The recorded history of Vila Real seems to begin in 1289 when the King Dom, Afonso III, granted the town a royal warrant. It was here that the explorer Diogo Cão was born and who later discovered in 1482 the entrance to the mouth of the River Congo in Africa.
The rebel Manuel de Silveira Pinto da Fonseca who was also held the title of Conde de Amarante and whose direct actions in 1823 led to the War of the Miguelites, established his headquarters for his revolutionary movement in the town until he was later forced to escape into exile in Spain.
Located at the converging point of two rivers it has always been a busy agricultural and commercial town, mainly based around the lucrative wine and port trade.
Its main feature is its fine 15th Century Gothic Cathedral that was originally a church belonging to the Order of Dominicans whose Monastery was later completely destroyed in the 19th Century when there was a strong movement for the liberalisation of the country from the hold of both the church and old nobility.
Nearby is the Igreja dos Clérigos, a church with an attractive Baroque facade and tiled interior.
The Igreja de São Pedro is from the 16th Century and its interior is rich with many sculptures and sacred tiling. The Archaeological Museum of the town also has a large collection of coins covering all periods of history.
It is from this town that boat trips through the upper valley of the Rio Dão can be taken.
The town of Vila Real is well known for its distinctive black toned coloured pottery whose origin is unspecified. A specialty food of the town is the "Touchinho do Céu" that is made with a pumpkin filling.
Just about 3 Kms. to the northeast of the town is the now world famous Casa Mateus, a fine example of an aristocratic country manor from the early 18th Century. Still owned by the descendants of its creator the home is open to visitors and in which occasional music and poetry events regularly take place.
The façade is that which appears on the bottle of the internationally famous Rose wine. An attractive feature of this property is the gardens and especially the famed "Cedar Tunnel" that is composed of cedars 7.5 metres high creating some 35 metres of a walkway as a covered tunnel. Slightly further to the northwest of Vila Real starts the protected area named Parque Natural do Alvão.
Its topography varies considerably from well-cultivated valleys to the stark mountains reaching up to 1.339 metres (4.393 feet). Being unfortunately close to an urban area the illegal hunters still abound. Happily some hawks, otters, and other wild life can still be spotted in the Park.
In the area of Lamas de Olo the locally grown maize is still stored in the curious practical structures named “Segueiros”. These structures are either built from wood or granite and raised from the ground so that they maintain the maize in the right conditions.
They have hardly changed from their original design dating back to the early 18th Century. Close to the village is the spectacular water cascades named Fisgas de Ermelo.
On the northwest side of this Park is the town of Cabeceiras de Basto, a popular location as a refuge from the Moors during their lengthy occupation of Portugal. By reputation this was due to the apparent fighting tenacity of the monks who once inhabited the Mosteiro de Refojos.
To the east of Vila Real is the unique site of Santuário de Panóias, being the only one of its type known in the world. It is believed that the location was first used for the sacrifice of animals to the Gods by the human tribes of the area.
Later, the Romans also used the location for making tributes to their Gods and then following the Romans the next invaders Visigoths also made their sacrifices. Nearby is the Torre de Quintela constructed in the 13th Century. It is unusual in that this Tower has no castle and the views from it are are quite spectacular.
Directly to the west of Vila Real is the town of Amarante and is recorded as existing in 360BC as the home of Santo São Gonçalo. His claim to fame seems to have been his ability to keep ladies from male temptation and yet finding them husbands.
In this town is a museum devoted to the fine works of the 20th Century Portuguese Cubist painter Amadeo de Sousa-Cardoso. A contemporary and friend of both Picasso and Braque and his works were already highly regarded in both Paris and New York in 1913.
To the south of Vila Real is the stretch of the Rio Douro where most of the Port wine Lodges have their “Quintas”. This area is the home of the wines that are produced for the Port trade with multiple terraced vineyards dominated by houses that can date back as far as to the 15th Century.
The drive is most spectacular and is some 125 Kms long with good overnight resting places and with some "Quintas" to visit with the opportunity to taste their port.
To the southwest and on the north side of the Rio Douro is the attractive town of Mesão Frio that contains architecturally historic buildings.
The town was a favourite in 1152 to Portugal’s first Queen, Malfalda. Its inhabitants enjoyed certain special privileges but they were to later suffer under the rule of the Spanish King Philip II and the invasion of the French under Napoleon.
On the south side of the Rio Douro is the town of Lamego that claims to be the first town in 1143 to recognize the ascendancy of Dom Afonso Henriques as the first King of Portugal. The castle of the town, the Cathedral and the Igreja de Santa Maria Maior de Almacave, all date from the 12th Century.
The Town Museum is well stocked with items of national importance reflecting not only local history but international pieces.
The town is noted for its involvement in the production of wine and Viuva Lamego pottery. It is also a place of pilgrimage particularly to the Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios built in 1761 with its impressive double staircase of 686 steps.
To the east of this region known as Trás-os-Montes, is the town of Torre de Moncorvo that has the biggest 16th Century Church in the whole province.
South of the town is the Vila Nova de Vale da Cõa that boasts the worlds largest known collection of open-air Stone Age drawings that are estimated to be from about 20.000 years ago.
These drawings feature bulls, horses, fish and a naked man and the area can be visited with the assistance of a guide. Lying about halfway between Vila Real and Guarda is the small town of Penedono, with its small but impressive castle that records show existed before 960 AD.
On the road south to the town of Lamego is the Spa of Termas das Caldas de Moledo and directly to the west of the same town is yet another Spa, Caldas de Aregos.
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