A Week in Northern PortugalMy trip report for a week in Portugal, July 2012. I am writing this trip report more than a year after our trip. This was a lovely trip but it was pushed to the back of my mind because we were busy with other things when we got home. As I write my notes now I remember how much we enjoyed northern Portugal and I would like to return.
Originally published on my blog in 2015. Blog closed and report moved here in 2022.
Neither of us had been to Portugal so when our friend Jonathan offered to share a farmhouse near Guimarães in early July we gave an enthusiastic “yes”. But in the back of my mind I thought “Portugal?” I didn’t know much about the country and had never thought of traveling there.
Guimarães is in the Minho region of northern Portugal, near the northern border with Spain. Portugal’s second largest city Porto (also called Oporto) is on the coast near Guimarães and has the airport for the area.
I had visions of hot southern European weather and wanted to avoid larger cities and get out into the smaller towns and countryside. I wanted to swim in the ocean and it looked like there were good beaches north of Porto, so we decided to fly from England to Porto, pick up a rental car and drive to a coastal town. I booked three nights in a hotel in Viana do Castello, an hour’s drive north of the airport. After that we would move inland to the farmhouse rental near Guimarães for four nights with Jonathan.
Portugal is more west than I realized. It is in the same time zone as England, while most of continental Europe is one hour later. When I looked at the map of Europe, I saw that Portugal sits straight south of Ireland. Northern Portugal is cooler than southern Portugal or central and southern Spain. When we were there in early July we had a few overcast days, a bit of rain, and some sunny days with temps in the 70s – very nice summer weather and certainly not too hot. A few days were hot enough for swimming.
The food in Portugal was good, even for a vegetarian (me). Vegetable soup is on most menus, many restaurants offer vegetarian dishes and we found some good vegetarian restaurants in Guimarães and Braga. Steve reported that the seafood was good and Jonathan was happy with his meat dishes. We loved the cafes and stopped for coffee and local pastries frequently.
The towns and countryside that we saw were beautiful, the people we encountered were friendly and most spoke English, and the driving was easy (contrary to what I had read on the web). There is an interesting history to this part of Portugal and much to see and do.
Remains of 10th century castle in Guiamaraes. Birthplace of Portugal’s first King, Afonso Henriques.