Braga, the gateway to Portugal’s Duoro Wine Region is a shining example of Portugal’s blend of rich Roman and Medieval history and a great modern viticulture and culinary scene. Though we had one rainy day in town, we still had a great family time and got to see the city in the sunlight on our second day. An easily walkable town, Braga might not be the most popular city for tourists, but it belongs on any list of travel in Portugal. Here’s what we discovered during our stay in town.
We stayed at the fantastic bed and breakfast, Tea 4Nine, right off of one of Braga’s main squares. With a beautiful room right above a bakery, there was no shortage of awesome food. For breakfast we had amazing local cheese, bread, meat, and of course tons of freshly baked bread and cake. With a large apartment complete with separate bedroom, living room, and even a balcony overlooking the square, we had plenty of room to stretch out and make sure the boys had private space to sleep while we could enjoy some local wine.
On the day of our arrival, a constant rain greeted us in town, so we decided to stay indoors as much as possible and explore the town the following day. We couldn’t find many options for food delivery, so we set out to find some takeout. Nearby, according to the map was Punjabi Indian Restaurant, a highly rated takeout. We missed the entrance several times before realizing it was tucked inside a hidden shopping mall. European shopping malls always seem weird, tucked into areas just smaller than they should be due to space constraints in small towns. This one stretched way further length-wise than seemed possible, but remained narrow for the entirety. We also barely saw anyone else inside. Finally we found the food court and struck up conversation with the friendly owners while we waited for our food. Taking it back to the apartment, we enjoyed a delicious and authentic meal while discovering that spicy Indian food pairs well with the region’s chilled white wine, Vinho Verde. The boys also really embraced the culture, chomping into the food like maniacs while sitting on the couch. Maybe we won’t continue to encourage that.
Settling back into our apartment, we enjoyed some Portuguese reruns of Friends while the boys slumbered away in their own room and we sampled another local vintage suggested at a nearby massive wine shop, for the sake of learning about the culture.
The following morning, after loading up on cake and bread, we set off to explore the historical city. Nearby was the Archbishop’s Court, a garden and essentially the backyard of the classical residence of the region’s chief religious official. Though it was being landscaped – I wonder if the Archbishop hires the landscapers directly – the flowers blooming in the early summer were beautiful and seemed to glimmer in the sunny day. The boys loved roaring at the dragon-shaped fountain in the gardens.
Braga’s history goes back even further. Continuing along to Arco da Ports Nova, we discovered Braga’s Roman past. A major part of Rome’s empire, Portugal provided valuable resources to the economy of the empire. Braga celebrates their Roman history each year with a festival with performers, music, and of course in Portugal, food and wine. We missed the festival, but still found countless Roman ruins like the Roman Fountain and Roman Baths. Surviving the millennia, these sites tie Braga back to the past and demonstrate the influence this town had and continues to have over the region.
Perhaps no landmark in town serves as a stronger physical reminder of this power and the power of the government here than Braga Tower. Right in the middle of town, the tower remains a pillar of strength and power even centuries later. The massive stone construction reminds everyone of the wealth of the ruling body and had to have intimidated potential enemies. Inside, the various floors house exhibits on the history of the town and the top floor offers awesome views over the town. While we couldn’t manage to get the stroller up the narrow stairs, the boys did love waving to us as we took turns ascending the tower.
Another tangible icon of where the true power lay in town is Braga Cathedral, a massive religious complex that occupies a good part of the center of town. The grounds are unique and worth exploring as the cloisters are fairly different than other European Cathedrals and well preserved. Getting out of the summer sun, the cool stone of the cathedral is also a nice respite.
A more modern part of town, Prada da Republica, Braga’s main town square that houses the town hall and a large fountain is a great place to sit and relax while exploring the town. Several outdoor cafe patios are welcoming for a quick bite or liquid refreshment. We got the boys out of the sun while they chased some pigeons around the fountain.
Our favorite part of Braga may have been the small park that stretched along Jardim da Agenda Central. This shaded green avenue cut from the main square through town and was surrounded by intriguing small stores, cafes, and restaurants. One of the most unique combined all of these with a massive bookstore at Livaria 100 Pagina. This book store had a ton of cool Portuguese books and a nice selection of children’s books that we enjoyed browsing with the boys. We didn’t stop for coffee or pastries since we were still full from our bed and breakfast, but it looked like a great place to take a break and settle into a good book in some incredible historic atmosphere.
Braga really exemplifies so much of what makes Portugal amazing. Combining awesome food and drinks – especially local wine – with a rich history, there so much to see and do. Stretching back to the Roman age, the town had grown while still maintaining it’s unique heritage. Though it isn’t as big or popular as Lisbon or Porto, getting away from the touristy cities is a great opportunity to see more of what Portugal is really like. Braga makes for a great location for venturing into wine country, or just getting out to parts of Portugal others never get to see.