A Guide to Chaves, Portugal
The name Chaves (literally, “key”) comes from its location, an historical “gateway” into Portugal, 10 km from the Spanish border. Due to its strategic position and fertile surroundings, the history of Chaves is marked with battles with the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, French and Spanish. Consequently, the main attractions can be seen in the city’s mighty fortifications and historical monuments.
Today, the charm of Chaves lies in its famous thermal spas. The caldas (hot springs) have been renowned since Roman times and believed to have healing properties. The thermal water (73 degrees Celsius) is a rare geological phenomenon because there is no evidence of volcanic activity in this area. After recent renovations, the springs have evolved into a modern thermal complex, with a lush green park nearby and many popular bars during the summertime.
The most enduring historical site in Chaves is the Roman bridge crossing the Tâmega River, built around 100 AD. Remarkably, the bridge is still in use, and continues to carry local traffic across its 16 stone arches. Close by, the Medieval Quarter is a heritage-protected zone with narrow houses and rustic balconies extending across the streets.
The Chaves Castle was originally built in the 14th century, but was destroyed during the Middle Ages and eventually fell into ruin. A tall keep tower is all that remains today, which is the site of the military museum. Surrounded by a colourful garden, the tower has a majestic view of the Tâmega River from its battlements.
Two 17th century fortresses are still standing in the hills outside the city: Forte São Francisco and Forte São Neutel: Both were inspired by the French military architect, Count de Vauban. The Forte São Francisco was recently restored as a hotel and offers a beautiful panorama of the city.
Worth a visit are the two main churches: the Romanesque Igreja Matriz (Santa Maria Maior) and the Baroque Igreja da Misericórdia (Misericórdia Church), with exquisitely painted tiles depicting scenes from the Bible. The Museu da Região Flaviense also hosts a wide collection, from artifacts to modern art.
Chaves is famous for its locally produced presunto (cured ham) and smoked pork sausages. The nearby village of Boticas produces excellent wine in a most unusual way. When the French army invaded, the locals buried their wine to hide it. It was later retrieved and found to have improved in quality. Nicknamed “vinho dos mortos” (literally, “wine of the dead”), the practice is still followed to this day.
From Roman ruins to relaxing thermal springs – the city of Chaves offers travellers a compelling insight into the history of Portugal, within a stunning backdrop of natural forests, local agriculture and endless groves of olive and almond trees.
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