Founded in 1272, Vila Real (which means ‘royal town’) is a thriving agricultural centre ideally situated on an upland plateau ringed with mountains. The city has many interesting old buildings with elegant stone façades, their portals decorated with the original owners’ coats of arms, with many of their descendants still in residence.
It was also the birthplace of Diogo Cão, the first navigator to reach the mouth of the River Congo in 1482.
Over the centuries, Vila Real’s strategic location at the juncture of the Douro Valley and Trás-os-Montes provinces in the heart of northern Portugal has helped it to play an important role in the economy of the region. For example, in 1895 it became the first town in Portugal to install electricity.
Built in 1528, the church of São Pedro in Rua da Portela boasts a fine Baroque façade and an interior of rare 17th-century azulejo glazed tiles.
The town’s centrally-located Gothic cathedral is all that remains of the Dominican monastery of São Domingos, constructed for King João I in 1427.
Where to go in northern Portugal
5 km north-east of Vila Real (indicated on the Google map below) lies the ancient rock-temple of Panóias, where the Romans sacrificed animals (and probably humans) to their gods.
The small village of Bisalhães, 6 km to the west, is well-known for its unusual black and dark-grey pottery, coloured by wood smoke during slow firing. These tough pots are used for storing oil and olives, carrying water and cooking.
The Solar de Mateus, situated just 3 km from Vila Real, is one of the best-known country manor houses in Portugal. Built in the 18th century and belonging to the Count of Vila Real, the house features on the label of every bottle of Mateus Rosé wine.
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