Porto e Norte
The natural beauty of Portugal’s oldest region forms the backdrop for this proud and traditional land. The Douro river is the longest in northern Portugal. It winds its sinuous way past mountains and cliffs until it reaches the Atlantic near the city of Porto.
Many dams have been built to make the river navigable, which for the visitor means that plenty of pleasure-boats depart from Porto. Between Meseo Frio and Pinhao lies the stretch where the valley sides are lined with terraced vineyards that produce the famous Port wine. But this region is famous for other things besides the wine that is made nowhere else in the world. Signs of prehistoric men are seen in the ancient cave paintings in Vila Nova de Foz Ca´a. Elsewhere, medieval castles and convents or Romanesque little churches dot the landscape. History, too, is evoked by the manor houses, such as the Baroque mansion at Mateus, near Vila Real, or in the great 17th century sanctuaries, such as Nossa Senhora dos Remadios in Lamego, which plays such an important role in people’s devotions. Everywhere people keep alive traditions of dance and song (showing strong Celtic influence, as in the Pauliteiros dance of Miranda) and in their secular festivals and processions, which reveal how Christian rituals were grafted onto a much older pagan heritage.
A paradise of unspoiled natural resources, the region is a perfect place for mountain trekking, canoeing or simply resting up in the spa towns of Carvalhelhos, Chaves, and Pedras Salgadas. Vidago has a magnificent park with swimming pools and a golf course.
Porto is without doubt the main city in northern Portugal. It has an international airport and all the charms of a riverside community. It also keeps alive traditional values while pushing ahead with a dynamic, innovative spirit in its commercial and industrial life.
Pinhao, on the banks of the Douro river.
Along the coastline north of Porto runs the road linking Vila do Conde to Valensa. It takes visitors past beautiful beaches, summer resorts and enchanting villages, such as Caminha and Vila Nova de Cerveira. Inland, one must visit the huge national park area covering the mountains of Peneda, Soajo and Geras.
Three towns that set the tone for this charming area of Portugal are Viana do Castelo, lying upon the estuary of the Lima river; Braga, rich in ecclesiastical history; and the medieval Guimaraes. Mansions and manorial houses in this region open their doors to bed and breakfast, offering visitors a rare privileged glimpse of aristocratic Portuguese traditions, combined with the best modern hospitality can offer.