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The question: I would like to take my wife and sons (ages 18 and 20) to Portugal this summer. On our last visit we stayed at my parent's house just south of Lisbon, but this time I would like to visit the north where my family is from originally. I want the boys to appreciate the history and culture of the country. I have contacted a company called Portugaltrails, which designs tours. Any advice?

The answer:

It's all cool to hang with Avô and Avó, but when you've gone to the trouble of crossing the ocean, it is tempting to explore beyond the grandparents' backyard. And there's plenty to experience in northern Portugal with its medieval castles, mountain landscapes and lively riverside city of Porto.

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If you want to research the trip yourself, Portugal Tourism ( visitportugal.com) suggests a range of itineraries from archeological sites to baroque art. If you're leaning toward using a Portuguese travel agency, make sure it's registered with Portuguese Tourism (you can search for companies on its site by clicking on "Special Promotions" and then using the "Find Resources" option; Portugaltrails is based in the Lisbon area). That way, if something goes wrong, there's a way to get your money back, says Nuno Miguel Alves, tourism director for the Portuguese National Tourist Office in North America.

You can also gauge the company by checking out how many Facebook fans it has, suggests Sharlotte Weslosky, director of marketing for the Portugal Canada Chamber of Commerce and Industry. (If you're looking for a Canadian company, she recommends long-time operator Alfa Mar Travel (416-534-7515, alfamartravel@bellnet.ca).

Or ask the company directly, as I did. Portugaltrails ( www.portugaltrails.com) is happy to provide its licensing number, as well as references from clients, says Donna Rumbold, a travel consultant with the company. The two-year-old agency specializes in creating self-guided tours, and Ms. Rumbold listed off many potential road stops for your family. These include visiting the fishing villages along the "wonderfully wild" Atlantic coastline and touring the oldest university in Europe in Coimbra, which houses a library "in which they keep bats to keep bugs away from the ancient books."

The design of the road trip all depends on the length of journey and your family's interests, Ms. Rumbold says. And on that note, don't forget to involve your boys in the planning. Everyone will be more engaged if they have input into the itinerary, especially as this sounds like it could be a last family holiday before the boys fly the coop (or at least relocate to the basement).

E-mail your travel questions to concierge@globeandmail.com.

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