One of life’s great mysteries – up there with why toast always lands butter-side down – is why there aren’t more Portuguese restaurants in the UK. We have Spanish tapas bars aplenty, of course, and we’re awash with French, Italian, even Thai eateries. But places specialising in delicacies from western Iberia? Not so much. And it’s an incomprehensible omission.
I was recently mulling this enigma during gentle ambles in Portugal’s northernmost, greenest and arguably tastiest region, the Minho. This ancient land – the very first part of what we now call Portugal to exist – is compact, squeezed between Galicia to the north and the Port-famous Douro region to the south – yet overflowing with local specialities.
There are delectable pastries, of course. You won’t want for pastéis de nata
, the flakey custard tarts that have, at least, arrived on UK shores. But at the bustling Pastelaria Liz in Ponte da Barca you can also try orange-tinged quesjoadas de laranja
, or boat-shaped os Magalhães
, baked in honour of globe-circumnavigating hero Ferdinand Magellan.
Not such a sweet tooth? Ponte de Lima, with its Roman-cum-medieval bridge, ancient stone towers and fortnightly market – Portugal’s longest-running – dishes up delicious cod, kid, lamprey, trout, suckling pig and monkfish rice. Then there’s the rather gory but tasty town speciality: arroz de sarabulho
– pig’s blood rice, garnished with all the pork you can eat.
But though the Minho’s cuisine is sensational, there are three other aspects that make a visit such a treat: wine, walking and truly memorable accommodation. And Inntravel’s Manor Houses of the Minho
itinerary showcases the best of all three.
It’s half a millennium since the riches of the New World began to flow into Portugal, much of it through the port of Viana do Castelo in the Minho. The result was that these verdant hills and valleys, long swathed in vineyards, became studded with stately whitewashed manor houses, many of which now offer grander-than-average accommodation to walkers. Inntravel’s trip links some of the best manor houses with shortish, gentle strolls – just long enough to work up an appetite.