Auto Europe specialises in low-cost car hire at over 180 popular destinations around the world, including northern Portugal. Established midway through the last century, the company prides itself on its very high level of customer satisfaction and is driven by the corporate slogan – ‘Great Prices and Best Service Since 1954’.

Follow our itinerary for a memorable road trip through some of Portugal's most charming towns and cities, with the added option of popping over the border to sample the delights of Salamanca in neighbouring Spain.

Porto, with its characterful Old Town, has been much in vogue as a tourist destination ever since Ryanair established its hub in the city in the late noughties. Today, the desire to tread its narrow, cobbled streets occupies the thoughts of many a seasoned traveller in search of a true taste of medieval Portugal.

The city is so old that the country derives its name from this ancient place that nestles so majestically beside the Atlantic Ocean. The Roman cities of Portus (Porto) and neighbouring Cale (now Vila Nova de Gaia) had already merged by the early Middle Ages, thus marking the beginning of the nation's long and fascinating history.

Modern visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to the many first-rate attractions Porto has to offer. A stroll along the ever-popular riverside (Ribeira) district is an absolute must, as too is a visit (with free tour and tasting) to some of the old port wine lodges huddled together on the other side of the Douro.

Once all the city sightseeing in
Porto is done, it's time to jump in the car and head east to Vila Real in the heart of one of northern Portugal's lesser-known regions.

The Real Deal

Situated in a prime location at the foot of the Alvão and Marão mountains, Vila Real (meaning Royal Town) is a handsome city with the atmosphere of an agricultural town. Standing proud in the middle of the Old Town is its early 15th century cathedral, once a Dominican monastery and blessed with several striking Romanesque and Gothic influences.

Vila Real is the perfect base from which to explore the Parque Natural do Alvão, a protected area covering 72.2 square-kilometres (27.9 square-miles), much of which is mountainous. Visitors can drive through old stone villages seemingly cut off from the rest of civilisation where some residents have spent their entire lives.

When leaving Vila Real, wine lovers are urged to visit the delightful Baroque-style Casa de Mateus, which was built in the first half of the 18th century and is famous the world over as being the home of the iconic Mateus Rosé wine.

Bring on Bragança

Few cities in northern Portugal are quite as enchanting as Bragança, for many centuries a strategic border fortress town and the place that spawned Portugal's longest-surviving dynasty from 1640 to 1910.

Approaching Bragança by car, you'll soon be able see the square towers of its medieval citadel perched high on a hilltop far in the distance. Today, it stands as the city's top tourist attraction with its original walls harbouring a cluster of old whitewashed houses set amidst a labyrinth of cobbled streets and stairways.

From Bragança, you can drive out into the environs to immerse yourself in the forested hills and heathery uplands of the Parque Natural de Montesinho, another of Portugal's vast areas of protected wilderness that's home to the Iberian wolf, Cantabrian brown bear and more than 120 species of breeding birds.

Gearing Up for Guarda

Guarda might be a little off the beaten track for travellers touring northern Portugal, but it provides good access to the vibrant city of
Salamanca and nearby Arribes del Duero Natural Park across the border in western Spain. (Please note that for insurance reasons, both Auto Europe and the local car rental supplier must be informed in advance of your intention to drive over the frontier into Spain).

With its prime location on the north-east flank of mainland Portugal's highest peak, the Serra da Estrela, Guarda is the country's loftiest city and the perfect place to spend a night or two.

Founded in 1197, it is bursting with historic interest and boasts many magnificent attractions, notably its huge, Gothic-style cathedral.

On leaving Guarda you'll have quick access to the A25 which crosses the entire country from east to west, finishing up in Aveiro, a prosperous city surrounded by lagoons, salt-flats and sandy beaches.

Aveiro and the Moliceiros

Affectionately known as the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year and the last stop on this road trip before returning to Porto.

Once a prosperous port, it was hit by a great storm in 1575 which deposited a massive sand bar between the city and the ocean almost 50 kilometres in length.

Today, Aveiro is popular for its relaxed holiday atmosphere, historic centre and moliceiros, brightly painted, gondola-style boats once used to collect moliço (seaweed from the adjoining lagoon) that are now used for tourism purposes and anchored in large numbers along the city's main canal.

Credits: Supplied Image; Author: Pixabay;

Heading back to Porto, you'll find you have a choice of two motorways (the A1 and A29), or alternatively you can use the very scenic coast road which takes longer but offers travellers the chance to visit some lovely little seaside towns, such as Ovar and Espinho, both blessed with fine sandy beaches.

Boa viagem (Have a good trip)!