Before coming to Portugal, I knew little about the country. I knew it was beside Spain, that the language was Portuguese and that the capital was Lisbon.
So, imagine my surprise when I arrived in Portugal to discover that it is so much more than a place on a map.
Portugal, in my opinion, is not a place you could visit in a week. There simply is too much to see.
I think it was fate that brought me to Guimarães. You see, I woke up this morning with every intention of going to Braga. I extended my stay in Porto for two more nights, and had planned to head to Braga and if I had time, and only if there was time, would I head to Guimarães. I had read a bit about it: UNESCO world heritage city, a castle, some churches and more old Portugal. To be honest, it didn’t sound like the way I would want to spend my day.
But, the lovely woman at Spot Hostel said ‘You MUST go to Guimarães if you have time’.
I still got on the metro to Sao Bento train station thinking ‘Braga’.
But, as I was purchasing my ticket, instead of pressing ‘Braga line’ I chose ‘Guimarães line’
The train left 20 minutes later from platform one, and I was on my way. I had no idea what I was going to see. I had no map. Quite frankly, I had no expectations. Perfect.
It was only a 1 hour 45 minute trip (and only 4 euro for a round-trip), and the scenery was awesome. Rolling hills with houses built into the side of them. Modest plots of land growing olives, grapes and other Portuguese food. There was no shortage of sights as we passed through small villages and larger towns.
Santo Tirso looked like a small retirement town with beautiful pathways connecting to Canicos.
Vila das Aves and Giesteira looked more affluent, and Vizela was gorgeous. All I kept thinking was how much I wanted to get off the train and see it all.
Getting to the tourist information office took less than 10 minutes to walk from the train station, and they were really helpful: giving me a map and showing me the best root to take to catch all the sites.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site the historical centre of Guimarães has enhanced it’s well preserved buildings. Outside of the centre the buildings are painted vibrant-pastels of pink, red and green. Then you turn into the historical centre and you feel as though you are in a main plaza like Madrid or Lisbon.
I quickly came to Largo Martins Sarmento, a small park just before you get to the main sites of the historical centre. Maybe it was because the last few days all I’ve been seeing is rain, but the sun on that park paired with the old buildings in the background gave me a sense of ‘wow, I need to live here’.
I walked up a stone stairway to the Dukes of Braganza Palace, and I was going to go in, but it was a 5 euro entry, and quite frankly, I’m bored of churches, cathedrals and towers. So, I proceeded up towards the Guimarães Castle.
After taking a few photos from the outside I was feeling pretty hungry. I walked past the front-entrance thinking ‘I am not paying to get into a castle’, but then decided to have a look at the price for the purpose of letting all of you know. So, imagine my delightful-surprise when I realized there was no entry fee to explore the majority of the castle! There was a fee to go up the highest tower, but silly me, in all of the excitement of free entry I didn’t look at the cost!
But, I think you’ll forgive me, as I got a lot of great photos, and you can too, for free!!
But now, I was seriously starting to feel hungry. Just north of the Largo Martins Sarmento, on the West side, I saw a cute terrace for a restaurant. I thought it would most-likely be expensive, but decided to give it a look.
Another awesome surprise: it was a completely vegetarian restaurant!
They had seitan, tofu and soya chorizo! I was in heaven. However, last night was a heavy meal of brie, olives, bread and wine so I opted for a YUMMY vegetable soup, mint tea and a poached egg on vinegared vegetables. It may not sound like much, but it was awesome! I got a view, my tummy was content, and all for only 9.45 euro!
I would go back to Guimarães for many reasons, and one of them would be to go back to this adorable restaurant.
Next I just wandered. I wandered to the market! Not a food market (darn!), but the usual flea-market they seem to have everywhere in Spain and Portugal.
I had seen so much already, yet there was still so much more to explore!
Now, I will tell you about an exciting event happening right now in Guimarães. The EU has chosen Guimarães as the European Capital of Culture for 2012!
This means the city is getting sustainability proposals, theatre productions, music performances and plenty of other artists displaying their creativity around the city.
The sign for this event looks sort of like a heart, and the symbol is all over the city:
Next I wandered around the streets taking in different sites. The Palacio and Cultural Centre had amazing gardens and interesting urban art, so I took a bunch of photos (please note: the metal faces were not actually here, but further down the street just outside the historical centre, near the green building I posted at the top of this post).
I was only in Guimarães for 4.5 hours, but I feel as though I could spend so much more time there. Especially with the cultural events happening throughout the city, I wish I had a friend who I could just meander with to all of the shows and exhibits.
I missed the 4pm train, so I wandered to the cable car. It was a long walk from the train station (I didn’t have time to walk the entire way to the entrance), but I think if I were to go again I would go.
OR, you can HIKE up the Penha trail! If I would have known anything about it, I think I would have spent a night in Guimarães just so I could do that! What’s at the top? Awesome views and a church!
Well, now that I’m back and doing some research whilst quickly writing this post, I stumbled on a wiki article called: Guimaraes travel guide. Check it out before you go!
It was an amazing day! I’m so glad I went, and it’s a destination I knew nothing about prior to being in Porto. Ever been? Have any insight for future visitors on the hike or other activities in the area? Let us know!