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7 Days Through the Historic Cities and Villages of Northern Portugal

Rui Ribeiro CC BY-NC-ND

Your holiday break will become an enchanting voyage of discovery through Porto and Northern Portugal. Besides the inspiring landscapes of the Douro river, the historic city centres, the north's appetising gastronomy and friendly people, there are many lively streets, elegant shops and stunning cellars full of Porto Wine which you will pass through to taste this internationally recognised drink.

We present you with a 7 day programme, taking in the Historic Cities and Villages of Northern Portugal, beginning with the invicta (unconquered), as the genuine city of Porto is known, then heading to Minho, Trás-os-Montes, the Côa valley and the Alto Douro Vineyard, before finally returning to Porto. Come along and bring your camera (or mobile phone)!

Day 1: Porto

Dedicate the first day to discovering the magnificent city of Porto. Start your day in Porto's historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and go down to the riverside area, right next to the Douro river. Use your 5 senses, and you will realise why this is such a special place; through narrow streets and old buildings, in an architecture so vivid and enthralling, you will find sincere and outgoing people. When seen from the Douro river, the city looks like a staircase, from the hilltops to the Douro that weaves through it.

Immerse yourself in the city, and discover fascinating locations. From the riverside, go to the Bolsa Palace (Palácio da Bolsa), which boasts a surprising mixture of architectural styles. You can find the cathedral close by and be enchanted by its beautifully carved and gilded altar, finely worked in great detail. Continue to São Bento with its tiles that ennoble this training station. Fall in love with a panoramic view of the beautiful city of Porto from the Cleric's Tower (Torre dos Clérigos). Visit the Lello bookshop, and gaze upon the intertwined staircase that inspired Hogwarts School in the Adventures of Harry Potter. Before reaching the Balhão Market, be sure to visit the Carmo Church (Igreja do Carmo) with its blue and white tiled outer panes. And when you get to Bolhão, you will be captivated by the colours and aromas of seasonal fruits and vegetables. End you visit with a well-earned rest at the legendary Café Magestic.

On the other side of the river, Vila Nova de Gaia, which you can reach on foot, by car or by boat, you will find another mandatory visit on your trip through the North: the Port Wine Cellars. There are more than a dozen, and they are open to visitors, with wine tasting and a shop where you can acquire the best wines.

Days 2 and 3: Tradition and Emotions from Minho

It's time to travel father north toward Minho. This is a region made up of beautiful villages and cities that graciously welcome you to their festivities, invite you to discover their history through diverse monuments, and to sit at the table, looking out over the simply stunning scenery.

Go up the coast and enjoy one of the loveliest of Viana do Castelo's postcards, the Monte de Santa Luzia, which boasts views of the landscape, the Lima river and the Ocean. Enter the sanctuary to lose yourself in the beauty of each detail and the colours of the stain glassed rose windows. After, go down to the historic centre, taking a short break at the Largo de Camões fountain. In the midst of the old, you will find modern details like the municipal bookshop, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, a Portuguese architect and winner of the Pritzker Prize.

Just to the side, on the Ponte de Lima, the annual International Garden Festival is held, and every day typical dishes are cooked: caldo verde, sarrabulho rice (meat) or lamprey (fish). Enjoy them with local Green Wine, and sit back and take in the festivities in Portugal's oldest town. They take place on the second weekend of September, when the population stays up late to dance, listen to music, go to the theatre, and see fireworks displays, among many other attractions.

Braga and Guimarães also await you. And they are just 30 minutes apart. The former reflects strong religious devotion, and is called the “Portuguese Rome”; the latter was the birthplace of Portugal, and invites you to discover its castle. Both these cities offer an excellent selection of typical dishes, accompanied with fine regional wines.

In Braga, walking allows you to see the city in more detail. There are 49 churches to visit, several mansions, wide squares and many zigzag steps (or a hydraulic funicular) that lead to Bom Jesus, the hilltop sanctuary overlooking the city.

In Guimarães, walk through the streets traversed by D. Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal. Start with the charming medieval neighbourhood, then climb to the sacred column that houses the castle, and dive into a well maintained past, including that of confectionery; for it was in the Santa Clara convent that many regional sweets were invented. Sit in St Peter's Square (Praça de São Pedro), and enjoy evening in the city while savouring a pie or almond cake.

Day 4: The incredible views of the Mountainous Northeast

Heading to the northeast of the country, you will come to Trás-os-Montes, where you can recharge your batteries at the hot springs in Chaves. Then discover the Pedras Salgadas Park, or visit one of the country's best preserved medieval castles, in Bragança, with views over the Serra de Montesinho Natural Park. And when it's time to taste some local flavours, try out the Trás-os-Montes sausages or head down to Miranda do Douro and enjoy the famous Mirandesa, a meat grilled to perfection and so characteristic of this region.

You may even be lucky enough to see the pauliteiros de Miranda warrior dance, performed by men of the land and accompanied by bagpipes. You can also hear a different kind of Portuguese: Mirandese (considered the country's second official language). Keep an ear out!

Days 5 and 6: Alto Douro Vineyard and the Côa Valley

Unlike everything that you have seen thus far, there is something unique that has remained in the past: The Côa Valley Archaeological Park (World Heritage Site in 1998). Here you will find an authentic prehistoric cave art gallery in the open air, with more than 500 historical records all over its natural slopes, which extend over two hundred square kilometres, near to the confluence of the Côa and Douro rivers. There are prehistoric panels and drawings with diverse motifs and techniques identified by scholars, who will even take you on night visits, which are the best time to see clearly the figures drawn on the rocks.

This small country's wonders seem inexhaustible, and we hope that you can visit them all. Dedicate your penultimate day to the Douro. Take a cruise along the Douro, and discover why the river Douro region is considered a World Heritage Site. It is from this difficult terrain that man is able to produce one of the world's best wines, and its landscape beguiles those who pass through it. The result of enormous human investment, the famous Port Wine produced here has allowed the local population to stay put thanks to its stimulation of the local economy.

And on this trip through the Douro Vineyard, discover the Tua Valley, whose magnificent geography crafted by the river itself provides a unique experience. Let your gaze get lost in a landscape that stretches from the Pinhão river valley to the eastern boundary of the Carrazeda de Ansiães.

Day 7: Return to the flavours of the City of Porto

On your last day, return to Porto and sit on a café terrace to enjoy a typical dish. There are many to choose from: from meat (guts à la Porto or "francesinha") and fish (several cod dishes) prepared with lots of flavour and accompanied by the famous ancient drink. And before you leave, pass through the historic centre, and choose something to take with you that will bring back the memories of days well spent.

If you need help, you know where to find us. We are here to help you discover the best places around this lovely region. Contact us.

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