The Portuguese way of life can be summed up as leisurely, with warm Latin hospitality very much the norm. However, the people are quite conservative in nature and retain a certain formality when dealing with each other. Old-fashioned politeness is the order of the day, with authority widely respected in what is still a hierarchical society. You'll find people treat their seniors with respect, and loyalty to one's family is regarded as far more important than other social and business allegiances.
As far as dress is concerned, casual wear is widely acceptable - although beachwear isn't appropriate in towns. In restaurants people only usually smoke at the end of the meal, and smoking is prohibited in cinemas, theatres and on buses. Tipping is common practice, usually at a rate of 10 to 15 per cent. Taxi drivers are tipped 10 per cent.
Approximately 97% of the Portuguese population are Roman Catholic - the highest percentage in Western Europe. However, there are big regional differences in the practice of religion. Even in the 1990s, as much as 60-70% of the population in the north regularly attended religious services, but just 10- 15% did so in the traditionally anti-clerical south.
The Phoenicians established trading ports along the Algarve coast around 1000 BC, and the Carthaginians founded Portus Hanibalis - known today as Portimao - by 550 BC. Later, the Romans spread through the Iberian Peninsula in the 2nd Century BC. Many Roman ruins can still be seen in the region, notably in Lagos.
In the 5th century AD, the Visigoths inhabited the area until the beginning of the Moorish invasion in 711. Faro, which the Christian residents had called Santa Maria, was renamed Faraon, which means "the settlement of the Knights".
Due to the Moorish occupation of much of Iberia, the region was called Al-Gharb which means "the country of the West". In the 12th Century, the Moorish occupation ended, and the area has been known as the Algarve ever since. But it wasn't until the 13th Century that the Portuguese finally secured the region against Moorish attempts to recapture it.
In the 15th Century, Henry the Navigator conducted various maritime expeditions from Sagres, which established Portugal as a colonial power. The Algarve became a semi-autonomous area with a governor from 1595 to1808, as well as a separate taxation system.
In 1807, when Junot was leading the first Napoleonic invasion in the north of Portugal, the Algarve was occupied by the Spanish troops of Manuel Godoy. But the region became the first part of Portugal to liberate itself from Spanish occupation in the rebellion of Olhao in 1808.
Portugal is fairly homogeneous linguistically and religiously. Native Portuguese are ethnically a combination of pre-Roman Iberians and Celtics, with some Roman and Germanic influences.
In the 2001 census, the population was 10,356,117. But despite long being a country of emigration, Portugal has now become a land of net immigration, with the largest of these communities coming from Ukraine, Brazil, Cape Verde and Angola. There's also a rapidly growing community of Chinese and a notable number of Macanese, who are descendants of Chinese and Portuguese settlers.
All the population speaks Portuguese, a Romance language which derives from Vulgar Latin. Galician and Mirandese - which are technically classed as separate languages - are spoken by a few thousand people in the north of the country along the Spanish border. English is widely understood in the tourist areas of the Algarve, but not so much outside them.