The Mountains

Portugal is a lot more mountainous than most people think - especially in the whole of the country's North East the terrain is mostly alpine. This region is often referred to as simply "the Mountains" within the tourist industry, although this is not an administrative unit. The highest point within mainland Portugal is the so-called Torre ("tower"), which rises 1,993 meters above sea level, without technically being - a mountain! Rather, it is part of an extensive plateau and mountain range, the legendary Serra da Estrela. You can actually reach the Torre by car on paved road - and then you will find an upscale restaurant, gift shops and the famous Vodafone Ski Resort.

Further North, not far from the Spanish border, one can visit the popular tourist destination Mirandela, which is just a little town with a lot of history.

For one thing, it is famous for its Alheira - that is a popular kind of Portuguese sausage, invented during the Inquisition by Jews, who tried to make it look and taste like pork without actually being that - this created quite an unusual, and wonderful!, sort of sensation... Mirandela is a charming little town with just the right mix of ancient building stock and scenic mountains, but what it is most noteworthy for is the trendy European Jetski Championship, which holds one round in Mirandela every summer.

Don't expect large cities in the Portuguese mountains! They haven't been built. Many of the towns are older than two millennia, but they have never really grown into cities - those you won't find. Instead, there are small towns and then village after village, all with their very distinctive culture - and culinary features.

Just to explore the very elaborate differences in traditional recipes going from one place to the next is an unforgettable experience. For the Portuguese enjoying life, and for many of them this first of all means through food!, is a major cultural element. Of course, there is Lisbon, Portugal's shining capital, but the real soul of the Portuguese people is to be found in remote mountain valleys.

Take Viseu as another example. This lovely mountain town was founded by the Romans as "Viso" - meaning "good view" (most Portuguese place names either go back to the Romans or to the Arabs). It's a renowned center of viticulture, to be exact of Dão Wine, which is grown in and around Viseu. But recently, the town has also turned into of the major hubs for telecommunication and IT within the country, and that with a population of less than 50 thousand. That's Portugal...

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