Servas ("to serve" in Esperanto), 1125 16 St., Ste. 201, Arcata, CA 95521 (tel. 707/825-1714; www.usservas.org) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental, international, interfaith network of travelers and hosts. Its goal is to help build world peace, goodwill, and understanding by providing opportunities for deeper, more personal contacts among people of diverse cultural and political backgrounds. Servas travelers share living space, without charge, with members of communities worldwide. Visits last a maximum of 2 nights. Visitors fill out an application and are interviewed for suitability by 1 of more than 200 Servas interviewers throughout the country. They then receive a directory listing the names and addresses of prospective hosts.
Learning the Language
The National Registration Center for Study Abroad (NRCSA), P.O. Box 1393, Milwaukee, WI 53201 (tel. 414/278-0631; www.nrcsa.com), allows you to experience Portugal by living and learning the language. The NRCSA has helped people of all ages and backgrounds participate in foreign travel and cultural programs since 1968. Contact the NRCSA for details about the courses and their costs.
Cycling tours are a good way to see the back roads of a country and stretch your limbs. Although dozens of companies in Britain offer guided cycling tours on foreign turf, only a handful offer itineraries through Portugal. One is the Cyclists' Tourist Club, Parklands, Railton Road, Guildford, Surrey GU2 9JX (tel. 0870/873-0060; www.ctc.org.uk). It charges £36 a year for membership, which includes information and suggested cycling routes through Portugal and dozens of other countries.
In the United States, bicyclists can contact Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710 (tel. 800/GO-ACTIVE [462-2848] in the U.S.; www.backroads.com). Another outfitter arranging bike tours is Uniquely Europe, a division of Europe Express, 3303 Monte Villa Parkway, Ste. 200, Bothell, WA 98021 (tel. 425/527-8050; www.europeexpress.com).
The best golf tours (usually in the Algarve) are arranged by Golf International, 14 E. 38th St., New York, NY 10016 (tel. 800/833-1389 or 212/986-9176; www.golfinternational.com).
Tours on the best hiking and walking trails are available through Adventure Center, 1311 63rd St., Ste. 200, Emeryville, CA 94608 (tel. 800/228-8747 in the U.S., or 510/654-1879; www.adventurecenter.com).
With its historic sights and beautiful countryside, Portugal is an appealing place for hill climbing and hiking. In the United Kingdom, Exodus, 1311 63rd St., Ste. 200, Emeryville, CA 94608 (tel. 800/843-4272; www.exodus.co.uk), offers 7- and 14-day walking tours through Portugal several times a year. Sherpa Expeditions, 131a Heston Rd., Hounslow, Middlesex TW5 0RF (tel. 020/8577-2717; www.sherpaexpeditions.com), offers trips through off-the-beaten-track regions of the world, which include the Portuguese island of Madeira.
You might have read about archaeology tours, but most permit you only to look at the sites, not actually dig. A notable and much-respected exception is Earthwatch, 3 Clock Tower Place, Ste. 100, Maynard, MA 01754 (tel. 800/776-0188; www.earthwatch.org). It offers more than 150 programs designed and supervised by well-qualified academic and ecological authorities. At any time, at least 50 programs welcome participants for hands-on experience in preserving or documenting historical, archaeological, or ecological phenomena of interest to the global community. Projects in Portugal have included digs that uncovered a string of ancient and medieval hill forts across the country.
In the United Kingdom, for the best sampling of possibilities, contact the Association of Independent Tour Operators, or AITO (tel. 020/8744-9280; www.aito.co.uk). The staff can provide names and addresses of tour operators that specialize in travel relating to your particular interest.