Choosing your Portugal Vacation has everything to do with what you want from a vacation. As I've mentioned before, each and every region of Portugal is unique, ranging from customs, architecture and ethnicities. For such a small country, Portugal has some of the most distinctive regions that you will ever see. Often, tourists who have only traveled to Portugal's Algarve, are amazed at how it differs from the Northern region of the country. It is important, when visiting a country, not to make any presumptions on what you'll see, and more importantly not to assume that if you've seen one region you've seen them all. Today I'll tell you about Portugal's Minho Province, a green jewel in Portugal's crown.
The Minho Province was officially created in 1936 during Salazar's Fascist reign, and dissolved in 1976. That said, many Portuguese today still refer to this small geographic land mass in the northwest part of Portugal as Minho (sounds like 'Me N You'), and those born or descended from this part of Portugal are generally referred to as Minhotos (People residing from Minho). Today, the former territory of Minho is part of the Norte Region of Portugal
Before the region of Minho was dissolved, it consisted of 23 municipalities, with Braga as its capital city. Minho, if it still existed today, would include the districts of Guimarães (Birth city of Portugal) Braga (Long standing city stronghold of Ancient Celtic Civilization originally inhabited by the Bracari hence the name Braga and Viana do Castelo (An Ancient Celtic coastal town).
Minho, along with its sister province Tras Os Montes (Literally translates to 'Behind The Mountains' )to the east, are also the most ancient of all the Portuguese provinces. Minhotos are very proud of their culture and history as it has played a major role in the creation of modern day Portugal. Minho is after all, the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. Minho along with Galicia (Galiza in Spanish) is also the territory where the Portuguese language was born. There is virtually no difference in ethnicity between Galicians and Minhotos, as they are both a Celt - Iberian race, with Germanic (Swabian, Suebi or Suevi) and Roman bloodlines. During Roman occupation of modern day Portugal, Minho, along with Galicia were referred to as Gallaecia, and regarded as a threat to Roman dominance in Iberia. Along with the brave tribesmen, the Lusitanians, these people made the Roman's occupation of Iberia a very difficult one, and for many years the Roman's relegated mostly to the south of the country.
Minho, also know as Verde-Minho (Green Minho) is the most forested region of Portugal. The region itself is a nature lover's paradise with its large green landscape, mountains and rivers. Minho summers are dry and pleasant, the winters are cold, dipping from zero to -10 degrees Celsius and the a snow fall is not uncommon. Fortunately the cold winter weather in Portugal often only lasts a couple of months from late December through February. Minho gets a lot of rainfall throughout fall and winter, and not recommended as a travelers destination. If you are intent on visiting Portugal in late fall or winter, then the Algarve region in the south is the perfect destination with virtual year round sun and warmth. Traveling in the Minho province is ideal in the spring through early fall, only getting a little wet into mid to late October. The entire province is a travelers delight, with many historical monuments and wide open spaces and pristine nature reserves to keep you going. If you are traveling in Minho, make sure that you have marked out your route and stick to it, because it isn't unusual to get sidetracked. Driving in the night on the smaller mountain roads can be a little difficult, although the roads are modern, speeding drivers are still very common.
Due to its isolation, and lack of funding from the central government, the Minho province is also one of the least developed in the country. Outside of the main cities, many of the older generations, who've lived under fascism and the eye of the Catholic Church, still live a very pastoral, communal life. For those who live in larger cities, this may come as a bit of a shock, but it may be a hippies dream, without the VW and Psychedelia. That said, with Lisbon finally granting funds to build infrastructure, Minho is now developing at a very fast pace, and it is very common to see the old world and new world colliding.
The largest historical remains Celtic influence in the Minho area includes the mountain fort of Briteiros, an ancient ruins dating back to the Iron Age. There are many ancient Celtic festivals that are held every year, including stick dancing, Pauliteiros, which as legend has it is an ancient fighting system that was converted into dance in order to deceive the Roman rulers. The Pauliteiros use 2 small sticks in a rhythmic dance that to some looks similar to North American Indian tribal dances. These dances are usually accompanied by bagpipe and drums. The traditional folk dances in Mirandese Tras Os Montes, a remote Portuguese province just east of the Minho is a must see for anyone interested in ancient customs, dances and rituals.
Lastly, Minho is a region in transition. With children no longer willing to accept the agriculturally driven lives that their parents have, choosing to work in larger cities or abroad. It is obvious that the life in the Minho region, a lifestyle that is so common today will vanish by the next generation, and will only be a footnote in the history books. I highly recommend that if you are looking for a Portugal vacation that is immersed in history, Minho is the place for you.
There are many cities and villages that are a must see in the Minho province of Portugal, and I will be telling you more about them in later posts, here on Portugal Vacations.