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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > March 2015 > Take off for northern Portugal, a little visited region of wild beaches, mountain villages and fortifed wine.

Take off for northern Portugal, a little visited region of wild beaches, mountain villages and fortifed wine.

NORTHERN PORTUGAL

Begin in Porto, a city of architectural wonders, before heading out to the surfing beaches of the Parque Natural do Litoral Norte, the craggy highlands of the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês and the traditional villages of the Parque Natural de Montesinho, finishing in the famed Douro Valley wine region

Colourful terraced houses line historic Ribeira Square on the banks of the Rio Douro in Porto

Plan your trip

1 Porto is a thrilling jumble of architectural styles, from ornately tiled churches to Art Deco shops and modern ‘meteors’ (p56).

2 Head to the Parque Natural do Litoral Norte for golden beaches and surf-worthy waves (p58).

3 Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês is a land of deep forested valleys, rugged peaks and striking wildlife (p60).

4 The ancient villages of the Parque Natural de Montesinho retain the customs, foods and festivals of a bygone era (p62).

5 Explore the beautiful, steeply terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley and sample the finest ports (p64).

MAP ILLUSTRATION: ALEX VERHILLE. PHOTOGRAPHS: MATT MUNRO

HOW TO GET THERE

EasyJet and TAP Portugal fly from London Gatwick direct to Porto (from £93; flytap.com), while Ryanair flies direct from Liverpool (from £80) and London Stansted (from £76; ryanair.com). EasyJet also offers flights direct from Bristol (from £93), Luton (from £99) and Manchester (from £93) during the warmer months, from around late April (easyjet.com).

HOW TO GET AROUND

Although there is a good network of buses between the cities of the country’s north (rede-expressos.pt), a rental car is the best option if you wish to explore small villages and remote rural regions. Small economy cars are available from £50 per week (thrifty.com) Main roads are sealed and generally in good condition, but be aware that driving can be tricky in Portugal’s small walled towns, where roads may taper down to donkey-cart size before you know it. In Porto, narrow streets and difficult parking can mean public transport is the best way to go. The Metro do Porto underground rail network can be a fast and efficient means of getting around (singles from £1; metrodoporto.pt), but central Porto is quite compact and very scenic, so wandering on foot between locations is a great option.

WHEN TO GO

Northern Portugal’s high season runs from mid-June to mid-September, when temperatures across the country average 27°C. In July and August it gets hot, particularly in the Upper Douro Valley, where the mercury can climb to 45°C. If you’d rather skip the crowds and heat, consider a trip in spring, when the countryside is at its most verdant, or in autumn, when it’s still warm but the crowds have dispersed. During winter (November to March) the rains arrive, falling most heavily in the north, with a handful of places closing down. Travelling then, however, will net you substantial savings at many hotels.

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