Friday, May 10, 2013

Viana do Castelo, Guimaraes, Braga—Magical Small Towns of Northern Portugal; The Spain and Portugal Diaries, Part V

View from Staircase at Bom Jesus

If we ever travel to northern Portugal again, we will definitely plan an overnight stay in the magical town of Viana do Castelo which has a glorious old town and one of the most beautiful town squares in Northern Portugal.

When Rick and I first started traveling together we never made advance reservations. We waited until we got to a town before deciding whether or not we wanted to stay there, but as we got older we increasingly disliked the hassle of searching for a hotel. So we now we choose the security of advance booking over the freedom to follow our inclinations. We’re just too old to arrive in a town dead tired without a hotel booking. We also have less tolerance for changing hotels every night.

So although we would have liked to stay in Viana do Castelo, we had already booked two nights in a fantastic pousada in Guimaraes, a converted 12th century monastery perched on a steep hillside with magnificent views and a glorious garden. It even had a beautiful cloister where guests could hang out. I had always wanted to sit round drinking wine in a medieval cloister—yes this really has been one of my travel fantasies—and in the Pousada de Santa Marinha da Costa I got my wish.

The next day we went to the Bom de Jesus do Monte described by our guidebook as “Portugal’s most spectacular religious sanctuary." Bom Jesus with its spectacular baroque staircase leading up to the church is itself worth a trip to northern Portugal. Rick and I surprised ourselves by managing to climb up and down the astonishing staircase. It was gratifying to know we could still do something like that.

The only disappointment was that the white washed stone of the staircase was beginning to show some wear and tear and looked very different from the photo in the guidebook. Portugal is clearly having difficulty keeping maintaining its rich cultural heritage.

Staircase at Bom Jesus

Unfortunately, we short-changed Guimares with its attractive old town and impressive Main Square, but we did manage to explore the historic center of nearby Braga. Rick and I have accepted that we can't see everything and would rather see a few things well than run frantically from place to place.

Most of Braga is a little shabby, but once you enter the old town, it’s a magical place. Unfortunately, getting to that historic center is a herculean challenge. These ancient European cities were not meant for automobiles. Once inside the old town, we were really happy we didn’t give into our frustration with the crazy traffic and near impossibility of finding a parking space and abandon Braga.

Cathedral in Braga

But even in the generally well-kept old town, there were signs of disrepair and historic buildings which sadly no longer looked at all like their photos in the guidebook. Let’s hope when this miserable recession ends, that the Portuguese government will be able to invest in its treasures like historic Braga and the magnificent Bom Jesus.


  1. if you don´t know braga, come and visit the city. i will escort you if need it ;). it´s a city with lots of activities with a young people envolved in put the city one of the best of Portugal.

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