Have you ever heard about the ‘Rota do Românico’, or the ‘Romanesque Road’? Probably not, so it’s time to change that!
I recently travelled Northern Portugal with Transromanica, a network of Romanesque heritage sites. As part of the Council of Europe’s Cultural Routes, they show us the shared cultural heritage in Europe and really take us on a journey without boundaries, through different countries and cultures, space and time.
The architecture Romanesque Route is their medieval heritage trail lined with monasteries, churches and monuments, as well as many bridges, castles and towers situated in nine countries across Europe. In Portugal alone, this part of the route is called Rota do Românico and monuments are clearly signposted.
Currently, in North Portugal the route comprises 58 monuments, located in 12 municipalities (Amarante, Baião, Castelo de Paiva, Celorico de Basto, Cinfães, Felgueiras, Lousada, Marco de Canaveses, Paços de Ferreira, Paredes, Penafiel and Resende) of the Sousa, Douro and Tâmega valleys.
You can travel the route on your own pace and last year, I discovered part of this Romanesque route through Germany, which was great. This time, I’m showing you the must-see places in Northern Spain (Santo Domingo de Silos, Burgos and Zamora) and Portugal (Amarante), as well as some other highlights on the Rota do Romanico in Portugal that I can recommend stopping at:
ROAD TRIP ROTA DO ROMANICO PORTUGAL
AMARANTE – City Walk and Inside Experiences
Amarante is a historic settlement dating back to the 4th century B.C. and is located in the Northern Portuguese district of Porto, nestled between the mountainous mass of the Serra do Marão, crossed by the Tamega River.
Around Amarante you can find the rich agricultural lands of the Minho region which is responsible for the grapes of the vinho verde wine that you can find everywhere here. Amarante is also a great place for foodies, because the region also produces great cheeses, smoked meats and pastries. The town itself is lined with charming cobblestone alleys and balconied houses and other buildings in mainly the Romanesque style.
Because Amarante is so small, it’s perfect to explore on foot, but there are also options to take a tour a bit further out of the medieval city center.
One of my favourite activities in Amarante was the sweets workshop that we did with the Inside Experiences tour company. They run several local tours in Amarante and the surrounding area and make for a perfect way to get to know the city! Another great tour we did with Inside Experiences, was a Jeep Safari to some of the nearby Neolithic sites in the area of Amarante.
DOURO VALLEY – Tour Suggestions
Here are some great suggestions for popular tours in the Douro Valley Region:
TRAVANCA – Monastery of Travanca
The Monastery of the Saviour of Travanca is a 13th century Romanesque Period church that was one of the most powerful monastic institutions in the Sousa region of Portugal during the Middle Ages.
The church itself is massive and unique because of its symmetrical style, but what really stands out from the complex is the isolated tower. It is considered one of the tallest medieval Portuguese towers.
On the outside, the building is decorated with bovine heads, birds with entwined necks, snakes, human figures and monsters devouring naked men. On the inside of the building, you can see a diverse range of artistic and architectural solutions from the medieval period and later and elements of Baroque can be found in the sacristy (I especially loved the paintings on the ceilings!). You can visit it only by appointment.
Would you like to see 360 tour of this monastery? Then click here!
LOUSADA – Rota do Romanico Interpretation Center
In the town of Lousada in Portugal, you definitely have to visit the Interpretation Centre of the Romanesque, because it will give you a complete overview of the history and route of the Romanesque. Here, you can learn all about the art, symbolism, society and monuments of the Romanesque time, in an interactive exhibition building.
The center opened in 2018 and was designed by Spaceworkers, an architecture and design studio located in Paredes in northern Portugal. There is a reception, bar and library, but the highlight here is the 650 square meters of exhibition area, organised in a large central foyer and six theme-based rooms: “Territory and Establishment of Portugal”, “Medieval Society”, “The Romanesque”, “The Builders”, “Symbolism and Colour” and “Monuments Over Time”, showing you the best of Romanesque architecture examples across the country. Besides architecture, you’ll see great examples of Romanesque Paintings and Romanesque Sculptures as well.
Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00 and tickets are EUR €3 per person. The center is closed on Mondays and on January 1, Easter Sunday, May 1, and December 25. Guided tours should be booked at least 5 business days in advance and confirmed in advance, the cost for this is EUR €4,50 (includes your ticket), there is a 5 persons minimum.
For a 360 tour, make sure to click here!
LOUSADA – Stay at the Lousada Country Hotel
After exploring all the Romanesque heritage of the area, we retreated at night at the wonderful Lousada Country Hotel, which is located smack in the middle of the vineyards, but still in the center of Lousada and close to other destinations, such as Porto.
The hotel is part of a 80-hectare estate that includes a manor house with a chapel from 1854. These days, it’s a four star hotel with swimming pool, tennis courts and great restaurant, serving traditional Portuguese cuisine. Accommodation ranges from bedrooms to entire villas. The hotel was recognized with the “Quality Seal” of the Route of Romanesque.
PENAFIEL – Quinta Da Aveleda Winery
Close to the city of Lousada lies the paradise-garden of the 17th-century historic mansion of Quinta da Aveleda, a must-stop on your Northern Portugal road trip! Make sure to get a reservation for a tour and wine-tasting, or you will miss out on this popular winery that produces over 19 million bottles of wine each year.
Take a few hours to admire the fairytale-like botanical gardens filled with the most amazing flowers, water features, magical buildings and even a tower of goats (a.k.a. heaven). Then head over to the winery to have a look behind the scenes and taste the locally produced ‘vinhos‘ of the Guedes family. I wish you good luck trying to restrain yourself in the winery’s shop.
Also make sure to see the adorable gatekeeper’s cottage walk into the brandy storage unit, where the oak barrels are housed in a cool, dark room for best aging. You won’t easily forget the smell!
A combination ticket for the wine tasting and garden tour starts around EUR €10. Be aware that you’re not allowed to roam the gardens without supervision, so get that reservation in and get in time for your appointed slot!
PAREDES – Monastery of Saint Peter of Cête
The foundation of the quaint Monastery of Saint Peter of Cête dates back to the 10th century and is attributed to Gonçalo Oveques, who is buried in the chapel of the monastery. It was restored between the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 14th century and with this Gothic reformation, only the first rows of the nave’s walls and the south portal facing the cloister from the 10th century building were kept and used.
In 1551, the Monastery ceased to belong to the Order of Saint Benedict, and was annexed to the College of the Grace of the Hermits of Saint Augustine in Coimbra.
Inside the building you can find images of Saint Peter, Saint Lucia and Our Lady of Grace. There is also a stunning mural of Saint Sebastian that dates back to the 16th century.
Visiting only by appointment, but have a look at this 360 tour to see more of the building from the outside and inside.
QUINTANDONA – Casa Da Viuva Wine Bar
One of my favourite stops along the Rota do Românico was unexpected and came in the form of a lovely local Wine Bar Casa Da Viuva (House of the Widow). It’s located in the adorable town of Quintandona Penafiel (full of slate houses) and here you can enjoy truly amazing local Portuguese cuisine, with a modern twist.
We got a variety of dishes, all mouth-watering and (if I may say so) very Instagram-able. Think quail eggs and tempura-style beans, spicy roasted peppers, asparagus topped with warm cheese and nuts, fresh fish, pastries, burrata and other cheeses and cold cuts… all paired with the best local wines. Oh man! What a feast!
PORTO – Historic City Center
We ended our road trip through Portugal in the city of Porto, famous for it’s massive bridge over the river, the beautiful train station covered in blue tiles and of course the port wines. Our one day in Porto guide is on it’s way, but meanwhile enjoy the photo series below for inspiration.
We visited the famous library Livraria Lello, walked around the historic city center, saw the ‘most beautiful McDonald’s in the world’, drank all the port wine at Cálem Cellars (get tickets here >>) and had dinner while listening to beautiful Fado music.
COIMBRA – Historic University City
While the city of Coimbra wasn’t on our itinerary with Transromanica and technically isn’t part of the Rota do Românico, this university city is the location of one of the most beautiful Romanesque buildings in Portugal. The Old Cathedral of Coimbra is a Romanesque Roman Catholic building attributed to the French architect Master Robert.
In the 16th century there were many additions to the cathedral, but the basic architecture and structure of the Romanesque building was left intact, which makes it the only of the Portuguese Romanesque cathedrals from the Reconquista times (the period in the history of the Iberian Peninsula of about 780 years between the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 711 and the fall of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada to the expanding Christian kingdoms in 1492) to have survived relatively intact up to the present.
I visited the city many years ago, but having learned so much about the Romanesque, I would love to go back and see this location again. Have you been here?
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT TRANSROMANICA
Visit the website of Transromanica and Rota do Românico, which manages this network of Romanesque heritages sites and promotes education and sustainable tourism across the network. They have great suggestions on Places To Visit In Northern Portugal.
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO NORTHERN PORTUGAL!
I hope this article was a good Northern Portugal Travel Guide for you. Here is more information to help you plan your trip:
Time Zone in Northern Portugal? Western European Summer Time (GMT+1)
Currency in Northern Portugal? Euro (EUR). Check the latest exchange rate here >>.
Electrical Plugs in Northern Portugal? Portugal has plug types C (2 round pins) and F (2 round pins with two earth clips on the side). Portugal operates on 230 V supply voltage and 50 Hz. We recommend getting [amazon_textlink asin=’B01KLMW9GY’ text=’a universal travel adapter’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thetraveltester-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’1798619a-ecb8-11e8-8af7-5980e1425c5f’] to never worry about having the right plug on your travels!
Languages Spoken in Northern Portugal? Portuguese, but you can get by with English as well.
Best time to visit Northern Portugal? April until October. Northern Portugal has a Mediterranean climate with hot and dry Summers and mild Winters, but with a lot of rain.
Hotels In Northern Portugal? Check out booking.com for the best hotels in North Portugal >>
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ROMANESQUE
If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘Romanesque’, let me briefly point out some elements to look out for and give you a Romanesque definition, so you’ll enjoy this article a bit more:
What Does Romanesque Mean?
Around the year 1000, artists from all around Europe were inspired by the Roman and early Christian tradition, which developed into a unique architectural style: the Romanesque. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “Romanesque” means “descended from Roman”.
What Is Romanesque Architecture?
The Romanesque style of architecture (that flourished between the years 900 and 1250 AD) incorporated local myths and legends to reinvent old traditions, which is why it reflects the specific geographic characteristics of each region of medieval Europe so well.
The characteristics of Romanesque architecture are heavy masonry construction, thick walls with small windows (there is a reason this time was also called ‘The Dark Ages’), semi-circular arches over the portals and windows (rather than the more pointed arches from the later Gothic period), large towers, decorative arcades, Porticos (a porch leading to the entrance of a building with a roof structure) and barrel vaults.
Examples of Romanesque architecture each show clearly defined forms, frequently of very regular, symmetrical plan. The buildings made by Romanesque architects all seem very simple, especially when compared to the Gothic buildings that were to follow. While the buildings might look simple from the outside, the Romanesque did want to demonstrate the omnipotence of God and the Emperor, so most buildings are massive and lavishly decorated on the inside.
What is the Biggest Difference between Gothic and Romanesque architecture?
Gothic architecture is an evolution of Romanesque, but was recognized as a separate architectural ‘style’ a few centuries later. There are different architectural features that are considered signature Gothic, such as the cruciform plan, flying buttresses (a structure to support a wall), vaulted ceilings, pointed arches and stained glass windows.
Which Is The Best Definition Of The Term Romanesque?
If you were to define Romanesque, you would say it is a style of architecture developed in Western Europe between the 9th and 12th centuries, but a clear definition of Romanesque architecture is hard to give.
Who Directly Influenced Romanesque Architecture?
Romanesque architecture combines features of ancient Roman and Byzantine buildings and other local traditions. The style and features of Romanesque architecture can be identified right across Europe, despite regional characteristics and different materials used by Romanesque artists.
Map of Northern Portugal
Enjoy planning your North Portugal holidays!
All Transromanica Articles
Have a look at all our articles of things to see and do along the Transromanica Route:
- Transromanica Road Trip In Germany: Harz Mountains To The Strasse Der Romanik
- One Day In Magdeburg, Germany? Complete Guide To A Perfect City Break!
- Review Arthotel Magdeburg: Unique Hundertwasser Architecture In Germany!
- You Need To See The Incredible Nebra Sky Disk: The Oldest Depiction Of The Cosmos Found In The World!
- One Day In Santo Domingo De Silos, Spain? Complete Guide To A Perfect City Break!
- One Day In Burgos, Spain? Complete Guide To A Perfect City Break!
- One Day In Zamora, Spain? Complete Guide To A Perfect City Break!
- One Day In Amarante, Portugal? Complete Guide To A Perfect City Break!
- Unique Architecture Road Trip in Portugal: Rota Do Romanico
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Disclaimer: I was invited by Transromanica for the #Transromanica campaign and was compensated for creating content on our website and social media channels. All photos and words are our own, as always.