10 Things You Can’t Miss in Alto Minho
The Alto Minho region of Portugal is essentially the top left-hand corner of the country. Few visitors realise how gorgeous it is, or how interesting. That’s good news if you like to escape the hoards and enjoy unspoilt countryside, beaches and historical towns.
1. Walking in the Peneda-Gerês National Park
Alto Minho is home to Portugal’s only national park. This vast area encompasses several mountain ranges and its relatively isolated villages offer a fascinating insight into rural lifestyles, traditional communities and small-scale farming practices. Take a hike along a well-worn shepherd’s trail from one of these mountain villages to the community’s summer settlement.
2. Walks along the Atlantic Coast of Alto Minho
The Alto Minho coastline boasts some of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches. Known as the Costa Verde or Green Coast because so many of the sandy shores are backed by forests and mountains, it’s never hard to find a secluded spot. An ever-increasing string of wooden boardwalks and eco-trails make it easy and fun to explore the coast of northern Portugal on foot.
3. Santa Luzia Basilica in Viana do Castelo
Brave the spiral staircase that leads to the cupola of the hilltop Santa Luzia Basilica in Viana do Castelo. Modelled after the Sacre-Coeur in Paris, this impressive building offers the best views of the surrounding coastline and countryside. If you don’t have a head for heights, don’t worry. You can appreciate these sweeping vistas from the base of the basilica.
4. Senhora da Agonia festivities in Viana do Castelo
The coastal and riverside city of Viana do Castelo has a long history and deep-rooted connection to the sea. Between 17th and 20th of August, the local saint, Our Lady of Agony, is revered by fisherfolk and the 4-day celebrations in her honour are a sight to behold. Processions of women in colourful costumes laden with gold jewellery, decorated carts and carpets of flowers fill the streets while equally festooned boats fill the harbour, accompanied by music and festive food.
5. Vinho Verde (Green Wine)
This part of Portugal is also a demarcated wine region that produces vinho verde (green wines). These young wines are usually bottled before fermentation process is fully complete so they retain a slight effervescence and crisp freshness. Best drunk within a year of bottling, Portuguese green wines are a perfect accompaniment to a summer lunch. There are many green wine grape varieties but in Alto Minho, Alvarinho rules the roost, especially around Melgaço and Monção.
6. Valença Fortress
The fortified town of Valença has withstood centuries of attacks and stands firm in its prime location overlooking the River Minho. Within the ancient walls lie a network of streets with traditional houses and lots of linen shops, cafés, restaurants and interesting churches to explore. Take a walk around the battlements to fully appreciate the views of Spain and the Portuguese mountains as well as the sturdy military architecture.
7. The medieval town of Ponte de Lima
Once an important point on the ancient Roman road between Bracara Augusta, now known as Braga, and Astorga, Ponte de Lima is one of the prettiest towns in Portugal. On the banks of the River Lima and surrounded by mountains, its medieval centre holds centuries of history. Visit the remarkable Gothic church, the medieval prison tower or relax at an outdoor café in the lively Largo de Camões.
8. Walk the Portuguese Camino de Santiago
Several of the ancient pilgrim trails that lead to the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela cross through the Alto Minho region of Portugal. The most widely known, the Portuguese Camino, passes through Barcelos, Ponte de Lima and Valença before reaching Spanish shores. An alternative but increasingly popular route is the Camino da Costa, which crosses the coastal towns of Viana do Castelo and Caminha.
9. Tuck into Minho cuisine
This region is known for its hearty dishes and fresh seafood. If you’ve never tried tripe before, Rojões à Minhota makes it easy to do so. There are variations but essentially, the dish consists of cubes of tender marinated pork cooked in white wine served with crispy fried tripe and potatoes. If that sounds a little too adventurous, go for the Bacalhau à Minhota, which is cod steaks served with sautéed onions and peppers and medallions of fried potatoes. Delicious.
10. Medieval and Baroque architecture
Step back several hundreds of years in time as you roam the streets of Alto Minho towns. You’ll find the frilly, fancy stonework that embodies Portuguese Gothic architecture, commonly known as Manueline architecture, around windows and church doorways. Many of the region’s churches underwent refurbishment in the 18th century so examples of Baroque architecture abound, especially when it comes to the profusion of stately homes.