We have left the coast behind us and headed inland to the mountains. First stop was Chaves, a small city in the far north-central part of Portugal, very close to the Spanish border. Although we are not city-folk, we decided to come here because we felt that part of our exploration should include a city like this, not big, in the mountains, but with all the services. We struggled to find a really suitable place to rent as we left it a bit late to book, so we wound up staying in an apartment on a somewhat busy street with no outside seating area. Not ideal, but the inside of the apartment was nice and we could walk to lots of restaurants, the grocery store and even the football stadium.
We didn't have the best of weather during our stay in Chaves, so we didn't do as much exploring as we had hoped. But we did manage to visit some lovely towns with many castles and churches to be had. We started out doing a driving tour around the area and immediately appreciated being in the mountains again. Next, we explored Chaves itself, the old town has a really lovely riverwalk and a lot of gorgeous historical buildings, including 3 churches in the main square. Chaves is also known for its medicinal Thermal waters. The Romans built quite the bath structure around one of the hot springs and today, there is a privately run spa where one can 'take the waters' as they used to say. For my birthday, Conrad and I did a package at the spa which included a steam bath, a hot tub and a full body massage, it was heavenly!
A couple of days after my birthday, we went to the last local Premier league football match of the season. The Chaves team was in 7th place and the visitors in 9th, so we expected to see a reasonable level of play. The first half was dominated by the away team, who scored a second goal two minutes before half-time. That is always dis-heartening, but team Chaves came out fighting in the second half and scored a goal within five minutes. From there, the game turned quite ugly, a nasty unseen (and therefore un-called) foul on a Chaves player led to a nasty and called foul for the away team. The crowd was in an uproar and it only got worse when the referee got in the way of the ball, which was recovered by the away team and they scored again. It reminded us of the Ted Lasso episode where Richmond learned about Nate destroying the 'believe' sign. There were so many fouls, yellow and red cards flying, but at least no real fights broke out. By the time the game ended, 3 of the Chaves players had been sent off and the score was 4-1. Not exactly what we had expected, but certainly very entertaining!
One of our day trips took us to Vidago, another town with healing thermal waters and a vibrant past from when spa holidays were the rage. We saw many previously gorgeous old hotels that now lay in ruins. However, we also visited what was previously a Palace and has now become a luxury hotel and golf resort. It was so nice to see the historic buildings and grounds in all their glory, it's difficult to imagine how much money it takes to keep it all that way.
On another day trip we went to Spain, where we saw the Monterrei Castle near Verin. It is said to be one of the best preserved castles in all of Europe. It certainly was impressive and like so many others had a commanding view of the surrounding areas. We also visited Puebla de Sanabria, which was a story-book perfect charming old European town. With pots of geraniums hanging from all the balconies, crooked narrow streets, stunning churches and of course, a castle, it was a delight to visit.
Montalegre was the final town that we visited while in Chaves. It is yet another charming old European town with an impressive castle, ancient history and some of the nicest old trees we've seen in Portugal. They also have a fairly famous museum which exhibits farming techniques that have been used in the area over the millenniums. Unfortunately, it was closed the day we were there, so I could only look at the few outdoor exhibits. Montalegre was on my radar to check out because its Festival Day** (Festas in Portuguese) is held every Friday the 13th, which has always been a lucky day for me. It is referred to as the 'Night of the Witches' and it's a bit like Halloween, only without the candy. The festival has grown so much in the past decade that it's now one of the largest Festas in all of Portugal. The next Friday the 13th is in October, but we will be attending my nephew Adam's wedding that day in Pennsylvania. He and Karisa make the 3rd couple in our family who choose to be married on Friday the 13th. So we will have to wait until September 13th, 2024 before we can attend the Festas in Montalegre.
Just a few days before we left Chaves, the weather was finally good enough to go to a River Beach. It was not quite warm enough for us to swim, but Lola certainly enjoyed herself. We were really impressed with the facilities that had been built to accommodate a great day on the river.
**Festival Days (Festas) - every town of any size and even some small villages have their own Festival day in Portugal. Many of them are tied to a specific Saints day, others are like Montalegre, a day chosen based on some historical significance to the town. They can be major events or maybe just a day and night of music, parades and fireworks. It's a nice tradition that brings the community together to enjoy themselves and take pride in their town.
Quick view of Chaves from the Castle
Church of Matriz de Santa Maria Maior - Praça da Camões Chaves
Roman Thermal Water Museum - Chaves
From the Monterrei Castle - looking over the valley and town of Viren, Spain.
The castle Monterrei - near Verin Spain
Over looking the new town of Puebla de Sanabria Spain
Views from the Keep - Montalegre Castle
Lola having a swim in the River Rabaçal
Chilling at the River Beach Rabaçal