The Minho and the Costa Verde

The coastline of Minho Province, north of Porto, is a largely unspoiled stretch of small towns and sandy beaches that runs all the way to the border with Spain. The weather in this region is more inclement than elsewhere, a fact hinted at in the coast’s name: the Minho is green because it sees a disproportionate amount of rain. It's a land of emerald valleys, endless pine-scented forests, and secluded beaches that are beautiful, but not for fainthearted swimmers. Summers can be cool, and swimming in the Atlantic is bracing at best. "These are real beaches for real people," is the reply when visitors complain about the water temperature.

You can break up your time on the coast with trips inland to medieval towns along the Rio Lima or through the border settlements along the Rio Minho. The remains of ancient civilizations are everywhere; you'll encounter dolmens, Iron Age dwellings, and Celtic and Roman towns. Old traditions are carefully incorporated into modern-day hustle and bustle. Up here, you might happen upon the occasional oxcart loaded with some sort of crop, led by a long-skirted, wooden-shod woman on both highway and country lane.

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