Best known for port, Portugal grows an abundance of grape varieties—about 500—that have made it a favorite destination for wine aficionados. Wine production is spread throughout several regions: the Douro and Bairrada to the north and the Alentejo, Ribatejo and Estremadura in the south.
The Douro and Alentejo regions tend to be the most popular, offering the most options for tours and accommodations. Resort development under way in Portugal will bring another seven properties to the Alentejo and four each to Douro and Madeira by 2011.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Douro valley is said to be the oldest wine-making region in the world, most famous for its production of port, a sweet, fortified red wine. The area can also quench your thirst for history, nature, culture and Old World architecture.
The Alentejo is separated from the rest of Portugal by the Tagus River and is known as the nation's "bread basket" due to its expansive countryside. This region borders Spain, making for an easy two-country vacation.
Alentejo mostly produces white varieties of grapes, but some reds as well. Much like the Douro, Alentejo is home to medieval castles and shops full of locally made tapestries. The Alqueva Dam, Western Europe's largest reservoir, is also here.
Another Portuguese wine spot is the island of Madeira, located in the Atlantic Ocean due west of Morocco, some 500 miles from Lisbon. Its wines are made in a style similar to port, except they are heated to achieve oxidization, so they last longer. Sommeliers say that today a select few are lucky enough to consume Madeira vintages from the early 20th and late 19th centuries. Madeira is also a good destination for scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, surfing and other watersports.
With its coastline, warm climate, mountainous terrain and historic buildings, Portugal is the perfect setting for wining, dining and romance. In addition, the country offers a plethora of sightseeing opportunities and an abundance of nightlife.
The heritage of this Western European country is woven into its landscape, its landmarks and even its hotels. Given this, it's not hard to comprehend the allure of Portugal for history buffs and heritage seekers, as well as those looking to kick back and relax with a glass of wine.