Thursday 27th October: Day trip to Braga & Guimaraes.
Our trip today was out to the area of Braga and Guimaraes and we took this with our guide John from Living Tours. We had been hoping to meet some other people on this tour but, sadly, we were the only participants for this particular day.
The trip out to Braga took about one hour and this region is to the north and a bit further inland, ie: East, of Porto.
Our first stop was at the Basilica Of Sameiro built in 1863 and located on a high ridge just outside of Braga. This was the most amazing site given the Basilica was so huge and, for today at least, it stood in stark contrast against just the handful of people gathered near the venue. There is a bit of a story to this Church which is as follows. Apparently, Pope John Paul 2nd had a vision of the Lady of Sameiro when there was an attempt being made on his life. He said it was her vision that had warned him to move sideways and thereby avoid the bullet that was fired at him. Thus, the Basilica Of Sameiro is now a significant Pilgrimage site and hence the catering for the masses but who weren’t there today. Pope John Paul 2nd subsequently visited the Basilica and gave a drop of his blood and a golden rose which cane be seen inside the Basilica. There is a second, alternate version of this story though that the cynics subscribe to and this states that the Pope fabricated this story to boost the profile of this Basilica in the north of the Country. You can make your own mind up as to which story you believe! As a result though, this is the second biggest pilgrimage site in Portugal after Fatima but just the third on the Iberian Coast with the Santiago de Compostella being the largest on the Iberian coast.
From this Basilica we then drove a few minutes to yet another amazing sanctuary and pilgrimage site of Bomm Jesus built in 1722. This stood out for the spectacular staircase in front of the Church that is 116 meters in length.
Our next destination was just a few minutes drive away down in Braga. First stop there was to visit the 11th Century Braga Cathedral that was built on order from the mother of first king of Portugal, Donna Theresa. Braga dates back to the 3rd Century though and so there are relics dating back to 5th Century that can bee seen within the Cathedral. We then left to have lunch and this was enjoyed at small restaurant located just beside the Cathedral. We shared a lovely meal with our guide, John, in the outdoor alfresco section and learned about his plans to start his own tourism company with a focus on the food and wine of the region. Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of this available in Porto just yet.
After lunch we drove the 15 min trip over to the 9th century city of Guimaraes. The ‘claim to fame’ for this region is that it is believed to be the birth place of the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. We visited the 10th Century Castle of Guimaraes and then walked down through the very pretty Old Town.
It was 5pm by this stage and time to head home and, luckily, the 60 min journey was fairly free of congested traffic. I had been boasting about the quality of food in the downstairs restaurant and so that is where we headed for our final evening meal together. Mark found a new best friend in our waiter and discovered a new liqueur which we then had to traipse around to try and source. We found a bottle in the local corner-store style shop and it went home with Mark very early the next morning.