Porto and Northern Portugal
Porto and Northern Portugal are seriously good destinations in their own right. For those short of time and planning an excursion, this is a brief introduction on what it has to offer.
Galicia is very different from the rest of Spain and the same can be said of Northern Portugal which is also very different from Galicia! Given that Porto is only an hour or so from the Galician border it is possible to visit much of Northern Portugal for even a day trip. A bite to eat, a pleasant journey and some sightseeing are all possible.
Porto is superbly located facing the open Atlantic Ocean and overlooking the River Douro. It is one of the most ancient cities in Europe and its old town was born and developed from the Northern bank of the river during the Middle Ages – Ribeira do Porto. Porto's architectural heritage is renowned and its historical centre has UNESCO world heritage status. Porto is a cultural centre, a creative and contemporary city full of museums, monuments, restaurants, bars and thriving shopping areas. The Music House, National Theatre, Palace of Bolsa, D.Luis Bridge and the Medieval tower of the Cathedral are particulary worth visiting. It is also famous throughout the world for its Port wines and a visit to one of the cellars, many of which are clustered close to the River Douro for transportation reasons is strongly recommended.
The countryside of Northern Portugal is very beautiful. Virtually the whole coastline from Porto to the Spanish border consists of golden, sandy beaches, many virtually deserted. Inland there are mountains and deep rivers which have cut their way through creating spectacular gorges.
This is the land of manor houses and mansions with coats of arms, Pousadas (the Poruguese equivalent of the spanish Paradores hotel chain), fine wines and food including vinho verde and handicrafts such as embroideries. The motorway from Porto (A3) connects directly with Braga, an ancient medieval city. Vila de Conde to Valencia is full of beaches, resorts and villages including Caminha and on the border linked by a bridge Vila Nova de Cerveira. Inland, the natural beauty of Peneda-Geres National Park is a popular attraction. Like Galicia there are rivers, waterfalls, vineyards, ancient cities, monuments and religious traditions but the culture and way of life are worlds apart.
Apulia is a small but lively resort facing the open Atlantic Ocean a few kilometres south of Esposende (see below). It's famous for its sand dunes, long beaches and cluster of well preserved, stone-built windmills. Arguably it has one of the best restaurants in the whole of the region, A Cabana Restaurant which serves freshly barbecued seafood and meats.
Barcelos is located in the heart of the municipality of Minho on the Esposende to Braga road and is a charming medieval walled town full of old churches surrounded by hills. There is a Jewish quarter and streets with medieval granite houses and Baroque Manors. The river Cavado also flows through the town so there are some great views from the bridge which spans it. It's best known locally for the ceramic and colourful rooster cock. There's a weekly market on Thursdays and local arts and crafts are well represented. Other places to see include the city centre, Temple of the Senhor Born Jesus da Cruz, Apoio Square, the City Council and Counts Palace.
Without doubt, Braga is one of the most ancient cities in the whole of Spain and Portugal and is one of the jewels of Portugal. This medieval city has an immaculately preserved 'Old Town' and has a reputation for being the capital of the Portuguese baroque movement. Wandering around it is like being transported back in time to a scene out of the 'Three Musketeers'! The Cathedral, Republic Square, Five Senses Stairs, Bob Jesus Sanctuary, baroque churches, 18th century painted houses, parks and gardens are all worth visiting.
Caminha is close to the Spanish border and is an ancient fortress town overlooking the River Minho but close to the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. Again the town is full of historical and architectural interest.
Guimaraes is also a World UNESCO city dating back to the early 10th century and the origin of Portugal! Its first King Afonso Henriques was born in the majestic castle in 1139! The historical heart which also has UNESCO world heritage status is again well preserved with narrow medieval streets lined with old houses with ornate balconies and the main square, the Largo da Oliveira. Oliveira Square, Santiago Square, Guimares Castle, Duke's Palace- Braganca, Guimares Great Wall and Cultural Centre are all worth seeing. Guimares will be European Capital of Culture in 2012.
Ponte de Lima
Ponte de Lima is named after the bridge which crosses the River Lima into the town. It is a small place full of charm and it is easy to enjoy it by foot and admire its setting next to the river and looking out across the beautiful countryside beyond.
Esposende is superbly located facing the Atlantic Ocean with miles of golden, sandy deserted beaches interspersed with lush, green pine forests. It is an old fishing village with a great setting on the estuary of the River Cavado. This is a very busy resort town in summer where the Portuguese like to go on holiday. Hotel Sauve Mar is the best place to stay.
Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo is located on the north bank of the Lima estuary and is famous for its handicrafts and local costumes. The Sanctuary of Santa Luzia is particularly worth visiting with commanding views of the town, the river and the Atlantic Ocean. In addition there are numerous beaches such as Cabedelo and Amorosa where all kinds of nautical sports take place. The Republic Square, 25 April Monument and promenade are popular attractions.
Vila do Conde
Vila do Conde is an ancient medieval shipyard full of historical and architectural interests whose origins go back to the year 953. The Monastery of Santa Clara which was built in 1318, the First Church from the 16th century, the Church of Santa Clara, the Roman Aqueduct, Ave River and the Military Fort are all worth seeing.