Northern Portugal

The green and pleasant north of Portugal is a place of traditional merry-making where annual festivals are ablaze with colourful costumes, lively processions and frenetic folk-dancing followed by a feast of fireworks.

Northern Portugal is the country’s most fertile region both in culture and agriculture, set between the Spanish province of Galicia to the north and the Douro Valley to the south.

Occupying the country’s north western corner, the lush green Minho region takes its name from the river that has always marked Portugal’s northern frontier, with its careless, capricious course guarded by fortified towns and citadels en route to the Atlantic.

Braga, its capital, is an ancient Celtic city with more than 300 churches. Outside the city, the Baroque splendour of Bom Jesus do Monte is an important pilgrimage shrine.

Further south lies Guimarães (indicated on the map below), the undisputed birthplace of the country. When Afonso Henriques proclaimed himself the first king of Portugal in 1139, he chose Guimarães as his capital.

Between Braga and the Atlantic coast is Barcelos, the ceramics centre of Portugal. The town’s large weekly market every Thursday is a major attraction for locals and tourists alike.

Further north lies the attractive riverside town of Ponte de Lima, famous for its extensive Roman bridge. The coastal town of Viana do Castelo is also interesting for its winding streets and ancient monuments.

Portugal’s northeasternmost region, Trás-os-Montes, is a remote wilderness of rugged moorland and sleepy stone villages. Its capital, Bragança, boasts an ancient walled citadel standing on an isolated hilltop. The surrounding Parque Natural de Montesinho is an extensive nature reserve covering 70,000 hectares of protected landscape.

Visitors exploring the southern part of the region can reach the Douro Valley by boat, car or train. The journey through Port wine country is one of the most pleasant travel experiences in Southern Europe, passing by many of the famous vineyards along the way.

A popular stopover on this route is Lamego, an attractive town within the demarcated Port wine-making area. Its main sites include a 12th-century Gothic cathedral and a small hilltop chapel dating back to 1391.