Five reasons to explore Porto and North Portugal

With centuries of intriguing history, deep-rooted gastronomic traditions and a fun-loving city at its heart, every corner of this region rewards a visit.

By Associação de Turismo do Porto e Norte
Published 5 Dec 2020, 11:09 GMT
The Douro is the third largest river in the Iberian Peninsula.

The Douro is the third largest river in the Iberian Peninsula.

Photograph by Andrés García M

There’s something almost lyrical about the way landscapes unfold in North Portugal, with the Douro River drifting east from Porto into hills corduroyed with steeply terraced vineyards that make the world’s most spectacular ports. The forgotten mountains of the Trás-os-Montes pucker up north of here, with granite villages clinging tightly to hillsides and time-honoured traditions. Further north still, the Minho lifts gazes and spirits with religious and historic sites that range from the country’s oldest cathedral to Celtic hill forts. In this corner of Portugal, culture is to be found everywhere you go.

1. Heritage highs

Home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, North Portugal has serious cultural cachet. The roll call reaches from the Alto Douro — the world’s oldest wine region — to Porto’s historic centre, dating back to Roman times. Rewind to the 12th-century birthplace of the nation in Guimarães, climb the long staircase or take a historic funicular to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, or ponder the mystery of Palaeolithic rock art in the Côa Valley. Stay at the Pestana Vintage Porto, in the historic Ribeira district, for breathtaking views of the Douro River.

2. Douro vineyards

The Douro wine region has vines marching up steep terraces, while below, the river flows swift and silent. The landscapes are some of Europe’s most poetic — whether you see them by boat or train, on a hike or a bike, or by driving the roads that corkscrew deep into the Alto Douro, the region’s UNESCO-listed pride and joy. Allow time for tastings of the region’s reds and tawny ports at a quinta (estate) that’s probably been in the same family for centuries. Quinta da Casa Amarela, between Régua and Lamego, is a farmhouse that's been in the same family since 1885. It’s the perfect place to bed down, and try some local wine, of course. 

3. Soulful cities

With its gothic churches, baroque belltowers and pastel-coloured houses, Porto is an instant heart-stealer. It’s also a city where sparky young chefs like Vasco Coelho Santos are using creative new recipes to put Porto on the global gastronomic map. The city’s wines, from the nearby Douro, are outstanding. And now everybody is raving about WOW, the new World of Wine district, with its tasting rooms, restaurants, shops, cafes and exhibitions. 

4. Sacred moments

In Portugal’s far north west, the Minho region is an unsung beauty. History and religion are writ large here, not least in Braga, with its baroque churches, 11th-century Romanesque cathedral and Bom Jesus do Monte’s hilltop sanctuary and baroque staircase. Just as memorable is alley-woven, castle-topped Guimarães, where the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, was born in 1110. The Santa Luzia ArtHotel in Guimarāes is the ideal base for easy access to all the must-see attractions of this historic city. 

5. Farm-to-fork flavours

The Douro spills into the Trás-os-Montes region. Cut off for centuries by the mountains and sprinkled with pretty granite villages, this region is Portugal’s go-to for good old-fashioned home cooking. Dig into the likes of posta à Mirandesa (veal steak) and cozido à Portuguesa (stew with boiled meat and vegetables). The locals also love pork, particularly smoky, silky presunto (cured ham). If luxury is your thing, stay at Hotel Vidago Palace, situated in a small spa town in Trás-os-Montes. It's as opulent as they get. 

Getting there
TAP Air Portugal, Ryanair, British Airways and EasyJet offer direct flights to Porto from UK airports.

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