One of the most beautiful parts of Portugal is the northern area called the Minho. It covers a geographic area of around 4.700 km2 and its natural green scenery with an abundance of water and excellent white sandy beaches is a favourite holiday place. A day spent meandering through some of this region can be a real discovery as this unique landscape with specially laid out vineyards and cornfields, villages with illustrious granite structures and beautiful manor houses, together with rich traditions in food and festivals, can you leave you craving for more.
The day had been planned with the intention of visiting some of the Minho area in general as well as seeing the beautiful XVIII canastros in Soajo and Lindoso.
It all started in the early morning in Viana do Castelo, a major Atlantic coastal city when, after wandering its cobbled streets, checking out small shops with wonderful arrays of fruit and vegetables, that we came across a treasure of an old pastry shop called Confeitoria Natario.
The simple outside window didn’t seem that attractive but on closer examination of their wares, everything looked absolutely delicious and one is quickly drawn into the old-fashioned café and cake shop. A long counter bearing a wonderful display of different Portuguese cake specialities immediately caught my eye but one tray in particular stood out with its egg custard filled donuts (Bolas de Berlim) thickly coated in cinnamon and sugar and which looked unbelievably delicious! Although Bolas de Berlim are very popular in the north of Portugal, these looked different and more authentic, so without further ado, we quickly found a table in the adjoining room and ordered our expressos and one Bola de Berlim to try.
One bite of these delicious cakes, just warm from the oven and with a slight crispness to the outside, half filled with a delicious homemade Crème Pâtissière (custard) and rolled generously in heaps of cinnamon and sugar, made us beg for more! We shamelessly ordered another three (much to the delight of the lady serving us!) and devoured each of them whilst savoring every bite! They were light, tasty and the filling not overly sweet making them a perfect morning start to the day. Leaving Natario’s cake shop was difficult, to say the least, and after complementing the owners on their cakes, especially the Bolas de Berlim, we made a promise to return in the very near future. We found out later that Natario’s is famous for its Bolas de Berlim, and that after a night out, people queue up in the early hours of the morning to buy them to enjoy on the streets!
It was from here that we made our way north-east along the A27 to Arcos de Valdevez and from there entered into the beautiful Peneda-Gerês National Park located in the far northwest part of Portugal right up to the Spanish border. This is the only national park in Portugal covering an area of 702.90 km2 and is a treasure trove in itself. A somewhat inhospitable place, it is very mountainous and has signs of Roman occupation which include a road, bridges and markers, together with Megalithic and Dolmen tombs. We visited some Megalithic tombs which we found soon after our entrance into the park. Further along, quietly grazing beside the road, we had a special treat to observe a group of the protected, wild and robust ponies called Garranos which roam freely round the park, back and forth across the Portuguese/Spanish borders.
From here our drive took us to Soajo to see the wonderful display of Canastros that date back to the 1700’s and which were used by the local community for corn storage during the winter months. Situated on a granite outcrop quite centrally in the township, these magnificent granite buildings stand steeped in history and tradition and it leaves one wondering just how life was back in those days, almost 2 1/2 centuries ago.
Driving onwards to Lindoso, close to the Spanish border, it is difficult to miss the beautiful castle dating back to the XIII century. It played an important role in defending the Portuguese frontier and as we wandered around, we saw turrets, cannons, granite engravings above doors and to top it off, right next to this, there was the most amazing view of the largest group (74 of them in all) of XVIII canastros standing on a granite outcrop just outside the castle walls.
On returning to the village where we were staying on the Atlantic coast, we completed our day with a relaxing walk along the old village communal paths which gave way to beautiful old gates, rock pools of water and partial views of beautiful manor houses hidden behind big granite walls and trees. What more could one want!
That evening we walked down to the small town centre to have dinner with local people from the village. Tables and chairs were set up in the square and everyone could buy and enjoy local Minho food specialities with 80’s music playing from two loudspeakers in front of a small shrine! Delicious typical dishes included Caldo Verde (soup), Broa de Milho (cornbread), grilled Linguiça (smoked sausage), Bola de Carne (bread with smoked sausage) all refreshingly washed down with a Caipirinha (Brazilian drink made with sugar cane rum, brown sugar and lime with plenty of shaved ice). It was a peaceful end to our day in the Minho and we’ll be back!