The northernmost town of Chavez in Portugal has been settled since Roman times. Here they built a city around the hot springs and left a stone bridge with Latin inscriptions on it.
Fast forward a thousand years and you come under the reign of Dom Alfonso I, the bastard son of King John I, who founded the Braganza family in Chavez. This dynasty would rule Portugal and Brazil until the 20th century. There is a castle, several magnificent churches, the palace of Dom Alfonso with a Roman archaeological museum, and the hottest springs in Portugal or Spain.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Chavez:
1. Chavez Roman Bridge
Also known as Trajan’s Bridge (named after the Emperor), this building was built at the turn of the 2nd century.
Like most bridges, it will need maintenance and rebuilding over time, but the arch is in the same position as it was 2000 years ago, even though some have been engulfed by riverside houses.
The best signs of the bridge’s great era are the two columns, with Latin inscriptions still clearly visible.
In 1980, a third column was discovered upstream of the riverbed and exhibited at the Museu da Região Flaviense.
2. Cammons Square
In Chavez, this elegant central square is unavoidable, with its typical old houses and religious and civic monuments lining the walls. Not a single modern building can spoil the view, and if you want to linger here for a while, you’ll have several café terraces.
In front of the town hall stands a statue of Dom Afonso I, the 15th-century Duke of Bragança, who lived in Paço dos Duques de Bragança.
He started a dynasty that would produce a long line of Portuguese kings and Brazilian emperors.
3. Museu da Região Flaviense
This museum in the house of Dom Afonso I displays the best monuments and artifacts from the Roman city of Aquae Flaviae.
Built in 1446, the palace was given a new look in the 18th century.
From Roman times, there are Corinthian columns, tombstones and a bridge sign with an inscription found in the Tâmega River in 1980. The museum also reveals the region’s rich prehistory with a 4,000-year-old life-size stone sculpture featuring the clear silhouette of a woman.
4. Igreja de Santa Maria Maior
Opposite Praça de Camões Town Hall is the city’s stately parish church, likely built after the 12th-century Reconquista.
It was built on a Visigothic basis with a Romanesque design that was later refined during the Renaissance.
You can distinguish the older elements in the bell tower and the portal below, both of which use original stonework.
The interior is very beautiful with wooden beams on the ceiling and exposed granite walls.
The main decoration here is the pipe organ, which is baroque and has a box with a wood carving of a gilded cherub.
5. Chavez Castle
This imposing square tower is the last remnant of a castle built in the 10th century, when Chavez shuttled back and forth between Christian and Moorish armies.
Completed by King Denis I at the turn of the 14th century, it features a range of designs from Renaissance to late Gothic.
The Vauban-style walls below were built in the 17th century and topped with a nice garden, still armed with cannons.
The tower houses military artifacts, and you can climb four sets of stairs to look out between the city’s Melon and the towering Trás-os-Montes landscape.
6. Igreja da Misericórdia de Chaves
Also on Praça de Camões is this vibrant 17th-century Baroque church that was formerly attached to the city’s hospital.
The facade is grand, with three arches and solo columns, and although the interior is small, there is a lot to catch your eye.
The walls of the nave have fine 18th century blue and white tiles from floor to ceiling, reminiscent of biblical passages.
Above the entrance is the statue of Christ used in Chavez’s Holy Week processions, followed by the classic gilded wooden altar, the hallmark of the Baroque churches in northern Portugal.
7. Jardim Publico de Chaves
The oldest park in Chaves is located on the left bank of Tâmega, donated to the city by the banker Cândido Sotto Mayor at the beginning of the 20th century.
You can see a bust of this man in the park’s main shopping mall, and the act of kindness is recognized.
Long before it was made public, the land was planted with centuries-old deciduous and coniferous trees.
There are tall cedar trees by the river, and a sweet iron bandstand.
But perhaps the best reason is to stop and take a photo of the Roman bridge upstream.
8. Fort St. Neutel
Located on the northern outskirts of the town, this 17th-century fort is one of Chavez’s fortresses.
The other is the Forte de São Francisco, now the Pousada (heritage hotel). The Forte de São Neutel was proposed during the Portuguese Restoration War in the middle of the century and has a Vauban-style star configuration.
If you’re inspired by military architecture, you’ll want to learn about innovative features of the time, such as ravelins, forts and ramps.
Inside the main enclosure is a beautiful Mannerist church with a commemorative inscription at the entrance and a well in the inner moat.
9. Hot Springs
The legendary spring of Chaves occurs at Jardim do Tabolado on the right bank of Tâmega, near the medieval quarter.
Its temperature is almost as high as 73-76°C, the hottest of all springs in the Iberian Peninsula.
The water is slightly carbonated and contains an alkaline component that should be good for skin problems, high blood pressure and digestive disorders.
You can think back to the journey this water made to get to this point, being forced from unfathomable depths through several layers of igneous rock.
You can stroll from the garden to the river, and stepping stones allow you to cross the river.
10. Museu de Arte Contemporânea Nadir Afonso
Álvaro Siza Vieira is one of Portugal’s national treasures, contributing landmarks all over the world.
Most recently, he was commissioned to design this stylish museum on the right bank of the Tâmega in honour of Nadir Afonso, the equally esteemed geometric abstract painter, a native of Chaves.
Opened in July 2016, the museum is dedicated to Alfonso’s work, dividing it into different phases, from the surrealism of the 1940s to the “fractal” period of the early 2000s.
There is a video presentation about Alfonso’s life and career, suitable for the layman.
11. Pedra Boledra
In the countryside east of Chavez, there is a strange natural phenomenon surrounded by unblemished nature.
Pedra Bolideira is a huge granite boulder that perches on the rock below and can be rocked back and forth by a single person.
You can lean on it to push with your hands, or you can lie down with your legs.
It’s a strange feeling to move something weighing at least 10 tons with such ease, and there’s a lot to like about this curiosity among locals.
12. Vinho dos Mortos
Boticas, the wine-making village west of Chaves, has a strange tradition of burying wine.
This began during the Peninsular War, when villages hid bottles underground so that they wouldn’t be plundered by Napoleon’s army.
When the wine was finally retrieved, the villagers found it had aged better and named the drink vinho dos mortos (wine of the dead). Tradition remains, the lack of light and stable temperatures in the subterranean creates a slight gasification of the wine.
You can pick up a bottle from the farming cooperative in the village.
13. Hot Spring Tourism
Chavez was reborn as a spa resort in the late 19th century and continues to draw tourists to its healthy waters.
If you want to do like the Romans, Termas de Chaves or Spa do Imperador is your port of call for a spa treatment or simple relaxation.
The menu is long and varied, including quirky and more traditional options: there are hydrotherapy, hydromassage, Vichy showers, diathermy, a range of shower treatments, and several types of massages.
14. Monfort Castle
There is another national monument just 10 kilometers from Chavez.
Despite being abandoned, the castle is in very good condition and contrasts with the valley of Águas Livres and the village of Águas Frias.
Like Chavez Castle, Monfort was fortified during the reign of King Denis I, and in its heyday the castle was guarded by three large towers.
These are outdated and replaced by the 17th century Portuguese Restoration War fortress, and since that conflict the site has been left in ruins, with minor interventions over the years to avoid collapse.
If you look closely, you can capture some amazing moody landscapes from the walls.
15. Local Food
When it comes to Chavez’s food, it’s impossible not to mention presudo ham.
This is dry cured and can be compared to prosciutto or spanish ham.
It’s a product of the region’s cold winters, because in the past, home fires needed to burn anytime, and the smoke would be used to smoke the ham for months on end.
The same method is used for local cured sausages such as alheiras.
These cold cuts are great as a bar snack, appetizer, or to stuff grilled trout.
Meat is the main ingredient in almost every other dish, from roast goat to Transmontana casserole, made with a variety of pork and vegetables.
Pastel de Chaves is an EU-protected muffin filled with veal in the traditional style, or with cheese, presunto or chocolate in newer versions.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Chavez, Portugal
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