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Three days in Trás-os-Montes and the Upper Douro

Município de Chaves CC BY-NC-ND

Are you looking for a three-day itinerary to discover the North of Portugal? Come to Trás-os-Montes, and get to know the most traditional villages of the region. Here, tradition and sophistication go hand in hand to give you a rich taste of what our country has to offer.

The Trás-os-Montes region is a vast territory, which is worth exploring at a leisurely pace.

Beautiful cities like Chaves and Bragança or places like Vidago merit an extended stay. This remote and hilly region offers unique vistas, filled with almond blossom, heritage towns, natural scenery and a rich cuisine.

From Chaves to Montesinho

In Chaves, you will embark on a tour of the ancient city of Aquae Flaviae – imposing vestige of the region’s Roman past: A beautiful Roman bridge over the Tâmega connects the two parts of the modern city. The Emperor Flavius Vespasian’s thermal spa also remains since the imperial era. The medicinal spa waters bubble out of the ground here at a temperature of 73 C. Whether or not you wish to enjoy a dip in the waters, we recommend a visit to the Thermal Spa Park, where you will find numerous bars and cafes frequented by the city’s young set. 

In the mediaeval centre, note the quaint houses with decorated ironwork balconies overhanging the Rua Direita. This lively artery leads to the castle, where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city and the surroundings. Back in the centre of Chaves, linger a while at the Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy), with its pretty baroque portico and interior lined with azulejos (tin-glazed ceramic tilework) depicting scenes of the life of Christ's life and the fortress of St. Francis, where sixteenth century convent buildings have been converted into the luxurious São Neutel Hotel.

Make a tour of the villages of the Montalegre municipal district, near Chaves, the Guadramil and Rio de Onor, in the Montesinho Natural Park, and the Pitões das Júnias in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, and experience at first-hand how this unique social heritage has resisted progress.

The Community Villages of Montesinho, Rio de Onor and Guadramil, live in harmony with nature and preserve the memory of rural life. You will appreciate this, as you pass through the Serras de Montesinho and Lombada. You can do this comfortably on a quiet walk and bike-ride or drive.

Rio de Onor is the best-preserved village in the Montesinho Natural Park and its inhabitants speak a very ancient dialect, which is half Portuguese and half Spanish. How so? Because, interestingly, this village is shared with Spain. The Spanish half is called Rihonor de Castilla.

Here, you will find picturesque rural accommodation, where you can rest and recharge your batteries. 

Discover the inland villages of northern Portugal

Now it’s time to get acquainted with Bragança, another district belonging to the Tras-os-Montes region. At the entrance to the Bragança citadel, surrounded by a mediaeval wall, is the village of Port da Vila that welcomes us with the face of D. Fernando, the second Duke of Braganza. The view from the castle will leave you speechless.

The impressive castle keep (Torre de Menagem) houses the Military Museum, which tells the centennial history of the castle and is ticked away on the top floor, from where pans out a wonderful view over the beautiful landscape of Tras-os-Montes. Also in the castle, look closely at the odd pillory with a stone pig at its base, and also the unusual Domus Municipalis where the city council (Senate) would have met in mediaeval times.

Bragança and the historic sites at its heart are located at the far end of the Montesinho Natural Park, which is one of the most natural forested areas in Europe with a huge diversity of flora and fauna.

Make your way deep into the interior of the region. Outside the major cities, there are still communities that share common assets between everyone. Entire villages have been sharing their wood oven, threshing floor, mill, and cattle breeding pasture, since before the Romans reached this territory.

In Miranda do Douro, a town surrounded by the International Douro Nature Reserve, you can watch the dances of the Pauliteiros – descendants of the Celtic population, who inhabited this region in the Iron Age. They are accompanied by the beat of the gaita-de-foles (bagpipes). You can also lend an ear to the people conversing in the unique Mirandês dialect, spoken only in this region of Portugal.

View the ruins of the castle that D. Afonso Henriques, first king of Portugal, had built. The remains include part of the citadel and some wall sections, and also the Church of Santa Maria Maior, which had the status of  (Holy See) for about two centuries, affording Miranda great importance within the region.

As an integral part of the Natura 2000 network of protected landscapes of the Azibo Reservoir, in Macedo de Cavaleiros and Bragança, pedestrian and cycle routes are laid out, and there is a prime spot for birdwatching and other wildlife. Bathe at the riverside beaches of Fraga da Pegada and the Ribeira, and enjoy a unique panoramic view from Santa Combinha.

Enquire about any organised activity on days when you plan to visit the dam and treat yourself to a meal before setting out on an exploration of the area. If you’re visiting the reservoir in summer, don’t forget your bikini or swimming trunks, as hidden away inside this nature reserve are the delightful beaches of Ribeira and Fraga da Pegada.

In this corner of Portugal, there are a few tourist facilities for overnight stays in rural areas.

Relax in a SPA suspended above the Valley of Vilariça and the hillscape that offers one of the stunning panoramas of the cross-mountain region as a backdrop. Alternatively, you can stay at a building that formerly served as a primary school – just one of the many options available at Alfândega da Fé and the Serra de Bornes.

Enjoy your stay as a live experience you will not quickly forget. Go canoe-rafting on the Sabor River – there’s nothing like it! There are a number of different local attractions, like this, requiring varying lengths of stay, and priced from 40 Euros per person 

Wine and Gastronomy in Trás-os-Montes

In the extreme northeast of Portugal, north of the Douro region, is the Trás-os-Montes wine country, which is divided into three sub-regions: Chaves, Valpaços and Planalto Mirandês. The region is characterised by dry weather, arid in summer and very cold during the long winter season, when the barometers often display negative values. The dominant white varieties of grape are Côdega do Larinho, Fernão Pires, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, Síria and Viosinho, while the most popularly cultivated reds are Bastardo, Marufo, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira. The red wines of Tras-os-Montes are usually fruity with a slightly sharp bite. As for the white wines, they are characterised by their smoothness and floral aroma. There is evidence of wine production in this region dating back at least to the Roman occupation.

The interior of northern Portugal has a rich culinary tradition. In the northeast, in the region of Trás-os-Montes, the mountains determine the flavours. This is where much of the meat is grown for the many succulent regional dishes. Mirandela sausages have earned an almost mythical status. This is a traditional stuffed dish filled with various meats, Trás-os-Montes olive oil and regional wheat bread. Miranda do Douro sausages are also proving popular on land famed for its Mirandese contribution. The alheira (a spiced garlic sausage usually made of meats other than pork) is just one of many well-known regional smoked sausage delicacies, which include: salpicão and chouriços (sausages of highest quality, lean pork chunks and fine blended spices), butelo, and presunto (sausage of cured ham).

In Montalegre, various types of smoked meat are used in preparing the local barrosã stew. Everything is tempered the barrosã way and cured in the smoke of oak wood and healthy cold earth. In Mondim de Basto, you absolutely must try the maronesa e o pão-de-ló meat pie specialty and symbol of this region. The moist sponge base is made of sugar, wheat flour and eggs, local-style.

Come to the north of Portugal! Contact us for more information or a personally tailored travel plan for the best ways to encounter Trás-os-Montes. We will be happy to assist you.

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