I’m not sure I should even write this post. I feel like I am about to share a well kept secret.
When people talk about visiting Portugal most think about the Algarve, an area hugely popular with British holiday makers. The Costa Verde region of Portugal is very different but just like in the U.K. if you are prepared to venture North you can find some hidden gems of places.
We first discovered Northern Portugal about twelve years ago. This was at a time when life had changed from being a couple whose main concerns pretty much centred around the next night out to becoming parents to our first daughter. Our priorities were different and we were looking for more family focused adventures. A random internet search all those years ago led us to a place that has well and truly captured our hearts.
Where to begin?! There are so many things that we love about this area. I don’t think I will do it justice in one blog so I think I’ll give an overview here and some more detail about our favourite towns and places to visit in further posts.
Porto is usually our first stop on any visit as this is where we fly into. It’s a beautiful and vibrant city with so much going on and so many interesting buildings. There are even Harry Potter connections too but more of that another time….
Heading north from Porto there is lush green scenery – It isn’t call the Costa Verde for nothing! The region has everything, mountains, rivers and beautiful sandy beaches all along its Atlantic coastline. If you’re a fan of Cornish beaches you will see the similarities in the landscape because of the Atlantic Ocean connection. Like Cornwall, this makes it a great place for surfing and other water sports. The big difference is the beaches are very rarely full!
There are so many towns to visit all along the coast and inland all with their own interesting characteristics. Some of our favourites include Barcelos, Ponte de Lima, Caminha and Vila Nova de Cerveira. All share a common theme of beautiful tiled architecture and cobbled streets and cafe filled squares. We love to sit in the cafes and often go out for breakfast. One of the greatest appeals for us as a family of five is to be able to do this because the cost is so reasonable. We can fill ourselves with coffees, orange juices, toast, pasteis de nata, caracol and all other manner of biscuits and goodies and we never fail to be amazed when the bill comes and is invariably under 10€.
The warmth and friendliness of the people can often make a place, we have found it the perfect place to take children as they are welcomed and expected everywhere. I can remember the girls being babies and waitresses asking if they could hold them for us to let us finish our meals. A huge fuss is often made of the girls and this was even more so when they were very little although I can remember being told off by a few old ladies who thought they weren’t covered up enough in their buggies!
If you are looking for guaranteed 30 degree heat and sunshine then Northern Portugal probably isn’t the place for you . For us with a young family the cooler temperatures suit us perfectly as we aren’t constantly worrying about keeping the girls out of the sun and we can do more activities. Don’t get me wrong during the summer there often days when we could melt but on average we find the temperature to be about 10 degrees above whatever it is in the U.K.
We love to visit at all times of the year but before we were restricted to the school holidays the months of May and September were our favourites. Whilst the summer is busier and there are more events and Festivals going on, the months before and after have the gorgeous weather but you feel like you have the place to yourself. There is a real feel of seasonal life and we have now got used to the fact that because the area is not touristy in the conventional sense we can visit in October and it might be 27 degrees but we won’t find an ice-cream stand in sight!
Of course there are lots of other places I want to visit and to show our girls but Northern Portugal will forever feel like our second home and I can’t imagine a time that we will stop wanting to explore this amazing region.
So if you get the opportunity I would definitely recommend that you consider a visit. But sshh…please don’t tell everyone.