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DOURO VALLEY - TOWNS AND VILLAGES

Amarante

The town of Amarante (pop. 11,000) grew and thrived under the direction of a Dominican friar named Goncalo. Goncalo, born in the year 1187 about 25 miles to the northwest in a town called Vizela, began his service to the Dominican order after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He built a Roman stone bridge over the Tamega River, and was instrumental in forming and building what would later be known as the Convent of Sao Goncalo de Amarante. Today, nearly a dozen churches, monasteries, and convents are located in Amarante, nearly all built in the Romanesque style, and the town has become a pilgrimage center for devoted Catholics.

The bridge which spans the Tamega River, called the Ponte de Sao Goncalo, was rebuilt in the 18th century, and is the terminus of Avenida General Silveira. When crossing toward the Convent side, turning left will lead you to the Rua 5 de Outubro and turning right will lead you to the Alameda Teixeira de Pascoaes.

Baiao

Baiao (pop. 3,200) is a fairly rural part of the Douro Valley; in fact, the municipality has the highest percentage of forests and greenery out of any other area in the region. It is known for its varied points of interest set against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty. These points of interest include numerous waterfalls; the Iron Age-era gold artifacts in the Treasury of Baiao; the prehistoric dolmens which dot the countryside such as the Anta da Aboboreira; and, south of town, the Monastery of Santo Andre de Ancede.

Caldas de Aregos

Caldas de Aregos (pop. 1,459) is situated on the Douro River, more precisely on the banks of the Carrapatelo Reservoir. It is well-known for its spa resort, centered around the natural pools of warm to very warm sulphuric water. King Afonso I was the first to be treated for ailments here, specifically rheumatism, in the 12th century. After that, the town received a reputation as a vacation spot for those wishing to recuperate to full health from various sicknesses. The spa resort`s sulphur pools are open from May to October, and tens of thousands of people flock to experience their supposed healing properties each year.

Covas do Douro

Covas do Douro is the smallest town you will be visiting in the Douro Valley (pop. 444), and also one of the youngest. It was founded in the eighteenth century and is particularly known for its vineyards. Out of all the towns and cities in the Douro Valley which produce wine, Covas do Douro is perhaps the one that should be experienced the most, and at your own pace. The aforementioned vineyards, beautiful and terraced, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not limited to Covas do Douro but definitely at peak magnificence in this area. The farmers in Covas do Douro also produce oranges and tangerines for consumption not just in Portugal but across Europe.

Lamego

Lamego (pop. 26,000) is a very historic city in Northern Portugal, having been settled well before the Romans arrived in the Iberian Peninsula. The name Lamego actually derives from the Roman `Lamaecus`, meaning the possessor of the farmers` fields around the local castle (now called Lamego Castle, which dates from the fifth century CE). King Afonso I was crowned the first King of Portugal in Lamego in the year 1139. Four years later, the first Portuguese Courts, where the King would meet with nobility to discuss local affairs, was held in Lamego. The Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption was built at King Afonso I`s behest. Other noteworthy points of interest in Lamego include the oldest Visigothic chapel in Portugal, the Capela de Sao Pedro de Balsemao; the Santuario da Nossa Senhora de Remedios; and the Ribeiro Conceicao Theatre. The first Marquis de Pombal established the first official Douro wine company here in the eighteenth century, in essence deeming Lamego the `center` of this region.

Mesao Frio

Mesao Frio (pop. 4,400) dates back to the time of the Romans, but the town as it is known today was built around the Igreja de Sao Nicolau, built at the request of Queen Maud of Savoy, the wife of King Afonso I. Originally a town with a high percentage of skilled stone masons, the economy diversified in the 18th century with vineyards sprouting along the hillsides, promoted and nurtured by the resources given by the Marquis de Pombal. In area, the town of Mesao Frio is one of the smallest in Portugal, but nevertheless is a noted city with dozens of religious buildings, including the aforementioned church and the Convento de Varatojo, which now functions as the city hall building.

Penafiel

Long a regional center for commerce, Penafiel (pop. 72,000) has been an outpost on many trade routes over the past two millennia. It is located at an advantageous position adjacent to three river valleys: the Sousa River flows a mile north of town and alongside Penafiel train station; the Tamega River is located about five miles to the south; and the Douro River is nine miles to the south. Continuing in the tradition of the old trade routes, it is located directly on the A4 motorway between Porto and Amarante.

Penafiel is a city which offers so many sights for the tourist to experience and enjoy. First and foremost, it is known for its thermal spas, such as the Sao Vicente Spa and the Entre-os-Rios Spa. In addition, Penafiel is known for its archaeological sites such as the Castro of Monte Mozinho, the Dolmen of Santa Marta, and the Menhir of Luzim. It is also well-known for the children`s theme park Magikland, which is one of the largest theme parks in Portugal. Dozens of churches and monasteries are also located in Penafiel, such as the Igreja da Nossa Senhora de Penafiel, the Igreja de Paco de Sousa, and the Igreja de Sao Gens.

Peso da Regua

While the town of Peso da Regua (pop. 10,000) was first given a municipal charter in the early Middle Ages, it didn`t reach its full economic potential until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the town became home to a number of wine producers and vineyards. In 1836, the Douro Valley`s wine was labeled by the Marquis of Pombal as suitable for export, allowing the town to grow and many buildings to be constructed, such as the town`s railway station. The wine produced in Peso da Regua is wine you may have consumed while touring the lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia, outside Porto. Points of interest include the vast hills and valleys of the Serra do Marao; the Douro Museum, dedicated to the history and process involved in making Douro wine; and perhaps the most famous vineyard and wine producer in town, the Quinta do Seixo.

Pinhao

Pinhao may only have 648 full-time residents, but it welcomes nearly half a million tourists each year. This is due to its prime spot on the Douro River and also due to its numerous quintas and vineyards which produce Douro fortified wine. Like many of the areas around Pinhao, the town is located in the UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Zone and is noted for its terraced vineyards on the hillsides. The historic Pinhao railway station features beautiful azulejo tiles, two dozen in all, which depict the vineyards and landscapes of the Douro Valley.

Sabrosa

Sabrosa (pop. 1,202) is perhaps best-known not just for its vineyards, but also as the hometown of noted explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521). The compact town`s sights are centered on the Rua Direita (N323 motorway). Just off this road you can find the Santa Casa da Misericordia and the Douro Historic Association. West of town is a large green space called the B.B. King Park. Yes, B.B. King: the King of Jazz performed a concert here in 2010, and afterwards the town named the park in his honor.

Vila Real

Vila Real (pop 24,400) boasts some of the happiest people in Portugal, and they can prove it: the newspaper Expresso published a recent survey which named the town one of the top ten most livable cities in all of Portugal. King Dinis founded Vila Real (lit. `royal town`) in 1289, and at one time was home to more royal family members than any other city in Portugal except Lisbon. The town`s economic futures brightened in 1764, the year the town`s first vineyards opened. Today, Vila Real manufactures various red, white, and rosé Douro wines, which you can purchase in town or directly from the quintas. Noteworthy points of interest in Vila Real include the 18th century Baroque-style Mateus Palace; the Cathedral of Vila Real, built in the Gothic style; the house once belonging to noted explorer Diogo Cao; and the main university in the region, the Universidade de Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro.