Except for its border along the popular Douro Valley, the district of Vila Real in Northern Portugal is firmly off the tourist trail. The district features the fertile, rolling hills that the Douro Valley is becoming increasingly known for. Within this majestic landscape sits the city of Vila Real itself.
My time in the city of Vila Real was a bit of a slow burn. It didn’t start great when I accidentally walked the wrong way and just wound up in residential streets. I was starting to wonder whether I had made a mistake in visiting when I found the city centre. It wouldn’t be too long before I started to learn what the real highlight was of a visit to Vila Real – its majestic valleys.
For most of its life, Vila Real remained a small regional town. Today it is the largest city in the district and ranks as one of Portugal’s most liveable cities. Vila Real’s fortunes changed when vineyards were established in 1764 and contributed to the Portugal’s now well-famous culture of wine growing.
As I said earlier, Vila Real didn’t grow on me until I reached the city centre. It’s lovely central avenue certainly makes a good impression and the pedestrian parts of the centre are a great example of Portugal’s old world charm. Around the city centre you’ll also find a number of churches in typical Portuguese style, including the Igreja do Calvario which sits by a particularly good viewpoint.
Miradouro de Trás-do-Cemitério
The best viewpoint of Vila Real however comes from the lookout behind the church and cemetery at Miradouro de Trás-do-Cemitério. Walking past the town hall, city museum and other assorted traditional buildings, you find yourself overlooking the city’s main valley and out toward the district’s magnificent countryside. In one direction you can look along the edge of the city out towards the nearby hill line, while the other way takes you across forests to the nearby immense bridge that supports the motorway.
The city of Vila Real runs along the ridges of a steep valley that cuts down to the Rio Corgo. It wasn’t until I crossed the bridge over the river that I realised how impressive its valley was. I noticed people walking up from the valley not from the main bridge, and decided to venture down to take a look for myself. Fortunately I did, as the valley turned out to be the most beautiful spot I came across in Vila Real.
The valley almost offers an oasis from the city; the further down you get into it, the more removed you feel from the city above. There’s something very rugged and raw about the valley that makes it feel adventurous and different, despite its location. If you follow the trail and take the small pedestrian bridge across, you find the river much calmer upstream. This part of the riverfront seems popular with locals thanks to all the green space that surrounds it.
Regua Bus Ride
On my way back from my day trip to Lamego the next day, I had to take a bus that wound its way through the hills south of Vila Real. While the bus took a long time to get back, the views from my seat were spectacular. Each and every corner offered panoramic vistas across the rolling countryside, as well as many a vineyard. Because of the time of year, the rural landscapes were starting to spring to life and the traditional terraces were in the middle of construction. It may have been tricky to get quality shots through the bus window but I was more than content to just watch the beautiful countryside go past. In Vila Real, the valleys are definitely the most interesting part of the region.
Have you had a chance to visit the valleys around Vila Real? Would these landscapes lure you to Vila Real? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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