The North of Portugal has a rich cultural, historical, and architectural and landscape heritage, pearls that UNESCO has classified over the years as World Heritage Sites.
While visiting the region, you cant miss the Upper Douro Wine Region, a unique setting in the world that will leave you mesmerized; the historical centers of Porto, the city of granite, but with an open heart, and Guimarães, birthplace of Portugal and European Capital of Culture 2012, and the Côa Valley, one of the most important rock art sites in the world.
The old quarters of Porto
The historical centre of Porto is an urban set of incalculable value. Visit the Cathedral and walk through the alleys that, in cascade, lead you to Ribeira, where you can take a guided tour of the Stock Exchange Palace, built between 1842 and 1910 and one of the most beautiful buildings of the city, and right next door, visit the Gothic church of S. Francisco.
You can walk through the winding streets of the old quarters, and you can also rent a bike but the day after your muscles will resent from this adventure - or visit this part of town in an organized segway tour.
To have a snack, choose Ribeira and ask for a cheese board and a Douro wine.
Cross the Luís I Bridge and visit the Port wine cellars on the south bank of the river. Do not be surprised if you see kids diving in the Douro: they throw themselves from the bottom tray and dip crossing the Douro on the hottest days, previously they did that to ask for some by safesaver" id="_GPLITA_0">money.
At night, watch a concert in the old Market Ferreira Borges, am emblematic building of nineteenth-century of iron architecture which today houses the concert hall of Hard Club.
A unique landscape in the world
From Porto, set out to discover the Douro, the first demarcated region of the world where the culture of the vine produced a landscape out of the ordinary. The slopes cultivated in terraces shale defy gravity and are home of some of the best wines in the world. The area was demarcated by Marques de Pombal for over 250 years and classified as a World Heritage site in 2001.
The harvests normally happen in September and October and many quintas in Douro open doors to visitors at that time. Rather than seeing how difficult terrains of the region are worked, combining ancient methods of by safesaver" id="_GPLITA_2">work and technology, visitors are invited to get to work and participate in the harvest.
Wine tastings, walks through the vineyards, winery dinners and picnics are other experiences that these properties oriented to wine tourism offer, not to mention a unique offer of accommodation.
Ever wondered what is to wake up, open the window and see a landscape like that? Or what is a dip in a pool with your own eyes set on terraced vineyards, before accepting a fresh lemonade and a slice of homemade cake?
In Douro, you can! The region has invested in the offer of accommodation and it is now easier to find the ideal place to stay. You can sleep in a majestic manor house with centuries of history, but also in modern hotels, where there was a concern of the buildings being merged with the natural landscape.
Another possibility to visit the Douro with guaranteed accommodation in the city of Porto is embarking on a boat hotel that goes up the river.
Portugal was born here
The foundation of Guimarães dates from the tenth century. The foundation also of Portuguese nationality, it was here in 1128, that D. Afonso Henriques was recognized as the first King of Portugal.
This is a unique city, which is distinguished by its historical center, the rickety houses and medieval buildings, recognized in 2001 as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO and has dynamic people who host its visitors.
Be sure to visit the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, a stately manor house of the fifteenth century and a unique example of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula, which is classified as a National Monument. In the vast palace, it is worth seeing the permanent exhibition of the painter and sculptor José de Guimarães.
The St. Anthony Convent of Capuchos, built in the middle of the Sacred Hill in the 17th century, also deserves attention.
If time permits, visit the hill of Penha and dont leave town without bringing a piece of pottery as a souvenir: the cantarinha dos namorados is an ex-libris of local crafts.
In Portugal, it is said that there is no region where one eats better than the Minho and in the city there are traditional houses and signature restaurants that have one thing in common: a memorable cuisine that convinces the most discerning palates.
First, open the appetite in the Largo da Oliveira, with a Port wine. Here you see what remains of the former Convent of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, its church and the beautiful cloister inside the Museum Alberto Sampaio.
When your stomach asks, prove the Naco à Conquistador - beef rump with the best products of the region - or the traditional fireworks in Minho and indulge in the convent sweets, pies and toucinho do céu. Drizzle the meal with a good Vinho Verde .
The Coa Valley is the most important Paleolithic rock art site inthe outdoor world. Its rocks contain trademarks from around 25,000 years to the present.
The valley meets 50 cores of art over the last 17 kilometers of the river Coa, to its confluence with the Douro. They are mostly pictures of the Upper Paleolithic, but there are also paintings and engravings of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic, Iron Age engravings from the 18th,19th and 20th centuries.
A guide from Archaeological Park takes visitors in all-terrain vehicles up to the engravings. Only four cores of rock art are available to visit, but the experience is unique anyway.
The tour is only complete with a visit to the Museum of Art and Archaeology of the Côa Valley, opened in 2010.
The art of the Côa was classified as a National Monument in 1997 and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998.
There are flights to Porto, low cost , for example, London (Stansted and Gatwick), Paris (Beauvais, Orly and Charles de Gaulle Vatry), Marseille, Lille, Tours, St. Etienne, Bologna, Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat , Tenerife, Valencia, Venice and Palma de Mallorca.
In the summer there are low cost companies flying from Liverpool, Las Palmas, Carcassonne, Rodez and Nantes.
With normal fares from London - Gatwick, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris - Orly.
The best way to reach the center of Porto from the International Airport Francisco Sá Carneiro is by metro. The trip takes about 30 minutes.
From Porto to Guimarães, you can reach in about 30 minutes by motorway A7 and A3.
To Douro and to the Coa Valley, follow the national road 108 to Entre-os-Rios and continue along the river Douro to Régua - alternatively, you can go by IP4, which connects the districts of Porto, Vila Real and Bragança, and then continue by national and municipal roads.