The north of Portugal has many charming villages and cities. Lately we’ve been traveling through the Spanish-Portuguese border, jumping from one side of the Minho (or Miño) river to the other, to bring you our favorite spots in the area and help you plan your visit wisely.
One of our most recent (and right now favorite) discoveries has been Melgaço, a small but beautiful historic town, full of wine and amazing stories. Want to know more? Keep reading
5 Reasons to visit the old town of Melgaço
Walking through the medieval town
The first one to welcome you when you visit Melgaço will be the Tower of Homage. Sitting on its privileged place, on top of the old medieval town, it overviews the beautiful Minho valley, filled with vineyards, that surrounds Melgaço and the nearby Peneda Geres park.
The Tower is a recall of the castle that once protected the village from the Spaniards but also home to the archaeological museum. It can be accessed (cost:1€) but we promise no Spaniard will try to conquer the village while you are there 😉
Walking around the village you will find narrow streets with lovingly restored houses, all less than 3 floors high. Just like the one from Solar do Alvarinho, a small stone palace, dedicated to the promotion of Alvarinho and Vinho Verde wines. Don’t just pass by, they offer free wine tastings to visitors and have every single wine brand produced in the region.
There are also two Romanic churches worth visiting at the historic centre: Igreja Matriz (XII Century) and Igreja da Misericordia (from the XIII Century).
And, right in front of the Tourism Information Point at Praça da Republica, you will find the small museum of archaeology, which aims to explain the medieval past of the village through its tunnels and passageways.
The land of smugglers
Today, there is an important commercial relationship between Galicia/Spain and Portugal, especially between the provinces located along the Minho river. But there was a period after the First and Second World Wars and during the dictatorships of Franco and Salazar in which the Minho River became the place to find those products you couldn’t get with ration cards.
Smugglers would bring the products hidden in their clothes across the border. Or sail them through the river in the pitch dark night, on black boats to hide them from the police view.
Among the most basic demands were oil, flour, rice, copper… Or Portuguese coffee, which became really popular in Galicia, since the only thing you could buy was roasted chicory, a coffee substitute.
This part of the history can be witnessed at Melgaço’s Espaço Memoria e Fronteira, an exhibit where you can see some samples of the tricks used to cross the Minho River and the history of the migrants that left the town in the last 200 years.
The healing hot springs
Melgaço has a long tradition of thermal baths and hot springs. Head outside of town to the spring resort of Termas de Melgaço, in the middle of a beautiful nature park.
The hot springs from Melgaço are known for their properties to help with stomach and breathing problems. You can try it for free at the Termas main fountain. The water has a soft iron taste, but will surely remind you of a soda. Just don’t drink too much, as the doctors at the Resort recommend only one glass per day (unless otherwise prescribed).
The spa is located in a leafy park of old trees. It is divided into two buildings, a 20’s style kiosk where the old hot spring fountain is located, and next to the Kiosk, a the central building with pool and medical facilities. Also, inside the Park, there is a small playground for children and a cafe.
The tastes of Vinho Verde & Alvarinho Wine
Melgaço Province and the neighboring Arbo (in Spain) are known for having a warm climate as they are protected by the surrounding mountains and the Peneda Geres National Park. This location helps the growth of wine, which is protected under the Alvarinho brand, considered one of the best brands for white wine in the world. These wines also belong to the Vinho Verde region.
Throughout the province you will find different wineries and vineyards which can be visited. There is an official route that covers both Monçao and Melgaço area that you can check here for more information on these. Also at the House of Alvarinho, in the historical center of Melgaço, you can taste the wines and learn more about its production processes and characteristics.
Just as a final tip, Melgaço has one of its most popular festivities by the end of November, when they organize a festival to promote sparkling Alvarinho and Vinho Verde: the Feira do Espumante de Melgaço. If you visit Melgaço in April, check the Festa do Alvarinho e do Fumeiro, when local producers of wine and salted meats gather to show their produces.
Something for everyone
The old center of Melgaço has four amazing themed museums. We already talked about the archeological museum at Tower of Homage and Espaço Memoria e Fronteira in Melgaço, but you will find:
The Melgaço Film Museum. Opened in 2005, when filmmaker and critic Jean Loup Passek donated his own personal collection of objects related to the film world (posters, cameras, lamps…). Entrance is only 1€ and is located right behind the Tower.
Also at the Peneda Geres Park, Melgaço has another interesting site called Castro Laboreiro. The place, an old and isolated town of nomads, has an old story of traditions. Some interesting buildings on it are the church from the IX century, the “castros” (pre-roman home) and the old roman way.
In addition, there are several hiking and cycling routes that go through Melgaço, and several outdoor activities’ companies that offer routes on horse, 4×4 or even canoeing. Next to the down town there is also a pedestrian walkway, “Paseio urbano del Río Porto”. This little river promenade is inside an olive grove and has a traditional washing area that uses fresh water from the river.
Sports clubs like Celta de Vigo Football club also visit Melgaço every once in a while because of its sports’ centers. They are located just outside the town.
Note: if you are planning to visit any of the four museums (Torre do Menagem, Film Museum, Espaço Memoria e Fonteira or the Castro Laboreiro site), ask for the combined ticket. It costs 2,6€ and gives you access to all four of them and has 6 months of validity (you can visit on today and another next month, let’s say), while single tickets of each of the sites cost 1€.
Some extra info
Melgaço is well explored on foot but you will most probably need a car to explore the small villages and interesting sights nearby (Lamas do Mouro, Castro Laboreiro, the petroglyph sites…).
There are several private parkings available around town and many public parking areas (pay, but weekends are free.)
How to get there
By Bus: Transportes do Minho and Groupo AVIC operate direct buses from Viana do Castelo, Porto or Lisboa on a daily basis.
By plane: Closest airport is Vigo (VGO 50km), next: Santiago de Compostela (SCQ 140km) or Porto (OPO, 150km).