NORTHERN PORTUGAL'S MINHO VALLEY



The generous and beautiful Minho valley, which has given its name to this unique region, follows the course of the river from Melgaço, where the river enters Portugal, to the estuary in Caminha. The beauty of the Minho valley cannot be described. It must be experienced first hand! Its rich architectural, monumental and historic heritage are set in splendid scenery, on fast-moving and clear, sinuous bends of the river or on bucolic banks where the quiet waters are an invitation to ecstasy and plenitude. This fusion, this harmony invites us to extend our stay. They invite us to meet the local people, who are always glad to extend their hospitality. The only way to get to know the Minho valley is to come and stay here. Let us make an unforgettable tour of the six municipalities of the Minho valley. Let us dive into in the history of each town and its monuments, traditions, landscape and way of life.


Valença do Minho, standing on the border with Galicia, Spain and overlooking the River Minho, Valença is surrounded by walls and displays all the characteristic features of a town that was fortified in the seventeenth century in the style of the French military architect, Vauban. Its first name was "Contrasta", which referred to a village standing opposite another one and was clearly a reference to its position directly across the River Minho from the Galician town of Tui. Today, it is a city with a flourishing trade, in which some of the most popularly sought after items are the pieces produced by the local craftsmen. The fortification still preserves four gates: the Porta do Santiago (or Porta do Sol), Porta de Gaviana (a Gothic arch), Porta da Fonte da Vila and Porta da Coroada and twelve ramparts built at different times. It overlooks the international bridge between Valença and Tuy, built by Eiffel in 1885. 


Melgaço, situated close to Galicia, the original settlement developed around the castle built in the twelfth century at the orders of the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques. In the surrounding area are a number of beautiful Romanesque monuments, such as the monastery of Fiães and the churches of Senhora da Orada and Paderne. Situated in the heart of the cool and luxuriantly green region where the famous vinho verde is produced, Melgaço has one place that everyone must visit - the Solar do Alvarinho, where it is possible to taste the many different varieties of this unique wine, unrivalled anywhere else in the world. Roughly 4 km from the town is Termas do Peso, a spa which is much sought after for the healing properties of its waters. In the surrounding area, the highlight for visitors is the traditional village of Castro Laboreiro. Its foundation dates back to the Iron Age and it has since given its name to a breed of dog that originates from here. 


Vila Nova de Cerveira, founded by D. Dinis in the fourteenth century, on condition that it comprised a population of at least one hundred inhabitants, the town originally took the name of Cervaria, due to the herds of cervos (deer) that were to be found in the region. As the town is situated on the banks of the River Minho and close to the border with Spain, there is a regular ferry-boat across the river to Goyan in Galicia. The town's rich heritage is clearly visible in its many well-preserved monuments. Since 1978, Vila Nova de Cerveira has been particularly famous for its biennial art exhibition, which has become an important event nationally, and its reputation has recently spread overseas to attract a number of prestigious international artists.


Monção, The town was founded in the thirteenth century, and shortly afterwards the king D. Dinis, ordered the castle to be built as part of the strategic line of fortresses erected for the defence of the Minho against the kingdom of Castile. The various battles between the two kingdoms were to engrave upon people´s memories the names of several heroines, amongst whom was Deu-la-Deu Martins, the wife of the town´s governor in mediaeval times, whose figure is depicted on the town´s coat of arms. The episode for which she is best remembered took place at a time when the local people were slowly starving to death as they fought to withstand a prolonged siege by Castilian troops. In order to convince the enemy that there was an enormous abundance of food inside the fortress, she ordered the few remaining loaves of bread to be thrown from the walls of the fortress, telling the army below that if they wanted any more all they needed to do was ask. Convinced that they would never be able to overcome the resistance of the population in this way, the invaders decided to call off the siege.Situated in the heart of the vinho verde region, Monção produces a wine that is truly unique - "Alvarinho", which is made from a grape variety with the same name. One of the highlights in the region is the Festa da "Coca", which is held on the day of Corpus Christi. This festival involves the recreation of a mediaeval joust, in which a knight (St. George) fights a battle against the "Coca" (dragon), symbolising the victory of good over evil.


Caminha, a fortified border town situated at the mouth of the River Minho, where several battles were fought between Portugal and Spain, Caminha now enjoys much more friendly relations with its neighbour and there is a daily ferry-boat linking the two banks of the river. Standing on a tiny island in the middle of the estuary are the ruins of the fort of Ínsua, built to defend the entrance to the river in the fifteenth century. The fortifications consist of curtain walls and ramparts from the 17C: the Baluarte da Matriz, next to the Parish Church; Baluarte de Santo António, next to the Convent of Santo António; the wall of Muralha da Graça; the quadrangular clock tower (Torre do Relógio).