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Porto and the North

Porto

(Classified by UNESCO World Heritage site) The North’s most important city lent its name to the famous wine and to Portugal. One must stroll around its typical quarters (especially the area on the waterside, the ‘zona ribeirinha’) and its bustling downtown. Visit: the Stock Exchange Palace, the Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral, the church of Cedofeita (Romanesque), the Clerigos tower (Porto’s ex-libris of Baroque architecture) and church; the church of Sao Francisco, of Romanesque origin, with its interior covered in gilded carvings, and the church of Carmo, with tiled facades. Museums: Soares dos Reis, Casa de Serralves (modern art), Casa-Museu de Guerra Junqueiro and the Romantic Style Museum of Quinta da Macieirinha. One should not miss a visit to the Port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia and free tasting of the famous port wine.

The Douro region

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 and cruise boats depart from Porto to the Douro region. Between Mesao Frio and Pinhao lies the stretch where the valley sides are lined with terraced vineyards that produce the grapes for 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 Coa. 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 Remedios in Lamego, which plays such an important role in people’s devotions.

North East Region of Tras-os-Montes

In this region people keep alive traditions of dance and song (showing strong Celtic influence, as in the Pauliteiros dance at the village of Miranda) and in their secular festivals and processions, which reveals 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.

The Coastal Region of Minho

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. Along the coastline north of Porto runs a coastal road linking Vila do Conde to Valença. 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 Geres. Three towns that set the tone for this charming area of Portugal are, 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.

Barcelos

Medieval walled town and a dungeon of the same epoch. Worthy of a visit are the Ceramics Museum (Museu de Olaria), the Archaeological Museum of the Dukes’ Palace, the mother-church (Romanesque-Gothic), and the churches of Terco, Cruzes and Benedictine Convent. Walking tours around the ancient Jewish quarter or in the streets with medieval houses and Baroque manors; boat tours on the Cavado rive

Braga

Founded by the Celts in 300 B.C. and a Roman administrative centre in 27 B.C., Bracara Augusta, as the Romans named it, combines the religious importance with today’s commercial and industrial prosperity. To visit: the Cathedral (12th-18th centuries), the treasury and Sacred Art Museum; the museum at the Biscainhos Palace; and the Dom Diogo de Sousa Museum. Also deserving to be visited are the churches of Misericordia (Renaissance), Populo (17th-18th centuries) and of Nossa Senhora Branca (18th century). On the outskirts, 2.5 miles away from the center, stands the sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Sameiro; the ancient monastery of Tibaes, dating back to the Suevian period and rebuilt in the 11th century, and the Church of Sao Frutuoso de Montelios (a 7th-century Visigothic temple).

Bragança

Majestic city, with medieval castle and walls. Its Domus Municipalis is a unique example of civic Romanesque architecture in Portugal. Special mention must be made to the Cathedral (16th century), Santa Maria Church, Casa da Misericordia Chapel, Santa Clara Convent and Church (16th century), Sao Bento Convent and Church (17th-18th centuries), and the Abade de Bacal Museum. At the Railway Museum, 19th century, locomotives and carriages.

Chaves

Crossing the Tâmega river, the Roman bridge is one of the most characteristic images of the city. The 14th century castle houses the Archaeology and Epigraphy Museum. The forts of Sao Francisco and Sao Neutel (18th century), the mother-church (Romanesque origin), and the Misericordia Church (Baroque) are worthy of a visit. Notice the original balconies of the houses in Rua Direita

Guimaraes

Portugal’s birthplace, with medieval castle and walls, houses a magnificently well-preserved historic center. In the cloisters of the church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira is the Alberto Sampaio Museum; and the cloister of Sao Domingos Convent houses the Martins Sarmento Museum. In the ancient Dominican convent stands the Sacred Art Museum. Also deserving special mentions are the palace of the Dukes of Braganca (15th-century), the church of Sao Miguel (Romanesque), the church of Santos Passos (Baroque), and the monastery of Santa Marinha da Costa (converted in to a Pousada). Nearby lies the early settlement of Briteiros.

Lamego

From the heart of a verdant park rises the sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, with its magnificent Baroque staircase (686 steps). Medieval monuments: (castle, tower-fortress 12th-13th centuries) and the Almacave Church. Also worthwhile visiting are the Renaissance churches of Chagas and Santa Cruz, and the Regional Museum and at the village of Balsemao, the chapel of Suevian-Byzantine origin (7th century).

Ponte de Lima

Beautiful small town with a Roman bridge and medieval towers. The region is renowned for its large number of manor houses (accommodation provided in privately-owned manor houses).

Viana do Castelo

Spread along the north bank of the Lima estuary (where one can take trips on typical boats), this town is famous for its handicrafts and colorful regional costumes. Deserving special mention are the mother-church and the ancient Pacos do Concelho (both Gothic), Casa da Misericordia (Mannerist, with a sacred art treasure), the medieval Casa dos Arcos, the convent of Santa Ana (16th-century), and the Regional Museum. Up above and dominating the city is the sanctuary of Santa Luzia, featuring a fantastic view of the town, the river and the Atlantic ocean.

Vila do Conde

Ancient medieval shipyard. Interesting architectonic places to visit are the mother-church (Manueline style), the Santa Clara Convent (18th century), the Misericordia Church (Renaissance), the Aqueduct, and St. John the Baptist Fortress. This town is also famous for its manufactured lace.

Vila Nova de Foz Coa

This is the center for visits to the Coa Archaeological Park, and where a set of cave paintings were discovered on the banks the river Coa dating from the upper Paleolithic period. From here visits can be arranged to the centers of Penascosa, Ribeira de Priscos and Canada do Inferno. In Vila Nova de Foz Coa itself the main church contains a beautiful portico from the Manueline period.

Vila Real

Town with great religious architecture diversity: Cathedral and Sao Bras Chapel (Gothic); churches of SaoPedro and Misericordia (16th century), Sao Dinis (16th-18th centuries) and the Baroque Capela Nova and Clerigos Church. Also worthwhile visiting nearby the city is the famous Mateus Palace, a Baroque masterpiece, where cultural events are currently held. 

Other Places of Interest

Amarante, Arcos de Valdevez, Azurara, Cabeceiras de Basto, Caldas das Taipas and Caldelas (spas), Caminha, Carrazedo, Espinho (casino), Esposende, Fao, Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Gondomar, Marco de Canaveses, Melgaco, Mesao Frio, Miranda do Douro, Mirandela, Moncao, Montalegre, Murca, Pacos de Ferreira, Penafiel, Peso da Regua, Ponte da Barca, Povoa de Varzim (casino), Ribeira de Pena, Santa Maria de Bouro, Santo Tirso, S. Joao de Tarouca (Cister monastery, 12th century), Sernancelhe, Valenca, Vieira do Minho, Vila Flor, Vila Nova de Cerveira, Vila Nova de Gaia, Vilar de Frades, Vizela.

Regional Gastronomy

  • Caldo verde (cale and spicy sausage soup)
  • Bacalhau (dried salt cod fish)
  • Feijoada à transmontana (bean stew)
  • Trout
  • Rabanadas, papos-de-anjo, barrigas-de-freiras (sweetmeats)
  • Wines: vinhos verdes, Port wine, wines from the Douro region and Tras-os-Montes

Regional Handicafts

  • Embroideries, linen, textiles and tapestry
  • Jewelry and filigree
  • Popular ceramics and pottery
  • Works in wood, leather, copper, tin, wrought iron, wicker and osier.