In the Minho region is a clutch of historic towns and cities. Many of these pre-date medieval times and have held important places in Portugal's history such as Braga and Guimaraes.
The architecture in these towns is stunning and really takes you back to the time of kings and queens whose honour was frequently having to be defended by the Dukes of Braganca.
Braga, the Rome of Portugal, is the spiritual home of Portugal and with thirty five churches chiming across the city it's no wonder. There is a rich cultural heritage marked by impressive religious festivals and architecture. However, this religious heritage is combined with Braga's modern cosmopolitan way of life where students from the nearby University of Minho and busy business people liven up the squares and cafes at all hours of the day and night.
There is a wealth of shops, restaurants and cafes along with the whole range of hotels both close to the town or its modern suburbs. It's a great base from which to explore Portugal's only National Park, Parque Nacional de Peneda-Geres which can be reached in a day trip.
Between Esposende on the Costa Verde and Braga is Barcelos famed for its market, Feira de Barcelos, typical of the Minho region.
It is an ancient town on a hill on the banks of the River Cavado. Campo da Republica is the centre of town, a nice shady square where the weekly market is held. It is apparently the largest public square in Portugal. The market is held every Thursday and is so famous it now attracts bus loads of tourists.
As you come into Guimares the stunning Largo Republica do Brazil with the Sao Gualter Church behind are a stunning introduction into the quality of the architecture throughout the city. Guimaraes is historically probably the most important town in Portugal. It was the birthplace of the first king of Portugal and from where he launched attacks that drove back the Moors. Its cultural and architectural importance has been recognised as it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its significance in Portugal's history and the architecture ranging from 15-19th centuries. Most of the tourist attractions are found in the pedestrianised old town and you need to take a day or two to get round to do them justice.
It's not all history though, Guimaraes is a lively well looked-after town with students, business people and visitors all rubbing shoulders at the cafes and restaurants dotted around particularly in the old town. Bringing things right up to date there is even free wi-fi access in Santiago and Oliveira Squares within the old town!
Fifteen kilometres north west of Guimaraes is the excellent Citania de Briteiros archaeological site. This is a 3.8 hectare Celtic hill settlement that dates back an incredible 2,500 years. The site is believed to have been inhabited from 300 BC to 300 AD and was the Celtiberians last stronghold against the invading Romans.
Dr Martins Saramento excavated the site in 1875 and several artefacts are on display at the Museu da Cultural Castreja nearby and the Museu Arqueologico Martins Sarmento in Guimaraes. But the best way to discover more about pre-Roman history is to look round the foundations and ruins of more than the 150 rectangular, circular and elliptical stone huts all linked by paved paths and a water distribution system. The settlement was protected by protective walls to shield it from the mountain weather. Some huts have been reconstructed to give you an idea of what they would have looked like.
North Portugal and in particular the Minho region of Portugal, is known for the relaxing and recuperative thermal spas. These are mostly sulphur springs where the water reaches temperatures of around thirty two degrees centigrade. The Romans first discovered the benefits of spas and they formed an important role in Roman culture. These have often been places associated with Portuguese royal patronage which brought an influx of middle class holiday makers. The spas are thought to relieve skin diseases, rheumatism, arthritis, intestinal disorders, and stomach complaints.
Today some of these like Caldas das Taipas near Guimaraes have been transformed into modern spas with swimming pools, gyms, saunas and solariums. In Minho, the thermal spa resorts like Chaves are ideal for getting to regional towns and cities such as Braga, with all its religious tradition, or Guimaraes, the founding capital of Portugal and with a World Heritage historical centre.
Both Fafe and Vila Nova de Famalicao are also handy bases for exploring the Minho region of Portugal. Fafe is 10 miles east of Guimaraes and about 42 miles from Porto Airport. Vila Nova de Famaliciao is 16 miles west of Guimaraes and only 20 miles from Porto Airport.
These are burgeoning tourist destinations with attractions of their own based around their industrial heritage of textile manufacturing and printing. The legacy of the local population having gone to Brazil to find their fortune is reflected in the Brazilian style of architecture of buildings that were built when the emigrants returned investing in local businesses.