Worth getting out of bed for
Slow-paced and sleepy northern Portugal may be, but for the keen golfer, the amateur historian, the happy hiker and the budding wine expert it’s something of a treasure trove.
Golfers itching for something a little more challenging than the Terra Rosa estate’s small putting green will find the mountainous 18-hole Ponte de Lima course, set amid historic mansions, fruit orchards and corn fields, a mere 10 minutes’ drive away, just outside its namesake village.
Ponte de Lima carries the bold claim of being Portugal’s oldest village. Founded nearly 1,000 years ago, it’s a photographer’s dream of baroque and neoclassical churches and manor houses, all centred around the mediaeval gothic stone bridge that gives the town its name. Highlights here include the church of St Anthony of Terre Velha, an ornate 18th-century confection profiled against the mountains, with gleaming whitewashed walls and a facade festooned with azulejo tiles. Pick up local cheese, charcuterie and wine at the morning municipal market and visit during the town’s International Garden Festival, which showcases the villagers’ love affair with all things floral every year between May and October. The nearby cities of Viana do Castelo on the coast and Braga further inland offer similar diversions on a somewhat grander scale.
The Minho region is also home to Portugal’s only designated national park. Peneda-Gerês is a densely forested mountain wilderness that spans some 270 square miles, dotted with tiny, ancient villages and home to mythical mountain beasts such as wolves, ibex and eagles. Get lost (well, not literally) on the mountain trails, hike the ancient Roman road, kayak the Cávado River rapids and explore the crenellated fortifications at the mediaeval Castle of Lindoso close to the Spanish border.
Back at the estate, activities abound. You can borrow bikes to explore the surrounding countryside (at a gentle pace, natch) and picnic beneath cypress trees on the manicured lawns. You can bathe in the original stone tanks and cool off in the Neiva River. More soul-soothing experiences are expected to go live in the coming months, including vineyard massages, horseback tours of the quinta, grape harvesting and open-air cinema.
The restaurant at Terra Rosa Country House & Vineyards closes at 6pm but fear not, for alternative options abound. Budding Bourdains can raid the local markets for fresh ingredients and try their hands at traditional regional recipes in the residence’s communal kitchen. If, on the other hand, you’re Gordon Ramsay’s worst nightmare, there are oodles of options for dining out in the trio of nearby mediaeval towns.
Ponte de Lima is the place for traditional taverna-style fare in stone-clad buildings. A large azulejo panel depicting Roman soldiers on horseback leads the charge to Restaurante A Tulha, where beamed ceilings, chandeliers and grilled meats are the order of the day.
You’ll find steakhouses, sushi joints and other international fare aplenty in Braga, where Omakase is pick of the bunch for colourful sashimi platters, crunchy salads and ramens.
Louro raises the bar in Viana do Castelo with its contemporary take on Portuguese classics, served in an elegant dining room beneath wicker lanterns. Gorge on octopus terrine with red onion caviar and pork cheeks with tiger prawns and potato mousseline.
Similarly, the smattering of bars in Ponte de Lima may have you widening your search for booze if you're here for more than a few days. Chusso is the pick of the bunch, thanks to its old stone walls, colourful artworks and regular live music.
Braga has a more eclectic selection, such as Setra Urban & Cocktail Bar with its purposely shabby interior decor, colourful cocktails and rooftop terrace overlooking the terracotta-tiled rooftops and mediaeval churches.
Meanwhile, ale aficionados should hop over to Ribeiro’s Brewers in Viana do Castelo, where Portugal’s ubiquitous Super Bock pilsner is almost conspicuous by its absence, usurped by superior selections from the bar’s own brewery as well as from other Portuguese and international producers.