This itinerary takes you on a journey to the North of Portugal, famous for its vineyard landscapes and granite-carved baroque architecture. Travelling through Porto, Braga, Guimarães and the Douro Valley, you will discover scenic gardens that commune with monasteries, palaces and manor houses, and find some of the most astounding intimate private gardens of the region, whose gates will be opened just for you
with the warm welcome of the owners. All this, together with unique and ancient urban environments and charming hotels – where you will sample rich gastronomy and exceptional wines – will make for an unforgettable experience.
Our program begins in Porto, where the harmony between the architecture and the contours of the landscape creates an urban environment of singular beauty. Our exploration starts in the city’s ancient heart – Porto’s Baixa district has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. We start with a visit to the Cathedral, a dazzling mixture of romantic and baroque elements, before descending to the Ribeira area where we find the characteristic quays beautifully restored in their ancient stone. The famous Port wine cellars are on the other bank of the river, where a memorable sensory experience awaits us.
In Serralves we come upon an unmistakable landmark of Portuguese architecture – a fine example of early 20thCentury gardening art and the only garden laid out in this era in the manner of landscape architecture. The work of Jacques Gréber in 1932, it is characterized by a subtly Art Deco, modern classicism influenced by French gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the south part of the garden we find a water garden of multi-layered, interconnected water features, while in the western portion an avenue of liquid ambers stretches out. With the birth the Museum of Contemporary Art, in 1996, a new landscape was laid out in harmony with the new building and including species native to the north of Portugal, including birch, holly, oak, yew, hawthorn and heather.
Leaving for the city of Guimarães, you will spend the night in an ancient Augustinian monastery, where the park, with its patios and hidden gardens, granite fountains and tiled panels have long delighted travellers and guests and alike.
In the morning we leave for Braga, a city acclaimed for its baroque monuments, where we visit the Casa dos Biscainhos, famous for its charming 18th-Century interiors. The garden here is an example of landscape design from the height of the baroque period, with numerous rococo references and terraces of balustrades that create a superbly scenic effect. All the flowerbeds are planted with roses or annuals such as sage, celosias, marigolds and Indian cane in the bright colors so typical of the gardens of the Minho region. Outside the city, among the forests of cork trees, oak trees, chestnuts and laurels, rises up the Mosteiro de Tibães, whose church is a repository of the history of gold carvings. The garden, originating from the 16th Century, tumbles down the slope of the valley in terraces, with each level adorned by a fountain with water from the terrace above, all resulting in a wonderful spectacle of bubbling waters.
In the unexpected layout of the Sacramento do Bom Jesus, garden design fuses naturally with the difficult topography of the hillside to create a staircase of gardens on different levels reinforcing the typically baroque effect of a multiplication of spaces and views.
Our last stop of the day is at a secret place, a privately owned monastery whose origins lie in the beginnings of the early Middle Ages. Here the park and its enclosure stretch out through a magnificent forest of oaks blending with beech trees, acacias and arbutus shrubs. Our visit comes to an end with a tasting of the wine Camélia, whose elegant, fresh aroma evokes the ancient gardens of the place.
In the morning we head out to the Douro Valley, passing through Casa de Mateus on our way. Here, Italian-born architect Nasoni built the most extraordinary baroque house in the Europe, using some highly inventive details. The gardens of the house descend in terraces of box trees complete with a complex arrangement of flowerbeds. A tunnel of cypress trees arrives as a surprise and we head along a magnificent path formed by vaulted, verdant foliage. At the end of our stroll we discover a truly beautiful arrangement of box trees, the shape of which fans out from a Hinoki cypress tree (Chamaeyparis oculta) in a series of flutes, arches and arabesques.
A road of rare beauty carries us into the magnificent Douro Valley, whose landscape of vines and vineyards is inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites. Here, we are welcomed at a historic quinta with dazzling views over the valley and the Douro River. After a lunch where we will enjoy the best of the typical cuisine, we move on to the vineyards and cellars where the world-famous port wine is produced.
The landscape of Douro is very much a part of its history and heritage, and our exploration continues with a boat trip – on a traditional rabelo – that lazily carries us through a vision of steep slopes covered in vines and punctuated by cypresses, all part of a landscape of terraces shaped by man almost as if they were a series of gardens.
We finish the day in Amarante, homeland of the talented painter Amadeu Sousa Cardoso, father of Portuguese cubism, where we spend the night in one of the charming places that belong to the Relais et Châteaux chain.
We will dedicate the morning to discovering the medieval city of Guimarães, a place with which the very origins of Portugal are intertwined. The city is enchanting not only on account of its Castle and imposing Palácio Ducal, but also for the delicate town houses and ancient stone squares, all of which merit the city its place on the list of World Heritage Sites. Lunch will be at a unique location and a chance to taste the delicious local cuisine. At the entrance to this private manor house, visitors are struck by two monumental cylinders entirely made of camellias. The art of topiary, which started appearing in the north of the country in the 17th Century, uses the camellia as its principal tool in this region. Here we will also find two summer houses sculpted from the plants, which create a composition as surprising as it is intimate.
Next we head to another manor house typical of the north of Portugal, whose origins recall the Romantic or pre-Romantic era, and which was once used as a shelter for pilgrims on the Camino of Santiago de Compostela. Here we admire the delightful garden, whose originality lies in its box trees of azaleas cut into different forms and sizes and where we can take a stroll through the oak wood (quercus robur).
Our last stop is the elegant Quinta da Aveleda, a vineyard estate that is an integral part of the vinho verde region. Here the vines encircle a landscape created by Ju Janson that includes a wooded garden of immense botanical variety crisscrossed by narrow avenues and winding paths. You wander between lakes and pavilions, with our attention drawn to the architectural follies that bear testament to the artistic daydreams that were very much part of the Romantic era. After tasting the fantastic vinho verde, we return to Porto for our farewell lunch, served in the gardens of the beautiful Palácio do Freixo with the Douro itself as an unforgettable backdrop.
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