Many people plan their trip to Braga, Portugal, with little more in mind than to explore the wonderful baroque architecture, famous ecclesiastical landmarks and narrow, winding streets of the city centre. There is, however, much else to do and see besides.
The buildings and streets of Braga are interspersed with parks and landscaped gardens that make exploring Portugal’s oldest city a varied and exciting pleasure. But to really experience the diversity of the area and to embrace all that the Minho region has to offer, do consider heading further off the beaten track, away from the city centre to one of the many ancient Roman sites or further still, out into the thousands of acres of protected land that make up the Peneda-Geres National Park.
Close to the city yet far from the hustle and bustle is the imposing Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount). Perched high on a hillside in the municipality of Tenoes, Bom Jesus do Monte is a destination for pilgrimage via the “stations of the cross’ sacred way and offers beautiful architecture, lush greenery and sweeping views out across the city of Braga as far as the beaches of the Eastern Atlantic coast beyond.
Take the time to explore the delightful series of Baroque staircases that lead up in a zigzag shape to the summit of the hill, each of which is dedicated to one of the five senses (sight, smell, sound, touch and taste) and punctuated by dramatic fountains representing the virtues and the wounds of Christ. If you lack the energies for making your own foot-mounted pilgrimage to the summit, there is a funicular railway to do the job for you – the oldest on the Iberian Peninsula.
There are several other nature spots outside the city which offer wonderful views down across the rooftops, as well as a place for relaxation and exploration in their own right. Try Falperra Mount for distinctive views, fresh air and lush forest in which to take refuge from the sunshine in the high summer months.
Falperra Mount makes for a delightful picnic spot, as do the banks of the Este River’s spring, the Adaufe picnic park and the Sao Joao da Ponte leisure park, where there is plenty of room for little ones to run around and plenty of exotic wildlife to be spotted.
For nature combined with a good helping of ancient history, a trip to Citania de Briteiros is highly recommended. Citania de Briteiros is an archaeological site located some 15km from Braga where the ruins of a walled Celtic settlement are situated.
It is believed to have been the political capital of the Callaeci Bracari who inhabited northern Portugal in pre-Roman times. The site was abandoned sometime before the third century BC and shows some signs of Roman influence from around the first century BC, with Latin inscriptions and coins, terracotta pieces and glass found in the vicinity.
There is a small entrance fee to visit the ruins, but it is worth the trip both for historical interest and for the lovely countryside that surrounds it.
For nature lovers and adventurers, one of the biggest draws of Braga and the surrounding area is the Peneda-Geres National Park. The park is a protected area that reaches to the Spanish borders to the north and east and covers more than 72,000 hectares of land of the north-eastern Minho region.
The park contains 114 small villages with about 10,000 villagers in total, spread throughout this lush green mountainous area. A Roman road cuts straight through the middle of the park and is so well preserved that it is popular amongst cyclists who use it as a main artery from which to explore the delights of this rural idyll.
The park offers something new at every turn, from rare plant and animal species, including the last remaining wolves on the Iberian Peninsula, to picturesque hamlets clustered around attractive churches, fast-flowing waterfalls, slow-flowing streams and dramatic dams.
Whether you enjoy walking, hiking, cycling, climbing, horse riding or simply driving through one of the most peaceful areas in Portugal, the Peneda-Geres National Park is a must-see location during your trip to Braga.
Don’t miss the chance to visit the village of Geres, home of the Geres thermal springs, or Termas do Geres. The Termas do Geres were established some two thousand years ago when the Romans discovered the benefits of the local spring waters.
The waters have been used since this time to treat a number of illnesses and ailments with their therapeutic powers. While there is little of interest in Geres village itself, it is certainly worth a look for these famous ancient springs.