With its Mediterranean climate and long stretch of coastline, Portugal has rivalled its Spanish cousin across the border as a beach holiday destination for a long time. But, as Ernesto Pinho from Fast Forward Language Institute in the country’s second largest city of Porto points out, “Portugal has far more to offer than wonderful beaches and a great climate. It is a country with a rich culture and a fascinating history, dating back to the 13th century. Our students also point out its diversity, good food and wine, cheap prices, good public transportation system that allows them to easily explore the surroundings, and, in particular, the people are always available and welcoming.” Meanwhile, Alex Bone from inlingua’s Porto school highlights that “for a small country, Portugal has an incredibly diverse landscape with distinct regional characteristics”.
Rivalling the capital city of Lisbon, Porto in the north is a popular destination for tourists. With a mix of baroque churches and Medieval alleyways, the city has also undergone a number of urban renewal projects in recent years. It is also a bit of a hotspot with architects, who flood in to admire buildings such as Álvaro Siza Vieira’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea and Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Música. Pinho describes Porto as “incredibly picturesque, welcoming and vibrant the perfect place to study Portuguese”, and his favourite place is the Douro Valley, “which is often described as the most beautiful wine region in the world. We take students here for the harvest and to experience the old-fashioned way of stomping on grapes,” he enthuses. Additionally, he always advises students to eat local dishes, such as francesinha, a type of sandwich; tripas à moda do Porto, meat with white beans and bacalhau, cod fish.
Bone adds, “No visit to Porto is complete without a tour of the famous Port wine cellars, or a boat cruise up the river Douro, or an open-tram ride through the centre of the historic city. But my favourite activity is to while away a sunny afternoon by the beach with some friends or a good book and an ice cold glass or two of vinho verde the deliciously refreshing Portuguese sparkling white wine.” Students at the school, according to Bone, “might find themselves in the most beautiful bookshop in Europe (Livraria Lello), a tram museum, eating ice cream on the beach or listening to Fado [a Portuguese music genre renowned for melancholy lyrics].”
In the south, Lisbon obviously draws in its fair share of international students too. A city spread across steep hillsides that overlook Rio Tejo, gothic cathedrals, majestic monasteries and quaint museums are part of the colourful landscape. “It is a very young city with people from all over the world, and has a crazy nightlife,” adds Cláudia Simão from IPAM The Marketing School, the oldest marketing school in Portugal which has campuses in Lisbon and Aveiro. And for Alexandra Borges de Sousa from CIAL Centro de Linguas in Lisbon and Faro, “Lisbon is the obvious choice, with a big offering of entertainment, culture and outdoor activities.” Lisbon’s castle near the waterfront is also a big highlight, she says, with great views from the top and with old narrow streets surrounding it. “We tell students to explore the old and new features Lisbon has to offer, and to always try the great food and wines,” she adds. Faro the capital of the southernmost Algarve region on the other hand, “is very different from other seaside locations,” Borges de Sousa enthuses, “keeping a very friendly and traditional atmosphere. For someone looking for a warmer location, a typical small town or golf and water sports, we [recommend] our school in Faro.”
Europa Algarve is another school in the Algarve region, located in the small city of Loulé that has a population of around 70,000. “Loulé got its charter of independence from Iberia in the 11th century,” explains Mary Jo from the school. “Traditionally it was a market town that had stronger ties with north Africa than the rest of Portugal, so there are definitely still traces of Arab culture,” she says, adding that the city includes a castle that has parts dating back to the 8th century. And in addition to its rich history, there are a number of things for international students to do. “There are many festivals throughout the year. There is a big religious festival in May the Festival of our Lady which brings together thousands of people,” she explains. “There is also the Fest Med, a music festival, and students enjoy the vibrant Saturday market. My favourite spot is the Arab Garden, also called the Lovers Garden, in front of the church.”
Not far away from the Algarve, Parede is a coastal town in the Cascais Municipality where Speakwell Language School is located. Catherine Bright, Director at the school which offers courses for business people en route to Africa or Brazil, highlights some of the many attractions of Cascais. “It is a fishing town that is well-known these days for holding international sporting and cultural events, and is 10 minutes away from Parede on the train,” she says. “It has recently hosted various international sailing events and has a packed programme of high-standard musical events in the spring or summer.”
And back in the north, Gillian Moreira from the University of Aveiro, which hosts students from 49 different countries including India, China and Portuguese-speaking African countries, is full of praise for the city of Aveiro. “It offers much of what big cities can offer, but without the urban chaos or loss of quality of life,” she explains, highlighting that the city, nicknamed the Venice of Portugal, includes a lagoon and canals, interesting architecture and long beaches only a few minutes away. “It also has the advantages of a university city with lively nightlife and an energetic spirit,” she says, adding that the university has an experimental theatre group, GrETUA, a Centre for Jazz Studies and is one of the main supporters of the Filarmonia das Beiras Orchestra.
“Our students really appreciate the size of the cities in Portugal. Even in large cities like Lisbon or Porto, it is easy to get around, and students are often happy to find out that most accommodation is located within walking distance of the schools! The variety of activities available in Portugal is generally excellent and extremely attractive to our students who enjoy experiencing Portuguese life in a way that isn’t possible if you travel on your own. It is easy for students to enjoy a wide variety of cultural activities within easy access to the beach.”
Phillippa Taylor, Apple Languages, UK
“Although we only send a small amount of students to Portugal we tend to send teachers of foreign languages there there is a lot of interest in the country as a study abroad destination from the northwest region of Spain, called Galicia, as the area has a lot in common with Portugal. Galicia is very well connected to the country both culturally and linguistically, and its people have a great fondness for the Portuguese language. Personally I love Portugal it is a very beautiful country.”
Luis Arroyo, She Herencia, Spain