Often it can be a single image that inspires me to visit somewhere. This was indeed the case when I decided to visit Lamego, a small city in Portugal’s Norte Region. I’m not going to fault you for not having heard of it. Although it lies near the increasingly popular Douro Valley, Lamego is in a part of Portugal people simply don’t often visit.
One of the focuses of my trip to Portugal in April this year was to see more of the North and Central regions. When I realised that Lamego was close to my other intended destinations, I decided to make a day trip of it from the city of Vila Real. Here’s what I found during my visit to the delightful little city of Lamego.
A city of 26,000 people, Lamego has a history that dates back to the Romans. Despite tales of Visigoths, Moorish conquests and Spanish reconquests, Lamego’s biggest historical note regards the very founding of the kingdom of Portugal itself. It is said that it was in Lamego in 1139 that Alfonso I was crowned the first King of Portugal. Besides this history, Lamego has remained an important regional cultural centre, not least for its part in the now famous port wine growing region along the Douro Valley.
My first time in Lamego actually occurred the day before I had planned. As I took the bus from the central city of Viseu to Vila Real, the bus passed through Lamego on its way. This was lucky as it gave me a quick look at the city and confirmed that I was definitely keen to visit. So when I arrived the day of my visit, I knew exactly where to go. From the bus station it was a brief walk to the Tourist Information Centre. Armed with a booklet, it was on to sightseeing.
As Lamego is quite compact, before you know it you’re in the city centre. With just a quick glance around you’ll see many of the main important landmarks of the city. On one corner you have the Lamego Museum, the Ribeiro Conceição Theatre and the Lamego Cathedral. All three buildings very much embody the type of architecture you find throughout the north of Portugal, but also reminded me of somewhere like Belem. While I didn’t visit the city museum or the theatre, I did pop into the courtyard of the Cathedral, which was sadly closed at the time.
Through the heart of the city runs the long park between Avenida Dr. Alfredo Sousa, the main street if you will, of Lamego. Along the road are cafes, restaurants and everyday shops, and in the park are plenty of locals chatting on the frequent park benches. A fast paced lifestyle it is not.
The Monumental Sanctuary Staircase
If you hadn’t seen the article title or top photo you’d be wondering, what was the photo that inspired me to visit? Well, it was a photo of the incredible staircase that puts Lamego on the map. One look at it and I was adding Lamego to my itinerary. From the very end of Avenida Dr. Alfredo Sousa you’re able to look along to the staircase and church that rests at the top of it. The sight of it beckons you along the street and before you know it, you’re halfway up the first flight of stairs.
This labour of work took over 100 years to complete, starting in 1777 and not finishing until into the 20th Century. As you climb the stairs, you can’t help but imagine how much stone, time and work must have gone into such a colossal structure. Many of the terraces along the way up are adorned with fountains, wonderful mosaics and elegant hedges that seem like they belong in some grand palace.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remédios
With the enchanting nature of the staircase it’s almost possible to forget that there’s a church that sits at the top of it. The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios and its beautiful baroque architecture was built between 1750 and 1761. Since then, it has become of the country’s many important churches of pilgrimage. There is some uncertainty to the architect that designed the church but it has been attributed to Nicolau Nasoni. If you time your visit to the hour, you should hear the chime of the church bells play a distinctive song that I heard from several Portuguese churches. Also, you can look inside, but no photos are allowed.
Safe to say, in its own right, the church is a beautiful sight on its own. But then you turn around and wham, there’s the view! It takes you down each of the terraces to the city and out across the hilly countryside that typifies Portugal’s Douro region. When you look back to the view you almost forget how exhausted you are from climbing all those flights of stairs. Thankfully, if you’re not up for the walk up or have mobility issues, you are also able to drive to the top and see the church and view.
The other major landmark of Lamego is its small hilltop castle. Lamego Castle has a documented history back to the 10th Century, what stands now is a watchtower and walled keep. Recent renovations have made it possible to visit the castle (with free entry), walk along its walls and a few exhibitions within the floors of the tower. The castle is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Below the castle you’ll find the Bairro de Castelo or Castle District of narrow stone streets. The area is bordered by a ring of walls and several stone gateways. Wandering through the district’s few streets just adds another dimension to the city of Lamego.
It’s worth putting a note in here about getting to Lamego, as I had some troubles. Like quite a few cities in the centre of Portugal, Lamego is not connected by train. This means travel by bus, but preferably car, are your best shots.
Coming from Vila Real, the bus to Lamego was actually straight forward, but I got into some difficulty trying to get back. After a long wait, I was able to get to the intermediate stop to Regua but some well-intentioned locals put me on the slow regional bus that climbed into the countryside. Basically, connections between Vila Real and Lamego aren’t that common and Viseu may be a better choice.
What do you think of Lamego? Would you climb the staircase or take the sneaky drive up? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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