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The non-tourist side of Portugal

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Most people have heard of Porto, the quaint city on the Rio (River) Douro and the Atlantic coast in Northern Portugal. It rivals Lisbon in regards to history and attractions and is a popular destination for either the start or end point for cruise ships.

There's so much to do in the surrounding region of Northern Portugal though, so let's take a look at the more non-touristy side of Portugal.

Geres National Park

The only National Park in Portugal offers 271 sq miles of tiny traditional agricultural villages, slightly larger spa towns (the town of Geres itself) and nature that is out of this world: waterfalls, sweeping vistas and the most amazing views ever. It's located in the northwest of Portugal and extends to the Spanish border of Galacia and you honestly feel as if you're stepping back in time.

A mere 1 hour 20 minute ride from Porto, you can hire a car, but I found it best to take a guided tour with Oporto Adventure Tours; offering group tours (starting from €85 - one day tour including pick up and drop off from your accommodation in Porto, lunch and only a minimum of two people) or private and tailor made tours for longer, you have a local guide at your disposal. This way, I wasn't so concerned with looking at my GPS - I could look at the vistas surrounding me.

To be honest, not many tourists are familiar with Geres as Portugal is normally equated with beaches (along the south coast), so Portugal's only National Park is frequented mostly by Portuguese or Spanish tourists. It's prehistoric ambiance will really make you feel as if you've stepped back in time.

Douro Valley - driving

Most people take a cruise along the Douro wine valley route from Porto - but once again, I would recommend a tailor-made tour. This enables you to see the area of the 'locals' and certainly gives you more time to experience thequintas (wineries), farm houses, small guesthouses and traditional taverns.

Medieval towns such as Amarante - with its huge bridge spanning the Rio Douro - and the archeological site at Vila Nova de Foz Coa, nestled amongst the lush countryside makes one feel as if you've stepped out of a 'Game of Thrones' set.

Minho Region of Northern Portugal

If you've not tired of the prehistoric atmosphere, then head approx. 62 miles north of Porto to the Rio (River) Minho region where towns such as Guimaraes - with its castle and cobbled side streets, the Cathedral town of Braga and the Baroque stairway of Bom Jesus awaits you. And why not treat yourself to a night or two in a Mosteiro (Monastery)? Portugal has many dotted around that have been transformed into prestigious, five star accommodation. The romantics among you can imagine a wedding taking place here.

One thing's for sure; a vacation to Northern Portugal, with Porto as your base, will not disappoint, proving that you don't necessarily have to have equate Portugal purely as a beach destination - and it is possible to get away from the crowds.