Getting Oriented in Porto and the North

The north of Portugal can be divided into four basic regions—Porto and its immediate environs, the Douro Valley, the evergreen Minho, and the somewhat remote and untamed Trás-os-Montes area to the east, a region still slightly short on amenities yet long on spectacular scenery, ancient customs, and superb country cooking. While any trip to the north should include Porto, to get a sense of the variety of landscapes and monuments it's worth getting out of town to see at least one of these other regions.

Porto. An ancient trading city, Porto is also now a sophisticated modern metropolis. Its center is a World Heritage Site, best seen from across the River Douro, where the famous port wine cellars are located. Elsewhere, myriad art galleries and vibrant nightlife are among today's attractions.

The Coast and Douro. The coast around Porto is dotted with dunes and resorts, including two casinos within easy reach of town. Meanwhile, on the River Douro, cruise boats glide through one of Europe's most stunning landscapes, where the grapes used in the world-famous port wine are grown.

The Minho and Costa Verde. The string of beaches between Porto and the Spanish border are not called the "Green Coast" for nothing, with pine forests often providing the backdrop to dunes. Inland, the intensively cultivated Minho region is densely populated yet equally green, with vineyards alternating with fruit trees and forest.

Trás-os-Montes. The uplands of this remote province, whose name means "Beyond the Mountains," are among the most difficult landscapes from which to scrape a living, yet they have a certain wild beauty. The hardy natives are fiercely proud of their local traditions, which often date back to pagan times.

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