Porto and North
Discover fields and vineyards painted with an intense green, lush river valleys, sparkling beaches and a heritage older than the country itself. It’s a perfect choice for adventurous spirits that wish to celebrate life day… and night! On this part of Portugal the beautiful landscape allies itself with the contagious joy of the festivities and processions and with the unparalleled hospitality of its people.
In Guimarães you will find the birthplace of Portugal, whose city medieval center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 like Braga, a city once occupied by Romans and one of the most important Christian centers of the ancient region of Gallaecia and since 2019 also World Heritage Site.
Last but not the least the possibility for you to wander in a world apart on The National Park of Gerês; a region where you will find granite villages that haven´t changed much since the creation of Portugal in the 12th century. Women dressed in black conducting cows through the paved stone streets and shepherds leaving their livestock grazing in the meadows is something that you will get used to.
Enogastronomy in the Northern Portugal
Known for its hospitality, the region is generous when it is time to provide a good table service, with a wide variety of dishes (of fish, sea food, meat or regional and convent-made confectionery), cooked with local ingredients. The regional cuisine makes use of its natural resources, so caldo verde, appreciated all over the country, is a cabbage soup that originated here thanks to the fertile green fields of the region. In the west, bounded by the sea, the freshness and quality of the fish has a prominent place, as in all Portuguese cuisine, which prides itself in having the best fish in the world, in the opinion of renowned international chefs and gourmets…
Nested between the districts of Porto and Viana do Castelo, this region is delimited by the Douro to its right and the Atlantic to its left. In the midst of a lush viridescent scenery, you’ll discover the scattered vineyards that produce the famed Vinho Verde (Green Wine). Historically, Green Wine was also known as “hanged” or “hanged man’s wine” (vinho do enforcado). This curious designation comes from the fact that many times the vines were planted close to trees—the famous uveiras—and ended up climbing up through them, resulting in hanging bunches of grapes. This technique has survived until today, but finding uveiras in Minho’s landscape is getting harder, as today most vines are trained using the cordão technique.
The aforementioned exuberant vegetation is explained by the particularly rainy weather and mild temperatures. The soil is mostly composed of granite, rich in acidity and poor in phosphorus, in contrast with the neighboring Douro, which is based on schist. These factors shape the profile of the wine: white green wine is at the top of the class. It stands out due to its delicacy, plasticity, and complexity. It is an exquisite pairing for seafood and fish. Indeed, many consider Alvarinho one of the world’s greatest white wines.
Heritage in the Northern Portugal
Portugal’s North region of Minho is bursting with history and culture with evidence of Celtic, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods and award-winning contemporary architecture.
The medieval Guimarães is one of the most accomplished examples of this historic heritage. The city is a UNESCO site, since 2001 and in its castle the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, grew up. For being considered the cradle of Portugal, Guimarães holds a very special place on the Portuguese hearts. The city will offer you a harmonious and well-preserved medieval heritage, evident in the graceful iron and granite balconies, porticos, royal palaces and arches connecting the narrow streets, paving slabs smoothed by time, towers and cloisters.
Braga, on the other hand is Portugal’s third-largest city and considered by many the Portuguese Rome due to it imposing sanctuary that has combined in a perfect way the work of Nature and Men. It is an elegant university town, laced with ancient narrow lanes closed to vehicle, strewn with plazas and a splendid array of baroque churches. Stroll through its gorgeous and old streets and discover the majesty of the Cathedral and the Bom Jesus Sanctuary, a holy shrine nested on the top of a hill, with fantastic views towards the mantle of greenery that surrounds Braga. The Sanctuary was declared Unesco Heritage Site in 2019, joining in the very restricted club of the other 15 elected Unesco World Heritage Sites in Portugal.
And then Viana do Castelo: a city full of color and traditions. Today Viana do Castelo is closely linked to the Atlantic Ocean and to the river Lima from where she receives the title of Princess of the Lima. Minho colorful costumes, accompanied by the folk spirit, perpetuate the regional roots, as well as the Minho embroidery and the jewelry made of filigree. All this has a corollary: your visit to the Basilica, which was inspired by the Sacré Coeur Cathedral in Paris.
Be sure to absorb the sights, sounds and flavours from Minho monuments, traditional restaurants and outdoor cafés in medieval squares; take in the views from hilltop sanctuaries and castles and discover the stories and traditions that make this region so special.
Nature in the Northern Portugal
Lush mountains, meandering rivers and hilltop villages await visitors to Northern Portugal’s understated countryside. The National park of Peneda-Gerês was established by decree in 1971. The soil, water, flora and fauna have all been preserved and the planning has proved fruitful: biodiversity is today one of the features of this protected area. Nature, relief, altitude variations and the Atlantic, Mediterranean and continental influences have enabled the presence of bushes, oaks and pines, birch forests, lush vegetation along river banks, pastures and crop land.
The exuberant vegetation covering the mountains, exhibit every shade of green, include a holly bush wood – unique at a national level – and endemic species such as the Gerês lily, whose blue-violet colours grace the fields. The rugged mountainous terrain is cut across by rapidly flowing rivers and streams, including many waterfalls, which finally slow down their pace in dams such as those of Caniçada, Vilarinho das Furnas or Portela do Homem. The landscapes are quite stunning.
Keep your eyes peeled, because you may be able to spot a roe deer (symbol of the Park) or its predator, the Iberian wolf. It is more common to come across garrano ponies -which are small wild horses that run freely across the hills. You’re also likely to find Barrosã cattle and dark haired Castro Laboreiro dogs, that look after the flocks of goats and sheep in the different seasons.