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When the only traffic jam is caused by a horse drawn cart laden with the grape harvest, or a black clad old lady ushering her herd of goats, a meander along the blissfully unspoilt rural byways of Costa Verde and Minho cannot fail to be relaxing.
The countryside is a rich patchwork of maize fields and vineyards, with green vines atop tall granite pergolas shading spindly cabbages below and traditional wigwam shaped corn stacks dominating the landscape. Women, heads held high with produce, make their way to and from the fields, or from the river banks where the age old ritual of clothes washing and companionship takes place in defiance of modern technology.
The River Lima meets the ocean at the ancient port of Viana do Castelo. On the right bank of the estuary lies the historic old quarter of the town, whilst on the left straggles a wild dune backed beach, the unexpected home of some smart seaside villas.
To the north of the town, the charming village of Areosa with its delightful network of cobbled streets and vine covered hillside is bordered by mile upon mile of rolling sand with cabbage patches and pine coppices behind. The whitewashed fishing village of Vila Praia de Âncora, with its fine fish restaurants, touches the sand but its atmosphere is essentially Portuguese and on its southern edge, the ubiquitous country beach joins that of Afife, not long ago voted 'cleanest beach in Portugal'.
Caminha, at the estuary of the River Minho, is a pretty market town, where local life revolves around the elegant central square of pavement cafés and restaurants. The nearby chic resort of Moledo do Minho is a local beauty spot much favoured by discerning Portuguese, with its country beach protected by pine forest.
Further up the estuary, the picturesque town of Vila Nova de Cerveira with its picture postcard stone flagged squares and ornate fountains, boasts an enviable waterfront location. Wide terraces of friendly cafés, well kept lawns and shaded picnic areas line the riverbanks, with the bright colours of proudly kept boats marking the moorings below. Every now and then, a ferry makes its way across the water to the nearby Spanish slopes on the other side.
Coastal Esposende offers the visitor patioed squares, traffic free streets, delightful fish restaurants and mile upon mile of unspoilt sandy beach as far as the eye can see. Southwards, linked by a criss-cross of cobbled lanes through well tended small holdings, are fishing villages like A Ver-o-Mar or Aguçadoura, a little ramshackle perhaps, but Portuguese to the core. Black clad old ladies worship at a shrine, fishermen mend their nets, boats strew the approaches to beaches uncluttered by tourists.
A short drive inland, the riverside centre of Ponte de Lima is especially attractive, encompassed by green hills, now with a challenging rolling wooded 18 hole golf course. In the town itself, a fascinating maze of cobbled alleyways leads the visitor from one pretty square to the next, elegant façades house shops and cafés alike, and on the banks of the river, wide sandy beaches are home to the local fortnightly market.
In the nearby little explored Peneda-Gerês National Park, you will meet few other cars, even at the height of the season. For the ultimately picturesque, meander through the garden town of Monçao, perched above the River Minho valley and arguably one of the prettiest in Portugal; or Barcelos, famed for its handicrafts and vast weekly countrymarket; or the beautifully preserved fortified border town of Valença.
Hospitality is second nature to this unspoiled people and genuine friendship easy to come by. They are, quite simply, people who have time for people. Occasionally, these quiet unassuming folk will break the tranquillity of the countryside with their boisterous religious festivals or 'festas', which take placemainly in July and August.
The changeover day for our properties is either Friday or Saturday, as specified in the house descriptions. However, some of our owners can be flexible for both the arrival day and the duration of your stay.
Costa Verde and Minho is easily accessible. Flights to Porto are offered by Air Portugal from Heathrow and Gatwick, by Ryanair from Stansted, Gatwick, Bristol, Liverpool and Dublin and by easyJet from Gatwick. Alternatively the Spanish cities of Santiago de Compostela, Vigo and A Coruña in Galicia are just a 1-2½ hours drive from our properties.
Flights are available to Santiago de Compostela with Ryanair from Stansted and Aer Lingus from Dublin, whilst Vueling fly from London to Vigo and A Coruña. By car, Brittany Ferries provides sailings from Plymouth and Portsmouth to Santander and from Portsmouth to Bilbao, with both Spanish ports being within a day's drive of the area.