Some of the best village ramparts in France
We have had two lovely days in Braganca. A great finale to our month exploring Portugal. The aire has been quiet with no more than a dozen motorhomes here and those well spread out. As always there are dogs barking in the background but not close and not too loud. Wherever we have been in Portugal there has been a background of barking dogs. Both mornings have been cold with a light frost! In fact the coldest nights we have had anywhere in Spain and Portugal. As a result it took some resolution to emerge from our warm bed both mornings with the indoor temperature in Bertie just 6C at 8am this morning. However the heating soon took the edge of the chill and a bowl of hot porridge has us ready for the day! This did mean that we were quite late setting off yesterday to explore the old citadel and the big castle and by the time we got to the castle it was closing for lunch (12 noon to 2pm). You know it is a lazy start when the first place you want to see that day has closed for lunch.
So we set off to explore the citadel itself and especially the impressive walls that run all the way around and for most of their length there is a good wide wall walk. The bit you can’t access is the bit within the castle. There are two gates and several towers and all are open. The views are terrific both outwards across miles of surrounding countryside and inwards over the roofs of the houses and across the main city.
We were pleased to find that the Domus Municipalis was open but disappointed that it had very little information there about it. It is a municipal building from the early C13 and about which remarkably little is known. It is finely built in stone with a large cistern below and an open room above used by the “good men” of the city to meet (effectively a council chamber).
After a quick lunch back on Bertie we returned to see the castle. This is a very impressive structure with a huge, tall keep within a double ring of walls all of which can be accessed although this is not advised for those uncomfortable with heights! The central keep is now the military museum and photography is not allowed so no pictures – sorry. The lower section of the keep is given over to a huge cistern to which there was no access. To access the keep you had to climb a steep set of steps to the level of the top of the inner walls and then cross a single bridge from the walls to the keep. Inside, where I had expected several large rooms one above the other, it was actually three floors of small rooms built around an open central space with a stone staircase going up around the walls. Sadly the roof terrace was closed so we could not ascend to those dizzy heights – actually the wooden ladder looked pretty shaky!
The museum side was quite interesting although mainly in Portuguese with just the room summaries in English. In fact it was fairly easy to get the gist of the exhibit labels. The oldest exhibits were C16 armour and weapons and the rest went right through to World War 2 on the top floor. I have to admit I was not aware of the role played by Portuguese troops in either war but they clearly were in thick of things as far as I could make out from the displays.
Wednesday morning was bright but cold again but we were up and ready to go out at 11am. Our plan today was to follow the tourist trail advertised on the board at the aire. This seemed to follow the small river, in the steep valley to one side of the citadel, in to the centre of the city and return through the old town via the castle. We had hoped the walk would be waymarked. It wasn’t and we made a few mistakes. I had taken a photograph of the map of the walk so we had some point of reference which helped a bit. It was quite a steep drop down to just above the river level walking through the almonds and olives with a thick carpet of small flowers amongst the grass. It was then a lovely walk above the river on a boardwalk that took us right in to the city. The old houses (and some very old and dilapidated indeed!) rose up on both sides as we got toward the city and the almond and olive trees gave way to gardens and houses.
Just before the city centre the gorge pinched in and turned a right angle with quite a waterfall. Above the waterfall there were two large weirs forming the water feature of a large town park with children’s play equipment, flower beds, bandstand, fountains (not working) and a riverside promenade on the far side. We followed that promenade down one side and back up the other. We stopped at a little cafe that seemed to be open and as Eileen was feeling the effects of all that noisy rushing water (!) we had a cup of coffee (€1 each for a small latte – “cafe con leite”) and used the facilities – in fact we were her only customers!
From the park we walked back through the old town and were very pleased to find two churches that were open. These were very ornate and impressive – especially the altarpieces. But sadly there was no information at all so I can’t tell you much about it. My suspicion is that most of the current interiors date from the C16. We did comment that these were some of the most ornate churches we have seen so far and they were different in style from those few Spanish churches we have seen.
We have really enjoyed our visit to Braganca and it has made a fitting finale to our month in Portugal. Tomorrow we cross the Douro back into Spain on our way home.