The lush northwest corner of Portugal is full of camellias, azaleas and magnolias, among other flowers.
Traditional dances can still be watched in the area, with every settlement having a slightly different celebration. Folk music is played and the smell of ‘caldo verde’ spreads through the streets. The population’s good nature and generosity can be seen in their everyday lives as they help each other in whatever their neighbours need.
The coast of this region itself is the Costa Verde, but “Green Portugal” covers the entire Minho, a historic province situated at the very top of the country. Across the border from there is the Spanish province of Galicia, whose culture is very similar to the one found in Northern Portugal, including a mutually intelligible language.
This end of the country is very different to the South. Ponte de Lima is the oldest village in Portugal, and its namesake was built by Romans in 1AD. White wine is a staple of the household. The Peneda-Gerês mountains, which make up a portion of Portugal’s northern border, receive enough rainfall to be considered a temperate rainforest.
That being said, what is there to do exactly in the green of Portugal?
You can start in the mighty Peneda-Gerês, where plenty of outdoor activities are on offer for adventure lovers all over. Hiking, climbing, paddleboarding, and cycling are all sports one can partake in out here.
Next, take a visit to the manor houses of Ponte de Lima, built during the exploration age in the 16th/17th centuries in the countryside for wealthy businessmen and nobles. Nowadays, they’re used both as residences for the upper class and tourist accommodation.
You can also go on a journey along the ancient Roman roads, following it through nature and crossing by the occasional village until you reach Braga, Portugal’s 3rd largest urban area after Lisbon, Porto, and their suburbs.
In Barcelos, a winery has been winemaking for the past four centuries, cultivating Arinto, Fernão Pires and Loureiro varieties of grape. The town is also home to the famous Barcelos cockerel, an unofficial national symbol after one allegedly came back from the dead to save an innocent man from hanging, according to the legend.
The region is also host to the St. James Way, the popular pilgrimage many make to Santiago de Compostela. Along the route, besides those already mentioned, are the towns of Vila do Conde, which features a 16th-century church and a 17th-century fortress, and Valença, a border town with houses of stone and balconies of iron.
On your way back from the Spanish border, you can cycle the ecovias, unsurfaced bike paths that make up a network around the region. The route can be ridden right down the Atlantic coast and passes through places like Caminha, an old port town, and Viana do Castelo, a city known for its cultural heritage.
We can’t go over the Northwestern portion of the country without covering Guimarães. This is the site of “the cradle of Portugal,” a 10th-century castle in which D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born in 1110.
Nothing though, of course, is as exciting as the food. The region does a delicious cornbread, called “broa,” baked in a wood-fired oven, which can be bought at one of the many markets dotting the area, like Ponte de Lima’s one that dates to the 12th century.
People’s modern perceptions of Portugal are often shaped by the side that’s advertised to tourists: the Sun, the beach, the clear skies… And while that does ring true for a lot of the country, it can distract from the truth of Portugal’s geographic diversity: from the semi-arid endless rolling fields of the Alentejo that hit 40ºC without much difficulty in Summer to the Northwestern corner, where swaths of rain are trapped by the Peneda-Gerês and Estrela mountains and dump everything onto the narrow strip between the ridge and the ocean to form one of Europe’s only rainforests.
Star in the 2015 music video for the hit single “Headlights” by German musician, DJ and record producer Robin Schulz featuring American singer-songwriter Ilsey. Also a journalist.