Situated north of Porto, the city of Barcelos is known for its handmade ceramics, especially the Galo de Barcelos – a colourful cockerel which is acknowledged as an unofficial national icon and often used as a symbol of Portugal. The medieval walled town is situated on a hill above the Cavado river, its charming streets lined with baroque houses.
Every Thursday, the Local Market in Campo da República attracts tourists and visitors from all over the region. Feira de Barcelos is a decidedly rural affair, with stalls offering seasonal fruit and vegetables, homemade cheeses and beautiful ceramics, as well as all kinds of handicrafts featuring the trademark Barcelos cockerel.
Other local attractions include the Nossa Senhora do Terço church, the Centro do Artesanato de Barcelos (handicrafts centre) and the ruins of the 15th century Paço dos Duques de Bragança (Palace of the Dukes of Bragança), which have been transformed into an open-air archaeological museum. This site also features a cross which describes the story of Galo de Barcelos.
The legend of Galo de Barcelos
According to the legend, a crime was committed in Barcelos and the local inhabitants were worried because the culprit had not been found. One day, a Galician pilgrim arrived in the village and, because he was a stranger in these parts, he became a suspect. The authorities decided to arrest him, even though he protested his innocence. No one believed that this stranger was on his way to the medieval pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela.
The pilgrim was sentenced to hang at the gallows. Before his execution, the Galician asked to see the judge who had found him guilty. When they arrived at the judge’s house, he was having a banquet with his friends. The pilgrim again protested his innocence and, to everyone’s disbelief, pointed at the roasted cockerel on the table and said: ‘If I am innocent, this cockerel will crow three times.’
Remarkably, what seemed impossible came true! When the pilgrim was about to be hanged, the cockerel stood up and crowed three times. The judge was so astonished by this miracle that he released the pilgrim. After a few years, the pilgrim returned to Barcelos and built a monument in devotion to the Virgin Mary and St James.
Since then, brightly painted ceramic cockerels have been sold throughout Portugal as a symbol of good luck.
Braga is a lively city, one of the oldest in the country, and is teeming with young people who study at its universities.
Built more than 2,000 years ago, “Bracara Augusta” was, as the name indicates, founded by Augustus; it was located on one of the main Roman roads in the Iberian Peninsula, since it was the administrative seat of the Empire, and later given the status of capital of the Roman province of Gallaecia, present-day Galicia, by Emperor Caracalla. The Braga Diocese is the oldest in Portugal and, in the Middle Ages, the city even competed with Santiago de Compostela in power and importance. One of the Camiños de Santiago passed through here, when this pilgrimage cult grew with the Christian reconquest and the foundation of Portugal.
Braga’s Cathedral is also the oldest in the country and was built in the 12th century by the parents of Portugal’s first King, D. Henrique and D. Teresa, who are buried there. Braga is to this day one of the country’s main religious centres, having the Holy Week Celebrations and the São João Festival as the highlights in its liturgical and tourist calendar.
Besides the Tesouro-Museu da Sé (Cathedral Treasure Museum), it is worth visiting the Biscainhos Museum, housed in a Baroque palace, a landmark period in the history of Braga, and the D. Diogo de Sousa Archaeological Museum, since the city also abounds in remains from the Roman era. We suggest a leisurely stroll around the historic centre to visit some of the many churches, admire the houses and historical buildings, such as the Palácio do Raio, the Theatro Circo, the Arco da Porta Nova, and to have a coffee at the emblematic Brasileira with a view of the busy Avenida Central. But Braga is considered the youngest city in Portugal and, from its contemporary landmarks, the Braga Municipal Stadium stands out, designed by Souto Moura, one of the most prestigious Portuguese architects and winner of the Pritzker Prize.
Every visitor to Braga must see the Bom Jesus Sanctuary, a city icon, with its monumental staircase. Amid an expanse of greenery, it offers an excellent panoramic view of the city, as do two other churches nearby: Nossa Senhora do Sameiro Sanctuary, an important place of Marian worship, and Santa Maria da Falperra Church. Outside the historic centre, São Martinho de Tibães Monastery and S. Frutuoso de Montélios Chapel also warrant a visit for their beauty and historical significance.
In terms of gastronomy, codfish prepared in the Braga, Narcisa or Minho styles has to be inevitably mentioned, as well as roast kid and Pudim Abade de Priscos (crème caramel with bacon). Night-life, in this city of students, is not to be missed, as there’s some form of entertainment for everyone.
Over the last few years, the University and the quality of contemporary architecture have instilled an atmosphere of youthful vibrancy which has brought this ancient city an unexpected modernity.
Guimarães is considered the birthplace of Portugal because Afonso Henriques, who went on to be the first king of Portugal, was born here.
The historical centre in the area that was within the Guimarães city walls, is associated with the formation and identity of Portugal, and was classified a World Heritage site based on the originality and authenticity applied in its restoration. The city still has a harmonious, well-preserved heritage that is evident in the graceful iron verandas, granite balconies and porticos, mansions, arches connecting the narrow streets, paving slabs smoothed by time, towers and cloisters. For a moment you might imagine yourself to be in a mediaeval setting, where the nobility built their houses over time, such as the Mota Prego house, the Vila Flor and Toural palaces, and the many others that give Guimarães its unique atmosphere.
You can start from the heart of the city, Largo da Oliveira, where you find the Padrão do Saladoand the Collegiate Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, which houses the valuable Alberto Sampaio Museum. Passing the Paços Municipais (City Hall), crowned with battlements, enter the Praça de Santiago which in the Middle Ages welcomed pilgrims bound for Compostela, just as today it welcomes residents and tourists in its restaurants and terraces. The Convent of Santa Clara, the Casa do Arco and other stately houses are in Rua da Santa Maria, which links with the upper city.
Go up this street or the Avenida Alberto Sampaio, bordered by the remains of the ancient wall that continues into the upper city, between the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança and the castle. On your way to the castle at the top, you will find this palace, a 15th century monument in which it is possible to see the influence of French seigneurial architecture, the Monument to King Afonso Henriques, the Romanesque Chapel of S. Miguel and finally the Castle, which dates back to the 10th century and is closely linked to the foundation of Portugal.
But you must also discover another central point in Guimarães, so go back down to the Largo do Toural, with its 16th century fountain. Rua D. João I, which in the Middle Ages was the road to take to Porto, boasts old houses with wooden balustrades and 17th century facades. Skirting the Church of the Convent of S. Domingos, now in Rua de Paio Galvão, you will find the neo-Romanesque Martins Sarmento Archaeological Museum, which extends into the cloister of the Convent. Just ahead is the old market hall building, which today houses the José de Guimarães International Arts Centre, with a retrospective of the work of this renowned artist, who was born in the city.
A little further away from the city centre, the cascading gardens with Summer Houses and rocaille decoration, at the Vila Flor Palace and Cultural Centre, are well worth a visit; as is the Baroque Church of Nossa Senhora da Consolação e dos Santos Passos at the far end of Largo da República do Brasil.
For another view of the city you can go up in the cable car to Monte da Penha, to enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramas in the north of Portugal, where you will find the Shrine of Our Lady of Penha.
PENEDA-GERÊS NATIONAL PARK
The Peneda-Gerês National Park, in the far northwest of Portugal between Upper Minho and Trás-os-Montes, is the only Portuguese protected area classified as a such.
It is a world apart in which human activity and nature are harmoniously integrated, preserving ancient values and traditions clearly evident in the village communities of Pitões das Júnias and Tourém.
The lush vegetation in all shades of green includes a forest of holly, the only one in Portugal, and endemic species such as the Gerês lily, which brightens up the fields with its shades of violet-blue. Rivers and streams flow through the Peneda, Soajo, Amarela and Gerês mountain ranges, which comprise the park, rushing down in waterfalls and then spreading out into reservoirs. The landscapes are breathtaking.
You might sometimes manage to spot a roebuck (the Park’s symbol) or its predator, the Iberian wolf. More common are the ponies, small wild horses that run free in the mountains. You may also come across the Barrosã breed of cattle or the dark-haired Castro Laboreiro dogs, guarding the herds that move to the rhythm of the seasons, between the mild and the wintry. These are the villages and mountain areas related to the ancient transhumance, to where the people today move only the cattle: valleys and low altitudes in winter, the highest places in summer, according to the availability of pasture.
Soajo with its ancient group of stone “espigueiros” for storing grain, is a good starting point in the west for a tour of the park. You can also see these granaries in Lindoso, where it is worth climbing to the castle overlooking the River Lima valley. A little further north, you can stop off at the village of Castro Laboreiro, where the shepherd dogs from the region are bred.
Gerês is the most southerly of the ranges, whose gateway to the park, in Campo do Gerês, is closest to Braga. Two places of great beauty, the Caniçada and Vilarinho das Furnas reservoirs, are in these mountains, the latter having submerged the village that gave it its name, and whose remains are now on display at the Terras de Bouro Ethnographic Museum. On the outskirts of the town, the Shrines of São Bento da Porta Aberta [Santuário de São Bento da Porta Aberta] and of Senhora da Abadia are the focus of major festivals and pilgrimages.
Setting out from Campo do Gerês on foot, you can leave the car at the entrance to the forest known as Mata da Albergaria and follow the river up to Portela do Homem. On the return, you can rest at the Caldas do Gerês spa. Another great idea is to follow the well-preserved Roman road, whose milestones have stood for almost two thousand years.
The River Cávado , which borders the Park to the east, indicates the way to the Paradela Dam. Relax here with a horse ride or a swim in the river. For those who really prefer to walk, don’t miss a visit to Pitões das Júnias, a village where the old community customs are kept alive. This is the end of the road and from here you can only go on foot. But the walk is worthwhile for the waterfalls and small streams that you’ll come across along the way and for the surprise at seeing the ruins of an ancient monastery emerge from the landscape.
To sum up, there’s no lack of opportunities to be energetic in the Park, because there are conditions for activities such as canyoning and canoeing. But not only that. The diversity and abundance of local flora and fauna provide a unique contact with nature and whatever your option you are likely to find that mediaeval castles, monasteries and traditional villages are part of the landscape, which always has a unique natural beauty.
PONTE DE LIMA
The oldest Town in Portugal.
In Ponte de Lima, a town of stories and history, a walk through the town centre is a journey to the roots of our ancestry. Largo de Camões welcomes visitors with its Noble Fountain, completed in 1603. The nearby Bridge tempts us all to cross it. Cross the bridge and admire the beauty of the Church of Santo António da Torre Vellha (Old Tower), built in the nineteenth century and notable for the height of its tower and the gargoyles anking it. Close by, the Chapel of Anjo da Guarda (Guardian Angel), a construction with Romanesque and Gothic roots, dated by many to the thirteenth century, will arouse curiosity for the simple and harmonious way it ts into the landscape.
Don’t return to the other bank without vis- iting the International Garden Festival and the picturesque outskirts of Além da Ponte (literally “Beyond the Bridge”), of undeniable architectural interest. On the left bank, back in the historic town centre, admire the São Paulo Tower, from the fourteenth century, the Pelourinho (Pillory), the Torre da Cadeia Velha (Old Jail Tower), which was still being used as a prison in the 1960s and the Arco da Porta Nova, the town gate that leads to the old Rua da Judiaria.
VIANA DO CASTELO
Viana do Castelo is one of the most beautiful cities in the north of Portugal. Its involvement in the Portuguese Discoveries and, later on, cod fishing shows its traditional connection to the sea.
Viana do Castelo is easily accessed from Porto, or from Valença for those coming from Spain. The special geographical situation of the city, next to the sea and to the mouth of the river Lima, can be seen from the Santa Luzia hill. This stunning view and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a revivalist building by Ventura Terra, of 1898, could be your starting point for visiting the city.
Viana is rich in palaces emblazoned with coats of arms, churches and monasteries, monumental fountains and water features that constitute a wealth of heritage worth visiting. At the Tourist Office, you can ask for a brochure and choose a route inspired by Manueline, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Deco or tile architecture. Whichever streets you stroll through in the historic centre, you will always come back to the Praça da República, the heart of the city. This is where you will find the 16th century Misericórdia building and fountain, as well as the old Paços do Concelho (Town Hall). Close by is the Romanesque Cathedral or Igreja Matriz (Parish Church).
Facing the sea that was responsible for Viana’s history, a baroque church guards the image of Nossa Senhora da Agonia, the patron saint of fishermen. She is taken out every year on 20 August to bless the sea in one of the most colourful festivals in Portugal, where the beauty and richness of the costumes that are paraded during the festivities are notable.
Viana - also known for its filigree gold work - has maintained its traditions, as can be seen in the Museu do Traje (costume and gold museum), the Municipal Museum (emphasis on the typical Viana tableware that is displayed here) and the ship Gil Eanes. Built in the Viana do Castelo shipyards to support the cod fishing industry, the vessel is once more anchored here in memory of the city’s maritime and shipbuilding traditions.
But Viana do Castelo is also considered a "Mecca of Architecture" thanks to the many important names in contemporary Portuguese architecture who have designed the city’s amenities and spaces. This is the case of the Praça da Liberdade by Fernando Távora, the Library by Álvaro Siza Vieira, the Youth Hostel by Carrilho da Graça, the Axis Hotel by Jorge Albuquerque and also the Viana do Castelo Cultural Centre, by Souto Moura, amongst many others.
In the city’s surroundings, you can take a bicycle ride on the cycle paths along the coast or the river or a walk on one of the many marked trails, as well as practise surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing and bodyboarding on the golden sandy beaches. There are also opportunities for jet skiing, sailing, rowing and canoeing on the River Lima.
On a brief visit to Porto, there are some places that cannot be missed. In the words of many visitors, this city has something mystical that are difficult to describe and which varies according to the place, time of day and light.
Whatever it is, it certainly has to do with its people, known to be generous and easy-going, as well as the River Douro and its heritage on both banks, with its bridges and monuments, the tiles, the flowering balconies and the shopping streets. The historic centre of Porto and the River Douro on the Gaia side, where the Port Wine lodges are located, are classified as World Heritage.
S. Bento Station, with its atrium lined with tiles, is an ideal starting point. Just ahead is the Cathedral, not to be missed, whose precinct offers the first view of the river, the cascading houses and the opposite bank. From there you descend by steps and mediaeval streets to Ribeira, with its café terraces and picturesque corners. It's worth staying a little to get a flavour of the atmosphere and take in the river with the D. Luís Bridge and the opposite bank, before going on a cruise under Porto’s six bridges. Once you’ve seen the outline of the cascading houses and church towers, you will want to see the gilt interior of the Church of S. Francisco. Nearby, you can see more tile-fronted churches and monuments, and visit the Palácio da Bolsa (former Stock Exchange palace). The tram leaves from next to the river for a trip that goes to Foz (the mouth of the Douro), where you can take a stroll and fill your lungs with the sea air. Avenida da Boavista starts here, and not far away is Serralves, with its gardens to stroll or rest in and its contemporary art exhibitions. The museum is the work of Álvaro Siza Vieira, one of the foremost architects of the Porto School of Architecture, and winner of the Pritzker Prize.
The architecturally imposing Casa da Música, with its full programme of cultural events, is on Rotunda da Boavista, an area that is good for shopping. There are also good shops to be found around Avenida dos Aliados. In between are the Crystal Palace gardens, with another panoramic view of the river, and the Soares dos Reis Museum. Another garden, full of sculptures, is Cordoaria, surrounded by churches and other monuments. It’s worth climbing the Clérigos Tower for a different view of Porto. Immediately nearby is the Lello bookshop that inspired some of the Harry Potter stories. Continue walking towards Aliados, past the shops and art nouveau buildings. After exploring this broad avenue, it’s worth strolling along the pedestrians-only Rua de Santa Catarina for more shopping. Then pop in to the Café Majestic for a break.
There‘s still a visit to be made to the south bank of the river to go to a Port Wine lodge and taste some Port in its unique setting. From Ribeira, cross the D. Luís foot bridge and you’ll see them. One of the most beautiful views over Porto can be had from Gaia. And you can also take the chairlift, which follows this side of the river.
In terms of gastronomy, this side of the river is a good option, but Ribeira also teems with restaurants and café terraces, as does Foz, which also has beautiful views over the sea. Portugal’s cuisine is always a winner with tourists, but this is even more true in Porto and Northern Portugal. You can be sure of a good meal, accompanied by fine wines from the Douro or the fresh Vinho Verde typical of the region, in any restaurant, from the finest to the most popular.