People have certainly heard of Lisbon and Porto when it comes to Portugal. But did you know that there exists another worthwhile world 100km north of Porto? It is called the Minho – just like the river that goes through this area and borders with Spain. You would never believe how we felt when we first visited. Let us talk about some essential things you must see in Northern Portugal.
The Minho region is so rich of intense landscapes encompassing everything you can imagine: ancient towns and bridges, historic archaeological sites and vineyards and meadows so green you will think they were painted. Oh, and not to mention the beach and the mountains.
You do absolutely wanna start in Barcelos. This fairy-tale town is home to the biggest weekly market of Portugal (every Thursday). Go there and buy some stock of fruit and vegetables for the next days. Do you know that the story of the colorful rooster of Portugal (a famous emblem of the country) originates in Barcelos? You must truly go there and find out about this legend in detail. The emblem of the rooster can be seen all over the country and comes in all kinds of cute souvenirs. Braga is what you should visit next. You can drive there and admire the dreamy scenery of the route between the two cities. Braga is said to be the religious center of Portugal due to all the churches, monasteries and religious festivities you can find in and around the city. The dreamy, old city will amaze you and you will wish yourself back to medieval times. Don’t miss Bom Jesus do Monte, an impressive sanctuary outside Braga. Bom Jesus do Monte is a pilgrimage site with a one-of-a-kind stairway where one can truly feel the deep catholic roots of Portugal. The stairway is in Baroque style and climbs 116 meters (about 381 feet).
Some cities are more important than others when it comes to the history of Portugal as a country. If you wanna feel the ancient spirit of a town where a whole country was born, visit Guimarães. It indeed is the birthplace of Portugal. Dom Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, was born and founded the country in Guimarães. The UNESCO city offers well-preserved houses from 18th century, gothic churches and, of course, the medieval castle where you can find the remains of Dom Afonso Henriques.
Portugal’s only National Park Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres is the next location on your Northern Portugal bucket list. This park is full of pure nature and wilderness, but if you are patient enough you will encounter some traditional and agricultural towns every now and then. All the dams, waterfalls and springs, cows and donkeys, meadows and mountain landscapes will prove Portugal is so much more than a beach destination. You absolutely must go and take a photo of the endemic espigueiros. Don’t make the same mistake as we did and think they are tombs. In fact, they are small granite houses to dry grain. Some almost pre-historic cities worth to visit are Caldas do Gerés, Portela do Hommem, Lindoso, Soajo, Senhora da Peneda (where you will find a sanctuary with the most incredible mountainous surroundings), and Castro Laboreiro.
From Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres you can drive westward along the river Lima and visit the historic towns of Ponte da Barca and Ponte de Lima. Ponte da Barca bears a medieval bridge from the 15th century, while you can admire some remains of an ancient fortification in Ponte de Lima. Other than that, not much is happening in this scenic yet small towns, but the most important thing is anyways to soak up the unique atmosphere there. If you happen to be in Ponte de Lima during sunset it will be an especially romantic experience for you to sit on the river at the landscaped waterfront.
No Minho tour would be complete without a visit to Viana do Castelo. Because let’s be honest – a journey to Portugal should not only include ever-green meadows, mountains and vineyards but also beach, sun and fun. Viana do Castelo is the most popular maritime town in the Minho but still not very touristy. Here you can savour delicious, fresh fish and afterwards take a walk at the beach and get immersed in the wild and rough Atlantic Ocean. If you want to experience one a view that was considered the 3rd most lovely in the World (by National Geographic Magazine) you need to climb the Santa Luzia mount nearby Viana do Castelo. Monte de Santa Luzia has a marvellous sanctuary which is absolutely worth a visit. You can go there by car, cable car or use the countless steps uphill. You will overlook the endless horizon of the sea, the city and the Northern and Southern part of the river.
From Viana do Castelo you can either drive towards the Spanish border in the North or you go southwards and enjoy the jaw-dropping coastline and back-in-time towns like Junqueira or Esposende. Regardless of how you choose to end your Minho tour, the warmth and hospitality of its people will certainly be evident everywhere.