Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Casa Mateus and Braganza:The Spain and Portugal Diaries, Part VI

I had never heard of the small Portuguese town of Mateus, but when we realized we needed to break up our trip from Guimaraes to Braganza, we looked at the map and saw that Mateus was conveniently located around the mid-point.

The Casa Mateus, an early 18th century baroque manor house built by the Mateus family (makers of Mateus rose wine) is now open to the public and run as a private foundation by the Mateus family. The manor house was filled with the art work/memorabilia of the Mateus family and definitely worth a visit.

But for me the great attraction was the garden—I cannot resist a garden tour.

The garden was awash in camellias, magnolias, and apple trees in bloom.

In fact camellias were everywhere in northern Portugal.

Camellias in the cathedral in Porto

The Casa Mateus garden was not as well kept up as it might be—we were told there was only one full-time gardener with 2 part-time helpers—but was still very beautiful and must be spectacular in summer. Although we greatly enjoy the absence of crowds and the low prices of off-season travel, the reality is that gardens are generally at their best during high season. Again, trade-offs, trade-offs.

Braganza turned out to be something of a disappointment. It does have a well-preserved 12thc. castle on a steep hill with spectacular views of the countryside, but outside the castle walls the town is mostly modern construction, without the architectural riches of most of Portugal’s historic towns.

Apparently the Braganca dynasty which built the castle decided to leave the cool rainy North and decamp for the warmth and sunshine of Southern Portugal and took their enormous wealth with them.

Our trip was winding down and I was starting to get tired. Two weeks is about my limit at this stage of life and this trip was over the limit. Much as I enjoyed our road trip in Northern Portugal, I was starting to think longingly of home. When we were younger we took this kind of European road trip for 3-4 weeks and if money had not been an issue would gladly have kept going for another 4 weeks. But, sad to say, this is no longer the case.

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