The Minho region of North Portugal, the northwest of Portugal, is the centre for rural tourism. Stretching from the coast at Caminha all the way along the River Minho and down to the River Lima is beautiful countryside excellent for outdoor pursuits including walking, watersports and of course wildlife watching in the spectacular mountainous National Park of Peneda-Geres.
The Tras-os-Montes region is the north eastern part of Portugal where the northern part of the region is known as the Terra Fria (cold land) due to its harsh winters where the extremes in winters and summers have led to the local quip to describe the climate "nine months of winter and three months of hell". The southern part of the region is known as Terra Quente (hot land) is much more Mediterranean in climate. It is one of the least well-known areas in Portugal and retains much of Portugal's traditions and charm. It is a beautiful part of the world with stunning mountains of the Montesinho Natural Park in the north and the lower hills dotted with regular rows of almond and olive trees that colour the landscape with their blossom in March and April.
Caminha is the first (or last) town on the River Minho as you head inland from the Costa Verde. These days it is a small, quiet market town but was once an important strategic point in Portugal's defences against the various invaders over the centuries.
From Caminha you are well placed to explore the rural North Minho area and the pretty towns of Ponte da Barca and Ponte de Lima. There are several beaches in and around the town including Moledo, Ancora, Afife and of course Viana do Castelo are within easy reach. Ancora and Vila Praia da Ancora, south of Caminha, have some important historic origins. Beaches here are great for surfing, bathing and getting away from the crows and enjoying the protected sand dunes of the Parque Natural do Litoral Norte.
The Lima Valley is one of the most beautiful in Portugal and at its heart are the gorgeous towns of Ponte da Barca and Ponte de Lima. The River Lima has been associated with mythical properties and the Romans believed it was the mythical River of Oblivion which if crossed would lead to certain destruction, its waters thought to possess the power of the lotus that made travellers forget home and country. Apparently this was such a strong belief that Roman forces refused to cross until Brutus showed the way by plunging into the depths of the water and reciting legionaires names back at them.
The area is renowned for its rural way of life and accommodation which lend to well preserved examples of simple Romanesque architecture. Most were built in the 12th and 13th centuries under the watchful eye of Cluniac monks whose influence stretched into Portugal and Spain along the main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela.
Ponte da Barca is another lovely Minho town based around the River Lima. The town is named after its bridge which used to carry pilgrims across the river.
Chaves actually means keys, but it is as a gateway into the country that it's been treated over the centuries. As a consequence Chaves was subjected to attack from Romans, Suevi, Visigoths, Moors, French and Spanish.
These days it's a much calmer place more often renowned for its hot thermal spas. As you'd expect from a town with such a long history there are several historic monuments for the tourist to visit - most incredibly the sixteen arch Roman bridge that crosses the River Tamega and is still unbelievably in use!
Vidago is historically renowned as a thermal spa town. Today is a 9-hole golf course, the only one in the Minho region of Portugal.
Montalegre is a handy base for the Peneda-Geres National Park and one of the Park's Information Offices is in the town. The town holds very much onto its traditional Minho roots and there are plenty of historic sights in and around the town.
Campo de Geres, more commonly called Geres, is a main centre for accommodation and restaurants in the southern section of the Park with cafes and restaurants in the compact town centre. The hillsides around the town lead to touring routes and walks with some fabulous views of the lake, Albufeira da Canicada, that greets you as you enter the National Park.
Braganca is the capital of the Trs-os-Montes region, one of the least explored areas in the country. As a capital demands, Braganca is majestic with its medieval citadel on top of a hill still contained within near perfect walls. The citadel is all the more striking by its isolated location in this mountainous area. It is a magnificent symbol of the defiance and freedom of the Portuguese people.
Braganca is an excellent base from which to explore the Montesinho Natural Park to its north.