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Historical cities and towns in Minho and Trás-os-Montes

Município de Vila Real CC BY-NC-ND

Minho and Trás-os-Montes are regions full of magical locations waiting for you to discover. These two regions are blessed with uniquely constructed houses, distinctive characteristics, and an endless number of age-old traditions that bring the past to life. Photographs will not be the only mementos that you will be taking home with you.

Minho

You are guaranteed to be amazed by Minho’s Roman and Medieval architecture, its well-preserved old town, Baroque buildings and holy sites. But if you need a break from all the history, take the opportunity to regain your strength by indulging in some of the region’s local cuisine.

Start your journey through Minho along the coast by leaving Porto and heading north towards Viana do Castelo. The journey can be made either by car or train, however, traveling by train allows to you take in the incredible scenery. No-one should travel through this part of northern Portugal without climbing the Santa Luiza Mount, which offers stunning views that bring together land, river and sea. Be sure to also visit the Basilica, inspired by the Sacré-Cœur in Paris.

After visiting Viana do Castelo, make the short trip to Ponte de Lima, which is probably the oldest town in Portugal. The main attraction is without doubt its medieval bridge and its unique arches, which dominates the landscape as it crosses the Lima River. In Ponte de Lima’s old town, you can visit the fountain, the Cadeia Velha Tower and the 14th century Porta Nova Tower, which nowadays hosts temporary exhibitions and other cultural events.

Ponte de Lima is the ideal location to enjoy Minho’s cuisine, with its signature dish being "arroz de sarrabulho" (rice with different types of meat) served with "rojões à moda do Minho" (chunks of fried pork) and "vinho verde tinto" (red ‘young’ wine). Here, wine is drunk from porcelain cups. Also, do not forget to try some "caldo verde" (cabbage soup) and lamprey eels. If you still have some time to spare then head to the riverside and take a walk among the sycamores that populate the area.

Guimarães is the historical city par excellence, and is often referred to as the “birthplace of Portugal”. Portugal’s first king, Dom Afonso Henriques, was born in this city and it was here that the battle of São Mamede took place, which led to independence from the Kingdom of Castile and León and the creation of the Condado Portucalense, later to become Portugal. Now do you see why Guimarães is called the “birthplace of Portugal”?

While in Guimarães, be sure to visit the castle, the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, and to stop by the bronze statue of King Afonso I. Why not take the opportunity to have a photograph with the first king of Portugal?

Lose yourself among the old town’s narrow streets, courtyards and squares, all of which have retain their original medieval features. And for another photo opportunity, pass by the city wall on Largo do Toural. Here you will find the following inscription: Aqui nasceu Portugal – Here Portugal was born.

For lovers of religious architecture, Braga is a paradise on earth. The city has a variety of monuments built in different architectural styles, such as the Episcopal Palace and the Archbishop’s Palace, both of which are situated close to Braga Cathedral, and numerous churches throughout the old town. Also, standing as a challenge to the faith of pilgrims is the huge staircase leading up to the Bom Jesus Sanctuary. At the top, both the Bom Jesus Church and a magnificent view of the city await you. Make sure you do not leave Braga without having visited here!

Trás-os-Montes

Southern Trás-os-Montes is certain to interest lovers of human history. At the Foz Côa Archaeological Park, visitors are able to see hundreds of Paleolithic rock engravings. Located less than 20 miles from Vila Nova de Foz Côa, Vila Flor is a small town that has both Roman and pre-Roman remains, as well as the ‘King Denis I Arch’, one of the old arched entrances to the medieval castle.

Located around 40 miles from Vila Flor, Pinhão gives you the opportunity to see the River Douro’s omnipresence throughout the region for yourself and to visit vineyards that produce port wine, the most famous of all Portuguese wines. Continuing along the river, you will arrive in Peso da Régua, the most important city in the wine-producing region. It was here that the first attempts were made to plant grapevines on sloped terraces, while the Rabelo boats used to transport the wine would also depart from here on their journey to Vila Nova de Gaia, where the wine would be left to age.

In Vila Real, visitors can to see medieval ruins in the oldest part of the city and take some time out in the Municipal Park. If your legs have enough strength left in them, make the climb to the top of the Calvário for some extraordinary views of the city, as well as the Marão and Montemuro mountain ranges and Alvão Natural Park.

For a paradise that is both relaxing and full of history, visit Chaves, a city whose Roman past is on full display. Be sure to visit Trajano Bridge, the city’s castle walls, and the keep, which today houses the military collection of the Museu da Região Flaviense (Chaves Regional Museum). We also recommended visiting the Núcleo de Arqueologia e Pré-História (Archaeology and Pre-History Collection) and the City Hall, a 19th century stately home.

Due to its relative proximity to the Spanish border, the city of Braganza has one of the most important castles in Portugal. Start the climb to the top of the castle from Porta da Vila, the main entrance to the citadel. Afterwards, cross the gothic pillory, a symbol of the city’s old powers, where you will arrive at the huge keep that, during the Middle Ages, kept watch over the border. These days, however, it houses a military museum.

When it comes to eating, the most difficult task will be choosing from the huge range of traditional dishes on offer. Make the most of being in this region by trying some of the many culinary delights to be found in Trás-os-Montes, in particular "folar", a type of bread traditionally eaten at Easter. And if you have the time, it is well worth visiting Miranda do Douro to try "posta à mirandesa", a delicious piece of locally produced meat seasoned with salt and grilled to perfection.

While in Miranda do Douro, make sure to visit the Cathedral and the Miranda Earth Museum. If you have already familiarized yourself with the sounds of Portuguese and you find that the language is spoken differently in Miranda do Douro, then you have a good ear! Because here, in addition to Portuguese, people speak Mirandese, which has the status of Portugal’s second official language.

If you are interested in discovering the historical towns and cities of northern Portugal but still do not know where to stay or have a question, we can help. All you have to do is bring the desire to explore the streets and alleyways of northern Portugal and to discover its fascinating history.

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