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The Warsaw Voice » Other » September 3, 2008
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Seductive Beauty
September 3, 2008   
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Despite being a relatively small country, Portugal offers an extraordinary diversity of experiences. Visitors have a fascinating array of things to discover: from the rugged mountain peaks, remote gorges and terraced vineyards of the north, to the pristine beaches, rolling hills and wide horizons of the south. And everywhere they go, they are met by warmth, friendliness and generosity of spirit.

Portugal is a place that cannot fail to seduce even the most hardened cynic. The streets are paved with patterned cobblestones; the narrow winding streets are perfect for getting lost in, and the fairy-tale palaces charm the senses.

Portugal's solares (manor houses) and pousadas (inns) offer visitors the chance to stay in castles and monasteries in some of the country's most beautiful areas. These unusual hotels, many of them located in the vicinity of national monuments, provide guests with the chance to discover the meaning of romance, Portuguese style.

Seaside restaurants specialize in serving some of the freshest fish and seafood you are ever likely to eat, while a stew made of meat soaked in wine is a favorite inland dish.

When it comes to drink, Port has established itself as the finest of fortified wines, while the equally renowned Madeira can be enjoyed at any stage of a meal. But Portugal's wines do not stop with these, and it would be a crime not to experience the great wines of the Douro region, the superb new reds from the up-and-coming Alentejo region, the unique vinho verde from Minho, and Palmela's most famous export, Moscatel de Setúbal, one of the world's most sought-after dessert wines.

Portuguese culture embraces many influences but remains distinctive and individual. The casual visitor need look no further than the seductive nostalgia of the country's most famous music, fado, but for those who wish to go deeper, the modern folk, jazz and rock scenes are an intriguing mix of Portuguese, African and Latin styles.

But the country's greatest cultural heritage rests in its architecture. From the endless variety of its vernacular buildings-often covered in azulejos, the country's typical blue tiles-to the glorious masterpieces of the late Gothic Manueline or Baroque period, the range of superb buildings is breathtaking. This legacy has been recognized by UNESCO, which has designated a number of towns and cities as World Heritage Sites. The Portuguese architectural genius has continued into the present day with the contemporary buildings of world-renowned architect Siza Vieira.

The Portuguese love of traditional entertainment expresses itself in the celebration of innumerable saints' days. It is easy to stumble into the middle of one of these riotous celebrations, with music, dances, barbecues, parades and fireworks that often last for days-the enthusiasm of the locals is as infectious as it is colorful.

Portugal is an ideal location for sports lovers, offering world-class water sports from sailing to windsurfing and from fishing to diving. Other sports are on offer too, like riding the famous thoroughbred Lusitanian horses through the Portuguese countryside.

But for many visitors to Portugal, the real passion is golf. World-class golf facilities cater for everyone from novices to pros-so whether you are after a quick round in the sun or the chance to improve your handicap beyond recognition, you will be sure to find the perfect course.

The country's many spas offer the perfect excuse to indulge in some sophisticated ways of pampering yourself. Traditional thermal resorts scattered around the country offer visitors a range of treatments, from high-velocity showers to warm salt-water soaks, while the Zen-like Choupana Hills Spa in the wooded hills of Madeira is the last word in exotic refreshment.

Finally, of course, there's the opportunity to just do nothing-to while away the hours in a quiet café or bar, order yourself a galão, the Portuguese café latte, and a pastel de nata pastry, and watch the world go by. It's amazing just how easy this is.
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