PORTUGAL: Luxurious Rural Tourism
The Region of Tras-os-Montes and Alto, Alfandega da Fe, Distrito de Braganca
By Andreia Major
The concept of luxury Rural Tourism has been growing in Portugal with great refinement in recent years. With outstanding landscapes, Portugal offers many luxury rural homes from north to south of the country, with a higher prevalence in the Alentejo, Algarve, Minho and Tras-os-Montes, and Alto Douro regions. In the municipality of Alfandega da Fe (Portuguese town in the district of Bragança), for example, the highlight is the multitude of tourist attractions. Culture, local cuisine and magnificent landscapes are the magic ingredients that make the north-eastern region so special.
Alfandega da Fe
The municipality of Alfandega da Fe is totally integrated within the region of Terra Quente Transmontana. With its Arabic origin name, Alfandega has remarkable natural landscapes and a visit to the Miradouro do Castelo, a lookout located on a 575m hill, is mandatory. The cherry tree blossoms, the chestnut and the almond trees along with the vineyards complete the unique landscape.
There are several attractions you can explore, like the Chestnut Route, or the famous Cherry Festival or the incredible examples of urban art can be appreciated during strolls in the valley, along the river and by going up and down the hilly landscape. The local gastronomy, the local crafts – and not to mention hunting and fishing- are some of the examples of different activities for you to enjoy.Simply relax and do nothing.
The Chestnut Route is a beautiful example of one of the most astounding landscapes of the Transmontano Northeast. The SPA & Hotel Alfandega da Fe, opened in 2009 in the same place as the old Nossa Senhora das Neves hostel, is as well a recommended pitstop to all visitors to the region. It’s possible to enjoy miles of oak and chestnut tree forests.
In the nearby village, you can also find hundreds of Cerejais (cherry trees), very common inthis part of Terra Quente Transmontana. Once in Alfandega da Fe, you should check out the Medieval tower and the religious architectural heritage.
One of the best views of the local landscape is located in the highest hill of the Serra de Bornes, around 1,200 ms high. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you can hit the trail tracks that will take you up to the top of the mountain and walk down until you reach the village of Sambade to visit their local church. After that, follow the directions to the largest plantation of cherry trees in the region.
Land of Cherry Trees, Almonds and Olives
If you happen to be around in February/March, you will have a chance to enjoy the cherry blossom festivities which celebrates the end of the winter. The hilly landscape, the Rio Sabor valley and the beauty of its three river dams, its local gastronomy and historical heritage are already themselves a good reason to visit. Strolling along the river, the blossoms cover the landscape with a blank sheet. It’s a unique sight. It’s also worth trying taking the trail between Alfandega and Vilar Chao, taking a quick shortcut to Cerejais. If you continue on the Rio Sabor route though, make sure you save time to dip a piece of bread in the local olive oil produced in the region and ask about their typical desserts. The “Barquinhos” and the “Rochedos” are almond-made desserts that are considered a must-try local delicacy.
Alfandega da Fe is also considered to be the capital of the cherry in the Northeast Transmontano region. And in the last 32 years, in the month of July, the city is transformed by the Cherry Festival which is known as one of the oldest tourist, economical and cultural initiatives in the region. The main varieties of cherries that can be found in the region are: Burlat, Sunburst, Van and Summit.
In the festivities, an array of local products are also available. Jams, olive oils, almond, cold cuts, honey, different types of cheeses and spirits. Another attraction in itself is the local cherry beer and the traditional recipes made from the fruit. Recently, the cherry fruit and its by-products have been utilized by the fitness and wellness industry such as the making of cherry pit pillows, cherry foot soak and even further with the local Hotel & Spa offering treatments like the “cherry therapy”. If you happen to visit in October, make sure you try the local and readily available chestnuts.
An Open Air Museum
The village has a large quantity of significant historic heritage buildings and an impressive collection of sculptures and walls covered with the typical Portuguese tiles (azulejos) spread all over the city in public spaces. The city truly is an “open-air museum” that can be visited at any time on any day of the week. The village also boasts a rich tradition in the local craft such as basket-making, tins, weaving (linen and wool) and leather for the manufacture of shoes.
The local gastronomy is famous for being very heart-warming and inviting. When in the area, make sure you order a “chunk of veal”, or a piece of cod fish or maybe the famous lamb braised in olive oil (notorious for its excellent quality). You can’t miss the “Botelo” a Portuguese version of the Scottish Haggis with a side of their dry beans. The Segada soup is another local delicacy not to be missed. All those dishes can be easily found in the region.Also traditional cold cuts, an assortment of smoked meats and sausages are part of their regional cuisine. The cherry, nevertheless, is the main ingredient of numerous products like jams, compotes and spirits, which goes well with their famous sheep’s milk cheese locally produced.
The historical heritage in Alfandega da Fe is vast. Numerous churches, castles, sanctuaries, towers, chapels, bridges and lookouts make the trip filled with unforgettable discoveries that inspire visitors to return again every year.