Capital of Culture I
This route which starts in Guimarães, the cultural capital and birthplace of the country takes you north up inland to the green and rustic valleys of the Minho, through one of the largest natural parks in Portugal before arriving at the beautiful northern coastal town of Viana do Castelo. Along with the overnight stops we also suggest spending some time in Porto, Valença do Minho and Gerês/Caniçada.
Reproduced with kind permission of Bing
Guimarães Sta Marinha
The city of Guimaraes was feted as European Capital of Culture (jointly with Maribor in Slovenia) in 2012 - quite rightly. The city is fondly regarded by the Portuguese as 'the birthplace of Portugal', its first king was born here and in the 12st century it was the capital from which he ruled. The city has slowly and naturally grown into one of Portugal's most attractive cities to visit, its flagstone squares and its impressive architectural monuments - the most prominent of Medieval, Manueline and Baroque design - include the castle which can still be explored and from where a great view of the city can be enjoyed, as well as the nearby majestic Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. It has lively terraces of cafes and restaurants from Spring to Autumn from where to enjoy the partly wooden clad facades and balconies that encircle the central squares, and look out for the ornate shrines decorated regularly with fresh flowers that are set into the walls of some of the original houses and buildings. This is a city to explore on foot with plenty of time to sit and take in its colourful beauty and monumental architecture.
Near the historical centre of Guimarães, set on a hill overlooking the city, stands the majestic Santa Marinha Pousada. This 12th-century Augustinian convent was given to the Church by Doña Alfalda, wife of the first king of Portugal. The convent retains many original features, including its decorative façade, but it has now been transformed into a most impressive 51-room hotel. There is a formal garden, a lake, a terrace with granite fountains, cloisters, a grotto and a swimming pool. In 1985 the restored building was awarded the National Architectural Prize.
Surrounded by lush fields and vineyards, where the famous Vinho Verde wine is produced, this quite exceptional Pousada is situated in the beautiful Minho region of northern Portugal between the historic city of Braga – the religious capital of Portugal – and the stunning Peneda Gerês National Park. Originally a 12th-century Cistercian monastery, Santa Maria do Bouro has been charmingly modernized by the award-winning Portuguese architect, Souto Moura. It has retained its character of monastic serenity but now offers a high degree of comfort and tasteful modern décor, including a particularly inviting swimming pool in the adjoining garden. It is a delightful, relaxing base from which to explore the many cultural sites of the Minho and the Spanish border.
Viana do Castelo
The city's historic centre is well worth a visit with important examples of Manueline and Baroque design; the Viana Welcome centre (or tourist office) can supply you with a route map to explore the main architectural sites of interest. Enjoy its fountains and squares, churches and sights such as the 16th century Misericordia almshouses and the City Hall. It is set on the Lima river within reach of several great beaches at the mouth of the river, where the fortess of Santago da Barro can also be found.
Ponte do Lima is a typical excursion from here - 30 minutes up-river - and is Portugal's oldest village with its famous Roman bridge and vast market (dating back to the middle ages) on the riverbank every alternate Monday.
Viana's splendid Pousada has the extravagant, leisurely aura of an earlier era of hotels – it is in fact the result of a modern restoration of a palatial hotel dating from the early years of the 20th century. Located high on a hill above a beautiful Basilica and next to the site of an ancient Celtic village, whose remains can still be seen, the hotel has spectacular views across beautiful scenery, the port-city of Viana do Castelo (with its many 16th-century buildings) and the sea. The Pousada’s peace and tranquillity is enhanced by the gardens and woodland surrounding it, complete with outdoor swimming pool and tennis court.