When you think of Portugal, what places come to your mind? Lisbon? Porto? Maybe Algarve? For many tourists, visiting Lisbon and Porto means getting to know Portugal. That’s a huge mistake. Our little country has much more to offer, within reach of a few hours by car. Have you ever heard of the best hotel in the world to get married? Do you know who the holy matchmaker of old ladies is? Or the village of about a thousand inhabitants that is World Cultural Heritage of Humanity site for its history in the production of special wines?
These and other surprises are waiting for you in the North of Portugal, in the regions of Minho and Trás-os-Montes, which hold treasures that have not yet been explored in this surprising country. Over the next few months we will discover the beautiful landscapes, different cultures and curiosities of the North.
1- Vidago: Palace and waters
This small village in the heart of Trás-os-Montes hides great surprises. If you want to celebrate your marriage in a truly special place, how about choosing nothing less than the best hotel in the world for weddings? That's right, in 2014 the Vidago Palace Hotel was awarded that title. It only takes you to enter through its gates and see the main facade to understand that choice.
Besides the majestic construction the Vidago Palace reserves another surprise to its visitors: the waters of Vidago. Naturally sparkling, these waters of medicinal properties were discovered by chance by a local farmer in 1863. To quench his thirst he drank some water from a spring that was not even used to irrigate the land because it was considered insufficient.
Its strong and sparkling taste soon caught the farmer's attention, but even more so the well-being he felt when he drank, soothing his stomach pains. And voilá! The waters were sent for analysis, they discovered its medicinal value and Vidago was never the same. The waters of Vidago have the highest alkalinity content of all the waters of Portugal which surpass even the waters of Vichy in France.
The fame of the medicinal power of the waters quickly reached the ears of the royal family at the end of the 19th century, which made King Louis I become a frequent guest of the place, in search of the curative powers of these waters. So it is easy to conclude from where the inspiration came to build a palace in lands so unknown. Designed in 1910 by the architect José Ferreira da Costa and inaugurated by King D. Manuel II, it was once considered the most luxurious palace in the Iberian Peninsula. Currently, the famous hotel also houses a Spa that offers treatments with the waters of Vidago.
The good news is that you do not have to be a guest to experience the iconic water. It is possible to taste it for free. The fountain is housed in a small building from the beginning of the 20th century, where an employee offers some of the water while explaining its properties.
After drinking the nectar of Vidago go ahead and explore the gardens around the Palace. A relaxing small walk that will make you want to return many times, whether by the waters, the landscape or the finesse of this unique hotel.
As part of the district of Vila Real, this small village on the banks of the rivers Douro and Pinhão is of an enormous historical importance. Due to its privileged location it has always been an important point of transport for Port wine and it has quickly become the largest economic center in the region. It was the first village in the district to have access to electricity, telephone network and piped water. Nowadays Pinhão is one of the main starting points for those who want to explore the Douro Valley by boat.
Those who arrive at Pinhão by train are welcomed by the 24 panels of traditional Portuguese tiles that make us travel back in time and see some scenes of the everyday life at the beginning of the 20th century.
If in Porto the famous bridge Luis I is the work of a disciple of Gustave Eiffel, here in Pinhão the Railway Bridge was designed by Eiffel himself, back in the 19th century. That composes beautifully the landscape of the river Douro and has become a reason of pride for the place.
Despite the movement of tourists, the place conveys that feeling of being an eternal weekend, without the rushing of the big cities, with that slow and peaceful timing of those who have truly adopted a quality of life without the stress of the short deadlines and a giant to do list. Totally understandable. After all, Pinhão is an invitation to enjoy the iconic landscape of Douro and its stepped terraces, whether by boat, train, on foot or by car. It’s a place that appeals to all kinds of travellers.
3 - Favaios
Located in the Alto Douro Vinhateiro, at 600m above sea level, this small village of little more than a thousand inhabitants reveals a grand history. Known as the Douro wine-producing village, Favaios gives its name to the country's most famous Moscatel, of which it has an annual production of about 30 million bottles (calm down, most of them are mini-bottles) that are mostly consumed in the national territory. Drank pure, with ice, lemon or beer, Favaios is a national preference. The minor percentage of 10% for exportation gives a very clear dimension of how the Portuguese appreciate this Douro nectar. The massive production of Moscatel of Favaios and Favaítos (small bottles) is due to a joint work that local producers have developed, creating the Cooperative Winery, which has brought significant growth to the region.
The Village of Favaios has a great historical, archaeological and gastronomic wealth to be explored, but today our focus will be on Moscatel, and the best way to know a little bit more about this delicious wine is to talk to those who really understand the subject.
It is in this small village that the oldest Moscatel of the country, 120 years old, is kept in Quinta da Avessada. A farm with very present roots, where the owner and the whole team welcomes us always with open arms and a smile on their faces, proud of their history and ready to share it with us. It is an unforgettable visit, where you learn more about the region and the secrets to produce wines of excellence.
As no enotourism is complete without the tastings, in Quinta da Avessada we can taste the flavours of the region, from the good wines to the typical local gastronomy, for lunch and dinner.
Saying that these are unmissable places is not enough for these three small pieces of Portugal. On your next visit you must see and experience more of this amazing country.