Take a trip to Vinho Verde, the hidden gem of Portugal

Vinho Verde region of Portugal

Think about Portuguese wines and what comes to mind is the famous Port from the Duoro valley of northern Portugal. However, just a few miles away there is another major centre of wine making.

The Vinho Verde region produces a range of light, delicately scented white wines that is becoming increasingly popular – as well as a smaller quantity of red wines. And more people are visiting the area to taste the wine and see the historic attractions.

The region is one of the great hidden gems of Europe, boasting some great cities, some incredible food and some wonderful hotels.

I spent the first night of my trip at the Pousada de Guimares. The pousadas are a range of guest houses, which were established by the government in ancient monuments. They are now run by a private hotel firm, and are extremely luxurious and stunningly beautiful.

The Pousada de Guimares is based in an incredible ancient monastery – parts of it date back to the ninth century - overlooking the ancient city of Guimares. The monastery has wonderful gardens and cloisters, as well as huge function rooms decorated with the traditional blue tiles of the area. Attached to it is a Baroque church, with huge marble balconies and carved religious scenes. If you are looking for a hotel with a difference, this is it!

Portuguese cuisine is now firmly on the European culinary map. It's a mixture of peasant food, salt cod (bacalao) and the incredibly rich desserts and custards that Portugal is famous for. We ate at the Historico restaurant in Guimaraes. I loved the ribbons of octopus and the stewed meat. We were also served up a side-dish of spiced chicken blood, which is evidently a regional speciality. It was delicious.

Guimaraes is often seen as the city around which Portugal was built. It has some incredible twelfth century squares and lavishly decorated churches. And there are plenty of pavement cafes from which to enjoy the scenery.

Another incredible hotel is the Hotel do Parque in the Bom Jesus (good Jesus) sanctuary, just above the historic town of Braga. The hotel is modern, but sits next to one of Portugal's great shrines – the Bom Jesus church. Until about 100 years ago it was common for pilgrims to climb the long staircase leading to the church on their knees. Now you can go by car, take the funicular railway (the oldest in Portugal) or even walk in the ordinary way.

The region has very distinctive and very fresh white wines. Local grapes such as alvarinho (lovely flavours of tropical fruits) or loureiro (floral and well scented) go well with just about anything from fish to chicken and the really dry ones will even go well with lamb.

Some of the top wineries are extremely modern and designed with the visitor in mind. In some cases, you can just turn up spontaneously for a tour, although because these wineries are in remote locations it's probably best to check before dropping in. The Quinta da Lixa winery and the Quinta de Melgaco winery have wonderfully modern tasting rooms. The Aveleda winery is on an incredible old estate, with elaborate parkland and follies, built by the grandparents of the present owners.

It's an incredible area for a short holiday. And, even if you can't make the journey, the wines are now widely available in British stores.

For list of Pousadas (guest houses) visit www.pousadas.pt. For list of growers to visit www.vinhoverde.pt. Wines to try in the UK: Alvarinho Pouco Comum, Tesco £8.99; Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde, Waitrose, £8.29; Quinta de Gomariz Blanco 2012, The Wine Reserve, £10.49,



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