The Costa Verde coastline at Portugal's northernmost stretch is a less intensively built up coast as much of it is protected under the Parque Natural do Litoral Norte. Here sand dunes teem with wildlife and there are some peaceful areas through which you can walk and enjoy the views.
At the other end of the scale is Viana do Castelo, a lively resort with a historic centre that is famed for its festivals. You can have the best of both worlds, lazing on the beach or finding out about one of Portugal's most important historic ports.
Viana do Castelo is the northern coasts' liveliest resort full of Renaissance and Manueline houses and Rococo palaces.
It has an historic centre and one of the best beaches in the north. As it sits on the Rio Lima estuary it's a good base from which to explore the Lima Valley.
Viana is renowned for its numerous festivals and is considered the folkloric capital of the Minho.
It has a long history as evidenced from the 4th century celtiberian settlement on Monte de Santa Luzia that overlooks the modern town. This is also a great viewpoint down the coast and up the Lima valley. The town's prosperity peaked in the 16th century due to its sailors who fished for cod off Newfoundland. The 17th century saw British expats shipping vast quantities of local red wine and merchants sending goods as far as Russia from the busy seaport here. The importance of the Viana's port started to lessen once Brazil gained independence and Porto took over as rival port. However it was later revived as a deepsea fishing and industrial centre. Today tourism plays a large part in its economy.
The historic sights start in the Praca da Republica which is lined by mansions and monuments in the picturesque heart of the old town. The fountain, Cafariz, built in 1554 is a particularly elegant example of the Renaissance style. The former Misericordia almshouse built in 1554 is striking with the Igreja de Misericordia built later in 1714 next to it. This has some of Portugal's finest azulejos created by Antonio de Oliveira Bernardes and his son Policarpo. Get a sneak preview from the weblink right.
The Museu Municipal in the Palacete Barbosa Maciel has an excellent collection of 17th and 18th century Portuguese ceramics, azulejos and furniture (particularly the traditional blue and white china). On Largo de Sao Domingos, open Tues-Sun 9-12 noon and 2-5 pm. Tel: 351 820 377.
The Castelo de Sao Tiago da Barra is also worth a visit and you can still take a view of the town from its ramparts. It is of fairly traditional 15th construction and was originally built as a small fort that was later extended under instruction of Felipe II to ward off the pirates that plagued the successful port. Incongruously the buildings inside have been converted into office buildings.
All the way up the Costa Verde are a string of beautiful beaches and seaside resorts with the majority not being hugely touristy. Viana do Castelo's beach is the huge, one kilometre, Praia do Cabedelo one of Minho's best. There is not much development to spoil it and it is of Blue Flag status with disabled access. The beach is on the other side of the river from the town and from May-September an hourly ferry runs visitors across from Avenida dos Combatentes on the five minute journey. Buses also go to Cabedelo from Largo 5 de Outubro.
Up and down the coast, north and south of Viana are a series of Blue Flag beaches that are relatively unspoilt, backed by dunes and often with rocks on the foreshore. Good surfing venues are at Afife and Moledo.