Regions in Portugal

There are seven main regions in Portugal, which are called províncias in Portuguese, and these were subdivided into smaller regions in the last two hundred years. The seven original regions of Portugal are, in alphabetical order, the Alentejo, Algarve, Beira, Douro, Estremadura, Minho and Trás os Montes. The Minho, Douro and Trás os Montes make up the north of Portugal; the Beira, Estremadura and Alentejo form the centre; and the Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal.

The Minho region is named after the River Minho (Rio Minho), just as the Douro region is named after the River Douro (Rio Douro). Estremadura is the furthest from the Rio Douro and is now divided up into Estremadura and, further inland, Ribatejo. Trás os Montes means 'over the mountains' and Beira refers to the border. Beira is divided up into Beira Alta (high border), Beira Baixa (low border) and Beira Litoral (coastal border). Alentejo means 'across the Rio Tejo' and the region is divided up into upper (Alto Alentejo) and lower (Baixo Alentejo) parts. Across the south coast is the Algarve, so called because the Moors who settled there named it the al gharb, meaning west country.

Each of Portugal's regions has qualities that distinguish it from the rest. The types of agriculture differ from region to region, with figs, oranges and cork in the south and potatoes and corn in the north. Incidentally, Portugal exports huge amounts of cork every year, providing over 50 per cent of the world's supply of wine bottle corks (roughly 15 thousand million of them).

As the region that contains the capital of Portugal, Estremadura is quite wealthy, especially in the area around Lisbon. Places like Sintra have been traditional hot spots for aristocrats and other rich folk ever since Lisbon sprang up as an important town itself. The university town of Coimbra and the slightly Dutch style town of Ave i ro are both in the Beira Litoral. Further north, Porto, the economical capital of Portugal, is in the Douro region and Guimarães is in the Minho. Second only to Lisbon in terms of important historical monuments, Évora is to be found in the Alto Alentejo. The Algarve's main city is Faro, but plenty of other towns claim the majority of Portugal's tourists during the summer.