Take a three day holiday to stroll around the North of Portugal and get to know the treasures of the Baroque art in the region. A symbol of the 18th century in the country, the difference in this Baroque and the one in other places is that it is exotic in nature. The gilded woodcarving over the blue of the tiles has originated, in Portugal, an unusual expression of the Baroque.
Benefiting from the economic progress lived at the time – due to the discovery of gold mines and precious stones in Brazil and wood in the new continents –, palaces, churches and monasteries became alive with movement and colour. In Porto, you must visit Torre dos Clérigos and Igreja de São Francisco. Near the city, the region of Vale do Sousa offers a tourist and cultural route with quite a number of monuments in the Romanesque style. To the North, around Braga, the ecclesiastical capital of the country, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus and the Monastery of Tibães are also worthwhile visiting. In the Douro region there are also interesting Baroque monuments.
First stop: Porto
Start with Porto, an old city that gave its name to Portugal and to a worldwide famous wine: Port wine. The city where Nicolau Nasoni lived, an Italian painter-decorator, who fell in love with the North of the country, and whose work of fantasy and scenography has unique and surprisingly singled out the Baroque architecture and ornamentation of the region.
Visit the Cathedral, built in the 12th century but later renovated in the Baroque style, for e.g., the magnificent altarpiece in the chancel, and stand in front of the grand and elegant building of Paço Episcopal, a building from the 18th century designed by Nasoni. The Italian was skilled in working with granite in undulating movements.
Still in the capital of the North of Portugal, see the churches of Santa Clara – a harmonious combination of gilded woodcarving and tile –, the church of Ordem Terceira or Santo Ildefonso, rich in gilded woodcarvings and tiles from the 18th century.
Downtown, in the heart of the busiest area full of restaurants and bars, see the impressive front of the Igreja do Carmo, with its exterior walls covered with blue and white tiles, and marvel at the Igreja and Torre dos Clérigos, the masterpiece of Nicolau Nasoni, which in 2013 celebrated its 250 years of existence.
Have lunch in this area. Go to a traditional restaurant and taste one of the typical dishes of local gastronomy, such as tripas à moda do Porto, for example, or surrender to a tasting experience in one of downtown’s signature restaurants.
In the afternoon, go down to the riverside. Nasoni also designed the Church of Misericórdia do Porto, in Rua das Flores, right in the middle of the city’s historical centre. In this area, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO since 1996, it is also worth visiting the Church of São Francisco, whose interior is covered in Baroque and Rococo gilded woodcarvings.
Take the end of the day to leave Porto and get to know the Romanesque architecture of the region. The Romanesque in Tâmega e Sousa has specific features making it standout in the Portuguese Romanesque. With an expert on the Romanesque Heritage Route, visit the Monastery of Santa Maria de Pombeiro (Felgueiras), the Church of Salvador de Tabuado (Marco de Canavezes), the bridge of Fundo de Rua (Amarante) and the Monastery of Salvador de Paço de Sousa (Penafiel).
There are specific tours of the Romanesque Route, as well as tailor-made programmes, if required.
Stay at Pousada do Porto Palácio do Freixo, a building also designed by the architect Nasoni. It is dated from mid-18th century and is one of the most remarkable monuments of the Portuguese civil Baroque, completely preserving the front of the main building, formed by the palace. The facility is complemented with the building of the old Fábrica de Moagens Harmonia.
Head to Braga and Guimarães
On the next day, head to Braga, where you can start by visiting the Palace of Biscainhos and its exquisite gardens. It is a stately home housing a museum of decorative arts from the 17th and 18th centuries and where you can have a very close look at how the nobles lived at that time.
Inside the oldest Portuguese Cathedral, admire the row of chairs of the high choir and the two monumental organs. Near the Cathedral of Braga, marvel at the façade of the Raio Palace in Rocaille style.
Outside the city, take some time to visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. It is worth the while. With a monumental staircase, this superb monument stands out in the green landscape.
Equally interesting are the Church of Santa Maria Madalena da Falperra, for its exuberant decoration, and the Monastery of Tibães, founded in the 11th century and revamped in the 17th and 18th centuries giving it the sumptuous ornamentation we can see today.
On the same day and with a well-organized tour, you can visit Guimarães. Walk around the streets of the city and admire the impressive front of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos and the Joanino altarpiece of the Church of São Francisco.
Spend the night at Pousada de Santa Marinha da Costa and extend your Baroque experience to the accommodation. The result of the renovation of the beautiful Monastery of Agostinhos, of the 12th century, the Pousada rises majestically on a slope over the city of Guimarães, alongside its neighbouring Penha Park.
Alto Douro Vinhateiro
On the third and last day of your stay, go to the Douro region. Among the slopes marked by vineyards on paths, rest assured it will be an unforgettable journey. The landscape marked by Alto Douro Vinhateiro – UNESCO’s World Heritage – hides other remarkable works by Nasoni.
Go to Vila Real and visit Casa de Mateus, an 18th century palace surrounded by magnificent gardens and worldly known for appearing on the label of the Mateus Rosé wine.
Afterwards, cross Alto Douro Vinhateiro and continue the trip to Lamego. Notice the fronts of the numerous manor houses and palace-like houses and visit the Cathedral with its paintings by Nasoni covering the domes.
Climb the 686 steps that take visitors to the top of Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. Nasoni also designed some of the Baroque decorations, namely a beautiful granite fountain next to the sanctuary.
You will see that the effort of climbing the Baroque staircase is worth it. For the beauty of the monument itself – granite surrenders to movement, the woodcarvings are golden and the tiles blue and white – but also for the scenic view you can enjoy, once you get to the top. Stop for a few minutes to enjoy the view.
If you have time, visit Solar do Vinho do Porto in Peso da Régua and taste the famous generous wine.
On your last night, stay at one of the manor houses in the region and become familiar with the art of hospitality that so well characterizes the Portuguese people.
How to get there
On the A3, you will take about 50 and 30 minutes to reach Braga and Guimarães, respectively,. From Guimarães to Vila Real, expect to take about one hour and fifteen minutes on the A7, A11 and A4 and IP4.