Terra Quente Transmontana

Between the Douro and Tua Rivers lies a farming region that is criss-crossed with the traces left by the peoples who discovered these lands so many centuries ago. The Terra Quente Transmontana (Transmontana Hot Lands) – comprising the municipalities of Mirandela, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Alfândega da Fé, Vila Flor and Carrazeda de Ansiães – has also carefully preserved its traditions and gastronomic delights. 

CC BY-NC-ND Município de Mondim de Bastos CC BY-NC-ND Município de Mondim de Bastos

CC BY-NC-ND Associação de Turismo do Porto e Norte, AR CC BY-NC-ND Associação de Turismo do Porto e Norte, AR

CC BY-NC-ND - Associação Grupo de Caretos de Podence CC BY-NC-ND - Associação Grupo de Caretos de Podence

 
 
 

Terra Quente Transmontana is the region made up of the municipalities of Mirandela, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Alfândega da Fé, Vila Flor and Carrazeda de Ansiães, all of which lie within the district of Bragança. Terra Quente has a milder climate than the neighbouring region to the north, Terra Fria, which is one reason for its name. The Douro runs through the municipalities in the southern part of the Terra Quente, while the Tua separates the municipalities of Mirandela and Macedo de Cavaleiros.

This region boasts an immense historical and cultural heritage, interspersed with countryside that literally takes your breath away. The rivers have carved out deep valleys, along the sides of which people have planted the vines and olive trees that drive the local economy. The region’s myriad viewpoints offer a broad range of panoramas: there are rivers, fields of crops that shimmer away into the distance and precipitous mountains. And everywhere, there are traces of the peoples who have forged the history of Terra Quente.  

Bedecked with flowers, Mirandela sits on the Tua River. The imposing Palace of the Távoras (Paço dos Távoras), a 17th Century palace that currently serves as the town hall, and the 18th Century emblazoned mansion of the Counts of Vinhais (Solar dos Condes de Vinhais), are just two of the monuments that you could visit. If you want to go back a few more centuries, visit the ruins of the 14th Century Mirandela Castle. There are only a few traces of this fortification remaining in the city, the most visible of which is the Santo António Gate, now part of a private dwelling.

Throughout the county of Mirandela, you can see the evidence of prehistoric settlements, particularly in the form of megalithic monuments and hill forts. Remains from the Bronze Age show that there was considerable mining of tin, copper and arsenic in the area. The Romans, attracted by the richness of the soil, also spent a few centuries occupying various parts of the region.

Don’t leave Mirandela without climbing up to the viewpoint at the 17th Century Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Amparo. From here you can look down on Mirandela and the Tua valley.

Once you leave Mirandela, head to Macedo de Cavaleiros. On the way, stop off in Romeu, a well preserved example of a traditional Transmontana village. Here, you might like to visit the Museum of Curiosities (Museu das Curiosidades), a collection of the belongings of the family of an important farmer who lived here in the 19th Century. Going into the museum is like going back into the recent past. The exhibits include bicycles, agricultural implements and cinema material.

The municipality of Macedo de Cavaleiros lies in a valley between the Pinhovelo and Bornes Mountains (much frequented by hang gliders and para-gliders). It has an astonishingly rich heritage of manor houses, churches, crosses and pillories just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.

Take your time over visiting the village of Chacim, at the foot of Bornes Mountain. This village was closely linked to the silk industry, and the ruins of the Royal Spinning Factory (Real Filatório de Chacim), where silk was made, can still be seen today. Right next to these ruins is the interpretation centre for the Real Filatório de Chacim. Here, you can get a pretty good idea of the impact that this industry had on the region in the 18th Century.

To the south of the municipality of Macedo de Cavaleiros is the municipality of Alfândega da Fé. This county also lies in the shadow of Bornes Mountain and is known for its rich religious heritage. This includes the parish churches of Agrobom and Sambade (18th Century) and of Sendim da Ribeira (19th Century), amongst others.

Alfândega da Fé was also a place where defensive fortifications were taken very seriously and there are castles at Alfândega da Fé, Felgueiras, in Agrobom, and Sendim da Ribeira. One of the most striking monuments in the town of Alfândega da Fé is the Clock Tower, an unusual building that dates back to the Middle Ages and likely had a military purpose.

To the west of Alfândega da Fé is the municipality of Vila Flor, which is known for its extensive olive tree plantations and production of olive oil. This picturesque village, which even King Dinis remarked on, is the perfect place to find out about the history and flavours of the Terra Quente. The town was once walled, following King Dinis’ order to build a castle there in the 13th Century, but these days only some parts of the wall remain. One part that did survive the growth of the town was the King Dinis Arch (Arco de D. Dinis), which can be seen in the town’s historic centre.

A few kilometres outside Vila Flor is the small village of Freixiel, in a valley surrounded by the Folgares, Cabreira, Mós, Pessegueiro and Vieiro Mountains. This is a place where time flows slowly and the locals always have a kind word for visitors. Take the opportunity to go and see the pillory, the fountain and Roman wine press and the Necropolis (Necrópole do Salgueiral).

From the centre of Vila Flor it is less than 20 kilometres to Carrazeda de Ansiães. Here, ancient and modern art live in harmony, from the contemporary granite sculptures in the International Museum of Contemporary Open Air Art (Museu Internacional de Arte Contemporânea ao Ar Livre) to the 18th Century pillory built when the county seat was transferred from Ansiães to Carrazeda de Ansiães. Visit the Ansiães Castle Interpretation Centre (CICA – Centro Interpretativo do Castelo de Ansiães), which is just the right place to learn something more about the history of the municipality. There is also the 20th Century windmill built to mill the wheat produced in the fields around the town.

From the town centre, set off in the direction of Ansiães, where you really should visit the castle (which was inhabited from the 3rd millennium BC through to 1734) and the Roman churches of São João Baptista and São Salvador de Ansiães. From the top of the castle, take in the views of olive trees, orchards and, in the background, the village of Carrazeda de Ansiães. If you have the chance, head south to discover another unmissable Douro Route viewpoint. Here, in the village of Beira Grande, you can see the carved riverbanks of the Douro, fruit of the hard work of the people who built the terraces needed to grow the grapes that go into Port wine, the most international of all Portuguese wines.

Nature and leisure activities

Although this is protected countryside, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. The Protected Countryside of the Azibo Reservoir (Paisagem Protegida da Albufeira do Azibo) lies almost entirely within the municipality of Macedo de Cavaleiros. It is a fantastic spot for engaging with nature and for such water sports as rowing, windsurfing and canoeing.

With a total area of over 3 thousand hectares, the Protected Countryside of the Azibo Reservoir is one of the best places in Europe for birdwatching. There are around 40 species of birds to watch. Higher up, you will see eagles and storks, while on the shores of the reservoir you will catch sight of the common sandpiper and the great crested grebe. And you will certainly not remain indifferent to the swooping flight of the Montagu's harrier, a migratory bird that lives on the Azibo between March and September.

To continue your exploration of the Protected Countryside of the Azibo Reservoir, take one of the sign-posted walking trails or the Azibo cycleway and immerse yourself in the colours of a landscape made up of holm oaks, cork oaks and numerous flowers, including forest orchids. As you make your way, watch out for the foxes, squirrels and hares that inhabit the area.

If you have time, take a dip in the waters of the Azibo reservoir. And the best thing of all is that there are two river beaches to choose from: Ribeira and Fraga Pegada. Both are accessible to those with reduced mobility.

Ribeira beach is an excellent spot to spend a day out with the family. It is well equipped with a picnic area, playground, playing field and a water sports zone. The area also has something of a microclimate, which means that, in the summer, the water temperature is normally over 24ºC.

The Fraga da Pegada river beach has won a number of awards for the quality of its water and been proud to fly the Blue Flag for over a decade. It is a great beach for swimming and other non-motorised water sports, such as rowing, windsurfing and canoeing. At the end of the day, get your energy back by visiting the beach restaurant, which serves local delicacies based on Transmontana meat and game.

Animal lovers will likely enjoy a visit to the Peneiredo Tourist Complex alongside Peneiredo dam in the municipality of Vila Flor. Besides swimming-pools, a picnic area and campsite, the complex also boasts a small zoo. The zoo houses a range of animals, including fallow deer, boar, peacocks and ducks, amongst other birds.

The neighbouring municipality of Vila Flor, Mirandela, also has a green space (Parque Doutor José Gama), where you can go for a dip, play mini-golf or take a nap in the leafy shade of the trees. After all, your body deserves a rest, too! The Tua River is also much used for jet-skiing and Mirandela regularly hosts races on both the domestic and European calendar.

If you want to relax next to the Douro River, make your way to the municipality of Carrazeda de Ansiães, more specifically to the Senhora da Ribeira jetty. When you sit down in the shade of the leafy trees and gaze out at the river banks studded with vine-planted terraces, you can immediately see why this wine-growing region is one of the most beautiful in the world.

 

Unique traditions and delicious food

In almost all the villages in north-east Portugal, special ceremonies are performed between Christmas Day and the Epiphany. These are often called ‘Feasts of the Boys’.

The precise origins of these pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, which certainly pre-date the Christianisation of the Iberian Peninsula, have been lost in the mists of time. The name comes from the fact that the younger members of the community are the stars of the festivities, with their “excesses” and follies protected by the home-made masks that cover their faces. The ritual marks the passage from youth to adulthood.

In Vila Boa, in the municipality of Vinhais, there is a “mask-maker’s” workshop that sells these wooden masks, true examples of popular art.

Another ancient tradition is the Mirandese language (Mirandês). It is not a dialect, or a variety of Portuguese, but a language in its own right, derived from Latin. There are local variations as well, such as Guadramilês, Riodonorês and Sendinês, spoken around Guadramil, Rio de Onor and Sendim.

Even today, the local population is bilingual. Mirandese is learned in the region's schools and is officially recognised as a minority European language Portugal's second official language.

How to get there

There are numerous direct flights into Porto. If you are travelling low cost you can fly straight from London, (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseille, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan, Bergamo, Rome Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Lübeck, Munich Memmingen and Düsseldorf Weeze.

In the summer, low-cost airlines fly from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.

The traditional airlines operate flights to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Luanda, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto and Luanda. In the summer, they also fly from Montreal, Minorca, Brest and Brive.

One easy way to get from the Francisco Sá Carneiro International Airport to the centre of Porto is to take the metro. The journey lasts about 30 minutes.

To get to Terra Quente from Porto, take the A4 towards Macedo de Cavaleiros. The trip will take you about 2 hours. 

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