Guimarães Portugal

Guimaraes in the southern Minho region of Portugal is one of the country's most historical cities, a fact that is drummed into the visitor by the town's enthusiasm for its own place in Portuguese history. The first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, was born here in 1110 and it was from Guimarães that the reconquest of Portugal from the Moors began. Coimbra overtook Guimarães as the capital of the fledgling nation in 1143, but Guimarães unabashedly reminds you that "Portugal nasceu aqui" (Portugal was born here) with its lovingly preserved historical monuments. The centre of town is one of the most attractive in the country even if the outskirts are now fairly industrial.

As a measure of a town's historical importance, the number of pousadas de Portugal per capita in Guimarães certainly places it in the top five. There are two here: one in a monastery at Penha, 5km southeast of town, and one in the centre. You might do well to stay in nearby Braga or even Porto and to visit Guimarães for a daytrip if you are looking for more budget accommodation, as there is not much to be had in the centre of town. Certainly book ahead if you wish to stay in a pousada or one of the manor house hotels, and for all accommodation during the Festas Gualterianas in August.

The town is not just a huge museum, however, as students from the University of the Minho enliven the bars and cafés and the medieval centre is still home to many locals. Several good museums can be found here, not least the Castelo that looks over the town from the north. It was built by the countess of Mumadona in the 10th century to protect the people of Guimarães from the Moors and then Afonso Henriques, who was reportedly born in the keep, extended it when he established his court here in the 12th century. Used as a prison for several centuries, it was restored in the 1940s and entry is free. The Museu Alberto Sampaio down the Rua de Santa Maria houses the furnishings from the Santa Clara convent and, for a nominal fee, you can some fantastic exhibits, including the tunic worn by João I in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

Unlike the accommodation in Guimarães, food is relatively cheap and there is plenty on offer. Local specialities are rather full of blood and guts but worth trying is the rojões de porco, a comparatively tame dish of roast pork, sausages and potatoes. Local desserts include toucinho do céu (sugar, eggs, lemon and almonds) and melindres (honey cakes).


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