The Minho river (Miño in Spain) and the Peneda Geres park are the natural border that divides Spain and Portugal. It marks the top northern side of the country, with small fortified villages and beautiful towns that remind of a past of battles and times of conquer.
Most travelers head to the most famous cities in this region: beautiful Braga, medieval Guimaraes (and Unesco World Heritage), stunning Peneda-Geres Natural Park, modern Viana do Castelo and historic Ponte de Lima. But there is much more to see in the northern North of Portugal.
Towns you shouldn’t miss near the Spanish-Portuguese border
Right at the door of Peneda Geres stands one of the capitals of wine in Northern Portugal: Melgaço. The small medieval town with its tower overlooking the valley is a nice point to start a trip by the Minho river or the Peneda Geres Natural Park.
Check out its small museums where you will find wine, movies and smugglers instead of paint and sculpture. And enjoy side trips to the natural springs of Monçao and the unique town of Castro Laboreiro.
Read more about the beautiful medieval town of Melgaço
Those who visit Vigo and Rías Baixas in Spain know that they shouldn’t skip this beautiful portuguese village by the border.
Opposite to Tui (Spain), Valença is divided in two: the “fortaleça” or fortified village and the living town where one of the most famous open markets takes place every Wednesday.
While most people still come here looking for towels and linens, it makes a nice walk with great views over the Minho valley. Crossing to Spain is as easy as to walk by the old Eiffel-like bridge, just follow the yellow marks that pilgrims follow on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
The small town of Caminha is the closest to the end of Minho river. Here you will find one of the best fish markets on your way (fishermen bring their fresh catches directly to the market) and plenty of beautiful beaches nearby. Best time of the year to visit is the last weekend in July, when they hold a medieval fair, highlighting their heritage and traditions.
Walk up to Moledo and Vila Praia de Ancora if you are looking for surf and kitesurf action, or stay at Caminha for a safer atlantic beach (Foz do Minho). Another interesting side trip is Vilanova de Cerveira, where an important market takes place every Saturday.
Crossing to nearby Spain is also easy here. While there is no bridge, cars and people can take a ferry to A Pasaxe, right below Santa Tegra village and bronze age remains.
Arcos de Valdevez
Overlooked by many, Arcos de Valdevez and nearby Ponte da Barca take an important place in Portuguese History: here took place one of the bloodiest battles between the Portuguese and the Spaniards, which consolidated the win and independency of the country.
With charming old houses and unique churches, the village is an easy place to walk. And a good point of entry to Peneda Geres, with Soajo traditional village not far away.
It is also a great place to try Cachena meat (Cachena is a unique cow race that breeds in this region and nearby Peneda Geres.)
Still an off-the-route village to most, Esposende has a feeling of beach destination all year long. The farther south option on this list, it is surrounded by windy but beautiful beaches, perfect for summer and water sports, they belong to the protected natural area of Parque Natural do Litoral Norte (Northern Coast Natural Park.)
Esposende has many interesting sites nearby, including dolmens and bronze age villages, windmills and medieval forts. And is not far away from beautiful Barcelos, where the traditional portuguese cock came from (and which we would have love to add as a sixth option if we had more room but 5).
The town also has some interesting churches and buildings itself, and fun medieval fair by the end of august.