14 NOV 2018: Most of us see summer as the time to visit Europe but some parts of the Old World are wonderful places to spend the colder months of the year. More and more of us, for example are discovering that Portugal, which dates back to the Romans and the Moors, is hard to beat if your clients are looking for a value-for-dollar vacation.  

It offers diverse sightseeing, great beaches to walk or loaf on, friendly people, golf, great seafood and the chance to enjoy a glass or two of port on a picturesque outdoor café patio while listening to Fado, Portugal’s traditional music.

The weather is usually mild in winter-good news for fugitives from the Great White North

It may be icy cold at home in Canada, but the average Portuguese temperatures are temperate: 8C to 18C in February, 10C to 21C in March.

When most of us think of Portugal, images of the Algarve pop right out - white-washed towns and villages, beautiful beaches, and sun and more sun.

The area has been inhabited since pre-historic times and was settled successively by the Phoenicians and Greeks.

A Moorish invasion expelled the barbarians who had settled in the territory, resulting in five centuries of Muslim presence.

The Christian conquest of 1249 resulted in the kinds of Portugal calling themselves Kings of Portugal and the Algarve.

Golf?

The Algarve has 20 courses and has been named Worldwide Golf Destination of the Year a number of times by a panel of experts drawn from golf courses and resorts, tourist boards, tour operators and travel journalists.

The area has a cosmopolitan atmosphere, probably because it has long been a playground for Europeans. There is lots of night life … discos, casinos, theatre and concerts, and no danger of getting bored after dark.

Naturally, with that coastline, seafood is a specialty. You’ll find grilled sardines, lobster, fresh tuna steaks and yummy fish stews (caldeirada).

For people with a sweet tooth like mine, the desserts are made with figs and almonds. They originate from old convent recipes. Try the domrodrigos, morgados de amendoa or the bolos de amendoa.

Shopping is another must.

Pottery, leather, copper, wickers and wonderful blankets all beg to be packed for home.

History buffs will be in their glory, exploring castles, medieval villages, and taking pictures of the Arabian, Roman and Moorish architecture.

Porto is a wonderful city to explore. Wander through its UNESCO World Heritage historical center and alley-crossed Ribeira district. Follow the grapevines to the enchanting Douro Valley and its vineyards on terraces for jaw-dropping vistas. Fall in love with the fabulous white port wines. And explore Porto a different way by cruising under its six bridges on the Douro River. And then do all your gift shopping from the vendors making it while you watch along the river’s edge.

I could get lost for hours in the famous Lello library’s bookshelves and centenary books. And of course, no visit is complete without a visit to the Majestic, a 1921 coffee shop considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

Kathy Mateurs is the Portugal Specialist at Padovani Travel in Hamilton, and she kindly took time on a busy Monday Morning to talk about Portugal. “Flights are full, tell people to book soon, visits to Portugal are up this year. I’m selling lots of long stays to retirees, I guess because I know a lot about where to stay in the Algarve, and the hot spots.”

For instance, Nazare for centuries was a traditional seaside town, where its long sandy beaches were considered to be amongst the best in Portugal. In the winter the town was empty of tourists, and children were taught to avoid the huge waves that crashed against the cliffs nearby.

Just in the last few years the place has become famous for extreme surfers. Who knew? I sure didn’t.

The history is so rich with castles and monasteries, not to mention the UNESCO World Heritage site of Fatima, known for being the location of a religious apparition in 1917.

This year Air Canada is offering a new flight from Toronto to Porto. They offer “Lisbon Your Way, Porto Your Way, Highlights of Portugal, all 7 nights of accommodation, transfers in Lisbon,and more.

Transat flies into Porto, as well as Lisbon, and Faro. Transat’s exclusive Portugal Your Way is a 14 day trip starting in Porto, then on to Lisbon, and then to the Algarve. There is lots of time to indeed do it “Your way”. I was very impressed when I went on a Transat coach tour. It was nicely paced. 

Your clients can discover two places for the price of one. If they use Azores Airlines, they can blend the nature and beauty of the Azores with the stunning cultural city of Porto. The airline is flying from Toronto to the city of Porto, Portugal on this new Airbus A321neo. They have a stopover Azores program that lets you choose to make a break in the flight on the way to Porto, or on the way back or on both journeys.

 

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Sam Ion

The expert on All Inclusives, Sam delivers up-to-date info on alternate Wednesdays in her column Not Just All Inclusives.

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