloping down to the sea, marked by a grid of black stone walls separating the vineyards, attest to the work of generations of small farmers who tamed a hostile environment, creating their own way of life and a wine of great quality.
Laurisilva of Madeira
On the north-facing slopes, covering an area of 15,000 hectares corresponding to 20% of the Island, the primitive forest of Madeira has survived five centuries of human intervention. Having virtually disappeared from the European continent, it preserves its subtropical characteristics, forming the largest and best preserved laurel forest in the Atlantic islands.
The Mediterranean Diet is a key part of Portuguese gastronomy. It is based on fruit and vegetables, high quality bread and largely unrefined cereals, fresh and dried pulses (beans, chick peas, broad beans etc.), dried and oily fruits (walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, raisins etc.), olive oil as the main source of fat, and the consumption of fish. Unesco considered it to be nothing less than a lifestyle, also highlighting the sense of conviviality, celebration and the passing on of knowledge at mealtimes.
Fado, Music of the World and World Heritage
A shawl, a Portuguese guitar, a voice and heartfelt emotion. This simple image could describe Fado, a recognised symbol of Portugal, and a music of the world that is genuinely Portuguese.
At its heart is sentiment, lost love, longing for a departed one, everyday life and triumphs. After all, the vicissitudes of life provide endlessly inspirational topics.
They say fado is fado, that it is ingrained in the Portuguese soul, with no distinctions to be made. Even so, some dare tell a professional from an amateur singer. Professionals earn a living from their voice. Amateurs sing the Fado also known as vadio (vagabond), and this has different qualities, although longing is still present as a main leitmotif. Making a comeback in Lisbon’s working-class districts, fado vadio singers are never invited… they invite themselves and do not have a set repertoire. In Coimbra, fado has particular characteristics and is sung by students.
In 2011, UNESCO granted Fado World Heritage status, as an urban Lisbon song symbolic of the city and the country.
To learn all the details, the best is to pay a visit to the Fado Museum in Alfama, one of Lisbon’s historic districts. Housing a vast collection, gathered from hundreds of bequests, you can get acquainted with the history of Fado from the first quarter of the 19th century to modern times.
The house where Amália lived, today converted into a museum, is also in Lisbon, close to Madragoa. She was the most charismatic of all fado singers who took the fado across borders to the great European halls. A singer with a striking presence on stage and a natural instinct for spectacle, we owe her the classic image of the black dress and shawl.
Discovering the Baroque in Portugal
Travel across Portugal from north to south, including a trip to the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores, and discover the fascinating icons that illustrate the “Golden Age” in Portugal.
Having arrived in Portugal later than it did in the rest of Europe, baroque art was to take on a different form here, but it still continued to demonstrate great vigour and vitality. While the most eye-catching exterior features of the many monuments built in the 17th and 18th centuries were their spectacular appearance and their huge size, the interiors were surprising because of their great decorative wealth. One of their most notable characteristics is the great profusion of carved and gilded woodwork and decorative glazed tiles, but the baroque taste was equally well expressed in sculpture, painting, ceramics, gold and silverware, jewellery, furniture and textiles.
To help you in your discoveries, we suggest four tours in which you can appreciate the particular characteristics of this style in each region. In Porto and the North, set off “In Search of Treasures” and admire the grandeur of some of the region’s granite buildings with their elaborate portals and sumptuous interiors. And we’re not just talking about religious architecture, just look at some of the imposing manor houses in which the nobility used to live.
These stately homes can also be found in the Centre of Portugal, but in the tour that we recommend for you here, it’s the details that really matter. “Splendour in the Centre” will take you to some of the most important cities in the region to see fascinating works of sculpture, painting, gold and silverware, furniture and sacred art, as well as fountains, gardens or even a fortress.
In the Lisbon region, we recommend “A Golden Tour”, since this is the predominant colour inside so many of the churches and palaces that you’ll visit. But you’ll also have the chance to see the baroque style applied to means of transport, such as coaches and galleys. And you can even discover it in the world of town planning – did you know that, after the great Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the city’s rebuilding was planned in accordance with the special principles of the Enlightenment?
And, so that you can form a complete picture of the country, you should also travel to the south of Portugal and the islands. Alentejo, Algarve, the Azores and Madeira all have lots of “Hidden Treasures” which it’s worth taking some time to discover. Sometimes what you’ll see are austere-looking façades behind which lie the great riches and masterpieces of the inside. At other times, you’ll discover churches and sanctuaries hidden away that are worth the trip just in themselves.
Accept our challenge and set off on an adventure trip round Portugal, in search of the baroque!
The Romanesque Route is a tour covering 58 monuments located in the north of Portugal, near the rivers Tâmega, Sousa and part of the Douro.
It includes monasteries, churches and memorials, bridges, castles and towers that have in common the characteristic Romanesque architecture of this region. On the whole, they are located in the centre of a triangle whose vertices are World Heritage Sites: Porto, Guimarães and the Douro Valley.
The Romanesque Route is in fact divided into three routes that connect to each other by road, following the river valleys: The Sousa Valley Route, with 19 monuments; The Tâmega Valley Route, with 25 monuments; and the Douro Valley route, roughly between Castelo de Paiva and Resende, with 14 monuments.
This region and its architectural heritage are indelibly associated with the beginnings of Portuguese nationality, since it was here that the noble families resided who helped the first kings in the Christian Reconquest of the territory that is today Portugal. On the other hand, the clergy and the religious orders helped populations to settle, which is why churches, monasteries and other monuments with unique architectural features are concentrated in such a small area, having often played defensive roles, as attested by their embattled towers and buttresses.
The unusual nature of this historic and artistic legacy is based among other things on the decoration seen, for example, in the portals of churches and monastic complexes, where the use of animalistic, vegetal or geometric themes, combined with a noticeable sculptural quality, provides overall unity to the buildings included in this route, within the context of the Portuguese Romanesque. On the other hand, although they mostly date from the 11th to 13th centuries, it can be observed that these construction techniques extended into the period when Gothic solutions already prevailed elsewhere, and this is another particular feature of this Romanesque Route.
The Romanesque Route is a journey through history, and an excellent starting point for enjoying a comprehensive visit to the region, also taking in other aspects of its regional identity such as the traditional cuisine, the wines, festivals and markets where local handicrafts can be found and actual contact with the local people. There are also trails and footpaths for hikers and cyclists to be enjoyed in communion with nature. For the more daring, the river Paiva challenges you to unique experiences with unforgettable raft descents.
Historical villages of granite and schist preserve memories of ancient conquests and traditions and are remarkable for their landscapes, their heritage and for the friendliness of the people who live there.
Perched on the top of mountains, they can be spotted from afar by the tall towers of their mediaeval castles. That is why they were strategically aligned along the border. The kings and lords of the land knew this would mean they could sleep more restfully. But they were sometimes mistaken. Moors and Christians, Spaniards and Portuguese, all tried to take them for themselves and so each has a very ancient history or a tale to tell. Today they are peaceful and preserve in the street cobbles and the stone of the houses the real Portugal: the authenticity of its people and a proud 900-year long history.
There are twelve in total, and to discover them, we suggest a route that starts in the only place where there is no castle to visit - Piódão. The village sits on a slope hidden in the wilds of the Serra do Açor, and maybe this was why it was not necessary to fortify it. The visit involves a long walk because there is no other way to pass through these narrow streets that wind between the houses of schist.
In Linhares da Beira, in Serra da Estrela, the highlight is the castle built on a plateau, providing a lookout point over the horizon. But you must also see the Romanesque parish church, which still has some panels attributed to Grão Vasco, an important 16th century painter. The historic centre of Trancoso is surrounded by mediaeval walls and has a Jewish quarter where Hebrew symbols can be seen engraved on the stones of the houses.
Marialva was an important military post in the Middle Ages, and Castelo Rodrigo preserves the ruins of another fortress with the marks of a history of struggles and betrayals. Seen from the air, the walls of Almeida form a twelve-pointed star that you can cross from one end to another. This solid defensive structure was built in the 17th century transforming a mediaeval village into a stronghold. In Castelo Mendo, another fortified village, figures can be found representing the mayor who gave his name to the village, and his wife, carved in the stone of two houses.
Belmonte, austere in its granite architecture, was the birthplace of the navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil in 1500, and welcomed Jews expelled from Castile in the 15th and 16th centuries, and there is still an active community that attends the synagogue. At 760m above sea level, Sortelha sits on a rocky escarpment that forms a ring surrounding the village. The view from the castle tower is breathtaking.
In Castelo Novo, which has some fine examples of manor houses, the Town Hall, and Jail and the Baroque style D. Joao V Fountain are notable. In Idanha-a-Velha you can see the ruins of the ancient Egitânia and the Visigoth cathedral. Right next door is Monsanto, which has been called the "most Portuguese village in Portugal", an award that is commemorated by the silver rooster on top of the Lucano Tower. This is the last village on this tour and here it is normal to wonder if the house is born from the rock or the rock arises out of the house, so perfect is its integration into the landscape.
In the Heart of Portugal
Come and discover the “heart of Portugal” - following routes that we’ve prepared for you. Over the centuries, this zone - the cradle of Portuguese identity – has served as a vital cultural crossroads and the setting for key historical facts.
We propose four itineraries, that include three of Portugal’s most important monuments classified as world Heritage sites by UNESCO – the Monastery of Alcobaça, The Convent of Christ and the Monastery of Batalha. Linked to key episodes in Portuguese history, these exquisite monuments combine various architectural styles. The oldest, the Monastery of Alcobaça was founded by Portugal’s first king, and pertained to the Order of Cistercians, which played an essential role in Portugal’s agricultural and cultural development. The Convent of Christ - where one still senses the mystique of the Knights Templar - is located next to the castle built in 1160 by the Military Order, that chose Tomar as the bastion for defence and expansion of the territory conquered from the Moors. The Monastery of Batalha - a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture - pays testimony to affirmation of Portuguese independence against the powerful Kingdom of Castille.
But there’s far more to discover in this region. The “Treasure of the Templars” route is the ideal itinerary for those who enjoy chivalric romances. Starting in Tomar, a sacred geographical centre for the Knights Templar, this itinerary will introduce you to their symbols– in the Church of Santa Maria do Olival, where initiation ceremonies were held, or the Round Church of the Convent of Christ where the knights used to hear mass. Travel through the region and visit the Castle of Almourol, perched on a rocky island in the middle of the River Tagus, or the Tower of Dornes, that once served as a watchtower over the spectacular local landscape.
Surrender to the power of local legends, myths and mysteries in the “Paths of the Faith” that will take you to Fatima - one of the world’s most important sanctuaries dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built next to the site where three child shepherds saw Our Lady. There are also records of other apparitions of the Virgin – in Nazaré, Póvoa de Cós or Ortiga. You’ll find a genuine medieval setting in the town of Óbidos, and in Ourém learn about the legend of the Moorish princess who fell in love with a Christian knight and changed her name from Fátima to Oureana.
Between the sea and the Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park sense the power of the “4 Elements”, the name of the third itinerary. The elements of Water, Air, Fire and Earth have engendered fascinating landscapes that include footprints of the planet’s oldest inhabitants – the dinosaurs.
“The Grail Quest” will fire your imagination, inspired by the search for the sacred chalice by the Knights of the Round Table. We suggest this epic quest be projected into the heart of Portugal, transforming Tomar into the meeting point of these intrepid heroes, their castle into the New Jerusalem and the "Charola" (Round church) into Solomon’s Temple. Follow our suggestions at your own pace - but surrender to the thrill of discovery.
Popular Saints’ Festivals
June is the month of celebrations and festivities for the Popular Saints throughout the country on the nights of St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter.
The main ones are the Festas de Lisboa, on 12 and 13 June, St. Anthony’s day, and in Porto on the night of 23/24 June when St. John is celebrated. These are enormously vivid celebrations, during which the people take to the streets eating, drinking and having fun in the old neighbourhoods, that are bedecked with arches, colourful balloons and the aroma of sweet basil.
In Lisbon, people from every neighbourhood parade down Avenida da Liberdade, filling this major road with colourful characters in costume, folk music, and throngs of spectators. But the crowds and liveliness also fill the narrow back streets, particularly in Alfama, but also Graça, Bica, Mouraria and Madragoa. In the mediaeval squares and alleyways, people eat cabbage soup and grilled sardines, singing and dancing the whole night long. Another highlight is the procession of St. Anthony, which leaves on the 13th from the church of S. António in Alfama, near the Cathedral, where the saint was born in around 1193.
The festivities are just as colourful and lively in Porto, in the more traditional neighbourhoods that include Miragaia, Fontainhas, Ribeira, and Massarelos. But Porto has other habits and customs: the old tradition was for revellers to beat each other on the head with a leek, but now they use plastic hammers; and besides the firework display at midnight on the River Douro in the centre of Porto, people also release colourful hot air balloons into the sky, making one of the most beautiful spectacles in these popular celebrations. For many, the night ends on the beach, to see the sun rise, and some still follow the tradition of taking an early morning dip in the sea.
St. Peter is celebrated on 29 June, also with popular festivals in various parts of the country, such as Sintra and Évora, both on the World Heritage list. Évora, incidentally, has the distinction of celebrating two popular saints, since it has held the St. John Fair since the 16th century, one of the largest in southern Portugal, as well as celebrating the feast of St. Peter as a municipal holiday.
In all these festivals, there is also the tradition of jumping the bonfire and offering your girlfriend or boyfriend pots of aromatic basil, containing four-line verses often speaking of love, especially because these feasts are linked to the summer solstice and ancient fertility rites.
Entertainment in Madeira
Madeira is a destination rich in entertaining events, with a programme full of shows, festivals and exhibitions.
This archipelago, with its unique natural landscape and known for its eternal spring climate and exuberant vegetation, is not just an exceptional place for relaxation. In Madeira, you can enjoy a wide range of cultural and sports activities and many popular feasts, from January to December, with plenty of opportunities for recreation and for appreciating all that the islands have to offer. The local population is always enthusiastic about these events too, and they are in themselves reason enough for a visit, making your holiday truly unforgettable.
Top of the list are the Carnival celebrations which, for five consecutive days, decorate the streets of Funchal with lights and flood them with music by brass bands and Carnival parades spreading high spirits across the city. It is virtually impossible not to be affected and join in the parade with the locals.
Spring in Madeira has place of honour, and its highlight is the Festa da Flor (Flower Festival), held every year in Funchal after Easter. Dozens of floats, bedecked with a plethora of indigenous flowers give off soft fragrances into the air as they parade through the city streets for the great Flower Pageant.
In the Festival of the Atlantic, in June, entertainment and culture go hand in hand to turn Madeira’s capital into a vast stage. There are concerts every Saturday evening, in which the splendour of fireworks combines seamlessly with the music, offering unique moments of joy and colour.
The Madeira Wine Festival is held in early September, when the grape harvest begins all over the island. This feast aims at recreating and reviving centuries-old habits of the Madeira people, dating back to the settlement of the Island. In the centre of Funchal, various allegoric light, sound and folklore shows on the theme of wine and grape-picking take place, while in the parish of Estreito de Câmara de Lobos, the festival starts with live grape harvesting. Grape-picking, the grape harvesters’ parades, grape treading and all the other rituals related to the typical Madeira festivities have an infectious enthusiasm that invites everyone watching the celebrations to join in.
Also in September, Vila Baleira, in Porto Santo, devotes a week to the navigator Christopher Columbus, who spent some years of his life on the Island. The Columbus Festival recalls his stay and experiences in the Madeira archipelago, as well as the whole odyssey of the Discoveries. This “historical” week is marked by plenty of music, exhibitions, street performances, and re-enacted period settings, the recreation of the landing of Columbus and his companions on the city’s dock being particularly notable.
In October, Madeira hosts the Festival of Nature and celebrates for its visitors its best attributes. On land, in the air and at sea, there are plenty of choices and everyone can experience a wide range of activities on offer for all ages. They are complemented by many other events, in a festival that combines sports, entertainment, ethnography and Madeira’s culture.
At the end of the year, the festivities become even more prominent with the hallmark of Madeira, the New Year’s Eve Celebrations. Christmas Christian traditions combine with demonstrations of joy at the arrival of the new year in a rich and wide programme that covers the whole of December and lasts until Twelfth Night, on 6 January. The whole island celebrates, in hotels, restaurants, bars and on the streets, lighting up the skies of Funchal with fireworks lasting about ten minutes to mark the occasion. It is undoubtedly a new dawn greeting the arrival of a new year.
If by chance you cannot be in Madeira for one of these great events, you will always find other sources of entertainment.
After a busy day, there’s nothing like experiencing Madeira’s nightlife to let your hair down. The famous Madeira Wine and other typical drinks, like “Poncha” (a cocktail made with sugar cane-based brandy, honey, sugar and fruit juice), are excellent ways to start an evening. You can also try your luck at the Madeira Casino which, in addition to the various game rooms, has a disco club with live music.
The Island of Porto Santo also boasts bars where you can end the day and start a lively night in the recreational area of Penedo do Sono, that will continue into the early hours.
With endless choices and great reasons to help you make the most of your leisure time, a holiday on the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo will undoubtedly be memorable and entertaining!