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Mainland Portugal is situated in the Iberian Peninsula on the western edge of Europe. It has a border with Spain to the north and east and an Atlantic coastline to the south and west. “Portugal is Mediterranean by nature and Atlantic by location” (1). The interaction of Mediterranean and Atlantic influences results in a certain duality in Portugal. There are contrasts between the north and south, the coast and the interior and highlands and lowlands that blur as we move inland from the coast and from north to south. Occupation by peoples from northern Europe and Africa and population movements in the territory over the centuries have united these contrasts by changing landscapes and creating great cultural interaction that, even so, has been able to preserve identities. The climate varies from region to region, influenced by proximity to the sea or to the interior, relief and altitude. For statistical and administrative purposes, the country is divided into seven territorial units established on the basis of European Union criteria.
Porto e Norte – on the coast a Mediterranean climate of maritime influence, small temperature variations, cool summers, mild winters and abundant rainfall all year round. It is the most densely wooded region in the country, with forests and green fields. Interior – Mediterranean climate of continental influence, wide temperature variations, hot, dry summers, harsh, sometimes snowy winters and low rainfall, sparsely wooded, with rocky, semi-arid landscape. This includes the entire Douro region and its vineyards, which mark the landscape and wine routes down to the mouth of the River Douro in Porto. In this region, we find the Alto Douro Vinhateiro World Heritage Site, Peneda – Gerês National Park, the Foz Côa archaeological site (World Heritage rock carvings), four nature parks – Douro Internacional on the inland border with Spain, Alvão in Minho and Trás-os-Montes, Litoral Norte on the coast of Viana do Castelo and Póvoa de Varzim and Montesinho in the north east.
Centro – this central region’s climate and vegetation are the same as those in the Northern area. The interior is one of the most mountainous areas and has a mountain climate with cool, wet summers, substantial rainfall and harsh, snowy winters. Here the highest point in mainland Portugal is at 2,000m in Serra da Estrela, which boasts the country’s only ski resort. The Porto e Norte and Centro regions have dozens of geosites (geodiversity features forming geological heritage of scientific value). Five of them are UNESCO Global Geoparks – Serra da Estrela, Arouca, Terras de Cavaleiros, Azores and Naturtejo – supranational geological heritage sites and models of sustainable development. The Centro region includes two more nature parks – Tejo Internacional, Serras de Aire e Candeeiros and protected landscapes – Serras do Açor e Gardunha, Ilhas Berlengas and Dunas de S. Jacinto Nature Reserve.
Lisbon Metropolitan Area – Mediterranean climate with maritime influence, hotter, drier summers than in the north and milder, drier winters. The region is divided by the River Tagus. To the north of the Tagus, we have the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, the misty micro-climate in Sintra and its World Heritage landscape. To the south, we have the Arrábida Nature Park with its unique flora, the Sado Estuary and Tagus Estuary nature reserves and the Arriba Fóssil (fossil cliff) protected landscape in Costa da Caparica.
Alentejo – this region is drastically different from the other regions and occupies one third of the country. It is almost flat and has endless plains in dry colours, long, hot, very dry summers, spending months on end without rain. The winters are short and cold. It has historical cities that are World Heritage sites such as Évora and Elvas and two nature parks – Vale do Guadiana and Serra de São Mamede. It boasts some of Europe’s largest artificial lakes, constructed from the Alqueva Dam. It also has one of the clearest skies in the world for stargazing and its observatory – DarkSky Alqueva – was the first in the world to be voted a Starlight Tourism Destination. It also received the Europe’s Responsible Tourism Award 2020 from World Travel Awards. The Alentejo coast offers long, still untamed beaches protected by dunes and greenery.
Algarve -“There are two Algarves” (2): the coast, which is densely populated, full of fishing activities and beaches all along the coastline, some with international awards; the hills – Monchique, Caldeirão and Espinhaço de Cão, whose slopes and valleys protect verdant forests, cereal crops and sparse rural populations. It has two internationally famous nature parks, Sudoeste da Costa Vicentina and Ria Formosa (a lagoon reserve). Its climate is the most Mediterranean and most distinctive: low rainfall, hot in summer and mild the rest of the year and sun and intense blue skies for months on end, like nowhere else in the country.
Azores – Nine mountainous volcanic islands in the North Atlantic, considered a sanctuary of biodiversity and geodiversity. It is a Global Geopark that includes all the islands, with hot lagoons belching volcanic gases and lush green vegetation. Ocean climate, very damp and rainy and mild temperatures all year round.
Madeira – Two mountainous volcanic islands, two thirds of which are protected areas, with a biogenetic reserve nature park and the Laurissilva Forest, a World Heritage site. Mediterranean climate with abundant rainfall and spring temperatures all year round.
All regions of Portugal have areas classified as UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves and plenty of routes, trails, footpaths and cycle paths, some of which are part of transnational routes.
Sources: FCT. www.geossitios.progeo.pt; FFMS. www.pordata.pt/; ICNF. www.icnf.pt; INE. www.ine.pt; Ribeiro, O. (1945) Portugal o Mediterrâneo e o Atlântico. Lisbon: Sá da Costa Editora; Turismo de Portugal. www.visitportugal.com; World Travel Awards. www.worldtravelawards.com