The Cities of Northern Portugal Part 1: Porto and Guimaraes

Fruit stall in Porto Often overlooked, Northern Portugal is home to the wine regions of the Douro Valley and Minho and was to give us our first taste of this Iberian country.

The cities of Porto, Guimaraes and Braga are a world away from the tourist region of the Algarve in the south, and as such gave us a more traditional view of Portugal.

We were in Northern Portugal for the recent Travel Bloggers Unite conference which was held at the Sheraton Hotel and Spa in Porto. During the three day conference we were able to see a little of Porto via the photography tours and the evening events that took place along the Douro River.

Following the conference we joined the "Grapes and Sailors" tour which guided us through the stunning Douro Valley and across to the Minho region stopping off in Guimaraes, Braga and Viana do Castelo.

Porto

Lying high on the hill overlooking the river,  Porto is Portugal's second largest city.

With it's location along the Douro River underneath the towering Dom Luis Bridge we were expecting a promenade of restaurants similar to those found in Mediterranean resorts. However Porto disappoints on this front as there were only two or three perched at the bottom of the Ribeira.

One location that stood out was Sao Bento train station. Its history states that it stands on the site of a 16th century monastery from where it gained its name. We loved the floor to ceiling blue and white tiles that decorate the entire entrance to the station and depict the history of Portugal.

Guimaraes

Guimaraes square Our post-conference trip saw us driven through the Douro Valley and onwards to the city of Guimaraes.

We were due to arrive in the city mid-afternoon but the minibus were we in had other ideas - deciding to break down not far from the city but resulting in an hours wait for the replacement. Not the last time we'd suffer a delay in Portugal!

It did mean that we arrived early evening in Guimaraes in time for dinner and a brief walk around and it was a great introduction to the city which is the European capital of culture for 2012.

At night the city gives off a romantic air with fairy lights framing the windows of almost every building. Two small fountains had been decorated with the red and white plastic tubes you often see separating swimming lanes in a local pool and were completed with an orange and white striped emergency ring.

The following morning we had time to see more of Guimaraes which quickly became one of our favourite places. We began our tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site at the city's castle which was once the residence of the Portugeuse Royal Family.

We wandered through the cobbled streets as cafes were just coming to life and we saw a quirky side to Guimaraes where the scaffolding of a renovated building had been decorated by an art project consisting of an over-sized t-shirt and trousers.

Just as we were falling in love with Guimaraes it was time to head onwards further into the Minho region and to the city of Braga.

Part 2 of our Northern Portugal tour will be published on Friday - don't forget to come back and see our creepy encounter with historic fountains and our amazing view from our hotel bedroom window.

Have you been to Porto or Guimaraes? What were your thoughts on the cities?