Northern Portugal is a quaint town overlooked as a destination by many a
modern day traveller as a location to visit.
Admittedly it is quite remote, situated on the northerly
Portuguese/Spanish border, inaccessible by train, though
doable by car or bus if you like long, winding road
But if youíre a buff of history; enjoy pampering yourself
with the odd spa treatment or two or like to take a
gamble on where to go on your holidays abroad then you
really should mark
on your map as a place to go.
is a delightful town, littered with
military architecture and thermal springs. Photographs
of fortifications and spas battle for
prominence on the tourist informationís notice board and
since the swanky casino and hotel complex opened on the
edge of town, itís fortunes are once again looking
road can appear arduous on the map - 415 kilometres from
Lisbon; 105 kilometres from Porto, though only 15
kilometres from Spain - it depends where you are
scenery along the way can be spectacular on a clear,
cloud free day.
Rolling moorland stretches out as far as you can see, dotted
with monolithic boulders, and you could, if youíre
lucky, spot the odd eagle, buzzard, or Lynx on the way.
But for those who like to travel in style above the
clouds and have access to their own, private chopper or
plane, the town boasts an
airport to which you can fly.
The historic centre of
is a mix of narrow cobbled streets lined
by granite stone buildings housing a plethora of
independent stores and cafes, decorated in spring with a
multitude of hanging baskets. These streets open out
onto wide, tree-lined squares, where parking is allowed.
Traditional style tractors, with trailer seating
provided, park alongside more conventional Toyotas,
vying for the shade of deciduous trees during the summer
The focal point, and tourist talking point of
Chaves, it has
to be said, is the Roman bridge, constructed during the
reign of Emperor Trajan, which spans the fast-flowing
waters of the
Rio T‚mega in Chaves
The Romans originally settled the town and as well as
providing a crossing point for travellers and pilgrims, also constructed a complex
bath system over and above the thermal springs which
bubble to the surface close to the centre of town.
Unfortunately the baths are long gone, demolished in the
17th century to re-enforce defensive structures, though
swish new ones have been erected on the west bank of the
Rio T‚mega and boast all manner of
treatments to suit the most discerning and demanding
Literally translated the townís name means keys. And this is
an apt moniker for what was to become such an important
strategic location in Portuguese history. Fierce and
bloody battles were fought through the centuries to
secure the town and itís territories.
Once the Romans left many armies tried gain access to
Portugal through Chavesí
green doorway. First it was
the Moors, who sought to gain the fertile land in the 11th
and 12th centuries; then came the Spanish in
the 17th century and two hundred years later
it was Napoleonic troops who were holding the town to
door is well and
truly unlocked and open and you
would be foolish not to make the trip north to this
delightful town. Though, having visited the town
personally twice in the last six years in both the
height of summer and the depths of winter, I would advise booking your Hotel, Pousada,
private manor house or B &B for spring or autumn.
Temperatures can plummet severely
during winter though soar in summer and the sun
can be unrelenting when touring the sights. To meander at
will, soak up the atmosphere, take round of golf or
broil in a thermal spa I would recommend visiting in
the milder months of the year.
What to see and do
The main focal point of Chaves is the
stone Roman bridge, which is now only accessible by
foot. The bridge was built during the reign of Emperor
Trajan at the end of the 1st century AD. The bridge,
which stretches 150 metres, has 12 perfectly formed
arches. In the centre of the bridge there are two stone
columns with carefully chiselled inscriptions honouring
Although the ancient Roman baths have
long since gone, there is a plush new complex where you
can enjoy the waters of Chaves' thermal springs, which
hare reputed to help in the healing of
muscular-skeletal, digestive and respiratory disorders.
The spa is well worth a visit after a few hard days of
sight seeing. Not only can you relax in one of the
thermal pools, but you can enjoy a massage, Turkish bath
or steam therapy.
Not much remains of Chaves Castle, which
was made a national monument in 1928, aside from the
Watchtower. However this sturdy granite block building,
built to help stave off Moorish advances, has
beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding it and
provides great views over the valley of Chaves.
Fort St Neutrel
You can help but notice the enormous
battlements of Fort St Neutrel, which is illuminated at
night, as you enter Chaves. The impressive fort is a
marvel of military architecture and was built in the
17th century to help defend Portugal against Spanish
Fort and Convent of St Francisco
Situated on the outskirts of Chaves this
former Knights Templar convent has been transformed into
a luxurious four star hotel. When the fortified convent
was constructed it was dedicated to St Joao Veiga, but
after the dissolution of the Templars this was converted
to Saint Francisco of Solitude.
St EstÍv„o Castle
Situated in the village of Santo EstÍv„o
just eight kilometres north east from the centre of
Chaves stands a gothic castle, which it is believed to
date back to the 11th century. The castle was for a
while under the control of Spanish kings, but was
restored to Portugal in 1231. The castle was a royal
residence for a while, providing a home to to Dinis as
he waited for his bridge Isabel of Aragon to arrive.
Roman Remains at
The remains of a fortified Roman
settlement are worth a visit to neighbouring village of
Curalha, seven kilometres south of Chaves. The remains,
which are surrounded by three re-enforced walls provide
an incite into Roman architecture.
If you like to take a chance and take the
odd gamble, then the newly constructed Casino and hotel
complex on the edge of town is worth a visit.
For more information on Chaves visit the
town's council website -
Location Map of Chaves,
View Chaves, Northern Portugal in a larger map