The earliest fortifications date from the 13th century during the reign of Dom Afonso III when Valença was called Contrasta (which means "standing opposite). The King was keen to secure the fledgeling country's northern border. The well-preserved fortress that stands today dates from the 17th century, its design inspired by the French military architect Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).
The defensive complex consists of two multi-faceted forts; the Praça and the Coroada, separated by a ditch and joined with the Portas do Meio bridge. There are four gates; the Porta do Sol, Porta de Gaviana (gothic arch), Porta da Fonte da Vila and Porta da Coroada. Along with twelve mighty ramparts that made Valenças defences impregnable to both Spanish and Napoleon's troops. Several well-preserved bronze cannons situated along the north wall still obstinately face their old foe. It's worthwhile exploring the outer walls. The views overlooking the river into Spain are breathtaking, and keep an eye out for hidden entrances and tunnels.
The old town within the Fortaleza is characterised by narrow stone-paved streets, framed by whitewashed buildings and are filled with small textile shops, an array of good restaurants and old Romanesque churches. The main square of Praça de São Teótonio is the centre of activity and where typical manor houses like Casa do Eirado, Casa do Poço and Quinta da Mota can be found. Here also you'll find a profusion of craft shops for which Valença is famous.
On Wednesdays, Valença is home to a large market which offers a great opportunity to pick up a bargain and browse curiosities. A wide range of products can be found in the stalls ranging from clothing, shoes, wine production equipment, livestock, hardware and crafts. Its popularity can cause large crowds and parking issues, best arrive early.
The origins of the Santo Estevão Church date from the 13th century to the Visigoth era. It first fell into decline during the Arabic occupation and wasn't rebuilt until 1792, sponsored by Queen Maria I (1777-1816) and constructed in the Neoclassical style. Through the façade, there are 16th-century panels describing scenes of St. Stephen's life and a 16th-century portrait of the Virgin Mary. Standing in front of the church is proof of the town's antiquity, an old roman milestone marking the road from Braga to Astorga (León, Spain).
Another Romanesque church of Igreja de Santa Maria dos Anjos (Saint Mary of the Angels), according to inscriptions found on the south side, the church dates from the 12th century. At the back of this church is a small chapel, with Romano-Gothic inscriptions on the outside, which sadly requires renovation.
Valenças' old international bridge came into being as part of an agreement made between Spain and Portugal to traffic trains and carriages across the Minho river (Miño in Spanish) between the opposing towns of Valença and Tui. Construction on the steel bridge started in 1886 under the direction of the acclaimed engineer Gustav Eiffel. The bridge is still in use today, however, the bulk of road traffic favours the newer bridge to the south.
The old bridge has a pedestrian footpath which allows visitors to Valença a leisurely day across the Minho to explore the medieval town of Tui and its mighty Cathedral. Tui’s impressive Cathedral was consecrated in 1225 AD during the monarchy of Spain's King Alfonso, but building work started over a century earlier. Perched on the summit of the town, its profile is visible for miles. The Cathedral when built was also designed as a place of defence and refuge as well as a place for worship. A token entrance fee of one Euro allows you access. Inside there is a small museum, impressive cloisters and gothic architecture on a gargantuan scale.
Valença and the surrounding region has drawn in many people from Europe and Africa since antiquity, lured there by its connection to the sea, it's fertile soil and the abundance of food in the form of game and fish. The hills overlooking the river Minho gave the area great strategic importance. When the Celts arrived around the 6th century BC they found stiff opposition from the occupying tribes.
The natural defensive attributes weren't lost on the Romans who took full advantage of the landscape and built the first town on the spot where Valença stands today during the reign of Augustus c.137 BC. Major Roman roads went through this area, the remains of a milestone can still be seen inside the fortaleza. The town also was an important trading centre for the commerce that operated on the river and from the sea.
The Suevos tribes, of German origin, entered northern Portugal in the 5th century who took over the settlements at Valença and Tui. In 716 AD the Emir Abdelaziz enters Lusitania with a massive army sacking towns and destroying cathedrals as he moved North, including the Monastery of Ganfei. During the middle ages Valença experienced many changes of patrons as it was retaken from the Arabs and then became entangled in the disputes between the Kingdoms of Leon and Castile, and then the establishment of Portugal itself, each adding to the town's defences or destroying the previous ones. In the 12th century the fortress was populated by the order of Sancho I, during which time the town was called Contrasta, (lit. "village opposite each other" in this case Tui). It was Alphonse III who gave it the name Valença in the 13th century. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the ramparts were vigorously upgraded, adding its current bulwarked system using a series of polygons and ditches. Valença paid a major role in the wars of restoration which regained Portugal's independence from Spain. Its impregnability almost thwarted Napoleon in 1807 who only briefly took the town but couldn't hold it. The fortress resisted subsequent artillery bombardment and attacks from the opposite bank of the river in 1809, only the Porta do Sol entrance was damaged. Valença officially became a city on the 12th of June 2009.
There's been a church on this spot five kilometres (3mi) east of Valença since the 7th century. It was built by the Visigoths who occupied the area. This original construction was sacked by the Arabs around the turn of the first millennium during their invasion of Iberia. A Norman Benedictine priest and a knight called Ganfei (or Ganfried) rebuilt the church in 1018 AD and his remains are entombed within.
Much of the 11th-century building was extensively restored in the 17th and 18th century. The convent retains many fine Romanesque features including ornamental animal and plant motifs and the remains of medieval frescoes. The construction of the cloister began in 1632. To gain entry the key must be obtained from the house opposite. 41° 32' 55" N | 08° 25' 18" W
The Pousada is situated in magnificent surroundings of well-preserved sixteenth-century houses in the old walled Valença fortress. The rooms look stylish, they are classically decorated and excellently appointed, with breathtaking views of Minho River and the International Bridge. The bathrooms feature showers, bidets and hairdryers. The hotel staff are welcoming and friendly. In the mornings the Pousada offers a complimentary buffet breakfast, during the day and evenings the restaurant serves lunch and dinner specialising in local traditional cuisine.
Baluarte do Socorro, 4930-619 Valença do Minho, Portugal.
42° 01' 58" N | 08° 38' 45" W | +351 251 800 260 | email@example.com
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Located in the centre of Valenca, only a few steps from the beautiful old town. Lara offers 54 comfortable rooms with balconies, most of them are overlooking the Fortress across the road; each room is equipped with climate control and air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with a wide selection of channels, including English-language TV programmes, and a private bathroom with a hairdryer. Wi-Fi is available in public areas and is free of charge.
Avenida dos Bombeiros Voluntarios, 4930-645 Valenca, Portugal.
42º 01' 33.5" N | 08º 38' 43.8" W | +351 251 824 348 | firstname.lastname@example.org
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Perfectly placed just within the fortress walls overlooking the Minho River. 33 bedrooms and three suites are fully refurbished, each room is air-conditioned, equipped with a modern private bathroom with a hairdryer, also includes cable TV and radio. Some rooms have a mini-bar. There is a tennis court, solarium and an outdoor swimming pool.
Avenida Miguel Dantas, 4930-678 Valença, Portugal.
42º 01' 27.6" N | 08º 38' 29.1" W" | +351 251 824 211
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Quinta do Prazo is a place with plenty of atmosphere, built on the side of the old agricultural farm in May 2005. The restaurant has a great collection within its wine cellars and the chef Amaya Guterres together with the team of professionals presents the masterpieces of traditional Portuguese cuisine. He recovers and develops of some dishes that have fallen into disuse and that are the result of historical research conducted by his father Joao Guterres.
Lugar da Urgeira, 4930-655 Valenca, Portugal.
42º 01' 49.8" N | 08º 38' 09.3" W"
+351 251 821 230 | email@example.com
Solar do Bacalhau is located in the centre of the fortress in Valença, it's a restaurant on two floors with a warm and pleasant atmosphere. As their name suggests the Bacalhau has the top four or five slots of the menu and are all well reviewed, especially the "Bacalhau ao Solar" house style. The choice is varied and prices are reasonable, even though the restaurant is located on the maenad strip. As common in the Minho portions are well garnished and large, for those with lighter appetites half portions (meio doce) are available on request.
Rua Mouzinho de Albuquerque, 99 a 103, Valenca 4930, Portugal.
42º 01' 27.6" N | 08º 38' 29.1" W
+351 251 824 211
Outside the Fortaleza walls this gastro pub stroke tapas bar offers a great selection of small plates and simples dishes at considerably good prices. An ideal location to spend a leisurely lunch. The staff are as warm and friendly as the atmosphere. A good selection of wines, gin and artisan beers too are on the menu.
Avenida Espanha 1, Valenca 4930-677 Portugal.
42º 01' 55.1" N | 08º 38' 31.5" W
+351 969 650 029
Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport Porto is 116km (72.2 miles) South of Viana do Castelo Website
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From Porto take the A3 north.
Latitude - 42° 01' 49.8" N Longitude - 08° 38' 41.1" W
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Rede Expressos run services to Valença from various locations within Portugal. Website