In the Center of Bragança
1. Walk Museum Street
Officially it is called Rua Abílio Beça, but in Bragança there are those who call it “the street of the museums”. Altogether there are five in one artery, which explains the nickname. Right at the beginning, for those who come from the Cathedral Square, there is the Graça Morais Contemporary Art Center, which occupies an old 18th-century manor whose requalification was done by the architect Souto Moura. With two (semi) permanent exhibitions per year dedicated to the work of the painter from Transmontana and four temporary exhibitions open to other artists, the museum also has an educational service and a cafeteria with a pleasant outdoor patio.
Next door is the Interpretation Center for Sephardic Culture of the Northeast Transmontano, also designed by Souto Moura and opened in February this year to show the strong presence of the Jews in the region over time. The idea is for each person to make their visit and walk freely on the three floors, where they will be challenged to lean their ears against the walls, listen to the whispers, navigate the interactive maps that allow you to follow the path – always on the run – of some families (so important that they even lent money to the kings), or to watch a staging of a trial of the Inquisition.
As if three floors were not enough, the interpretive center has just inaugurated the Memorial and Documentation Center Bragança Sefardita, in front of the former Episcopal Palace of Bragança, today the Abbot of Baçal Museum, dedicated to the ethnologist, ethnographer, historian and priest Francisco Manuel Alves, and which includes a collection of sacred and baroque art, among other relics.
2. Walk up to the Citadel and see the masks
It is a second city within the city, surrounded by walls and, as it could not be without, corresponds to the oldest urban nucleus of Bragança. “It is probable that, in a village so close to the frontier, a defensive line has been built, in this place, still in the reign of D. Sancho I,” one reads immediately at the entrance of the Citadel, once past the Gate of the Village.
Inside, however, there are not only ancient monuments. In addition to the castle and its Keep (where the Military Museum operates), the Church of Santa Maria, the pillory or the Domus Municipalis, the walls surround several modern terraces and also hide the Iberian Mask and Costume Museum. On three floors, in a small but stuffed space, are exposed Carnival costumes and masks of the winter parties (also known as the Boys’ Festivities) of Trás-os-Montes and the Spanish city of Zamora. About 50 different characters, including Podence’s famous and photogenic caretos.
If you want to be careful, ask for an audioguide at the Tourist Office, before ascending to the Citadel.
In the Park of Montesinho
3. Sleep in a typical village
It is possible that it smells like brown bread still in the street, because this is one of D. Mariana’s specialties. In the village of Montesinho there are many chestnut trees – one of them is 800 years old and still gives you chestnuts – and in Casa da Edra the tradition is to prepare them like that, like a crunchy bread that is also sold to non-guests. Rural tourism occupies a house typical of the village of stone, and the name comes from the surname of the great-grandmother of the owner, Anabela.
Aunt Mariana is the one who cooks, and besides the nut bread there is cock in the pot with carqueja rice, roasted cod with fried potatoes and sauteed greens, and scrambled eggs with beldroegas, with two (or many) conversation, and lots of hospitality.
In the old area where the cattle were kept, the restaurant and the living room with books, fireplace and television now work. Upstairs are the rooms named after flowers and a small interior courtyard. All simple and quiet, which is why the house is also much sought after by those who want to make stress cures and walking on foot.
4. Strolling in a natural park (and discovering two dams)
In a region so close to the border there is no shortage of stories of smuggling and of those who traveled the mountains of Montesinho with sacks of coffee and the impossible sweets. Nowadays the walks are other, with several pedestrian paths marked in the stones of the natural park, zone protected since 1979.
Must see is a visit to the dams of Serra Serrada, usually sought by fishermen, and Veiguinhas, accessible through a dirt road where it is possible to face deer. Another option is the jeep touring all terrain organized by the Campsite of Bragança and taking the adventurers to the Serra de Montesinho, the fourth highest elevation of continental Portugal, with 1,486 meters of altitude.
5. Buy a craft knife
Gilberto Ferreira is the first to say: “The transmontano always walks with a razor in his pocket, he even uses it to tighten screws.” Aveleda, the brigantino has been making razors for over 10 years using traditional cutlery techniques in a workshop where it is common to meet him until midnight.
With the steel blade and the handle in wood or stag horn (of the ones that the animals drop every year, as they grow, and that there is no shortage in the zone), Gilberto is agile in the forge and also makes knives by measure , with the name of the client. Many of his knives have drawings of animals on the blade and worked cords, resembling almost medieval objects he wants to expose. The simplest takes two hours to make and costs eight euros, the most expensive can reach 500 € and are usually for collectors.
Some and others are sold in the shop / garage that the craftsman of 35 years keeps in Aveleda, and also in the many fairs that travels almost weekly. Also included are bush knives and chefs, or even ingenious cutting boards for ham.
6. Prove the famous post Mirandesa
In the menu there are only three options, but there is no shortage of other dishes: roasted cod, sideburns or the obligatory Miranda dish are the only three dishes at the O Careto restaurant in Varge. The price of each meal is also always the same: 14 euros per person, with drink right from the house and accompaniment (very fine homemade chips, potatoes to punch, rice and salad).
All the dishes are prepared in full view of the customers, not in a modern show cooking, but in a fireplace in the back of the room, where the owner gives an account of the grills, served in large doses, and a wagon serves as a support table.
All in dark stone, or not of shale, the restaurant lives up to its name with lamps in the form of caretos and even some masks of the Boys’ Fetes of Trás os Montes. There are also wild boar paws that serve as hangers and large wooden beams lining the roof in a mountain refuge environment from which no one leaves hungry.
7. Buy the Field Oysters directly from the producer
By “field oysters” are meant mushrooms, more specifically pleurotus ostreatus, also known as oyster mushrooms because of their huge hat. Gonçalo Martins began to cultivate them in Baçal, the village of Bragança where he was born and raised, and because of the nickname he remembered to baptize his mark of Oysters of the Field. The project was born three years ago and currently gives 100 to 150 kilos per month.
“The idea is to increase to 500,” says the agronomist as he leads the Observer through the fungus-producing warehouse. It smells of humidity and the temperature is controlled, always circling the 18 to 22 degrees. Cultivated in previously boiled straw bundles and seeded with mycelium, the mushrooms sprout to the clusters and contrast with the black plastic wrapping the rows and rows of rectangles.
Each bunch can reach three kilos, each kilo can cost eight euros. In addition to selling to large supermarkets, the Oysters of the Field are also in some bulk stores in Bragança and can be purchased directly at the place of cultivation, by prior appointment.