TWO hours flight from the north of England you can land in the north of Portugal, and a small region that has four UNESCO sites that are as culturally rich as ours. Tradition and history from the ancient monasteries, architecture and art vie for attention with amazing gastronomy, wines and outdoors adventure among its mountain peaks and wild Atlantic beaches.

The first time I visited Porto and its surroundings I was hooked - not least because of the friendliness and courtesy of its inhabitants. Miles of sandy beaches and beautiful villas line the route from Porto airport to the city with its colourful squares and blue-tiled churches. Streets are crammed with grocery stores, famous cafés, boutiques and interior design shops giving an early glimpse into the stylish vibe of the region.

One of the big draws is Livraria Lello, a flamboyant neo-gothic-style bookshop built in 1906, with stained glass and wood carvings, said to have inspired JK Rowling’s Hogwarts. She was a regular customer when she lived in the city, and a few steps away mythical griffins guarding a fountain are dead ringers for the Gryffindor.

We grabbed a snack of codfish croquettes with salad in a café perched up a narrow lane above the restaurant-lined wharves of Ribeira by the busy River Douro. Thirty miles east at the Monverde Wine Experience Hotel at Quinta de Sanguinhedo near Felgueiras, you can sleep in sleek eco rooms within vineyards that produce the spritzy Vinho Verde wines. Restaurant Monverde is all about modern Portuguese cuisine - the tasting menu with wines, designed by chef Carlos Silva includes seafood, goats cheese parcels and Douro valley figs. Braised seabass with asparagus and pumpkin puree was divine.

The region is growing in popularity and has seized on its ancient castles, monasteries, churches, bridges and towers to market The Romanesque Route, a tour covering 58 monuments. The route also celebrates regional identity through cuisine, wines, festivals and markets, trails and artisan businesses. In Lousada, Bordaras Hearts produces hand embroidery linens. There’s drama in Felgueiras, where the ovens are fired up with a huge blow torch to bake the Pão-de-ló de Margaride (sponge cake).

Straddling the River Lima, the Roman and medieval bridge in the graceful town of Ponte de Lima forms part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route. We were invited to go kayaking on the tranquil river and take a walk to see some of the region’s best gothic, baroque and neoclassical mansions and the 14th century towers and walls in Portugal’s oldest town. The Restaurant Acude attached to the Centro Nautico de Ponte de Lima, where the World Canoe Championships are to be held, has views over the river, immaculate linen and helpful staff. We tried the local codfish dish encrusted with regional corn bread, Broa de Avintes. At nightfall the bridge is a multi-coloured wonder.

We stayed on the banks of the River Lima in the beautiful estate of the partially organic vineyard Quinta do Ameal, where Pedro Araujo, (wine royalty, his family owned the Port house Ramos Pinto), produces Vinho Verde wine from the Loureiro grape. The ancient grounds are green with life and the stylish apartments created from the old buildings are spacious with an eco-rustic theme and antique furniture. Visit

The Peneda-Gerês National Park, a World Biosphere Reserve between Upper Minho and Trás-os-Montes, has majestic mountains and traditional granite highland villages. Tour operator Portugal Green Walks ( offers walks on ancient trails through magnificent scenery, where eagles fly and Iberian wolves and cachena cows with long horns roam.

Dropped above the village of Soajo, we were escorted by Paulo Lopes and José Azevedo downhill past steams and waterfalls with bathing pools and ancient water mills and terraces. On a plateau above the village with its winding streets and levadas (water channels) are the old granaries, the Espigueiros do Soajo, where the corn for bread was dried. We dined at the traditional and excellent Saber ao Borralho restaurant.

Our final stop was my favourite Portuguese town, Viana do Castelo, with its perfect medieval centre and very hospital people. By one of the long sandy beaches to the south is the wood built FeelViana Hotel set in a pine forest where luxury is joined with nature in a calming environment. It offers countless water sports including surfing, kites and paddle-boarding, coastal cycling, a gym and a wellness spa and fine dining.

I think north Portugal has everything pretty much covered.

* Fly direct from Manchester with Ryanair or with TAP Portugal from London City or Gatwick or Manchester via Lisbon.,,