Guimarães – Birthplace of a Nation

GuimaraesGuimarães (him-are-esh) has wonderfully preserved its past. The old city center is a labyrinth of narrow lanes and charming plazas framed by medieval edifices and was recognized by UNESCO in 2001 as a World Heritage Site. But its history and significance is believed to extend back more than 7000 years.

It is estimated that permanent settlements existed in the area since the late Neolithic/ Chalcolithic era. There is also evidence of Roman occupation, and a stone dedicated to the Roman emperor Trajan suggests that this was already a spa town in Roman times.

Castelo de Guimarães, a hilltop Romanesque castle, founded in the 1000s & thought to be the birthplace of Afonso Henriques. - WCF-0512.jpgIn the 10th century the Castelo de Guimarães, constructed on the foundations of a much older Roman structure, was built to protect the monks and the rest of the Christian community that lived nearby from attacks by Moors and Vikings. The first independent king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques (Afonso I), was born here sometime between 1106-1111, marking the beginnings of the Portuguese nation.

Afonso I later used the city to launch the main Portuguese campaign of the Reconquista, a series of crusades by Christian states to recapture territory from the Moors, who occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula in the early 8th century. These victories afforded him the nicknames of the Conqueror (O Conquistador), the Founder (O Fundador) or the Great (O Grande) by the Portuguese.

Last cigarette befor work begins. - WCF-0436.jpgWe began our journey to Guimarães by taking the 8:25 train from Porto. The trip could have been shorter, but our train was one of the “local” trains that tend to stop at every small town along the way. Still, it was only a bit longer than an hour.

The town was just getting active when we arrived, and we had some time to wander. But it wasn’t too long before the bus-tour groups, following their leaders with their identifying umbrellas or flags, began to fill the plazas and streets. This was our signal to head away from the city center.

Locating the Tourist Information office, we armed ourselves with a map and some suggestions. First would be to visit the Castelo de Guimarães and then make the 20 min walk to take the 1700m (~1 mile) ride in a cable car to the 617m (2024ft) summit of Serra da Penha, the highest point near Guimarães.

Castelo de Guimarães, a hilltop Romanesque castle, founded in the 1000s & thought to be the birthplace of Afonso Henriques. - WCF-0504.jpgThe castle was rather small, but interesting. We walked the battlements on the walls, within the square keep of the castle and around its central tower and eight rectangular towers. The visit didn’t take too long and soon we were off to the mountain.

The cable cars were making their way up and down the mountain when we arrived, and on paying the modest fee, we hopped into the almost spherical car for the 10-minute ride to the top.

The first stop after leaving the cable car was a brief visit to the Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Penha – Shrine of Our Lady of Carmo da Penha, designed by the famous Portuguese architect Marques da Silva. Work began on the Modernist-style shrine in 1930, but it wasn’t inaugurated until 1947.

Amongst the massive boulders on Penha. - WCF-0535.jpgHowever it was the park and woodlands surrounding the shrine that interested us. The mountaintop is littered with massive boulders, many cut with steps, or forming secret grottoes. The woods make it a cool, wonderful escape from the city and its summer heat.

After a bit of roaming, we were beginning to get hungry and it was just past noon, so making our way to the services area on one side of the park we found a number of cafes and mass-produced food options, but nothing that appealed to us. However, walking further, we saw a small sign and menu that pointed down and around toward Adega do Ermitão.

The only advertising we saw for Adega do Ermitão. - WCF-0578.jpgLooking over the stone wall, down below was a rustic, simple outdoor place, where one waited in line to order and then eat at picnic tables scattered beneath the trees and amongst giant boulders. There were no trays or plates, as the food was wrapped up in bakery paper for carrying. Operating under a corrugated steel roof and tarps the open-sided kitchen has, for over 40 years, gained fame for its unique location and local gastronomic offerings: grilled meats and fish, sardines, codfish balls, wood-fired oven baked flatbreads, and homemade vegetable soup fresh from the kettle. It was quite an experience, delicious, fun, and very inexpensive.

In the Museu de Alberto Sampaio. - WCF-0664.jpgAfter a little more roaming around the boulders, we took the cable car back down for some more roaming. By this time the tour groups were hiding from the heat, but the intense sun made any attempts at photography almost impossible due to the high contrast light. So we opted to take in the Museu de Alberto Sampaio.

Built around the Romanesque cloister of Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, this museum has an interesting collection of ecclesiastical art and religious regalia. One interesting item was the tunic reputedly worn by King João I at the Battle of Aljubarrota in the 14th century.

No more Tortas de Guimaraes - WCF-0677.jpgAs we left the museum, we asked where to get a Tortas de Guimaraes. The traditional, crescent-shaped pastries, invented in Guimarães, and were originally prepared by nuns from the convent of Santa Clara. They consist of thin, flaky dough filled with a sweet combination of sugar, egg yolks, ground almonds, and chila squash.

Jardim da Casa de Vila Flor. - WCF-0715.jpgThe corner café just a few steps down from the museum was recommended so off we went. Sitting under the large umbrellas, we ordered our pastries, coffee, and some cold water as we watched people coming and going.  

By now we were tired. So we slowly made our way toward the train station, stopping briefly at the formal gardens at the city hall. We were still a little early for the 17h15 train but enjoyed another cold drink out of the sun at a table in the station.

The train arrived on time; we arrived in Porto on time, with just enough energy to eat a light dinner before turning in to dream of ancient kingdoms, castles, and giant boulders on mountaintops.

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Great post! From the looks of the photos it did seem the “castle was rather small “,as castles go. lol
    Thanks again for another enjoyable read.

    1. Not all castles can be grand but all are interesting. Glad you’re enjoying our stories.

  2. Wonderful exploration of the past and present in a country I knew so little about.

    1. We didn’t know much about Portugal before this adventure began, but the people are so friendly, food and wine delicious and the cities are fun. So glad we chose this country to visit.

  3. It is lovely to read about my country from your perspective. It was a great pleasure to meet you on your journey. I wish you all the best in the adventures to come. You’re doing Portugal the right way.
    Best regards.
    Joana from Vinoteca (Porto, Portugal)

    1. Hi Joana, it’s so nice to hear from you. We like traveling slowly so we have time to meet people like you. There are many more stories for us to share and we hope you enjoy them. We have not yet gone to Sintra but have the information you provided, thanks for the tips. And for helping us enjoy some great wine!

  4. I bet that the Tortas de Guimareas was very tasty. It reminds me a bit of when my mom would make fromajadis at a restaurant that served a lot of Menorcan cuisine. Thank you , again for the beautiful photos and sharing of your journeys.

    1. We’ve had many different sweet treats and I wish I could bring some back to share!

  5. Great meeting the two of you along your journeys. We enjoyed sharing the lunch in Coimbra and you inspired me that we too can travel in your footsteps when we retire. We look forward to your blogs.
    Kevin and Anne

    1. It’s good to hear from you! Hope the rest of your travels in Portugal were good, and you’ll soon be planning another adventure. Please stay in touch, it would be great to meet up again.

  6. Thank you for the tour. Looks to be a lovely place

  7. Another perfect day!

    1. Yes it was!

  8. Another great city in Portugal. Your pictures made me feel like I was there. Amazing and colorful architecture. Cathedrals centuries old still in use and houses a couple hundred years old. Just amazing.

    1. Yes it is all quite amazing and we are glad to be able to share with our friends and family.

  9. Love the big boulder rocks, beautiful place. I like that Jeanie wears dresses, and looks so carefree, enjoy it all

    1. I’ve discovered dresses are best in warm temperatures, and with limited suitcase space there will be many repeats in the photos (when I don’t edit them out). The place with the boulders was quite beautiful, and a nice time spent in the woods.

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