Day 14: World Heritage Guimaraes

This morning we were up and out by 9:30am. While it was only overcast when we started wending our way west along the river, shortly the clouds started unleashing moisture upon us. Have I mentioned how steep, narrow, and twisty the roads are? Well, adding in pouring rain didn’t exactly improve conditions, but Jim masterfully wound around the spaghetti bowl and got us on track to our next destination, the UNESCO World Heritage town of Guimaraes.

Restored Paco dos Duques

Restored Paco dos Duques

We arrived into Guimaraes during a deluge, which gave us pause to our sightseeing plans. But press on we must, so we both put on raincoats and bee-lined for the nearest café for a coffee and pastry. We managed to fritter away enough time for the rain to stop, followed by a magical sight: the sun came out.

Rejuvenated, we practically skipped to the TI, got ourselves sorted with a map, and carried on about our business. Guimaraes is known as the birthplace of Portugal, by the way. We passed by the main cathedral and some other old-looking bits before climbing a hill to visit the Paco dos Duques (Ducal Palace; €5/ea).

Grown man between grown rocks

Grown man between grown rocks

Construction on this joint started in the 1400s, later there were some additions and renovations, then it fell into ruin for a couple hundred years (apparently local nuns and friars looted the place of rocks and building material), the Portuguese dictator Salazar ordered complete restoration in the 20th century, and in the early 21st century Jim and I were found standing almost completely alone in this vast space. The rooms were appropriately large and grand, with enormous fireplaces and mammoth hanging tapestries. We both enjoyed it immensely.

Nearby the palace is a castle, of course, but we elected not to go inside this one. We did, however, eyeball it suspiciously before meandering our way back to the car and driving over to the nearby cable car (Teleferico) that would whisk us up to Monte Penha and the Santuario da Penha (€4.50/ea).

The Sanctuary with no nun around.

The Sanctuary with no nun around.

The Santuario da Penha is a large church/sanctuary that is located high up on a hill overlooking Guimaraes. The ride in a cable car to the top took about 5 minutes, and the only people going up were us and 3 nuns in the car behind ours. They did not appear to have rocks or building material in their pockets… yet. We disembarked to a wondrous woodland punctuated by granite boulders. These things were so large we felt like miniature people, and the entire setting up top was very peaceful and afforded nice views of town.

Eventually we rode the cable car back down, stopped for a quick coffee, then a picnic lunch in the car, and were off to the city of Braga. Braga is home to a very popular tourist destination called Bom Jesus do Monte, a basilica up on the hill with a crisscross Baroque staircase similar to the one in Lamego (the one in Braga came first; more on all of this later. All good things…), and we wanted a closer look. We drove up the steep switchback hill but the weather started to get ominous again and we decided to table our visit for a later time. However, we had another purpose for being in the neighborhood, and that was to experience a strange phenomenon known as a Gravity Hill.

This is very difficult to explain, and best experienced in person, but basically it is an optical illusion where you feel like you are going downhill but you start rolling uphill. And in a strange twist of fate, I had read about this particular gravity hill a couple years ago on and came across it again while doing trip research. We plugged the exact GPS coordinates into Miss Cleo (41.556932, -8.375808, for anyone interested) and gave it a whirl.


The Gravity Hill is the road on the left that is clearly on a downward slope but you Roll. Uphill.

The Gravity Hill is the road on the left that is clearly on a downward slope but you Roll. Uphill.

We were most definitely pointed down a hill, yet when Jim put the car in neutral and released the brakes we rolled uphill. And because no one else was around, we did it several times. There are Gravity Hills all around the world, and I encourage one and all to try one out. Gravity is fun.

Miss Cleo next directed us fairly seamlessly to the Hotel Ibis Braga Centro, our home for the next couple nights. We settled in for a bit before going out to a place called La Piola for pizza dinner. Now, I realize we are not in Italy, but we’ve been on mission to find good pizza in Portugal and we’ll just say the pursuit doesn’t end here.

After dinner we strolled around town before stopping to have a Baileys. It was starting to rain again and not many people were out and about so we again felt like we had the place to ourselves. After our drink we headed back to the room, put out the Do Not Disturd* sign on the door and went to bed.

*At the Ibis in both Lisbon and Braga the hanging door tag read Do Not Disturd. As with a few other English translations we’ve seen, we found it very funny and charming.

Definitely check his pockets

Definitely check his pockets

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