Vizera is a spa town in the northern region of Portugal, set on tall coniferous hills covered with granite outcrops.
The Romans were the first to take advantage of Vizera’s mineral-rich hot springs, but today the town’s spas and beautiful surrounding parks exude a Belle Époque vibe.
Around this time, the town also got its name from bolinhol, a decadent sponge cake topped with icing sugar just as an accompaniment to afternoon tea.
There are also many small sights to visit, such as the Roman bridge, several hilltop sanctuaries with mountain views, and the World Heritage city of Guimaraes is just a 15-minute drive away.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Vizera:
1. Parque das Termas de Vizela
In the 1880s, horticulturalist José Marques Loureiro planted hundreds of native and exotic trees around the hot springs for his patients.
Those trees are huge now and bring real drama and character to this park, which blooms in April and May.
The thermal springs are still serviced by the just-renovated luxury spa hotel, as well as a café on the banks of the Vizera, a children’s playground and a mini golf course that hosted the “Mini Golf European Championship” in 2016. The Vizera River bends through the park, where there is a bar and a new outdoor bathing area.
2. Caldas de Vizera
After improvements were made to the spa in the 1870s, it became a frequent visitor to wealthy Portuguese and English aristocrats.
At night, there are lavish balls in the park, and Vizera soon became known as “Rainha das Termas de Portugal” (Rainha das Termas de Portugal). The spa survived the inevitable decline of the 20th century and was restored in 1982. There are several springs with water rich in sulphur and sodium, with temperatures between 15°C and 65°C, gushing more than one million litres a day.
Patients with dermatological, rheumatic, musculoskeletal and respiratory diseases come here for soaking and shower massages.
3. Ponte Velha de Vizela
The bridge, which crosses the Vizera on the Roman road from Braga to Amarante, is 2000 years old and is listed as a National Monument.
There are some giveaways that suggest it was a Roman bridge: the shape of a semicircular arch, the great divide in the middle and two hollow chambers.
Hollows, especially the hallmark of Roman bridges, were designed to reduce the load on the vaults and allow water to flow through when the river was flooded.
4. Republic Square
Vizera’s main square is a cultural space with long queues of plane trees, café terraces and ice cream stands in summer.
The hot springs are also drained into fountains here.
Bica de Água Quente is a hot water spout that has just been restored: the custom is to go to the tank and dip your fingers in the hot sulphuric water.
But beware, according to Vizera folklore, anyone who does this doesn’t want to leave the town again.
5. Jardim Público Manuel Faria
Next to the square is an exquisite garden with another fountain fed by the Vizera spring.
There are also flower beds arranged in formal patterns, bandstands, tree-lined avenues and very grand staircases leading to the street.
At the foot of the stairs, you can enjoy a coffee or a cold drink in the café.
The dizzying feature is the statue named Vizela Romana, an allegory of the town’s Roman origins.
6. Santuário de São Bento das Peras
On the 410-meter-high summit of São Bento is the religious shrine of the same name.
You can drive up the hill or walk on the winding road, which is what hundreds of people do on July 11. It’s All Saints’ Day and there’s a long line to the church if you’re around then.
If not, it’s still a trip that needs to be done.
In fact, the new church is secondary to the panoramic restaurant Xisto, the magnificent view of the Vizela valley and the huge granite boulders scattered on the top of the hill.
7. Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Pombeiro
Weaving in a quiet green valley, this monastery is a national monument that originated in the 9th century.
The monastery really took off in the 1100s when it received the privilege and patronage of Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques.
In addition to the striking façade, the rose window is flanked by pointed spires, and as the monastery continued to expand into the early modern period, Romanesque architecture ceased to exist.
This explains the baroque splendor of the church choir and altar, whose gilded woodwork and molding exude luxury.
Outside, you can also stand among the ruins of an unfinished neoclassical monastery that began in the early 1800s but ended abruptly when the monastery was dissolved in 1834.
8. Casalinho Caves
One of the oldest wineries in the Vinho Verde region is located in Vizera: Caves do Casalinho started life in 1944 on 30 hectares of vineyards in the middle of the Vizera Valley.
This is a very idyllic setting, ideal for growing wine grapes, on gentle slopes that are well drained and sunny.
You can take a look at the old winery, where the original presses and old wine barrels are still in place.
Caves do Casalinho produces several types of wine, including the rich, fruity red wines typically found in the Douro Valley and Alentejo.
But what you need to taste and take home are the fresh and elegant Vinho Verde wines made with Lurrero and Arinto grapes.
9. Capela de Nossa Senhora da Tocha
No one can agree on exactly when the chapel was built.
It is known to have a pre-Romanesque design that dates back to sometime in the early Middle Ages.
It is a very compact building with only one nave and altar.
The walls are completely exposed except for the carved Mellon and small bell tower on the roof.
The mountain perch of the church is part of its charm, and there is a gazebo that offers panoramic views of the countryside beyond.
The humble parish is ground zero for the longest-running union between the world’s two nations.
In 1372, King Fernando I signed the Treaty of Tagild with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
This united Portugal and England against the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.
This is the first legal basis for an agreement that has lasted nearly 650 years.
To commemorate this event, an obelisk was placed outside Igreja Matriz in 1953; granite was a medieval royal weapon in Portugal and England.
11. Sasa House
This baroque mansion in the countryside southeast of town is an unremarkable sight, but it’s still worth the detour.
Casa de Sá is a private property, but that shouldn’t deter you, as it is worth seeing outside, the gate of the house and its chapel decorated with spires, pilasters and gables.
If you’re interested in Portuguese literature, you might be curious to know that some of the most prominent figures have passed through these doors, such as writers José Régio and Camilo Castelo Blanco Branco).
12. Citânia de Sanfins
Follow the winding mountain road to this almost unparalleled archaeological site on the Iberian Peninsula.
The earliest remains of Citânia de Sanfins date from the 5th century BC, but the city reached its peak some 300 years later.
At the time it was the host city for the wider region, home to at least 3,000 people.
The city is littered with the dry stone walls of dozens of houses, most of them circular.
Perhaps the best part is the pedra formosa, a stone carving of the city’s public baths.
Don’t miss the familiar núcleo, where entire houses have been rebuilt with thatched roofs, giving you a rare glimpse into how people lived in these settlements.
In Vizera, you are only 10 km from the UNESCO World Heritage city, and Guimarães is not to be missed.
As the birthplace of Afonso Henriques, the city helped shape Portugal’s history.
The old center of the city is breathtaking, with winding streets leading to ancient squares such as Largo da Oliveira.
It is named for its solitary medieval olive tree and has a haunting Gothic monument commemorating the Battle of Salado in the 14th century.
The Ducal Palace of Braganza was another great Gothic landmark and later became the home of the Portuguese royal family.
14. Monte da Penha
Approaching from the south, you can drive directly to this sanctuary on top of Penha Hill above Guimaraes.
But park your car in town and take the cable car back for 5 euros and it can be an experience.
The scenery is mesmerizing, at the top of the mountain you can see all the way to the sea when the weather is clear.
There’s an Art Deco-style Temple Church, built in 1930, that hosts pilgrims throughout the summer.
But it might be happier to grind around vast granite boulders and woodlands.
15. Local flavors
If Vizela is known for one delicacy, it’s bolinhol, or pão de ló coberto.
This is a moist rectangular sponge cake with frosting.
The place to buy one is Casa de Pão de Ló Delícia, which has been baking them since 1880. The recipe is probably much older than that, and was probably invented at the Carmelite Monastery in Guimaraes sometime in the Middle Ages.
For something delicious, opt for traditional recipes such as roast baby goat (cabrito), roast veal (vitela) and salted cod (bacalhau), baked with potatoes, onions and garlic.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Vizera, Portugal
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