Historic locations, breathtaking natural beauty and great traditional food: don’t miss these destinations all less than an hour from Porto.
Four getaways near Porto
WHAT TO DO
Braga is known for three things: shopping (probably the main reason it’s so popular), history (it’s the oldest city in the country) and religion (it’s supposedly the Portuguese city with most churches per square kilometre).
On the retail front, two places should top your list: at Avenida Central, Casa Rolão has clothing and design stores and also Minho’s prettiest bookstore, Centésima Página; at Rua São João, B Concept Store has shops with Portuguese clothing and design products. The devout will definitely be impressed with Braga’s religious monuments, such as Capela Árvore da Vida (Árvore da Vida Chapel, Largo de Santiago, 47) – it was built with 20 tons of wooden beams dovetailed into one another without nails: symbolic! Also, don’t miss Sé Catedral (Rua Dom Paio Mendes) and two other churches surrounded by big green spaces: Santuário do Monte do Bom Jesus (Monte do Bom Jesus Sanctuary) and Mosteiro de Tibães (Tibães Monastery, Rua do Mosteiro). On a more arty tip, catch shows at Theatro Circo’s (Avenida da Liberdade, 697) and GNRation (Praça Conde de Agrolongo, 123) and get a contemporary art fix at Mário Sequeira (Parada de Tibães). One last suggestion: even if you’re not a football fan, you should definitely take a guided tour of the award-winning Braga Stadium at Parque Norte (Rua de Montecastro). The beautiful game indeed.
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK
If you’re looking for simple homemade food, you won’t want to miss Retrokitchen (Rua do Anjo, 96). If you’re looking for more sophisticated meals, head to Casa de Pasto das Carvalheiras (Rua Dom Afonso Henriques, 10) or to Arcoense (Rua José Justino de Amorim, 96), which produces its own Bísaro pork. There are also great vegetarian restaurants such as Anjo Verde (Largo da Praça Velha) or Hibiscus (Largo de São Francisco) and international cuisine joints like Thai Lakkana (Rua Dom Gualdim Pais, 36) the Italian La Piola (Rua Dom Afonso Henriques, 25) and Japanese Michizaki (Rua Frei Caetano Brandão, 169). Artisanal burger lovers have plenty to choose from at DeGema (Praça José Augusto Salgado) and Bira dos Namorados (Rua D. Gonçalo Pereira, 85). On Saturdays, don’t miss brunch at Paiisa (Praça Conde de Agrolongo, 123) for healthy food surrounded by comic books and illustrations. Try inventive cakes and ice creams at Spirito (Largo São João do Souto) and traditional confectionery at Ferreira Capa (Rua Conselheiro Januário, 151). If you’re planning on having a few drinks, start your evening at Setra (rua de São João, 15) and Destilado (Rua D. Afonso Henriques, 33) or go to the Sé area, which is filled with bars. Best place to end the night? Juno (Rua do Anjo, 49), for its playlist of top electronic music.
WHERE TO STAY
If you want to stay in the city centre, try Bracara Augusta Hotel (Avenida Central, 134) or the newest Burgus Tribute & Design Hotel (Rua D. Afonso Henriques, 20). If you’re looking to stay longer, search out Tea 4 Nine (Praça Conde Agrolongo, 49), a guesthouse with a bistro restaurant that serves brunch and lunch. Next to the train station you’ll find the low-cost Basic Braga. Villa Garden (located at Largo de Infias), a small nineteenth-century palace, is one of the few hotels in the city centre that has an outdoor pool. For those who can’t do without a spa, the five-star Meliã (Avenida General Carrilho da Silva Pinto) is the bouji choice. For some serenity, head towards Monte do Bom Jesus and relax at one of the four hotels located in this peaceful green area.
WHAT TO DO
Guimarães is often referred to as the ‘cradle city’ because it’s said that the Kingdom of Portugal was founded there – its biggest historic symbol is the imposing Castelo de Guimarães (Guimarães Castle), located next to Paço dos Duques de Bragança (Palace of the Dukes of Bragança), at Rua Conde Dom Henrique. Every street in the city breathes history – its centre is a Unesco World Heritage Site – and every corner will make you want to explore further. At the end of the day, the city’s bars and cafés are great places to have a drink and socialise. In 2012, Guimarães was European Capital of Culture, the result of which is several arty institutions such as the Centro Cultural Vila Flor (Avenida D. Afonso Henriques, 701) and Plataforma das Artes (Avenida Conde de Margaride, 175) that hold shows and exhibitions. Local commerce is one of the city’s strength – 9 Séculos (Rua D. Maria II, 33), Almaneque 23 (Galerias do Toural, 23) and Livraria Pinto dos Santos (Pinto dos Santos bookstore, Rua Santo António, 137) are all worth a visit. Need some fresh air? Have a break in Parque da Cidade (City Park) then head towards Penha mountain.
WHERE TO EAT
Minho may be the perfect place for meat lovers, but Cor de Tangerina (Largo Martins Sarmento, 89) is an ovo-lacto-vegetarian oasis. Bag a seat at the garden to appreciate its special atmosphere. Okay, let’s not forget the carnivores. At Meat Smokehouse (Alameda São Dâmaso, 107) and at Dan’s Finger Food & Drinks (Avenida S. Gonçalo, 171) you can have some of the best burgers in town. There are also traditional Portuguese restaurants such as Buxa (Largo da Oliveira, 23), Papaboa (Rua de Valdonas) and Adega dos Caquinhos (Viela da Arrochela), a typical ‘tasca’ (cheap eating place) famous for its food and for its owner’s colourful language. If you’re looking for something more sophisticated, try Le Babachris (Rua D. João I, 39), A Cozinha (Largo do Serralho, Paço dos Duques de Bragança 4) or São Gião (Avenida Comendador Joaquim de Almeida Freitas, 56), one of the finest gastronomic institutions in the north of Portugal.
WHERE TO STAY
Guimarães Studios Lounge (Largo da Misericórdia, 4) is a boutique hotel with several surprise features such as a vertical garden, a 1903 painted ceiling or a bed fixed to a medieval wall. Santa Luzia ArtHotel (Rua Francisco Agra, 100) is a famous nineteenth-century building in the city’s historic centre. It has dazzling architecture, a rooftop with panoramic views, an outdoor pool and a spa that includes a jacuzzi, a Turkish bath and a sauna. If you’re a restless type, you’ll feel right at home at Open Village Sports Hotel (Travessa da Ribeira, 629), where you can play tennis (the hotel has 13 courts, no less) and indoor football.
Viana do Castelo
WHAT TO DO
There are two museums in Viana do Castelo you shouldn’t miss: Gil Eannes, a former hospital ship anchored at Doca Comercial, which is now a shipping museum and youth hostel and Museu do Traje (Costume Museum, Praça da República), where you can see a colection of traditional costumes. Also check out Minho’s most popular festivity, Romaria da Agonia, which takes place between August 17 and 20. You’ll also want to spend some of your time (and money) visiting stores that sell typical Portuguese products, such as À Moda Antiga (Largo João Tomás da Costa, 63) or Objectos Misturados (Rua Mateus Barbosa, 32) that sells contemporary handicraft. Take the funicular up to Monte de Santa Luzia (Santa Luzia Monument) for views across the city and the river, or, for ultimate relaxation, head to one of Viana do Castelo’s beaches.
WHERE TO EAT
Viana do Castelo is a place with strong ties to the sea – it was a base for Portugal’s codfishing fleet – and that is reflcted in the area’s food. Try haute cuisine at Porto 93 (Avenida Conde Carreira, 28); Adega do Chico, located at Caminha (Rua Visconde Sousa Rêgo, 30), which serves a great 600-gramme cod fillet (ie: it’s very, very big), Camelo (Rua de Santa Marta, 119) or Primavera’s oven-baked pies (Rua Góis Pinto, 57). Mariana, next to Afife beach, serves fish and seafood caught that day. Petinga Doce’s and Ameadella’s regional confectionery is amazing (Avenida Combatentes da Grande Guerra, 212). However, Viana’s most popular delicacy is Confeitaria Natário’s bolas de Berlim (Berliners). This bakery is on Rua Manuel Espregueira, 37 and people travel all the way to Viana just for this treat (yes, they’re THAT good).
WHERE TO STAY
Wake up and smell the sea breezes and the pine sap at Viana’s newest hotel. Located in the middle of the forest of Cabedelo, FeelViana was created so that guests could not only relax but also practise sports. You can linger in the spa or enjoy the gym and beach activities on offer (kite surfing, paddle- and bodyboarding, windsurfing, sailing and bicycle rides). If you’re after a touch more luxury, you’ve got great options at Rua Manuel Espregueira. Dona Emília Guesthouse (no. 6) is a historic house built to in honour of a pioneer of women’s rights. Casa Manuel Espregueira (no. 190) was once the property of a great art collector and you’ll feel like you’re staying in a museum. Chocolate lovers, take note: Fábrica do Chocolate hotel (Rua do Gontim, 60) now owns this building where Avianense chocolate was produced for more than 90 years. Nowadays, it’s a hotel with an interactive museum and a restaurant that uses chocolate in loads of dishes. You’ll leave in a wrapper!
WHAT TO DO
Gerês is a proper wonder of nature. With towering landscapes, enchanting woods, vertiginous waterfalls, untamed rivers, wildlife and ancient trees, this protected area encompasses a huge forest and four mountains. There’s plenty to do here: canoeing, adventure parks, climbing, hiking trails and a whole lot more. Visit historic villages such as Castro Laboreiro (home of one of the oldest dog breeds on the Iberian Peninsula), Soajo and its granaries, Lindoso, Pitões das Júnias and Sistelo, also known (really) as the ‘Portuguese Tibet’.
WHERE TO EAT
Gerês is also an authentic paradise for foodies. The cuisine is simple, cheap (really cheap) and SO good. There are many great restaurants by the side of the road and hidden away in small villages. Some say that the roasted codfish at O Victor (São Jorge de Rei) is the best there is. Anywhere. The fillets are golden, fat, tender and served soaked in olive oil. Then there are those who say that papas de serrabulho from Cruzeiro (Largo do Terreiro, in Amares) are the best in the world. Sure, it’s pig’s blood: but this dish tastes sublime. Meanwhile, beat a path to Cantinho do Antigamente (Lugar de Sá, in Covide), which serves pica no chão rice (made with free-range poultry). Perfectly marrying architecture, gastronomy and landscape, the award-winning Abocanhado, in Brufe, serves a menu rich in local produce such as lamb and barrosã veal. Sweet fiends should drag their glucose jones to Pousada de Santa Maria de Bouro (Largo do Terreiro).
WHERE TO STAY
On a mountain that’s renowned for the purity of its waters, Água do Gerês’s thermal spa (Avenida Manuel Francisco da Costa, 136) has been known since Roman times. It’s also famous for helping treat diseases today. Pousada de Santa Maria de Bouro (Largo do Terreiro) is a twelfth-century monastery; now the monks’ cells have become spacious and comfortable rooms. If you want to embrace the spirit of Gerês without ever leaving it, drink it all in at Pousada Gerês-Caniçada (Avenida da Caniçada, 1518), with its breathtaking landscape views. Aquafalls Nature Hotel (Avenida de São Miguel, 1677), blends into its surroundings with water mirrors in a stunning mix of nature and artifice. All its cabins, rooms and suites have all mod cons, obvs.