Minho is Portugal’s best-kept secret: an intoxicating mix of food, wine and history. It is the greenest corner of the country: a patchwork of mountain meadows and terraced vineyards threaded with lush river valleys. The fruits of the land are turned into the region’s famed vinho verde by local wine-makers in adegas, traditional wine estates tucked into the folds of the hills.
The rugged Costa Verde, or Green Coast, wraps around the region in all its wave-lashed glory. It’s not just about scenic beauty though: Minho is the birthplace of the Portuguese kingdom, with its rich history etched into its old cities. Before you go on your incredible Portuguese holiday, read our guide to Minho and Northern Portugal.
When to go
The best time to visit Minho is March to May or September to October when the weather is warm but it’s not too hot or crowded.
How to get there
Several airlines offer direct flights between the UK and Porto, including Ryanair, easyJet and TAP Air Portugal. Regular train services run between Porto and Braga (1hr).
Why go to Minho?
Minho is one of Portugal’s finest wine regions and is responsible for vinho verde (aka green wine): a young wine with a fresh, fruity flavour that goes well with Portuguese dishes. A string of adegas (wineries) offers tours and tastings; some of the best include Quinta da Aveleda and Quinta do Ameal near Braga, and Anselmo Mendes in Monção e Melgaço. Porto is famed for fortified wine port, and the Douro Valley is the best spot to sample this prized tipple.
While many people hotfoot it to the Algarve or Lisbon Coast, North Portugal beaches rival those of their southern counterparts. Porto beaches are some of the most exquisite, while further north, the Costa Verde is also a rugged, picturesque stretch. Viana do Castelo is one of the best beach towns, with lovely powdery swathes to sink your toes into.
The Minho river straddles the border between Portugal and Spain, steeped with history. One of the best sites in Northern Portugal is Valença do Minho, a fortress that was used to fend off numerous Spanish and French invasions over the centuries. Elsewhere, the region’s old cities reflect Portugal’s rich heritage: Guimarães is the first Portuguese capital, while neighbouring Braga has long been a centre of religion.
The lush landscapes of Minho are Portugal’s best-kept secret: high mountains plunge to river valleys; sprawling vineyards cling to sheer precipices. Historic towns are tucked into foothills, and mountain villages huddle among the peaks. A beautiful coastline stretches right up to the border with Spain, while Peneda-Gerês, near Braga, is Portugal’s only national park – a great place to hike and cycle.
Minho is big on festivals, which are celebrated everywhere from big cities to sleepy villages. The most recognised include: Feiras Novas, a riot of music, fireworks and gigantone (giant) statues, in Ponte de Lima (September); Semana Santa in Braga, for a week of holy celebrations (April); and the Viana Romaria carnival dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows (August).
Although Braga and Guimarães are the most popular places to visit in Northern Portugal, Ponte de Lima is a humble village oozing charm – think beautifully preserved old manor houses and stunning gardens.
Most adegas on the vinho verde wine route offer tours and tastings, but for something a bit extraordinary, try a Segway tour through the estate of Quinta de Santa Cristina.
The tiny Tasquinha da Linda in Viana do Castelo may look unassuming but it serves up some of the best Portuguese dishes around; feast on oysters, octopus, mussels and, if you’re feeling adventurous, local speciality barnacles.
A 30-minute drive from Braga, Esposende is a beach-bejewelled stretch of coastline that’s surprisingly remained off the tourist trail.
What to do
Soak up the charms of Baroque Braga
Braga has been the religious capital of Portugal since Roman times. The city’s narrow lanes and atmospheric plazas, lined with Baroque churches, echo with the sound of chiming bells. Just outside the city is the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, whose elaborate staircase zigzags up the hillside – climb the 577 steps to the church before taking the funicular back down. Look beyond Braga’s ecclesiastical credentials to discover a mellow bar scene, independent art galleries and museums.
Visit Guimarães, a medieval city rooted in time
One for the history buffs, Guimarães is the birthplace of the Portuguese kingdom. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born here in 1110 and later made the city his capital. It’s a place where time stands still: the UNESCO-protected historic core is a tangle of medieval streets, with pretty plazas, fairy-tale castles and grand palaces. The university city has a youthful energy though, seen in its museums and art centres.
Get your culture fix in Northern Portugal’s jewel
A visit to Minho is best combined with a few days in Porto, 100 kilometres to the south. Portugal’s second-largest city is splashed with beautiful azulejo tiles (don’t miss the mosaics of São Bento railway station), transforming the streets into works of art. There are plenty of things to see in Porto: medieval palaces, museums, cathedrals and lush gardens, plus it’s home to some of Portugal’s leading food and wine spots.
Mix up architecture and beach days in Viana do Castelo
Architecture fans should head to Viana do Castelo to discover Manueline mansions and Baroque buildings – a nod to the wealth of the country’s colonial days. But the highlight is the hilltop Santa Luzia church, gazing out over the rooftops in all its pearlescent glory. Catch of the day from local fishermen is served up in traditional Portuguese dishes, while a string of sandy beaches trails along the coastline.
Have we caught your interest? Make your stay even better by staying in one of Oliver’s Travels’ handpicked villas in Minho and Northern Portugal! Need help planning? Feel free to reach out to our dedicated concierge service!
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