The Minho, in the verdant northwest corner of Portugal, is almost a land unto itself. The region begins some 40km (25 miles) north of Porto and stretches to the frontier of Galicia, in northwest Spain. In fact, Minho and Galicia and their people are strikingly similar. The regions share a Celtic background.
Granite plateaus undulate across the countryside, broken by the green valleys of the Minho, Ave, Cávado, and Lima rivers. For centuries, the region's bountiful granite quarries have been emptied to build everything from the great church facades in Braga and Guimarães to the humblest village cottages. Green pastures contrast sharply with forests filled with cedars and chestnuts.
The small size of the district and the proximity of the towns make it easy to hop from hamlet to hamlet. Even the biggest towns -- Viana do Castelo, Guimarães, and Braga -- are provincial in nature. You'll sometimes see wooden carts in the streets, drawn by pairs of dappled and chocolate-brown oxen. These noble beasts are depicted on the pottery and ceramics for which the Minho (especially Viana do Castelo) is known.
Religious festas are occasions that bring people out into the streets for days of celebrations, including folk songs, dances, and displays of traditional costumes. The women often wear woolen skirts and festively decorated aprons with floral or geometric designs. Their bodices are pinned with golden filigree and draped with layers of heart- or cross-shape pendants.