Most visitors to Portugal head for the sandy coves, pretty fishing villages, and manicured golf links of the Algarve.
But beyond the south coast resorts lies the least explored corner of Western Europe: a country of rugged landscapes, sophisticated cities, rural backwaters and sharply contrasting traditions.
Portugal appears to have no obvious geographical claim to nationhood, yet this western extremity of the Iberian Peninsula has existed within borders practically unchanged for nearly 800 years.
Its ten million people speak their own language, follow their own unique cultural traditions, and have a centuries-old history of proud independence from neighbouring Spain.
Portugal is so compact, and it's therefore easy to see so much from each of its elements. Scenically, the most interesting parts of the country are in the north: the Minho, green, damp, and often startling in its rural customs; and the splendid gorge and valley of the Douro, followed along its course by the railway, of which antiquated branch lines edge into remote Tras-os-Montes.
For modern interests, spend some time in both Lisbon and Porto, the only two cities of real size. And if it's monuments you require, the heart of the country – above all, Coimbra and Evora – retains a faded grandeur of days gone by.
The coast is virtually uninterrupted beach, and apart from the Algarve and a few pockets around Lisbon and Porto, resorts remain low-key and thoroughly Portuguese, with great stretches of deserted sands between them.
Perhaps the loveliest are along the northern Costa Verde, around Viana do Castelo, or, for isolation, the wild beaches of southern Alentejo.
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