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davidx Viana do Castelo - A travel report by David
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Viana do Castelo,  Portugal - flag Portugal -  Viana do Castelo
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davidx's travel reports

A glimpse of lovely Minho

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In response to a question an ‘exiled’ inhabitant told me it was madness to go to Galicia and North Portugal in November. It would rain, followed by more rain. I worked out a bad weather escape route right through Portugal by train. I never used it!


In Viana do Castelo
In Viana do Castelo
To many potential visitors the mainly poor weather of the winter and the dodgy weather prospects at any time are a deterrent – which saves the Costa Verde and Galicia in Spain from getting like the Algarve or the southern Costas of Spain, areas devoted almost entirely to tourism, If you’re as lucky with the weather as I’ve been, then you are in a pretty wonderful area. I have done a separate report on Galicia [Ribadavia} but often people choose to see Galicia and Minho in the same trip, as I did. If you are thinking of this, study the train timetable between Porto and Vigo in advance because it may well be far more convenient to stay at one end of the area you want to see. When I went, staying in Tuy in Spain allowed me to go south early into Portugal and get a train back in the evening. The opposite direction would have been far more difficult. http://www.portugal.-com/Inf ormation/trains_fram-e_page.asp After the visit to Porto I didn’t stay in Portugal again [no hospital facilities for the implanted cardioverter/defibri-llater that I had at the time] but I slunk in from Galicia on the above train to the border city of Valença [do Minho], to Melgaço where I failed to get a bus into the National Park of Peneda-Gerês because it was part of All Saints Day bus closures and to Viana and the lovely river Lima. This river was thought by the Romans to be the mythical river Lethe, so beautiful that it destroyed the memory of home of anybody who crossed it. It is said that the general had to swim across alone and call out the names of all his soldiers [to show he hadn’t forgotten] before they would cross. [To my mind a general knowing all those names is more unlikely than the idea that it was the Lethe!] My other visit was a bit earlier to Bragança from the lovely and much underrated Spanish city of Zamora. Now I have a different machine and plan a visit further south in December [2005]

Favourite spots:
Main street with Cidadela above
Main street with Cidadela above
A place that really grabbed me was Bragança, even though my only disaster cup of coffee in all southern Europe was bought there. I travelled there by bus from Zamora and all the time was wondering whether I ought to have stayed and seen ore of that graceful city. Immediately I arrived in Bragança, my anxieties were put to rest. It was so different from the Spanish cities that I had been visiting, not better but a change. Nobody would have thought they were still in Spain, standing in the main street beside the white church. Above the city could be seen what had brought me to Bragança, the Cidadela, an old walled village steeply above modern Bragança. I cheated by walking up the vehicle rather than the steeper pedestrian route. What pleased me most was something almost unique in Europe, a medieval pentagonal lay building, which had served as a council chamber. Beside the old castle was a pelourino rising from the back of a prehistoric pig.

What's really great:
Ponte de Lima
Ponte de Lima
In the lovely river scenery inland from Viana do Castelo you come first to Ponte de Lima. I had no time here, if I was to see the other places, for more than my picnic overlooking the bridge – but with a bridge like that over a river like that who needs more? From here there are two bus routes to Arcos de Valdevez, the Vez being a tributary of the Lima. If you can only manage one – it’s worth getting the timetables in advance and perusing them – make it the route through Ponte da Barca and Bravães, the latter being a tiny place with a wondrous Romanesque church to match its size. You probably won’t be able to get out and look if you only have one day there – but believe me; you’ll want to. If Arcos itself is usually a ‘sleepy little place’ as the Rough Guide says, on a really very hot day in November [yes, truly!] it’s positively moribund. Even so it provides a lovely shady walk by the river which I chose in place of the walk I’d intended to Ponte da Barca because of the heat.

Sights:
Arcos de Valdevez
Wonderful shade.
Arcos de Valdevez Wonderful shade.
Viana do Castelo itself is a place well worth a visit. I suppose it’s a resort but don’t let that put you off. There’s plenty to see including a medieval walk and an art nouveau walk, routes available from the tourist office. The Praça de Republica with its fascinating renaissance almshouse right along one side is a knockout. There’s a basilica above the town but the funicular to it was closed when I was there. I have been told it’s a tourist trap but it must be a good view from above it.
The bus station is a fair walk from the centre but it’s possible to get on most buses, including those to the places mentioned above, at a much nearer stop which the TIC will mark on a town plan for you.
The beach is delightful and stretches many miles in both directions – so you will never have to hunt for room there.

Accommodations:
Torre de Menagem, Cidadela, Bragança
Torre de Menagem, Cidadela, Bragança
I stayed a night at a Hostal at Bragança. I don't remember it's name. It was very cheap but I remember thinking I was getting just what I'd paid for. There are several hostals in the city but I don't think there's much to choose between them.
The TIC will provide names of hostals or hotels - but will not make any recommendation.

Restaurants:
Old Council Chamber, Cidadela, Bragança
Old Council Chamber, Cidadela, Bragança
O Vasco on the Rua Grande was good value. It’s a simple enough restaurant but the local dishes were very pleasant.
I forget the name of the place I ate in Cmanha but I do remember it was a difficult choice as there were several good seeming places on the main square.


Other recommendations:
The Church, Bragança
The Church, Bragança
Caminha, where the train turns from the coast to follow the frontier river Minho is a delightful spot. I passed through it one day as the lights were coming on and the last ferry of the day was leaving for La Guarda in Spain. It looked idyllic then but it was good enough next day a bit later when I ate there before getting the train to Tuy.
Valença [do Minho] is worth visiting for its ramparts on a hill overlooking the Minho to Tuy in Spain but having done that, you may well feel the urge to move on to Spain or further up the river to Melgaço. The latter makes for a beautiful bus ride. Melgaço’s castle ruins are OK but I was disappointed because I’d come for two things, the Friday market and the bus at midday into the national park [Friday only]. Both were affected by All Saints Day, the market being much diminished and the bus non-existent.

Published on Saturday November 5th, 2005


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Tue, Nov 15 2005 - 11:38 AM rating by gloriajames

Hiya David
I enjoyed your wonderful report! Now i have plan a visit there some day!
Thanks!
GJ

Sun, Nov 06 2005 - 11:23 AM rating by jorgesanchez

David, te gustó Zamora? I love that small town!

Sun, Nov 06 2005 - 04:53 AM rating by downundergal

Another chatty report. I am tossing up whether to make Spain/Portugal my next trip and you have just helped to inspire me.
Cheers,
Kerrie

Sun, Nov 06 2005 - 03:19 AM rating by vbx000

Great report! The pictures are beautiful too. I love that you write to the audience, or the people that are thinking of going there.

Sat, Nov 05 2005 - 08:37 PM rating by akhila

It was a pleasure reading your report. Thanks!

Sat, Nov 05 2005 - 08:28 PM rating by eirekay

David, you've made some great recommendations! Terrific Report!

Sat, Nov 05 2005 - 02:28 PM rating by toribio

I LIKE A LOT. YOU ALREADY PORTUGAL GO?

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