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A horse grazes in the shadow of the walled town of Valenca do Minho. Photos by Phil Raby

Northwest Portugal's Vinho Verde Route


By A.P. Rodriques

One unheralded European destination is northwest Portugal's Vinho Verde route, an area that is bypassed daily by tourists in favor of its well-known southern cousin, the Algarve. Ironically, those heading to Portugal's vacation hot-spot by air are often required to land in the north, to allow a few visitors, with a knowing glint in their eyes, to disembark.

And why the twinkle? Soon those travelers will relish the savory cuisine, fresh air and meandering roads punctuated with chronicles of lore that can only be found in this corner of Portugal.

There's something else to discover too: Vinho Verde, the northwest's regional wine. The literal translation means Green Wine, and its medium alcoholic content and fruity flavor make it the perfect companion for meals enjoyed along this route which runs from the Douro river all the way north to the Spanish border.

Jewel by the River

The historic city of Porto, whose old center has been deemed a World Heritage site by UNESCO, is the gateway to the Vinho Verde route. Fringed to the south by the enchanting Douro river, it is where colorful, old buildings perch elegantly on incredibly narrow streets and laundry flutters unashamed
from most balconies.

To rub elbows with the locals, the place to go is the Cais da Ribeira, especially in the late afternoon. This dockside area, with an abundance of outdoor cafes, is the perfect spot to see Rabelos, the antique boats used to transport another fermented favorite, the city's fabled Port wine, from the
vineyards downstream to the cellars for aging.

That tradition ended in 1965 and now the wine makes its way by truck, however, the methods of achieving that world-renowned port are the same from centuries ago. To learn more about that process, visitors can take the guided tours offered at the port lodges, which are just a 15-minute walk from the Ribeira on the other side of the Douro river.

 A view of the historic city of Porto as seen across the River Douro.

Where to stay:

Pestana Carleton Porto
Address: Praça da Ribeira,1
Situated on the banks of the Douro river and in the heart of the Cais da Ribeira, this boutique hotel offers lovely views of the river.
For more information: pestana.com


Where to eat:
Confeitaria Imperio
Address: Rua Sta. Catarina, 149-151
This is the place to go for an inexpensive but hearty lunch. Also has a huge selection of Portuguese pastries.

Churrasqueira Central dos Clerigos
Address: Rua da Fabrica, 69
This lively restaurant offers a variety of grilled fish and meat dishes, along with its famous rotisserie chicken.

Restaurant Tripeiro
Address: Rua de Passos Manuel, 195
For a more expensive
dining experience with an authentic Porto flavor.

Historical boats on the River Douro show how Porto's famed port wine was transported down from the hills.

What else to do:

Palacio da Bolsa
(Stock Exchange)
Address: Rua Ferreira Borges
An architectural jewel in the city. The Patio das Nacoes (Hall of Nations), at the entrance, served as the trading floor of the stock exchange until 1991.

Igreja e Torre dos Clerigos
Address: Rua dos Clerigos
This 18th century church is covered in Baroque and Rococo carvings. The tower (Torre) is the city's tallest landmark.

The View From Here

National Geographic magazine rates this view from the top of the domed Santa Luzia Sanctuary in Viana do Castelo as one of the world’s finest panoramas.

Thirty-seven miles (sixty km) north of Porto and right on the Atlantic Ocean is Viana do Castelo, a town with roots stretching back to 1258. Its intrinsic relationship to the sea determined its fate, first as the launching pad for some of Portugal's famous explorers who set off to chart an unknown world in the 15th century, and also as a vibrant fishing community. These days, Viana, as it is known to natives, is the place to go for authentic northern cuisine such as Rojoes a Minhota, a tasty meal which includes pork, a variety of sausages and Vinho Verde.

It is here that one of the world's finest panoramas, as heralded by National Geographic magazine, can be found at the top of the domed Santa Luzia Sanctuary. Although an elevator will take visitors up in about ten seconds, walking up the concrete steps will earn you bragging rights, especially if you squeeze through the inexplicably narrow spiral staircase which claustrophobics would be well advised to avoid. But the reward is well worth the effort: an unparallel view of the city and beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean.

Where to stay:

The fog shrouded Pousada de Santa Luzia in Viana do Castelo.

Pousada de Santa Luzia
Address: Monte de Santa Luzia

Sitting on the hill of Santa Luzia, this inn boasts one of the most beautiful vistas in the country. From its rooms, guests have a superb view of the Church of Santa Luzia and beyond that, the ocean blue of the Atlantic.
For more information: pestana.com

Where to eat:

Confeitaria Natario
Address: Rua Manuel Espregueira, 37
If you want fresh meat and fish pastries hot out of the oven you'll have to start lining up with the locals in the morning. Their specialty is Bolas de Berlim - a sweet pastry with fresh egg cream.

Ruela Bar
Address: Avenida Campo do Castelo, 11
Popular with students and low-budget travelers for its inexpensive, hearty sandwiches.

What else to do:

The stately Praca da Republica is the city's town square complete with an ornate 16th century water fountain. It is the perfect spot to people watch from its outdoor cafes.

Valenca do Minho allows visitors to stay, eat and shop in a walled fortress with a  commanding view of Spain.

Living History

Just slightly northeast and directly on the Spanish border, with only the River Minho as a dividing marker, sits the walled town of Valenca do Minho. It was this strategic position that made the area desirable as a fortress.

The fort walls, although destroyed numerous times throughout history by different warring factions (Barbarians, Arabs and most recently, the French in the 19th century) are still standing and well preserved.

A stroll along the fortress wall reveals vignettes of a simpler life. Horses stroll with their owners, sheep graze along the river and children kick soccer balls without a care. Inside the walls, neighbors chat from their windows to passer-bys and flowers are left at the little chapels which line the cobbled streets.

Where to stay:

Pousada de Sao Teotonio
Address: 4930-619 Valenca do Minho
Set on the highest point inside the old fort area of Valenca do Minho, this place offers splendid views of the Minho river and of Tuy Cathedral in Spain.
For more information: pestana.com

Where to eat:

Fortaleza Restaurante

Address: Rua Apolinario Fonseca
The perfect place for simple and economical meals.

Restaurante Baluarte
Address: Rua Apolinario Fonseca
Many regional dishes are offered such as eel and salmon, that are caught daily from the Minho river. Waiters will wrangle an eel here if asked.

What else to do:

A pleasant walk across the River Minho will take visitors to the beautiful town of Tuy, Spain. Highlights include outdoor markets, outstanding historical architecture and the breathtaking Tuy Cathedral, that dates back to the 12th century.

To learn more about the Vinho Verde route: www.vinhoverde.pt



A.P. Rodrigues  runs a travel writing/photography business called R + R Creative Enterprises with her husband Phil Raby.

 

 


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