Often overshadowed by its much larger eastern neighbor Spain , Portugal is something of an unspoilt jewel on the European tourist map. It has a rich and turbulent history of seafaring and discovery dating back to the 15th century when Portuguese explorers such as Vasco da Gama put to sea in search of a passage to India . From this point, the Portuguese went on to build a colonial empire in Africa , Latin America , India and the Far East . Because Portugal was a dictatorship for almost half of the 20th century, under the leadership of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, the rulers’stubborn refusal to relinquish their grip on the former colonies as demands for independence gained momentum there resulted in expensive wars in Africa.

This period was brought to an end in 1974 in a bloodless coup, known as the’ Revolution of the Carnations’, which ushered in a new democracy. By the end of 1975, all of Portugal’ s former colonies in Africa were independent of Lisbon but the 200 million Portuguese speakers around the world today are an obvious legacy of Portugal’ s colonial past.

Modern Portugal contains enough World Heritage Sites and other natural and cultural wonders to keep any visitor busy for a long, long time. It is a country of astonishing beauty and diversity, not to mention clear blue skies and friendly, courteous people. Pick any destination and the view from your window might be a rugged stretch of windswept coastline (Cabo do São Vicente , Castelejo, Cabo Espichel), a pristine beach where fishermen mend their nets beside brightly painted sardine boats (Albufeira, Bordeira, Praia do Camilo) or a cobbled street overlooked by dazzling whitewashed houses with wooden balconies and red-tiled roofs.

Portugal is a land of infinite options. You can mingle with the crowds in one of the more sophisticated beach resorts or wander through the medieval quarters of historic cities like Lisbon , Porto , Braga or Coimbra . To explore the more remote beauty spots (car hire is relatively cheap, driving a delight) stay overnight in a romanticpousada- a converted farm, monastery or manor house enjoying a wonderful setting – an amazing bargain.

If it is an activity holiday you are looking for, Portugal is one of Europe’ s premier golfing destinations while the tennis schools are second-to-none. You could try your hand at big game fishing or horseriding, learn how to windsurf or water ski. Other unmissable experiences includeFado( Portugal’ s answer to soul music), country fairs where centuries-old folk traditions are lovingly reenacted, port wine tastings and mouthwatering fish suppers. Portugal is a country ripe for discovery.