There was a time – not so long ago – when traveling to Portugal meant ‘The Algarve’. With the rise in popularity of city breaks, travelers’ experience of Portugal expanded to include Lisbon. More recently, we’ve all discovered Porto and that, in turn, has opened up a ‘new’ destination – Northern Portugal.
I think this region ticks all the boxes – we visited in June 2019 (ah – the good old days B.C.!!) The only thing missing for me was an arid, semi scrub landscape but I’m funny that way!!! (There’s just no pleasing some folk!!)
Have a look and see if its for you …..
1. Sun and Sea
Ok lets get this one out of the way because we all need our fix of vitamin D and a splash in the ocean at least once per year!
Yes it gets the sun! And heat – you can expect average summer temperatures of around 25°C / 77°F (so it probably suits most people better than the Algarve’s 30°C / 86°F).
There are dozens of sandy beaches to enjoy and the full spectrum of water sports is available. The water here is a bit colder than around the Algarve but you will have a bit more space to spread yourself out…
And don’t forget that the coastline is facing west – so you will have sunsets to look forward to after your day on the beach.
2. The Douro
For many, the Douro experience starts and ends at Porto. And that’s ok if you’ve just a few days. But the valley is stunning and worth a bit of attention.
There are great views of the river in Porto and you can take a short trip from here.
The Valley is breathtaking
There are lots of cruise options.
They berth at some of the riverside villages in the evenings.
You can catch a shorter trip (1 or 2 hours) from some of the river ports ( no – its not a private tour! Just not a great day weatherwise so we’d the boat almost to ourselves!)
3. All things Grape
This is Portugal’s most famous wine region and home in particular of course to the fortified Port wine.
If, like me, your knowledge of Portuguese wine is restricted to Mateus Rosé then you’ll be delighted to learnt that you can visit Palácio de Mateus and get a selfie in front of the house made famous by the distinguished bottle!
You can take a winery tour at one (or more!) of the 200+ Quintas (wine estates) along the Douro Valley….
….or just go straight to the tasting part!!!
4. Mountain Air
Northern Portugal is a mountainous area. You can head up towards the Spanish border for dramatic scenery and the Peneda-Gerês National Park.
5. Beautiful Villages, Towns and Cities
You’ll have a wonderful time exploring the narrow lanes and picturesque plazas in the villages and towns.
Even if you don’t make it beyond Porto, you’ll still have plenty to enjoy….
6. Photogenic Bridges everywhere
The bridges are stunning – and each one has a story……
(Pont de Barca)
(Pont de Lima)
(Dom Luis I bridge is one of the main landmarks in Porto).
Portugal is one of the oldest state nations in the world. If history is your thing then you should find plenty to interest you ranging from Palaeolithic rock art down through the influences of the Romans, Moors and Christians.
The Côa Valley has an collection of open-air rock art sites, ranging in date from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age, which were discovered during construction of a dam.
(Castelo de Chaves)
(Mill stone at the 9th century Mosteiro de Santa Maria das Júnias)
8. Walking and Hiking
Strolling by the river or exploring the beautiful villages and towns might be enough for most, but there are plenty of options if hiking is your thing.
There are guided and self-guided walking trails along the river and in the mountains.
The Portuguese Camino de Santiago
The Camino Portugues is second only to the French Way in popularity with about 19% of all pilgrims walking this route (52,000 in 2017). The most common route from Porto to Santiago heads inland (260km) but there’s an alternative route along the coast (280km).
These pilgrims were a typical sight when we spent a few days in the fishing village of Povoa de Varzim (about 35km from Porto).
9. Churches, Bells and Steps
While there are plenty of impressive churches throughout Europe, this small area of the continent has certainly got its own fair share to brag about. From abandoned mountain chapels to dramatic cathedrals, you’ll be impressed with the variety of styles you encounter as you travel around.
(São João de Tarouca)
(Mosteiro de Santa Maria das Júnias)
There’s an interesting fixation with staircases!!!!
Some have steps….
….and some have STEPS!
If all you know about Portuguese food is Pastéis de Nata then its really time to pay the country a visit!
I love buying fresh produce for a fraction of what it costs at home!
This is the only thing I didn’t like in Portugal! ( I’m sticking it in the middle of the food so that I don’t end on a ‘negative’ note!!!). Francesinha is a cross between a sandwich and a burger – or a steak sandwich. Each restaurant seems to have its own recipe but its basically two thick slices of bread with layers of meat – sausage, ham, pork – doused in a tomato-beer sauce and cheese. And yes – that IS a fried egg on top. Its served with fries and best accompanied by beer
Pescatarians will have a great time!
Porto international airport is located 11 km northwest of the city centre (and is currently the second-busiest in the country).
A train trip between Porto and Lisbon takes about three hours.
Most of the main towns are connected by bus service. However, some of the more rural areas are not well served by public transport. There are lots of tour options available lasting from one to several days in duration. This is a great region for a self drive vacation.
If you’re think of heading to Northern Portugal, have a look at these: