Montalegre is a land blessed with divine beauty! Waterfalls and lakes that rip through the rocky mountains, lush vegetation, a village that hovers over the waters, as if it were Noah’s Ark, another stone village in a valley, high in the mountains and so many other surprises! Besides the breathtaking nature, Montalegre has castles, bridges, monasteries and, mainly, remarkable and genuine people. If you haven’t been to Montalegre yet, we hope this article will arouse your curiosity to visit this land of so many charms!
It is a transmontana land, bordering Spain to the north. It is located in the district of Vila Real, in northern Portugal. A significant part of Montalegre’s territory belongs to the Peneda-Gerês National Park. By car, it is a little less than 2 hours from Sá Carneiro airport, in Oporto, 2h30 from Santiago de Compostela airport, in Galicia, and about 4h30 from Lisbon airport.
WHAT TO VISIT IN MONTALEGRE?
The natural, historical and cultural heritage of Montalegre is immense. We have chosen some key points to start discovering this place, but there is much more to explore! Here is a map of the CENTRAL ZONE of Montalegre to help you define the routes of your walks.
MONTALEGRE HISTORICAL CENTER
As always, we should start in the historical center, which in Montalegre is called Rua Direita. There, you will begin a journey into the soul of the town, a journey that is made through the sounds and smells, the architecture and the atmosphere of the streets. Two-story houses, the smell of burning wood, and the granite walls in shades of gray. The die is cast, let’s start the journey!
Montalegre Castle is the most emblematic monument of the town. Since the thirteenth century it stands on top of the hill imposing its authority over the entire village and guarding the border with the Kingdom of Galicia. From the village you can admire the imposing construction of defensive architecture that is in very good condition. From the castle, a beautiful landscape unfolds over the Cávado river and the Gerês and Larouco mountains. This castle belonged to the defensive group that protected the valleys of the rivers Tâmega and Cávado, together with Portelo Castle and Piconha Castle, of which only a few vestiges remain. Since 1910 the castle of Montalegre has been classified as a National Monument.
MONTALEGRE CASTLE CHURCH
It was once the main church of Montalegre and was built during the Middle Ages. Around the temple we find many trees that give the place an aura of calm and tranquility. Despite being a very old church, the current design dates back to the 17th century. Of note is the bell tower that is separated from the main structure (like many churches in this part of the country). It has a main nave and inside it stands out the altar and the gilded carving.
CHURCH OF MERCY IN MONTALEGRE
It is located in the square of the pillory of Montalegre, right in the center of the town on the way to the castle. The exterior of the church is of great simplicity with a single nave and a revivalist and mannerist architecture. It was in this temple that the village’s Santa Casa da Misericordia (Mercy House) originally operated. The church continues to be used by the local people as a place of prayer.
MONTALEGRE CITY HALL
The Paços do Concelho building houses the Town Hall and other public institutions such as the finance, post office and other offices of other state departments. It was built in the early 19th century and extensively renovated between 1870 and 1880.
To better understand the history and life of Pitões das Júnias, it is essential to visit the old Corte do Boi. Currently, this is one of the poles of the Ecomuseu do Barroso, which works together with the Interpretation Center of Montalegre. In the past, the Corte do Boi was home to the village’s oxen. The oldest still remember the times when each one gave his quota of rye to feed the ox, whose function was to ensure the reproduction of all the cows of Pitões. Since today each one has his or her own ox, this space has been transformed into the Ecomuseum of Barroso, paying tribute to community life and the old trades that shaped the character of the people. The second floor is dedicated to the women in their tasks, and the first floor to the men in their work. From June to September the Ecomuseum is open every day, but from October to May it is only open on weekends.
It offers a privileged view of the town center and is a popular spot for locals and tourists. It is located on the forest slope at an altitude of 1095 meters. From there you can identify the main monuments of the village such as the castle, the church, the multipurpose pavilion and the Toural square. If you go there, you will also notice the nature that “embraces” the village. An extension of green spaces that extend to the rock formations of the Gerês mountain range. Very good!
WHAT TO VISIT AROUND MONTALEGRE?
Within a short distance from Montalegre (up to 30 minutes by car), we can find a very large number of interesting things to see and see. Below is a map to help you plan your routes!
VILARINHO DE NEGRÕES
In the municipality of Montalegre, you will find Vilarinho de Negrões, one of the most beautiful jewels of the transmontan territory. This village could be the setting of an enchanted movie. The village is located in a small peninsula that seems to hover over the waters of the Alto Rabagão dam, we would say a raft attached by a rope of earth. The village does not impose itself by its grandeur, but by its genuineness and simplicity. In less than an hour you can walk through the alleys, among the picturesque granite houses. Step by step, the silence of the stillness of the waters and the rural compass penetrates us.
Around the village are inhabited and abandoned stone houses, a chapel, a pillory, fountains, tanks, and even a sundial. There are still granaries in the village, which in these parts are called “canastros”. The “espigueiros” are tall structures, typical in the region, built to dry the corn. From Vilarinho de Negrões we are surrounded by the beauty of Nature. Our gaze hovers over the waters that reflect the sky, clear or frowning, we glimpse the Alto de São Domingos, the Serra do Barroso, the Peneda-Gerês and, in the distance, the Serra do Larouco.
PITÕES DAS JÚNIAS
Still in Montalegre, high in the Serra do Gerês, the traditional village of Pitões das Júnias rivals the beauty of Vilarinho de Negrões, although the scenery is completely different. Pitões das Júnias is nestled in a valley in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, over a thousand meters high. It is a remarkable land! The natural beauty is overwhelming, dominated by the strength of the mountains that impose their silence. The village sweeps us away by its authenticity, both of the people and the streets lined with typical granite houses. Here everything is simple, pure and true, from the people of Pythons to the air you breathe.
PITÕES DA JÚNIAS WATERFALL
In this small village of Montalegre there is a large and beautiful waterfall! Just a 20-minute walk away, you arrive at the Miradouro da Cascata. For those who don’t like to walk, there is a parking lot next to the footpath that leads to the waterfall. It is only 600 meters through a pleasant path, part of it through a wooden walkway. At the viewpoint we are presented with a breathtaking view! The Pitões das Júnias Waterfall unfolds in steps, from where several waterfalls flow down the granite rock, fed by the clear stream that passes near the Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias. The largest waterfall falls from 30 meters high, followed by the others. The best view is undoubtedly from this viewpoint, but it does not give access to the Cascade. If you want to take the opportunity to take a dip and cool off from the summer heat, just ask some of the local people in the village, who will be happy to show you the best way.
MONASTERY OF SANTA MARIA DAS JÚNIAS
Montalegre accumulates hidden treasures, and the Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias is clearly one of them! Arriving at this place, one immediately realizes why a monastery was built here. The natural beauty and peace imbued here immediately make you feel closer to heaven. It is without a doubt a privileged place for recollection and contemplation. Today the ruins of the monastery stand as if they had always been there, like the mountains. Like many things in these lands, the imposing nature of these ruins comes from their silence and simplicity. It is a magical place!
It is thought that in the 9th century there was already a small hermitage here, belonging to the Benedictine Order. Later, in the 12th century, it was entrusted to the care of the Cistercian Order. The small hermitage, which initially housed 13 monks, gave way to a large monastery. The church is still standing, but is normally closed. However, it opens on August 15 for the pilgrimage of Our Lady of the Assumption, which departs from the village of Pitões to the monastery. It’s not difficult to get to the Monastery ruins, but to make sure you don’t get lost, here are the GPS coordinates: 41°49’52.39 “N | 7°56’33.79 “W
CALDEIRAS DE PEREIRA WATERFALL
Pitões das Júnias has another unbelievably beautiful place! Caldeiras de Pereira is a hidden place, difficult to access, so we would not recommend going there with children. However, if you like challenges, it is worth visiting. Local people usually go there, and from time to time someone from out of town goes there. We leave the coordinates, but if there is someone from the local area who can show you the way, or even go with you, the discovery will have a different taste. GPS: 41°50’2.07 N | 7°57’45.32 W
This is a medieval bridge that connects the parish of Ferral, in Montalegre and Ruivães, which belongs to the municipality of Vieira do Minho. Mizarela Bridge, “Devil’s Bridge” or even “Salvador Bridge”, names by which it is also popularly known. The name is enough to guess that it is a place surrounded by legends, beliefs and myths. To the name is added the incredible scenery of an unusual bridge, all in stone, in the narrow valley, over the high cliffs of the Rabagão river. It is said that the Devil himself built it for a man who sold his soul to him. This soul, repentant on his deathbed, was saved by a priest, who returned to the site, deceived the Devil and blessed the bridge. Legend aside, the truth is that the Mizarela Bridge is a unique construction, in a place of rare beauty, well worth visiting.
7 LAGOONS WATERFALL
Poços Verdes do Sobroso is certainly a piece of land fallen from Paradise! This place is better known as Cascata das 7 Lagoas, or just 7 Lagoas. A sequence of 7 lakes with clear green waters, excavated in the rock, some bigger than others, more or less deep. The waterfall feeds the ponds through the green of the vegetation and the harder colors of the earth and rocky mountains.
For the more daring, there is a kind of natural slide and, from another place, it is possible to jump into water 10 meters high. Those who don’t need such adrenaline also have a place to swim peacefully. Words are poor to describe the delights of this place. The number 7 stands for perfection, and here, chance or the Divine hand has determined the 7 Lagoas, in the Peneda-Gêres National Park, in Montalegre, near the parish of Cabril. Reaching the 7 Lagoas involves a hike of about 6 km, but it is worth it! Be prepared for the way and take everything you need. You won’t regret it! To facilitate your journey we leave you the coordinates: 41°45’28.72 | N – 8°1’30.27 W
CELA DE CAVALOS WATERFALL
This is another exciting place in Montemor! A beautiful waterfall with crystal clear waters. For bathing, the best place is Lagoa de Celas, which is next to the ruins of a windmill at the top of the waterfall. For those who like quietness, Cela de Cavalos is a good bet, since it is a surprisingly quiet place!
Ponteira has been inhabited since the 4th century BC. This is confirmed by the archaeological remains (3 gold necklaces) found near the reservoir. They would have been worn by Celtic warrior chiefs. Time seems to have had its effect on Ponteira! A granite village that allows us to make a real trip back in time. It is surely the most interesting village in this region. A rural village where the cattle walk alone between the corrals and the grazing areas and where all the inhabitants know each other. The population is dedicated to agriculture and livestock and a community spirit prevails. In the past, precious stones (amethysts) were extracted from this place. The landscapes surrounding the village of Ponteira are idyllic!
Besides Ponteira, there are other granite villages that can be visited around Montalegre: Vilarinho de Negrões, Pitões da Júnias, Fafião, Vila da Ponte, Travassos, Meixedo, Sirvozelo, Tourém, and Vila da Ponte.
WALKING TRAILS IN MONTALEGRE
Those who like to go on long walks in the middle of nature will find in Montalegre a perfect place. As done, there is a very large number of trails scattered throughout the municipality. All of them allow close contact with nature and with the region’s heritage. The Smuggling Route is probably the most famous. Others equally interesting are called Trilho do Ourigo, Trilho de Dom Nuno and Trilho do Rio.
RESERVOIRS IN MONTALEGRE
There are many reservoirs in the region of Montalegre. Mirrors of water that greatly contribute to the beauty that characterizes the region and that are also important economic engines. They are very popular places for water sports enthusiasts and also for those who like to relax in a quiet and beautiful place. Here is a list of reservoirs in the region of Montalegre: Albufeira de Paradela, Sezelhe, Alto Rabagão in Pisões, Baixo Rabagão in Venda Nova, Salamonde.
VIRTUAL TOUR OF MONTALEGRE
WHEN TO VISIT MONTALEGRE?
Of course you can visit Montalegre at any time of the year according to the landscape preferences of each soul. But the truth is that on feast days we can observe and enjoy the town with a different energy and dynamics. Here is the map of celebrations.
- Every Friday the 13th is a day (and night) of celebration. Lively streets, gastronomy, fireworks, concerts and much more!
- In October there is the Fair of the Saints. In the 2nd week of January it is the turn of the smokehouse and barroso ham fair.
- During Carnival there is room for caretos and facanicos that go through the streets in celebration
- In June it is time for the Barroso fair, an excellent opportunity to get to know the magnificent posta barrosã
- In the first week of August it is time for the Senhor da Piedade festivities.
GASTRONOMY IN MONTALEGRE
Portuguese gastronomy is, as my dear reader knows so well, magnificent! In Portugal we can eat very well at a very nice price and this quality / price ratio is, in our opinion, another positive differentiation factor between our and other foreign gastronomies. There are many Portuguese regions that affirm themselves also through their mouths. Montalegre is one of those examples and its best examples are: cozido à barrosã, posta barrosã, kid, smoked products, jams, honey, rye bread and chestnut.
To prove this special appetite of Montalegre for gastronomic matters, the gastronomic roadmap of Montalegre was created. This is an application (app) aimed at promoting the region’s gastronomic products and services. Check it out!
RESTAURANTS IN MONTALEGRE
There are many options in Montalegre. We chose to mention a restaurant that seems to be one of those I like: cheap, with good typical food from the region and unpretentious (relaxed atmosphere). It’s called …
SABORES DE BARROSO
Inexpensive restaurant with over 200 reviews on Google and an overall rating of 4.2 stars. The highest praise from customers goes to the quality of the meat and the friendliness of the staff. It has easy parking facilities.
HOTELS IN MONTALEGRE
There aren’t many accommodation options in Montalegre. However, if you are available to stay a few kilometers away you will find more solutions. After doing our Google search for a good value for money option, we decided to suggest…
CASA DA AVÓ CHIQUINHA
A 3-star hotel (my favorite), with more than 83 comments on google and an overall rating of 4.6 stars (out of 5). If you stay there you will find a very clean space, huge beds, a magnificent view of the mountains, a terrace, a pool for sunbathing and the friendliness of grandma Chiquinha (dona Idalina).
WHAT TO VISIT NEAR MONTALEGRE?
Montalegre is in an absolutely fascinating part of the country. An area where breathtaking landscapes surprise us at every turn. To get to know the town of Montalegre and its surroundings well, we suggest a 3-day stay. If you have some time left or if you have decided to spend a longer vacation in this region of the country, consider also visiting one (or more) of the following suggestions: Peneda Gerês National Park, Serra do Larouco, Chaves and Vidago.
From Montalegre to the Peneda Gerês National Park is only 20,8 kilometers, a distance that can be covered in 26 minutes by car. It is located between Minho and Trás-os-Montes and covers the Soajo and Amarela mountains. It is crossed by the Lima and Cávado rivers that contribute to the endless beauty of what is the most beautiful natural park in continental Portugal. It integrates the list of 11 European parks called “Pan Park”. A title that is only issued to parks with more than 20,000 hectares where the human hand does not exceed 10,000. I usually say that no Portuguese person can die without visiting the Azores and the natural park Peneda Gerês, it’s a sin!
13.6 kilometers and 20 minutes by car separate Montalegre from the Larouco mountain range. After the Serra da estrela, it is the highest in Portugal with a maximum altitude of 1527 meters (Fonte da Pipa). It is 10 kilometers long and is located northeast of Montalegre. It offers magical landscapes to the few Portuguese who visit it. Who reaches the top of the mountain can see the rivers Tâmega, Cávado and the Lima valleys. Beyond the landscapes, the mountain also offers the possibility of watching garrano horses and doing radical sports such as hang gliding, climbing and paragliding. Perfect also for those who like to go for long walks!
45 minutes and 43 kilometers separate Montalegre from Vidago. Vidago was, is (and will be) synonymous with charm, elegance, rest and tranquility! Since its exceptional waters were discovered (in 1863), the town of Vidago has been a spa reference in Portugal. In 1910, with the opening of the Corgo railway line (now extinct), and the inauguration of the Vidago Palace Hotel, Vidago experienced its golden era. It was, at that time, a destination of choice in Portugal and Europe and a place frequented by Portuguese and European aristocrats. But the Vidago village is not limited to its thermal waters. There is also room for golf, for bike rides on the Corgo ecopista, for walks in the park and for culture (Our Lady of Conceição church). A magnificent option for a weekend of pure relaxation!
From Montalegre to the beautiful city of Chaves is a distance of 38.8 kilometers, a distance that can be covered in 40 minutes. The city of Chaves is bathed by the river Tâmega and combines the patrimonial beauty with the natural beauty. From its soil still springs the hot waters that led the Romans to call it Aquae Flaviae, believing it had medicinal powers. The thermal route Chaves – Vidago is still one of the great attractions of the region. But there is much more to see and do in Chaves. The keep of the castle, the magnificent Roman bridge of Trajano, the churches and the forts of São Francisco and Neutel. The natural landscapes are another element that deserves to be highlighted. As it is located in a valley, it benefits from magnificent views of the mountains. Next to the Roman bridge you will find a perfect garden for a walk after lunch, it is called Jardim do Tabolado. And because we’re talking about food, a final note for flavian gastronomy: the sausages, the smoked meats, the pork and the pastries of chaves will enchant you.
The history of Montalegre is drawn since distant times. The prehistoric monuments of the region date back to 1500/2000 B.C. From a later period, there are castros, which are the landmark of the Celtic civilization. The imperial road and bridges testify to Roman times. The only Arabic trace are the stories of popular tradition, which despite not being historically confirmed, are part of the charm of Montalegre. Since Portugal was founded as a nation, monasteries, hospices, hospitals and castles have sprung up to protect the border with Galicia.