This August, the European Championship was held in the beautiful medieval city of Barcelos. Even those who have never heard of the city will recognise its colourful ceramic cockerel, which is considered a national icon and is often used as a symbol of Portugal.
The Nossa Senhora do Terço church, the small, open-air archaeological museum which sits atop of a hill overlooking the Cávado river, the well-tended squares which are full of flowers stay imprinted in one’s memory. And what of this cockerel in the middle of the square? According to the legend, a crime had been committed in Barcelos, leaving its inhabitants worried because the culprit had not be found. One day, a stranger arrived in the city and was quickly considered a suspect. Although he protested that he was a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela it was to no avail as he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. Before his execution, the Galician man asked to see the judge who had condemned him, and who was having dinner with his friends. He pointed to the roast cockerel that was on the table and said “If I am innocent, that cockerel will crow three times”. This caused much laughter and ridicule, until the roast cockerel rose up and crowed. The judge arrived in time to free the pilgrim who returned to the city years later, where he erected the Cruzeiro do Galo monument in remembrance of Nossa Senhora e a São Tiago. Since then, the ceramic cockerels have been sold as a symbol of good luck.
We stayed in the mystic city of Braga, known as one of the biggest religious heartlands in Portugal. The very well preserved old town mixes imposing Baroque churches, 18th century manor houses and incredible parks and gardens with a sophisticated commercial centre and lively bars geared for the younger population, many of whom study at local universities. The Sé de Braga is the oldest cathedral in Portugal; influenced by many styles, it contains many Sacred Art treasures. The Portuguese like to say that the Santiago de Compostela cathedral was copied from the Sé de Braga. In the Sé square we visited the Adega Malhoa restaurant, which is a small cave decorated with tickets, banners and shirts from famous football clubs all over the world. Its Brazilian owner, Renato, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, waits the tables while his mother makes delicious homemade dishes. According to Guga, it was the best Priscos pudding that he ate during our stay!
Atop a hill in the South-East of the city is the Bom Jesus do Monte shrine, one of the most important and beautiful pilgrimage centres in the country. The church can be reached via the long and famous Barroque staircase, which has charming fountains and statues, or chugging along the only railway in the World which uses water as fuel. Close behind is another hill which demands attention: Monte do Sameiro, where the Nossa Senhora do Sameiro shrine was erected in 1863, and is now the largest worship centre in Portugal, after the Fátima shrine.
The city of Guimarães, known as the Christmas cradle, was chosen by the first King of Portugal, D. Alonso Henriques to be the capital of country. This enchanting historic city, with its well preserved medieval neighbourhood, imposing castle and old houses was classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. I can’t forget to mention the Ducal Palace, which has been transformed into a museum and the Nossa Senhora de Oliveira monastery, which is in the city’s main square, the largo do Oliveira. We were fortunate to be in the city during the Medieval Festival, when all local commerce stays opens until after midnight. We could experience the open air food market, typical handicrafts, arts fair, dance and costume parades. It was an experience that will be difficult to forget. It was close to Guimarães, in Moreira de Cônegos, that we discovered an incredible restaurant. In front of the football stadium, in the middle of vineyards, the São Gião restaurant produces its own wine, offers perfect service, a pleasant ambience and the best food in the region.
Finally, Porto, beautiful, enchanting and sitting on the hillsides of the Douro river, is the second largest city in Portugal and is famous worldwide for its Porto wine caves. Thanks to its beautiful historical monuments such as cathedral, the Clérigos tower, the numerous monasteries and beautiful churches, Porto was classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Ribeira do Porto, alongside the Douro River, is one of the most traditional and lively places in the city and has a high concentration of bars and restaurants. Boat trips along the river and guided tours to the Porto wine caves leave from there.