Portugal has a coastline stretching some 500 miles. It's bounded on the south and west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the north and east by Spain. Continental Portugal totals some 34,000 square miles; its Atlantic islands, including Madeira and the Azores, extend the size of the country by another 1,200 square miles. The Azores lie some 700 miles west of Lisbon (Lisboa), the capital of the country.
Portugal has four major rivers -- the Minho, in the north, which separates the country from Spain; the Douro, also in the north, known for vineyards producing port wine; the Tagus, which flows into the Atlantic at Lisbon; and the Guadiana, in the southeast. Part of the Guadiana forms an eastern frontier with Spain.
The topography of Portugal is made up of a high plain of uneven height split by deep valleys. In the south the landscape is lower and less rugged than the north. Mountains are few on the Algarve, except for the Serra de Monchique or the Serra de São Mamede near the Spanish border.
The north has a series of mountain chains with high massifs such as the Serra do Marão rising to some 4,000 feet. The Tagus River forms a natural border between north and south.
Flora and fauna differ between the north and south of Portugal, because of the climatic differences. In the south, you find plant species indigenous to Africa and the Atlantic islands, whereas in the north the species are those found in European and Mediterranean zones. Along the coast, the maritime pine tree predominates.
The climate is temperate and usually mild, with dry summers, especially in the north. Because of the influence of the Atlantic, dry spells don't last for long periods. In fact, the ocean gives Portugal one of the highest rainfalls in Europe. However, in the extreme southern point of the Algarve rainfall annually might be lower than 16 inches.
The capital, Lisbon, of course has the densest concentration of people, followed by the second city of Porto in the north. Lisbon lies on the Tagus, Porto on the Douro River.
The other leading cities are few. Braga, which was Portugal's first capital, lies between the Cávado and Este rivers, dominating the valley of the Minho. Braga is followed by the university city of, and regional capital of, Coimbra, which lies on the right bank of the Mondego River. Setúbal, to the south of Lisbon, lies on the wide Sado estuary on the shores of the Bay of Setúbal and is sheltered by Cape Espichel, a part of the Serra da Arrábida mountain range.
More than half of the country is under cultivation. Soil in the south tends to be poor, but in the north it is rich and ideal for cultivation. Sea products represent about one fifth of the nation's exports. Sardines are the major catch, followed by tuna.