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Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com is pleased to have as our guest, Jayme Henriques Simões of Louis Karno & Company Communications Public relations Partner to the Portuguese Trade and Tourism Office.

 

 


Thanks Jayme for participating in our interview.

 

Norm:

 

Please tell our readers where Portugal is located and briefly describe its topography and weather.

Jayme:

Portugal is located in Southwestern Europe, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Spain.  Six hours flight from U.S. East Coast to the mainland, or four hours flight to the Azores islands.

Portugal has a mild climate without extremes of temperature. Winters are pleasant, and summers are moderately hot. The North (Porto) has an Atlantic climate influenced by the Gulf Stream. The middle of the country (the Lisbon and the Beiras-Centro de Portugal Region) has gentle dry summers and short mild winters.  

Southern Portugal (the Alentejo and Algarve Regions) has a warm, dry Mediterranean climate without extremes of heat. The Madeira Islands offer an inviting climate all year-round with temperatures around 70 degrees.

 The Azores islands also offer very mild weather moderated by the Atlantic's maritime influence. The nation's heart and its largest city is Lisbon a charming, stately capital   reputedly founded 2,500 years ago by Ulysses.  It is a city dotted with churches, museums, monuments and markets, with a way of life that is distinctive and elegantly esoteric.

 Lisbon is also Portugal's home of the 21st century, exuding coolness and home to high-tech industries, dynamic architecture, trendy boutiques, stylish hotels, hip restaurants, and hot nightspots full of next year's styles.  A few hours up the coast is Porto (sometimes called Oporto): monumental, historic, and known worldwide for the sweet Port wine that is produced in the rich Douro River Valley.  Between Lisbon and Porto are the ancient cities and hilltop villages, home to Portugal's famous Pousadas  hotels built into monasteries, castles, and fortresses.

Traveling inland, visitors explore the Roman remains, palaces, cork forests, olive groves, wide-open fields, and finally the sweeping peaks that mark the border with Spain.  Traditionally in resorts like Estoril and Cascais snuggle up to the Atlantic, and on the country's southernmost coast the weather is warm and the golf courses and beaches are plentiful.   

Finally, the nation's two archipelagos add an exotic element to Portugal: Soaring Madeira, warm and flower-filled to the south, and the mid-Atlantic Azores, wild, windswept and unspoiled.



Norm:

 

You have mentioned to me that Portugal is home to numerous places perfect for igniting (or reigniting) the flames of love. Please name and briefly describe eight romantic venues that would be ideal for the celebration of a marriage.

Jayme:

From hotels built in regal palaces to love stories that span the ages Portugal is home to numerous places perfect for igniting (or reigniting) the flames of love.

***One such site is in the cool hills of Sintra, a short trip from Lisbon where the royal court of Portugal went to relax for centuries. The town is framed on a large square flanked by a medieval palace, fountains, cafés, and antiques shops. Rising overhead is a green mountain, crowned by a 10th century castle and the whimsical 19th century royal Pena Palace. While there is no shortage of romantic B&B's, palaces, and noble houses to stay in, the real gem of the area is the 18th century Seteais Palace, about five minutes outside of town, with gorgeous gardens and intimate luxury.

***In the Buçaco forest perched on a mountain above the Spa town of Luso, an ancient Carmelite monastery was converted to a royal palace a century ago, - then converted again into a luxury hotel - The Buçaco Palace Hotel - just years later.  The surrounding forests have been protected by law for four centuries.  

***On the Azores island of São Miguel, the "Terra Nostra Garden Hotel" boasts countless "caldeiras", geysers, steam vents and springs. Twenty-three different hot springs punctuate the local spa town of Furnas, as well as a modern spa, botanical gardens, and a championship 18 holes golf course designed by famed Scottish architect Philip Mackenzie Ross.


***Sometimes romance stems not just from surroundings, but from timeless stories of passion and heartache. In southern Portugal, Beja tells such a story of a twenty six-year old nun who fell in love and was abandoned by a French officer in the 17th century. Her passionate letters to him took Paris by storm after they were published in 1669 and incited a crucial turn in world literature that led to artists like Braque, Modigliani and Elizabeth Barret Browning.  

Today visitors can travel along Beja's cobbled streets to the convent where Sister Mariana Alcoforado lived, reading author Myriam Cyr's Letters of a Portuguese Nun to provide the rich historical context that brings the lovers and Portugal's fabulous history to life.

***Another of Europe's most tragic love stories is that of Pedro and Inês de Castro. Pedro was the heir to the throne, and Inês was lady in waiting to his wife. When Pedro's wife died, he declared his love for Inês who was promptly killed by the king (after all, this was the 13th century).

Pedro, besides having the hearts of two of the killers torn out, led a revolt to avenge his beloved, had her corpse exhumed and crowned as Queen of Portugal in the great Abbey of Alcobaça. Today, the ruin of the palace where Inês and Pedro lived and the gardens where she was killed are part of the hotel "Quinta das Lágrimas" in Coimbra. Called the "Garden of the Tears", visitors today can trace the ancient paths that the two ill-fated lovers walked together. About 50 miles south is the Abbey of Alcobaça, where the ornate tombs of Pedro and Inês stand foot to foot, so that on the day of judgment the first thing they will see is each other.

***Northern Portugal is all about losing yourself in some of the breathtaking natural landscapes in Portugal, like the vast Peneda-Gerês Park.  In the sprawling mountains of the Trás-os-Montes area and throughout the Beiras-Centro de Portugal Region which boasts the tallest mountains in Portugal visitors can grab a compass or climbing harness and lose themselves in the beauty of the imposing slopes, sweeping views, deep valleys, and fast-flowing rivers that are perfect for canyoning, rafting and canoeing.

***Portugal's capital region, in the center of the country, is shaped by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and sea breezes at the mouth of the Tejo River.  It's no surprise that Lisbon Coast beaches like Carcavelos attract body boarders, surfers and kite-surfers alike. Beaches like Guincho and Praia Grande (about 20 miles from Lisbon) are also regularly home to European championship windsurfing and surfing events. Rentals and lessons are plentiful, and non-boarders can spend their days exploring the impressive Boca do Inferno ("Mouth of Hell"), with its vast caverns carved by the sea.


Norm:

 

As a follow up, could you name and briefly describe eight romantic getaway locations in Portugal?

Jayme

 

 ***Lisbon:  As one senior travel editor recently put it, Lisbon is it. It is the capital of cool in Europe. Named for and founded by Ulysses more than 2,500 years ago, Lisbon is home to 2 million Portuguese, as well as numerous cathedrals, churches, museums, galleries and one of Europe's hottest restaurant/fashion/nightlife scenes.
 
A recent burst of new hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and museums have turned Lisbon into one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe but Lisbon is hardly trendy.  Culture and ideas have blended for more than 2,000 years in this colorful quilt of historic neighborhood and monuments, spiced with the distinctive sounds of Fado music.

The city is ringed by places rich in natural beauty, and the region is home to classic Atlantic resorts like Estoril and Cascais (not to mention historic towns such as Sintra, Óbidos, Mafra, Tomar, Santarém, and Alcobaça). Here too is the town of Fátima, a major site of Roman Catholic pilgrimage, where the Catholic Church has certified the appearance of the Virgin Mary in 1917.
 
***Porto:  Porto (called Oporto by the British) is Portugal's second largest city, known worldwide as the city that exports Portugal's legendary Porto or Port wine (2006 marks the 250th anniversary of Port wine, making Douro the oldest demarcated region in the world).

***The valley of the river Douro is of unequalled beauty, and can be explored by car or by river cruises. The city of Porto is distinctive for its granite baroque splendor and modern grandeur, such as the brand new futuristic concert hall Casa da Música (designed by Dutch master architect Rem Koolhaas).  Porto is also the gateway to the historic region where Portugal began in the 12th century. Splendid Baroque towns and manor houses are scattered throughout historic cities like Braga, Amarante, Bragança, and the monumental city of Guimarães (which is the nation's first capital and birthplace of its founder and first king, D. Afonso Henriques).

***Beiras-Centro de Portugal:  This central region is the heartland of Portugal. This wild and romantic Region south of Porto contains more history and natural wonders than most entire countries from the colorful beach houses of Aveiro to the majesty of baroque Coimbra, the Roman remains of Conimbriga, and the castles, fortresses and ancient ruins of Belmonte and the interior.
 
Its soaring mountains are rich in traditions, cuisine, and all sorts of sports, including snow sports in the winter. The Beiras-Centro de Portugal breaks down into three sections: The coastal areas, rich in pottery, elegant cities like Aveiro and Figueira da Foz. The interior northern is home to the huge Estrela Mountain's natural park, and quaint walled towns built of granite. This is also the place to find some of Europe's best cheese. The southern interior has granite-strewn plains in the shadow of mountains, with a rugged landscape, and small towns steeped in history and tradition.

***Alentejo:  The fields of the Alentejo are punctuated by cork forests, sunflower fields, olive groves and the occasional fortified hill towns.  Moors, Romans, Carthaginians and other great civilizations have been drawn to the wide-open natural beauty of this Region. Évora, the center of the Alentejo, reflects their triumphs with its Roman temple, Gothic cathedral, and ancient ramparts but beyond its history, Évora is a thriving place of life, commerce, palatial hotels and a cuisine as rich as its past.

Characterized as Portugal's hidden treasure, Alentejo is wild and historic, like the Beiras-Centro de Portugal Region, with some of the most evocative natural scenery in Europe including a coastline of rocky cliffs and idyllic, little-known beaches.

***Algarve:  The Algarve is all about three "S's": Sea, sun and sand. In the very south of Portugal, this is where the Portuguese and millions of Europeans vacation every year. Some of the world's finest golf courses are found in the Algarve, as are mile upon mile of magnificent beaches, picturesque villages, and a vacation atmosphere that ranges from relaxation to hedonism.  Faro, the region's capital and largest city, boasts charming neighborhoods virtually unchanged since the 18th century.

***Madeira: The semitropical island of Madeira lies in the Atlantic Ocean, 750 miles southwest of Lisbon.  This paradise has the perfect climate always warm in winter, and never too hot in summer. Madeira and its romantic capital of Funchal have been luring visitors with botanical gardens, wine, elegant resorts and fascinating landscapes since it was discovered in 1420.  Draped around a bay, Funchal is always sunny.  

World-class hotels rise on black cliffs, and casinos, nightclubs, and restaurants make any night an exciting one. Meanwhile, Madeira's steep pitch gives the island six distinct climate zones, based on altitude. That also means some of the best hiking in Europe, with trails that follow water channels (called "levadas") past waterfalls and spectacular views. Nearby, the smaller island of Porto Santo is relaxed and natural, with an oceanfront covered with dunes and vineyards instead of high-rises, that makes this one of the best and most unique beaches in Portugal.

***The Azores:  In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean slightly closer to Portugal than New York are the nine Azores islands. Scattered over several hundred miles of ocean, the volcanic islands mark the spot that the European, American, and African tectonic plates meet. Because the islands were created over a millennium and settled over the course of two hundred years, each island has its own topography, vegetation, culture, dialect, and cuisine.  Unique volcanic lakes, quaint unspoiled towns, historic churches, fishing harbors, museums, yachting clubs, and two UNESCO World Heritage sites (the town of Angra do Heroísmo on the Terceira island and the Vineyards of Pico Island) make the Azores one of the world's most exciting emerging destinations.

Norm:

 

When is the best time of the year to visit Portugal?

Jayme:

That depends. With a mild climate and an abundance of sea and mountains, Portugal is the perfect place to go anytime of year.

Whatever the month, enjoying the sun and sea is easy in Portugal. In the winter, Madeira's capital city of Funchal is typically sunny and a perfect 72 degrees. Funchal is wrapped on hills around a bay like a vast amphitheater. Its hotels are some of the best in the world, offering tremendous service, luxury, and value. Most have seaside areas of saltwater swimming pools, cafés and views out to the Atlantic.

Above, the peaks of Arieiro tower almost 6,000 feet over sea level. Funchal is a city of gardens where plants from all over the world grow side by side in its unique climate. And there are excellent spas, a casino with musical shows, and even a hot air balloon that offers a bird's eye view of the city.
 
Come spring, visitors should try the coast of the Alentejo on for size. This protected line of beaches has excellent cycling, hiking, and clean Atlantic sands. For those that want to do nothing at all, bed and breakfasts in ancient forts, cozy hotels, and villas are easy to find in the small towns and fishing villages of the coast. The monumental cities and fortified hill towns of the Alentejo are not far, and neither are the fine crafts of the region.

To the south, in the Algarve, relaxation is enjoyed the traditional way: Sea, sun, sand and golf.  Wide beaches span the Africa-facing coast, and are dotted with resorts of every shape and size.

Could you briefly tell us something about Portuguese cuisine?

Jayme:

Portugal's cuisine and wines are as distinct as the nation itself. Wines like Port, Vinho Verde, and Madeira are currently experiencing a burst in popularity in the United States.  On the plate, there are significant differences between north and south, or mainland and the islands but, there are also common threads.
 
One such thread found all over the country is bacalhau (dried, salted cod).  Portugal's cooks claim there are 365 recipes for its preparation one for every day of the year. Add to this grilled sardines (a far cry from the canned and oiled fish Americans are used to), vegetable soups, a universal love of fresh seafood, "sinful" desserts and some unique and eye-opening wines.

From there the differences begin. The north is about rice, fine sauces, ancient recipes, and the elevation of cod from a staple to lofty cuisine. The foods are matched by light and refreshing Vinho Verde wine, rich reds, and sweet Port from the
Douro River valley.  Dark "broa" bread adds richness and complexity to the plate across the north, and the northeast is famed for smoked hams called "presuntos", as well as handmade sausages.

The Beiras-Centro de
Portugal Region, located between Porto and Lisbon, is home to lamprey, fish rice, octopus, and roast goat. Coastal fishing cities like Aveiro and Figueira da Foz offer all types of local seafood to savor, and inland regions are known for their "chanfana"  a stew of goat with wine and spices. All of Portugal produces outstanding artisan cheeses, but the country's crowning jewel is the rich sheep's cheese from the Estrela Mountain (known as "queijo da Serra").Other great cheeses of the Region  include those from Sabugal and Rabaçal.

Lisbon is a city of restaurants  both grand establishments tracing their history back generations and new trend-setters that exploded in number over the past two decades. Continental classics rival the culinary scene of any other major European city, but are also complemented by local Fado cafés and the culinary influences of former Portuguese colonies like Brazil, Cabo Verde and Mozambique.

The wide-open Alentejo and coastal
Algarve regions each have their own distinctions  bread dishes, dry soups, rich sausages, and dark hams in Alentejo and spicy grilled seafood in the Algarve. In fact, Alentejo actually has its own namesake dish a unique soup made with bread, cilantro, garlic, olive oil and poached eggs  (the famous "Açorda Alentejana").

Centuries as a global port-of-call combined with the influence of its unique multi-tiered climate have made Madeira a home for exotic fruits from around the world. Fresh fish is abundant, of course, leading to dishes like fried cubes of polenta called "milho frito" served with fresh tuna steak, in a tomato and Madeira wine sauce. Madeira wine is a sweet, fortified wine (like Port or Sherry) that traditionally traveled well for long warm ship voyages, and thus was a favorite of America's founding fathers.  In the Azores, limpets (a shellfish), croques (a small mollusk unique to the Azores) crayfish and rabbit stews are specialties. 

 The Portuguese staple of salted codfish is omnipresent in both archipelagos, but the Azores almost make a unique version in which cod is replaced with mackerel, octopus, and perch. Chili pepper and paprika are local sources of prides, and the Azores offer fine beef served in numerous ways (including grilled or roasted in a wine sauce).




Norm:

 

How do accommodations compare price wise with other European destinations?

Jayme:

It is better value, in that you get more for you money, especially off-season. Hotels range the gamut, from humble hostels to 2, 3, 4, and 5 star options not to mention bed and breakfasts, manor houses, historic hotels and resorts, urban hotels and apartment-hotels.

The Pousadas de Portugal are very well appointed, special hotels usually located in historical sites or areas of unusual beauty, often inside restored monuments, castles or palaces. There are three distinct categories: regional Pousadas, Pousadas in historical areas and Pousadas in national monuments. A company called "Turismo no Espaço Rural" offers privately owned homes ranging from wonderful farmhouses to manor houses. There are many camping areas throughout the country that allow for an inexpensive holiday with close contact with nature.



Norm:

 

How easy or difficult is it to get around Portugal if you don't have a car?

Jayme:

Portugal has regular air service between Lisbon, Porto, and Faro on the mainland, and the islands of the Azores and Madeira. There is excellent train service from Lisbon both North and East. Buses cover the whole country, and taxis are offered in every town and city. Both Lisbon and Porto have commuter rail and metro lines.

Norm:

 

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

Jayme

Year-round flights are available to Lisbon from Newark (TAP Portugal or Continental Airlines), Philadelphia (US Airways), and Boston (SATA/Azores Express).  Flights from Boston also service Ponta Delgada on the Azores island of São Miguel and Lajes on the Azores island of Terceira (both SATA/Azores Express).  

Seasonal flights are available to Lisbon from Providence, RI and Oakland, CA (SATA/Azores Express). Connecting flights bring visitors to international airports in Porto, Faro, and Funchal (Madeira). All international airports on mainland Portugal and Madeira regularly offer connecting flights to other major European cities. Learn more by CLICK HERE

Thanks once again Jayme for your participation.

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