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Just west of northern Spain lie Portugal's lush forests and sparkling coastline, making up a beloved northern region of this time-tested Mediterranean country. Named for the primary river flowing through it, the Douro Valley is a land rich with heritage and has been occupied by Romans, Moors, Visigoths, Suevi, and medieval Christians. Its people continue to live close to the land and you'll be hard pressed to find a more authentic picture of Portugal. This province of natural wonders and cultural assets is also home to great local winemaking, from effervescent Vinho Verde to sweet, fortified ports.
Begin your tour of the major Portugal wine regions in fun-loving Porto. No Douro wine tour would be complete without a visit to this northern city with its rich history, ample arts, and free-flowing port wine. Some Portugal wine tours might end right here, but with an Auto Europe car rental in Portugal you can continue the adventure on a river-hugging Douro Valley road trip. An hour-long drive will bring you to coastal darling Viana do Castelo. The fresh seafood at this oceanfront town will pair perfectly with the crisp, local white wines, and you'll find it easy to enjoy the old-world charms of the traditional fisherman's village. Continue your Douro wine tour in medieval Guimarães. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed town center is a treasure trove of architectural delights. Your Portugal road trip ends in Braga, the religious heart of the region. Whether you attend during the summertime festival season or simply enjoy the beauty of Braga's many churches on an average day, you're sure to find this medieval hamlet a contemplative and relaxing end to the best of Douro Valley wine tours.
Read on to Drive to Discover the Best Portugal Wine Tour Road Trip
Porto, king of Portugal wine regions, is best known for its sweetly concentrated, fortified port wines. Catch up on the region's viticultural history at the Museu do Vinho do Porto, wrapping up your visit with a tasting. Keep the good times rolling at one of the city's port wine lodges. Taylor's and Graham's are just two of the oenophile hotspots offering daily tours and tastings. If you're a lightweight and would rather save the imbibing for dinnertime, there's plenty of sightseeing to be done in town. Start with the Sé, an ornate patchwork cathedral rivaled only by its counterpart in northerly Braga (see below). View the best of local art at the Soares dos Reis National Museum, featuring Portuguese painting and sculpture from the 19th and 20th centuries, before checking out the country's more modern offerings at the Museu Serralves. If you'd rather create your own art, snap a stunning panoramic photo from the Torre dos Ciérigos - the 225-step climb is well worth the effort. To see the city at its most lively, try scheduling your visit around the mid-June patron saint day Festa de São João. This midsummer celebration fills the week with live music, parades, and general revelry. Music festivals continue throughout the summer with folk in July and rock in August. If you get tuckered out from all the partying, travel a few kilometers west of the city center to Foz do Douro for a relaxing walk along the beach. This coastal promenade is especially popular with locals as a weekend getaway and with a Porto rental car you can see as much as possible.
You're sure to find a fresh, regional specialty at the locally favored Churrasqueira do Infante, whose menu rotates daily. The setting at Cafeteria Pintainho is as simple as it gets, but their über-fresh fish and seafood needs nothing more than a squeeze of lemon. Culinary types can put together their own lunch during a relaxing stroll down Rua Formosa, where you'll find old-fashioned food shops anchored by the stunning 19th-century ironwork of Mercado do Bolhão.
Rest and relaxation are easy to come by at the modern, luxurious Porto Palacio Congress Hotel & Spa or the sleek, conveniently located Hf Ipanema Park. Comfort and simplicity reign at the affordable Quality Inn Portus Cale. For extra glitz and glam without breaking the bank, head to beachfront Praiagolfe. Lovebirds should book a room at the romantic, palatial Pousada do Porto, while eclectic types will adore the quirky Castelo de Santa Catarina, filled with old-world décor and beautiful stained glass.
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Continue your Douro Valley road trip in historic, oceanfront Viana do Castelo. The town's medieval city center is anchored by the grandiose Praça da República, the 16th-century almshouse Misericórdia, and the Gothic Sé Catedral de Viana do Castelo. After paying homage to the town's religious history, treat yourself to one of its famed laceworks. You can watch a tatting demonstration and purchase samples at the Escola de Rendas. Back in the day, Viana do Castelo made its name as a shipbuilding center during the Age of Discovery. Uncover the former haunt of its most famous explorer at the Casa de João Velho. For the best views over this Green Coast village, hop on the funicular railway, hoof it on foot, or test your driving skills on the zigzag road up Monte de Santa Luzia and celebrate your mountainous triumph with a calming woodland walk. For even more breathtaking views, hike up the Templo do Sagrado Coração de Jesus, or ferry across the river to the tranquil Praia do Cabedeio. Though its heyday may be over, this sleepy fishing village is still regarded as the capital of Minho culture. Dive headfirst into the magic of old-world Portugal during August's Festa de Nossa Senhora da Agonia.
With its oceanfront setting, Viana do Castelo's best dining is naturally of the pescetarian variety. Venture into the heart of the local fishermen's neighborhood to Taberna do Valentim, which serves up hearty seafood stews and grilled fish by the kilo. For Portuguese meals of a different ilk, grab a lunch special like grilled chicken at the lively Restaurante Santos. Satisfy your meat tooth with the impeccably cooked steaks at Tasquinha da Praca. You might have a little trouble finding the tucked-away tapas joint O Tabernao, but selecting dishes like marinated octopus and fish cakes off the blackboard menu will take care of your hunger and your sense of adventure.
There's no better way to get close to nature in this seaside wonderland than setting up camp at Orbitur. Pitch your tent in the cool shade behind the sand dunes, watch the sunset from the nearby ferry pier, and bed down in natural bliss. If a plush mattress is more to your liking, check into the hilltop Pousada de Viana do Castelo and enjoy the view over its gracefully arcing coastline and breathtaking cathedral. Thanks to the convenience of a private rental car, you'll have no trouble reaching the quiet, but expansive Quinta do Monteverde. Out of the way from the town's main streets and their traffic, this hotel is lauded as a heavenly oasis of peace and solitude by its guests. Rustic and romantic, the Quinta da Bouca d'Arques is popular with both couples and families.
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Not many Douro Valley wine tours will take you as far as Guimarães, but with a private car rental from Auto Europe, you can cut a trail through the virgin forests to this charming medieval hamlet with ease. The town's center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you could probably spend your entire trip gazing at its stunning architecture, ranging from the 12th century to the 19th. Largo da Oliveira Square is a good place to start - or end, if you'd rather enjoy the view with an aperitif in hand. The bars on this plaza may be a tad overpriced, but they make it up with ambience. Discover the birthplace of Portugal's first king at the massive Guimarães Castle, or marvel at the out-of-this-world ornamentation at Igreja de Sao Francisco. By comparison, the Santuario da Penha may look a bit stark from the outside, but the views from the top and expansive park - complete with hermits' grotto chapels - are as breathtaking as any ornate façade. Don't let your wheels go to waste - lace up a pair of sneakers or hiking boots and drive up to the incredible ruins of Citania de Briteiros.
Guimarães has a strong selection of tapas bars from the simply outfitted Tapas e Manias, to the modern, creative Castas e Tostas, to the small plates brew pub Manifestis Probatum. Get a great value on traditional Portuguese dishes at Buxa. Casa Amarela serves up contemporary Mediterranean cuisine like octopus, bacalao con nata, and hazelnut salmon. Xisko Restaurante fires up the grill for delectable fish and steaks.
If the city center isn't packed with enough history for you, explore the Pousada de Guimarães Santa Marinha before bedtime. Housed in a former convent, the hotel is filled with hidden nooks and crannies and surrounded by beautiful gardens. If you prefer more modern accommodations, check into the Hotel da Oliveira. Its roomy lodgings will make any 21st century lover comfortable while sticking close to the town's historic attractions. Or, for the best of both worlds, try the EMAJ Boutique Hotel, whose sleek, spacious rooms are tucked into an old bank.
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From the coast, head northwest to the religious heart of the region, Braga. This outpost from the Middle Ages centers on the age-old Sé, one of the country's most beloved cathedrals. General admission to the church is free, but for a few extra euro you can also tour the treasury and the choir. Get an incredible view of the city from Santuario do Bom Jesus do Monte. Take it easy with a lift or challenge yourself with a hike to the top for picturesque panoramas. Lose yourself in days gone by at the well-preserved Mosteiro de Sao Martinho de Tibaes and its tranquil forest park. See how Portugal's 1% used to live at the Museu dos Biscainhos. Set among stunning formal gardens, this mansion is filled with décor ranging from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The city's religious significance and deep Portuguese roots grant it festivals on opposite ends of the celebratory spectrum. Semana Santa - or Holy Week - honors the town's sacred sites with deeply earnest processionals high on the drama. The city also, however, observes the lively Festa de São João, just like southern neighbor Porto (see above), and both sides of the festival coin are integral to the fabric of this Douro town.
Get the best of both Portuguese tradition and your close proximity to tapas giant Spain at the Iberian fusion joint Taperia Palatu. Fill up on all the seafood you can eat with a platter of lobster, clams, prawns, and more from Docamar Marisqueira. If your appetite is on the smaller side, try the restaurant's fish soup or swordfish in cheese sauce, or head to the brightly colored Restaurante Tia Isabel which also serves up delicious cod in cream sauce and shrimp. For a more ambient dining experience, head to the rustic gem Sao Frutuoso.
Wrap up your Douro Valley wine tour with a glass of Touriga Nacional in the garden at the classically appointed Hotel Bracara Augusta. Catch some much-needed R&R at the stylish, modern Melia Braga Hotel & Spa, which incorporates high-tech features in its rooms like a touch panel light switch. Quiet budget lodgings can be found at the updated guest house Residencial dos Terceiros. If you've had enough adventure on your Portugal road trip, play it safe at an established European chain hotel, like Mercure Braga Centro or Ibis Braga.
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