Visiting Portugal, North to South

Jun 7, 2019 | Alentejo, Center of Portugal, Northern Portugal, Southern portugal

Portugal is a wonderful and diverse country. From North to South you can discover the roots and traditions of the Portuguese people, local features and explore the different landscapes our country has to offer. From green to golden sceneries, to deep blue ocean views or crystal clear water, there is a wide variety of environments to explore.

Let us take you on a tour through some of our most beautiful and historical cities.

Braga

Braga is one of the oldest cities in Portugal. On the other hand, it’s one of the youngest too, when it comes to its inhabitants. The city dates back to 2000 years ago, founded by Augustus. Its name was ‘Bracara Augusta’ and it was located on one of the main roads of the Roman Empire in the Iberian Peninsula. Braga was also on the road to Santiago de Compostela when the ‘Camino’ started to have a bigger expression.

The city is still an important religious and economic center in the North of Portugal. As you visit Braga you will notice the mix between old and new. The Cathedral is the oldest in the country and was built in the 12th century, ordered by our first king’s parents. Along with Fátima, Braga is one of the pivotal religious centers in  Portugal.

Contrasting with the ancient cathedral and the city center, the university’s technological campus is one of the best and most modern in the country. The municipal stadium is also one of the most modern buildings, designed by Pritzker Award winner Souto de Moura.

Contrasting with the ancient cathedral and the city center, the university’s technological campus is one of the best and most modern in the country. The municipal stadium is also one of the most modern buildings, designed by Pritzker Award winner Souto de Moura.

In the city center, don’t skip the chance to have a coffee at ‘A Brasileira’. It started out in 1907 as a wholesale coffee-shop. When clients bought half a kilo of coffee beans, the shop offered them a cup of coffee.

As years went by and owners changed, ‘A Brasileira’ started growing its reputation as a coffee house and during the Portuguese dictatorship period, it was home for the anti-Salazarist. Nowadays, it’s the most emblematic cafes in the city, due to its history, charm and privileged location.

 

No visit to Braga is complete without the climbing of the Bom Jesus steps and a visit to the Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary. Be aware that it’s a steep climb. The Baroque stairway has 573 steps. Ready for the climb?

This visit is, in fact, an experience. It’s a path in itself. Pilgrims are recommended to climb up the stairway, as they will climb up, away from the material world and get closer to God and their most spiritual selves as they reach the sanctuary, at the top.

Along the stairway, there are 17 landings. They all have symbolic fountains, allegorical statues and baroque decorations dedicated to several religious themes: the Stations of the Cross, the Five Senses, the Virtues, Moses receiving the 10 commandments and the eight biblical figures that played a part in the Condemnation of Jesus.

Aveiro

Aveiro is not far from Porto. It’s a 45 min drive and will welcome you with storks and their nests, along the road. Aveiro is known as the Portuguese Venice, due to its canals. The city is surrounded by salines. It is also one of the cities where you can find Art-Nouveau buildings. There’s a dedicated guide available at the Tourist Office and a Museum dedicated to this art style.

In the city center, take the time to walk through the streets and along the canals. Take a ‘moliceiro’ tour on Ria (estuary). These boats were traditionally used to collect seaweeds an algae. If you’re not a fan of walking – though Aveiro is quite a plain city – you can pick one of the ‘Buga’ bicycles, available for free around town.

It is the home of one of Portugal’s delicacies: ‘ovos moles’. We are talking about eggs (yolks) and sugar, mixed and boiled together, forming a smooth and very sweet paste. They are sold in small wooden barrels. It’s delicious. But also very very sweet. If you want to try this delicacy but are not capable of eating so much sugar, you can choose a small portion, usually served in a crusty wafer wrap, of different shapes.

With a privileged location – close to the sea and the estuary – in Aveiro, there is plenty of fish and seafood. Try the fresh grilled fish or, if you’re feeling brave, try the eels, as they are a characteristic delicacy of this region (casseroled or marinated). Yes, we are talking about that fish that looks like a snake!

Along the Aveiro coast, you can’t skip the salines and there’s another mandatory stop: the Vista Alegre factory and Museum. This is the premium Portuguese porcelain factory. It opened its doors in 1824 and it’s been part of every household in the country ever since.

At the Vista Alegre Museum, you can take the tour and observe the artisans painting the porcelain pieces that are then sold at the store.

Coimbra

The city of Students, the city of science and of eternal forbidden love promises! Yes, there’s plenty to learn about Coimbra. Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through history and court intrigue on our tour of the city.

Coimbra is the home of the oldest universities in the World. The university was established in Lisbon in 1290 and after a number of relocations was permanently moved to  Coimbra, in 1537. Apart from the faculties’ buildings, one of the most iconic buildings of the University is the lavish 18th-century golden library.

The library was built to exalt the king and the empire’s wealth. The decoration of the building (interior) is a combination of exotic materials. There are bookcases covering the walls, from top to bottom, meticulously decorated with Chinese motifs. The colors are red, green and black. All decorations were handmade by Portuguese artisans. As you take a general look at the library, King D.João V portrait strikes your attention.

It houses a collection of books (from Europe) dating back to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. This collection is conserved recurring to many technics. The building itself works as safe for the books, as it was built with materials that help control temperature, humidity and bug infestations. There’s also ‘an army’ of bats that hunt the bugs at night, preventing the destruction of the books. All tables are covered with a leather cover at night so that the bats’ feces don’t destroy the furniture. There’s a lot more to learn about this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Not far from the center of the city, Quinta das Lágrimas is the perfect place for a relaxed visit. Well, if you believe in ghosts, it might not be that relaxed. Quinta das Lágrimas is, nowadays, a luxury hotel. It is located in an 18th-century palace and the surrounding gardens are delightful. There are a variety of gardens in the park: romantic, Japanese, medieval, scents’ garden, a chef’s organic garden, and extensive woods.

Take the time to walk around the park and enjoy the lawns, where you can read or just lay down and appreciate the quietness and the silence.

Legend has it that this was the place where Inês de Castro was killed and that she still roams the park, searching for her beloved Pedro. This is our Romeo and Juliet story. Pedro was a prince – and later a King. Inês was his first wife’s maid. They fell madly in love and after his wife’s death, Pedro secretly married Inês. His father, the King, was afraid that Inês (and her family) wanted to take Portugal’s throne and ordered her death. Years later, after King Afonso was dead and Pedro was King, he demanded her body to be exhumed and everybody in the court had to bend the knee and swear allegiance to his Queen.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to visit Coimbra. Learn more about our Coimbra and Aveiro tour!

Évora

Évora, in the Alentejo Region, is a UNESCO’s World Heritage site. A place of history, hot summers, harsh winters and, warm hearts. The city was founded by the Romans. There’s a Roman temple, still standing to this day, dating back to 1 AD. Known as ‘Diana’s Temple’, this is one of the main attractions in the city.

The historical center is beautiful and very well preserved: typical white houses and Moorish architectural influences. There’s always an apparent lazy environment in the air. Especially in the summer, as temperatures can go up to 44º (Celsius).

Take the time to walk around the city center, enjoy the main squarePraça do Giraldo – and visit the Cathedral. Évora’s Cathedral dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s a Romanesque and gothic style construction.

There is another place you can’t miss: Bones’ Chapel. No, it’s not a misprint. Built in the 16th century by Franciscan monks, this chapel was decorated with the bones from the existing  42 monastic cemeteries. It is, indeed, sinister but this was not just a recycling measure. The goal is to make the visitor ponder about the shortness and frailty of human life.

We bones you see in this poor state for you and yours do sit and wait’. This is the welcoming phrase at the entrance of Bones Chapel.

Are you too scared or feeling brave enough for a visit? ⠀

Arraiolos

Don’t miss the chance to visit Arraiolos, a 30 minutes drive from Évora. This is a small town, with a medieval castle and tapestry tradition. ‘Arraiolos tapestry’ is known worldwide. This tradition dates back to the  15th century. There are 3 recognized periods: the first one, with Persian tapestry influences (13th century); the second, with animal and human figures patterns (18th century) and the third one, with more stylized compositions (end of 18th and beginning of the 19th century). These hand-made carpets are authentic masterpieces.

We also invite you to visit the Interpretative Center and learn more about the Arraiolos tapestry. The old stitching technique inherited from the times of the Arab occupation is not easy to learn and master. Be challenged to make your own carpet!

Portugal is a very rich country. Culturally, historically and gastronomically. From North to South there are incredible stories to discover, exciting cities to explore and delightful delicacies to savor.

Don’t miss the chance to experience our country with your five senses. Put your heart and soul into your visit! It will be worth the while.

📷 credits:

O Centro Interpretativo do Tapete de Arraiolos: http://www.tapetedearraiolos.pt/
Turismo do Centro de Portugal: https://turismodocentro.pt/
Universidade do Minho: https://www.uminho.pt

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