terça-feira, 5 de fevereiro de 2008

Portugal 2008 - Highlights by the British Press

Portugal 2008: holiday planning guide
Wonderful though they are, there’s much more to the mainland and the islands than the coastal resorts. Why not meander in port wine country, suggests Gill Charlton, or spot whales off the Azores?

The vast majority of visitors head for the Algarve's sandy beaches, yet Portugal is a country that deserves deeper exploration. As well as a rich cultural heritage, it has world-class national parks and nature reserves, clean blue rivers and lakes for swimming, boating and fishing, and a refreshingly undeveloped Atlantic coast.

Here are my top 10 reasons to visit Portugal this year.
1 It is the cheapest eurozone country. The Post Office's recent Holiday Cost Barometer shows that popular tourist purchases cost twice as much in Spain.
For example, a Heineken beer costs £1 in Portugal compared with £1.92 in Spain; a three-course meal for two costs £23.06 in Portugal, £46.13 in Spain.
2 The Alentejo region, easily reached by car or train from the Algarve, is becoming more attractive to tourists.
More handsome country houses on cork and olive estates are available to rent and they make good bases for touring the region's Neolithic and Roman sites, notably the university town of Evora.
The Atlantic coast is wild here, but there is good swimming at Vila Nova de Milfontes, where a new resort hotel offers activity holidays aimed at British families.
3 Naturtejo, in remote central Portugal, newly designated a Unesco Geopark (http://www.naturtejo.com/), should prove popular with walkers and cyclists and is famous for its fossils.
Don't miss the extraordinary village of Monsanto, built among giant granite boulders. And don't take remoteness for backwardness: the locals have embraced YouTube and posted home videos of village life, from the olive harvest to the volunteer fire drill (see http://www.monfortur.pt/).
4 The five-star Aquapura Hotel is a welcome addition to the limited accommodation options along the Douro River.
Near Peso da Regua, it is centred on a renovated country house. The lush gardens contain most of the architect-designed rooms and a full-on health spa.
Other new hotels include the Pousada Sao Vicente, a restored 19th-century palace in the northern town of Braga, and two modern "design" hotels in Lisbon, Jeronimos 8 and the Fontana Park.
5 The Algarve has a good selection of luxury family-friendly hotels offering qualified nannies and all-day activity clubs for children of all ages, leaving parents free to relax in the spa or play golf.
The newest hotel is the Hilton Vilamoura, which offers apartments and hotel rooms on its five-acre site at the heart of the resort. The Paradise Island Kids' Club operates from Easter until the end of September and accepts children from the age of three.
6 The first charter flights direct to the Atlantic island of Porto Santo start in May and coincide with the opening of two luxury resort hotels on the island's six-mile sandy beach. Both the Pestana and Colombo's Resort will have children's clubs, health spas and themed restaurants.
7 Madeira remains a year-round favourite with British visitors, who fly in for its relaxed pace, balmy weather and verdant scenery.
Thanks to a bigger choice of low-cost flights from regional British airports the island should attract more younger visitors who are keen to walk its levada trails and enjoy good food in countryside quintas.
8 Whale-watching is the big draw in the Azores and the best boats have marine biologists on board. The island of Pico is the closest base to their feeding grounds. Pods of sperm whales are seen all year, but in April/May and late September/October migrating blue, fin, sei, minke and humpback whales pass by. There is also the chance to swim with dolphins.
9 For independent travellers, Solares de Portugal (http://www.solaresdeportugal.pt/) is a good source of accommodation. These family homes are inspected for quality and range from manors to working farms and country cottages.
10 Day-trip boats from Oporto will also accept one-way passengers with luggage - a great way to travel upstream to port-wine country.
Stay on one of the wine estates, such as Quinta de la Rosa, or rent a cottage. Most estates have timed tours for individuals and it's easy to explore the river valley by train.
There are two narrow-gauge lines still running north. Recent warm summers have brought forward the grape harvest so, to witness grape-treading, it's best to visit in late September.

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