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Portugal shares the Iberian peninsula at the south-western tip of Europe with Spain. Geographically and culturally somewhat isolated from its neighbour, Portugal has a rich, unique culture, lively cities and beautiful countryside. Although it was once one of the poorest countries in Western Europe, the end of dictatorship and introduction of Democracy in 1974, as well as its incorporation into the European Union in 1986, has meant significantly increased prosperity. It may now be one of the best value destinations on the Continent. This is because the country offers outstanding landscape diversity, due to its North-South disposition along the western shore of the Iberian peninsula. You can travel in a single day from green mountains in the North, covered with vines and all varieties of trees to rocky mountains, with spectacular slopes and falls in the Centre, to a near-desert landscape in the Alentejo region and finally to the glamorous beach holidays destination Algarve. The climate, combined with investments in the golfing infrastructure in recent years, has also turned the country into a golfing haven. Portugal was recently named "Best Golf Destination 2008" by readers of Golfers Today, a British publication. Fourteen of Portugal's courses are rated in the top 100 best in Europe. If you want a condensed view of European landscapes, culture and way of life, Portugal might very well fit the bill. As well as sedate golfing, Portugal is THE epicentre of the finest surfing in Europe, it's pristine beaches during autumn/winter time attracting surfers with the massive waves rolling off the mighty Atlantic.
Especially popular with tourists from Northern European countries such as the UK, Germany, Holland, Norway and Sweden, Portugal's great draw is the same as it has been for over 40 years, a country blessed with a magnificent coastline, warm climate and some of the most majestic beaches in the world.
Portugal is 900 years old, and even though it has a relatively small area, it played a crucial role in world history. As of today, it is the oldest country in Europe with the same borders. During the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal started a major chapter in world history with the New World Discoveries ("Descobrimentos"). It established a sea route to India, and colonized areas in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde...), South America (Brazil), Asia (Macau,...), and Oceania (East-Timor,...) creating an empire. The Portuguese language continues to be the biggest connection between these countries.
In 1910, the Republic was established, abolishing the monarchy. However, this Republic was fragile and a military dictatorship was implemented, which lasted for 46 years, plunging the country into a marked stagnation. In 1974, Portugal became a free democracy, and in 1986 it joined the current European Union, quickly approaching European standards of development.
Portugal is one of the warmest European countries. In mainland Portugal, yearly temperature averages are about 15°C (55°F) in the north and 18°C (64°F) in the south. Madeira and Azores have a narrower temperature range as expected given their insularity, with the former having low precipitation in most of the archipelago and the latter being wet and rainy. Spring and Summer months are usually sunny and temperature maximum are very high during July and August, with maximums averaging between 35°C and 40°C (86°F - 95°F) in the interior of the country, 30°C and 35°C in the north. Autumn and Winter are typically rainy and windy, yet sunny days are not rare either. Temperatures rarely fall below 5°C (41°F) nearer to the sea, averaging 10°C (50°F), but can reach several degrees below 0°C (32°F) further inland. Snow is common in winter in the mountainous areas of the north, especially in Serra da Estrela but melts quickly once the season is over. Portugal's climate can be classified as Mediterranean (particularly the southern parts of the Algarve and Alentejo, though technically on Atlantic shore).
Portugal is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.