Story of the Day: bringing culture to recession-hit Portugal

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While most of us wake up to snow this morning, I was thinking back to a trip to Portugal this time last year.

It was chilly out of the sun but the sky was clear, the vinho verde cheap and the first flowers of spring in bloom.

I was in Guimaraes, northern Portugal for the start of the European Capital of Culture programme. Sadly, the event was less than blooming when I visited for the Sunday Telegraph.

Recession-hit Portugal had to take a deliberately low-key approach to its moment in the cultural spotlight and I wasn’t convinced about the organisers’ ability to arrange a piss up in a port cellar.

In the end, I got the feeling the whole thing died a slow, visitor-free death. Let’s hope for better things from Marseilles this year.

Anyway, here’s an extract:

Guimarães? You may well ask. The former industrial city in northern Portugal’s less-explored Minho region hardly trips off the tongue.

There are no direct flights from Britain, no well-trodden route similar to the Douro Valley wine trail to the east. Culturally, too, the north of Portugal is known primarily for Porto, some 37 miles (60km) south-west of Guimarães, with its imposing Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art and buzzy, after-dark street life. Guimarães is an enigma.

But for Carlos Martins, the CEO of the Guimarães 2012 Foundation, hosting a scaled-down, post-austerity event is the very thing that sets the city apart.

“We have more chance to surprise people as a small-scale city. The challenge is greater, but then so is our commitment,” says the former academic with an interest in cultural geography.

Read the full story, Europe’s Cultural Enigma.

Did you visit Guimaraes last year? Aside from the weather, was there much to enjoy?

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