sights uncovered
Travel with Tessa

Amarante and Vila Real – Portugal

Amarante – an hour’s drive from Porto – is an often-overlooked Portuguese gem. It rests on the banks of River Tâmega, which flows from Spain into the Douro. Trees caress the river with the tips of their branches, while Ponte de São Gonϛalo, a sturdy stone bridge, straddles the river linking both sides of the town. The bridge earned its place in Portugal’s history for being the site of a heroic battle between French and Portuguese forces during the 1809 Peninsula War.


Praϛa da República, Amarante’s main plaza, lies in the center of the historical old town. It’s presided over by the church of São Gonϛalo, which was built over a period of 77 years from 1543 to 1620. The church’s architecture reflects a blend of Italian Renaissance and Mannerist styles. Folklore has it that São Gonϛalo was the patron saint of unmarried women in search of husbands.

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The interior of the church boasts a Baroque altar and pulpits that shimmer with ornate gold-covered woodwork, an organ supported by fishtailed giants, and the tomb of Saint Gonϛalo.


Cross the ancient bridge; on your left, you can’t miss the Confeitaria da Ponte, known for producing delectable traditional Portuguese pastries. Settle down at a table on the outdoor patio overlooking the river and indulge in pastries accompanied by a cappuccino or a glass of port wine from the region while watching the colorful little pleasure boats drift by.

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Diagonally across the street from the pastry store, Casa Da Calϛada, a Relais and Chateaux Hotel, sits in a manicured garden overlooking the historical bridge, Praϛa de República, and the church. If one is looking for a romantic, historical retreat, this five-story, 17th-century mansion with its Michelin Star, Largo do Paϛo restaurant is the place to stay.

On Wednesdays and Sundays, people from the area flock to Amarante for its outdoor markets. As luck would have it, we visited on a Wednesday. Clothing, fabrics, embroidered tablecloths, shoes, etc., are sold at the market just a few minutes from Casa da Calϛada while the produce market is held a few minutes from the church close to the riverside.

Vila Real

From Amarante, we drove to Vila Real. We had heard of its impressive hiking trail within a gorge and decided to go for a late afternoon – early evening hike. The trail drops down into the gorge at a seventy-five-degree angle, then leads one up and down wooden boardwalks, steep flights of steps, across bridges, and past gushing waterfalls where the river tumbles over boulders. It twists and turns at sharp angles like a maze.


Birds were singing their evening songs, the earth smelled rich and fertile, and the golden rays of the setting sun gently caressed the foliage that carpets the sides of the gorge. We were totally awed and immersed in nature. There was not another living soul in sight.

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As darkness descended, we checked into the Miracorgo Hotel, where our comfortable suite had panoramic views of the gorge.A perfect way to end our day before continuing on our journey to explore Trancoso and Belmonte.