Douro & North Portugal - history, natural parks and port wine estates
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The Douro is blessed with vineyards that produce the world famous Port wine. Evidence of this industry is to be seen all it’s along valleys, with famous names, such as Cockburns, Taylors, Sandeman, appearing on large billboards by the hillsides.
It is a densely populated region scattered with small villages, Port wine lodges, vineyards and breathtakingly beautiful hills, that seem to fall steeply onto the water’s edge. The Douro also has a heavy industrial base – particularly textiles and shoes around the cities – as well as some pretty holiday resorts and white sandy beaches along its coast. A boat trip up the Douro River (the river of gold) provides an unforgettable panorama and insight into one of Portugal’s most beautiful regions.
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Douro & North Portugal - where to go
The Minho lays claim to being the birthplace of Portuguese nationhood and the country’s oldest region. It is also one of the most beautiful, blessed as it is with river valleys, green hills, trailing vines and a rugged coastline.The life style here is deeply rooted in ancient traditions and everyday activity is taken at a rather slow pace, though it speeds up somewhat at social gatherings where the Minho's delicious “green” wine, traditionally drank in porcelain bowls, flows freely.
Guimarães, the country’s beautiful first capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its castle, medieval walls and a beautifully preserved historic centre is particularly enchanting.
Braga may not be as charming as Guimarães, but it is no less monumental. As the religious capital of Portugal it has numerous fine churches. A visit to the Bom Jesus Sanctuary with its famous staircase is also certainly recommended. Climbing those stairs is hard work though, so it helps if you are fit.
Viana do Castelo boasts the lovely Sanctuary of Santa Luzia, which being on top of the hill commands everything around it. Views are accordingly beautiful and the city itself is rather lovely and inviting.
Lovers of wild nature are recommended to visit the national park of Gerês.
The Douro River is blessed with vineyards that produce the world famous Port wine. Evidence of this production is to be seen all its along valleys, with famous names, such as Cockburns, Taylors, Sandeman, appearing on large billboards by the hillsides. It is a densely populated region scattered with small villages amongst the landscapes, Port wine lodges, vineyards and breathtakingly beautiful hills that seem to fall steeply onto the water’s edge.
A boat trip up the Douro River (the river of gold) provides an unforgettable panorama and insight into one of Portugal’s most stunning provinces.
Trás-os-Montes, literally meaning the land “Behind the Mountains”, Trás-os-Montes is a mysterious and distant land, even to the Portuguese themselves. Cut off and isolated from the rest of the country for centuries, it was largely free to develop its own idiosyncratic customs, dialects and beliefs. Certain areas, such as Mirandela, even have their own unique language.
Yet it is blessed with some marvellous and rugged granite scenery, numerous rivers, natural lakes and truly powerful landscapes. It makes for a striking and undiscovered region that is definitely off the beaten track. It also makes it a fine area for trekking and hiking. The natural parks of Alvão, Douro Internacional and Montesinho, for example, are all excellent choices and have numerous trails catering for many levels.
Trás os Montes is also blessed with fine spas. The spa of Vidago is located in attractive grounds, though it closes in winter. The spa in Chaves, on the other hand, is open all year and here visitors can take to the water, which emerges at a piping hot 73º. Drinking it may not be a particularly good idea as it has plenty of sodium bicarbonate. Still, a dip is said to make you feel ten years younger.