Portugal’s Landscape & Regions | Portugal Visitor
Portugal’s Natural Landscapes
Portugal has a range of diverse landscapes for such a small country. It covers an area of 92,000 square kilometers roughly one-sixth of the total land mass of the Iberian Peninsula.
Its varied geography, geology and landscapes range from the mountains of the Estrela to the dry plains of the Alentejo to its mostly low-lying coastline of 1,794 km and beaches.
Regions of Portugal & Their Landscapes
The landscape of Portugal is roughly divisible into three main regions. These are the north, the interior of this northern region and the south.
On the whole Portugal is a low-lying country with just over 12% of the country rising over 700 meters. The majority of these highlands are in the north with only the São Mamede range in the south over 1,000 meters in altitude.
The historic province of Minho in the far north west of Portugal, takes its name from the River Minho that forms the northern border with Spain. Minho lies west of Trás-os-Montes and is an area of outstanding natural beauty with mountains, river valleys and a dramatic Atlantic coastline (Costa Verde).
The Larouco Mountains here reach a height of over 1,500 meters and are part of the Peneda-Gerês National Park (Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês). Peneda-Gerês is the only National Park in Portugal.
The Minho River is the fourth largest river in Iberia and the third longest in Portugal at 340 kilometres (210 miles). The river’s source is north of the town of Lugo in Galicia. The river marks a stretch of the northern border dividing Spain and Portugal, best illustrated by the bridge spanning the towns of Tui and Valença. It reaches the Atlantic Ocean between A Guarda in Galicia and Caminha in Portugal.
In continental Portugal, the highest mountains are in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. These mountains are the source of various important rivers – the Mondego, Zêzere (a tributary of the River Tagus), and the Alva.
The park is also the largest natural conservation area in Portugal and covers approximately 1,000 km². Torre is the highest peak in continental Portugal and there is even a a ski resort – the Vodafone Ski Resort near to Covilhã – with snow in the winter months.
South of the River Douro much of the country is at lower altitudes. The historic provinces of Beira Litoral and Estremadura are marked by marshy coasts and lagoons seen around the towns of Aveiro and Obidos to the south. Óbidos Lagoon (Lagoa de Óbidos) is the largest in Portugal and extends between the municipalities of Óbidos and Caldas da Rainha.
Further south the Alto Alentejo is a continuation of the Spanish plateau with generally poor soils. The Baixo Alentejo, around the town of Beja, is known for its low, undulating landscape and its baking summer season.
In Alentejo the landscape and climate much resembles Spanish Extremadura and Andalusia with limited rainfall.
Further south is the Algarve which is more elevated. The Monchique Mountains reach over 900 meters at Mount Foia.
The coastline of the south also tends to be high with steep cliffs on the western coast near Aljezur and on the southern coast around Lagos.
The population density also increases near the coast in the Algarve where irrigation – used since Roman and Moorish times helps to improve agriculture.
The Madeira archipelago is made up of eight volcanic islands 1,000 km southwest of the Portuguese mainland. Only Madeira and Porto Santo are now inhabited.
Porto Santo is low-lying, flat and dry whereas Madeira is mountainous, green and lush. Indeed, Porto Santo has little natural vegetation but does have in abundance the golden sandy beaches which Madeira lacks – a 9 km long stretch to be precise on the south of the island.
On Madeira the interior mountains offer incredible sheer drops and spectacular waterfalls. These include the Cascata das Vinte e Cinco Fontes, the Risco Waterfall, the Cascata dos Anjos and Caldeirão Verde. Madeira’s highest point, often shrouded in mist, is Pico Ruivo with an altitude of 1,861 meters (6,000ft).
The Azores archipelago is made up of nine islands in three groups covering over 650 km in the mid-Atlantic.
Santa Maria, the easternmost island is a distant 1,408 km from continental Portugal mainland with the westernmost island Flores, 1,899 km away almost the same distance to Newfoundland in Canada.
The islands are volcanic and many are still active. The landscape here includes crater lakes, plateaus and rugged coastlines. Mount Pico on Pico Island is the highest point in Portugal rising to 2,351 meters.
A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire by A. R. Disney
Landscapes and Landforms of Portugal (World Geomorphological Landscapes) by Gonçalo Vieira (Editor), José Luís Zêzere (Editor), Carla Mora (Editor)