Most visitors to Portugal head for the sandy coves, pretty fishing villages, andmanicured 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 in the western extremity of the Iberian Peninsula has existed within borders virtually 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 neighboring Spain. For a small country, the regions of Portugal are immensely varied. The rural Minho and Trás-Os-Montes in the north are the most traditional. These two regions have magnificent landscapes and are a must to visit. The south of the country could not be more different. The Algarve, blessed with the beautiful sandy beaches and a wonderful, warm Mediterranean climate all year around, has been transformed into a vacation playground for North Europeans.

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