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Portugal

A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary

Back to the Beginning

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ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN'S GUIDE

This is a short itinerary, perfect for a few days' excursion out of Porto into the beautiful and intensively cultivated Douro Valley, where the grapes for vinho verde (green wine) are grown. Because the climate does not allow time for the grapes to ripen fully, the wine produced is quite light with a slight sparkle. The Douro is a swift river, dropping over 120 meters during its 160-kilometer journey across Portugal, and carving deep, precipitous canyons into the landscape. The unwieldy geography has not daunted the people who live on the steep but fertile slopes along its banks, however, and the sight of tiny white villages clinging to the hillsides, surrounded by narrow strips of fields stepping down to the river, ranks among the most picturesque in the country.

Recommended Pacing: Spend a night or two in Lamego, a historic town in the heart of the wine-growing region, and two nights in or near Pinhão overlooking the vineyards and the sweep of the Douro River. A long day's drive will find you at an impressive natural reserve known as the Peneda-Gerês National Park. You can break your journey in the historic town of Guimarães, just before the park, stay at one of the pousadas in either Gerês or Amares, or continue through the park and stay in the old spa town of Chaves, and then continue the loop back to Porto.

This itinerary begins in Porto: for sightseeing suggestions see the itinerary Port to Port. Head out of Porto by driving east along the river past the Maria Pia Bridge until you come to N108. Turn right and hug the riverbank until just before reaching the town of Entre-os-Rios, which means "between the rivers," so-named because it stands at the confluence of the Douro and the Tamega. Cross the Douro in the direction of Castelo De Paiva, a charming little wine town cozily sheltered by intensely green hills. Take N222 east toward Cinfães and, as you pass through the terraced slopes, you'll notice farmers working their fields by hand, just as it has always been done-the steep terrain isn't amenable to modern farm machinery. Most of the houses are on steep hillsides and appear accessible only on foot. Just before arriving in Cinfaes you pass the Carrapatelo Dam with what is said to be the largest navigation lock in Europe. Portugal's long-term goal is to make the Douro navigable from Spain to the sea, so the dams have all been built with locks for that eventuality. Besides being the commercial wine center of the vinho verde region, Cinfães is also known for its handicrafts: weaving, basketry, lace, and wood miniatures-a favorite model being the barco rabelo. These flat-bottomed sailboats were the traditional transporters of goods, especially wine, down the Douro (the shallow drafts were necessary because of the widely varying depth of the water). Today, tanker trucks and the railroad have largely replaced them.

Beyond Cinfães you continue to parallel the river through the neat little town of Resende. Another 15 kilometers brings you to Barro, with a good view of the valley. Beyond is Samodaes and, a bit farther, the Miradouro da Boa Vista, where you will surely want to stop for some picture taking-there is a first-rate view of the entire area.

From Miradouro da Boa Vista, continue on to Lamego, known as the "museum city" because it retains much of its original Visigothic flavor. Lamego is thought to have been settled first in 500 BC, and it was later destroyed then rebuilt by the Romans. It changed hands several times during the Moorish period and was finally retaken definitively in 1037. The first Cortes (loosely akin to a parliament) in the young Portuguese nation was held here in 1143 and proclaimed Afonso Henriques as King Afonso I, the first ruler of the Portuguese kingdom (although he had proclaimed himself king in 1139, the act confirmed his status). In later epochs its importance can be attributed to its situation on the main road connecting Braga and Guimarães in Portugal to Cordoba and Sevilla in Spain. Lamego is justly proud of its long history of national importance, and its early reconquest by the Christians is the reason for its surprising number of handsome churches and chapels.

A castle keep looms over the town of Lamego. The Romanesque structure dates from the 12th century, but the Moors built the encircling wall in the 11th century to shelter their castle, which was on the same spot. Its underground cistern is unique in Portugal and was probably also a Moorish contribution.

Lamego's Cathedral is also 12th century, but the square tower is all that remains of the original edifice-the rest was periodically remodeled in the 16th and 17th centuries. The cloisters were added in the 16th century, along with the lovely chapels of Santo Antonio and São Nicolau. Across the square and to the right of the cathedral is the former Episcopal Palace, now housing an attractive museum with early Portuguese paintings, Flemish tapestries, sculpture, and antique furniture.

A walk south from the cathedral leads to an area of town with numerous fine old mansions and palaces of 17th- and 18th-century vintage. At the end of Rua Cardoso Avelino is Lamego's most attractive church, Nossa Senhora do Desterro. It dates from the 17th century and is richly decorated with azulejos and carved wood. Just north of there is the Church of the Holy Cross, also well appointed inside. Lamego is also noted for its smoked ham, and of course its sparkling white wine. The city is appealing and typical of the older cities in the interior of Portugal. Just south of Lamego there is a delightful little inn, the Quinta da Timpeira.

On a hill southeast is the beautifully situated Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, an elaborate baroque sanctuary built in the 18th century and dedicated to the patron saint of Lamego. Approximately 700 stairs ascend the hillside, interrupted by landings, pavilions, statues, and fountains. If you consider hundreds of steps intimidating, note that the church can also be reached by car from the other side. The view over the town and countryside is spectacular from the terrace of the chapel. This serves as a pilgrimage church during Lamego's annual festival in late August and early September. The festival is one of the country's most famous and is marked by music of all types, parades, and a procession featuring religious figures traditionally drawn by oxen.

From Lamego take N2 north to Peso da Régua. Just before crossing the river, turn right and follow the N222 as it traces the south bank of the Douro. This is much less congested and far more scenic than the portion you took from Porto to Lamego. The river is wide and beautiful, and the road skirts it closely. On each side of the river the steep hills are covered with vineyards right down to the water's edge. It is an absolutely beautiful wine region and reminded me very much of the Mosel River Valley of Germany. A local vintner commented that the centuries-old task of clearing the steep hillsides of stone, using that stone to bank the man-made terraces, and then harvesting the vineyards should qualify as one of the wonders of the world! It does seem a daunting and incredible feat. Continue on to the small town of Pinhão, straddling the riverbank, enjoying spectacular vistas of the sweeping river banded by surrounding terraced vineyards.

If you are at all interested in archaeological sites, be sure to take an excursion to see the prehistoric rock drawings discovered in 1992 by Nelson Rebanda near Vila Nova de Foz Côa. At this time there are two sites open to the public, but you need to make a reservation (usually from one to four weeks in advance) through the Parque Arqueológico Vale do Côa. From the visitor center a jeep takes you to the site where a guide takes you on a walking tour lasting about one and a half hours. For reservations and more detailed information contact Parque Arqueológico Vale do Côa-tel: 279.76.43.17, fax: 279.76.52.57.

Continuing your journey, go north to Alijó then continue for about 23 kilometers and turn west on IP4 toward Vila Real. From Vila Real, stay on IP4 to Amarante. You can look forward to a scenic but arduous 50-kilometer drive on the IP4, skirting the northern edge of the Serra do Marao and crossing the River Tamega near Amarante. About halfway, you traverse the Alto do Espinho Pass, 1,066 meters up in the Serra. This area was once heavily forested, but fire and an aggressive, if shortsighted, lumber industry has decimated the wooded slopes. Amarante is a pretty country town built up from the Tamega, which is spanned by an 18th-century bridge.

Follow IP4 to the junction with N101 and bear right toward Braga. After 9 kilometers you reach the nondescript village of Trofa, renowned for its lace making. A picturesque 17 kilometers later you'll arrive in Guimarães, known as the "cradle of the Portuguese kingdom" because Afonso Henriques was proclaimed the first king of Portugal here in 1139.

Rich in history, Guimarães has two pousadas-the Pousada de Guimarães-Santa Marinha, which sits magnificently above town on the site of a 12th-century convent, and the Pousada de Guimarães-Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, located in the center of town. The Pousada de Guimarães-Santa Marinha is housed in a convent founded in 1154 by the wife of Afonso Henriques, but evidence uncovered during the construction of the pousada suggests that there was a much earlier structure here-perhaps dating back as far as the 8th century. In the 17th century the convent was turned over to the Hieronymites and almost totally rebuilt in a later style.

As befits the first capital of the nation, Guimarães retains one of the best-preserved castles in the country, constructed in the 10th century, but extensively restored in the 1930s. Afonso Henriques was born here in 1110, so the castle has a symbolic significance for the nation. There are fine views from the narrow, multi-towered ramparts. At the foot of the hill is the 15th-century Paço dos Duques, built by the first Duke of Bragança, a member of the powerful Portuguese family that furnished the country with its monarchs after 1640. The seat of the ducal family was transferred to Vila Viçosa at a later point, and the palace was abandoned. It has since been restored (in the 20th century) and merits a visit for its superior antiques-paintings, furniture, tapestries, porcelain, weapons-and striking chestnut ceilings.

In the old quarter of town around the Largo da Oliveira is a network of ancient, picturesque streets and squares reflecting the town's medieval past. Also there is the church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, founded in the 12th century by Afonso Henriques. It was then expanded, and the Manueline tower was added in the 16th century. The adjoining building of the former Dominican monastery now houses the Alberto Sampaio Museum with an interesting collection of Portuguese art.

Follow now a circuitous route through some beautiful scenery to the Peneda-Gerês National Park. Leave Guimarães on N101 south back toward Amarante and then bear left on N206 toward Fafe. If you're paying attention to the map, you'll notice that this is not the most direct route to your destination, but it takes you through some unforgettable country. São Romao de Aroes has an early 13th-century Romanesque church, and the picturesque little village of Fafe has some handsome 18th- and 19th-century mansions built by families who returned after making their fortunes in colonial Brazil. Another 28 kilometers through beautiful landscape brings Arco de Baulho into view, where you turn left on N205, coming next to the ancient settlement of Cabeceiras De Basto, with a large monastery built mostly in the 18th century (though founded much earlier). Soon you arrive at the Nossa Senhora do Porto Reservoir on the River Ave, after which you pass through several quaint villages before reaching Póvoa De Lanhoso where there is a ruined 12th-century castle with stellar views from its hilltop perch.

Take N103 east to begin your approach to the park through wooded hills, with the giant blue Caniçada Reservoir far below, set like an aquamarine in the valley.

Nearby, located directly west of Caniçada, and built into the ruins of a 12th-century monastery is yet another historic pousada-the Pousada de Amares-Santa Maria do Bouro.

Be sure to visit Braga, the impressive Monte do Bom Jesus, and the Peneda-Geres National Park where you will be surrounded by great natural beauty. This is an ideal spot for relaxation, free of the seduction of sights other than peaceful forest and cool, blue mountain lakes. If hiking in an untamed forest brimming with wildlife piques your interest, plan to spend some time here. Almost every conceivable outdoor recreation is a possibility in the park: horseback riding (and horse-drawn carriage rides for the less hearty), aquatic sports on the reservoirs, mountain climbing, etc. Guided tours of the park are available, and in one day you can easily make the drive from the pousada to the little spa of Gerês, which retains a faded glamour. It used to be quite the "in" place to go and even King Luis I came here to "take the cure," although it doesn't say much for the medicinal merits of the spa as he died the next year!

Depending on where you are headed, if you continue north, we suggest the picturesque river town of Ponte de Lima with its wealth of gorgeous bed and breakfasts as your next stop. Alternatively, you might consider following the N103 as it travels through the serras, weaves a journey high above the mountain lakes, and leads you to the old spa town of Chaves. While in Chaves you will want to visit the citadel, the old streets of the main town, the spa, and the thermal waters, and there is a wonderful half-hour walk along the River Tâmega and the Roman bridge.

From Chaves the N2 weaves a scenic journey south to Vidago, where the former palace of the Portuguese kings now offers luxurious accommodation as the Vidago Palace Hotel. Carry on to Vila Real and the E82, which travels west back to Porto and the coast.


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A Few Nearby Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts:   List Them All

A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Quinta da Moenda
Alvoco das Várzeas, Coimbra, Portugal
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery SeMarkinhas of the Vale do Douro
Folgosa, Viseu, Portugal
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Quinta do Vallado
Peso da Régua, Vila Real, Portugal
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Quinta dos Tres Rios
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A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Casa do Visconde de Chanceleiros
Pinhão, Vila Real, Portugal
€ 100-125

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[ icon ] Orense
Galicia, Spain
[ icon ] São Pedro Do Sul
Costa da Prata, Viseu, Portugal
[ icon ] Barcelos
Costa Verde, Braga, Portugal
[ icon ] Chaves
Montanhas, Vila Real, Portugal
[ icon ] Arcos De Valdevez
Costa Verde, Viana do Castelo, Portugal

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[ icon ] Restaurant A Grade
Porto, Porto, Portugal
Portuguese Cuisine
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