Northern Portugal

Crossing the river from Spain into Portugal, we spent a couple of nights at a nice little town called Vila Nova de Cerveira, which had a festively decorated old town (with piped music), a large Saturday market, and a free-to-explore castle.

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Whilst at Vila Nova de Cerveira, we visited nearby Valenca do Minho, which is a very touristy old town set within two star-shaped double-walled forts inspired by Vauban (our first bit of Vaubannerie for this trip).

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The fortifications were impressive, though we hadn’t quite realised that following a sign for the “fortaleza” would take us straight through a gate into the first of the stars!

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Kampington took a deep breath in and, with both ears pinned back, just made it. From there we had to follow a long circuitous one-way route through two more gates into the second star and then back through all three gates (they had traffic lights) to get back out again.
One good thing about star-shaped fortifications was that we found a suitable pointy bit to park up in while we had a wander round. It was at this point that Mark decided to surgically remove trailer’s ears prior to the return trip through the three gates.

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I would have hopped out to take a photo but unfortunately couldn’t as I was on left ear duty…. Here’s my best attempt at recording how tight it was….

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From there we continued South, stopping off to have a look at the castle at Guimaraes. Apparently it’s the outline of this castle that features on the Portuguese coat of arms. Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, was supposedly baptised here and chose Guimaraes as the capital when he proclaimed himself king in 1139 (of Portucale, at the time a county of the much larger kingdom of Leon and Castile and essentially the Northern half of modern-day Portugal). The castle is small and we couldn’t go up the tower due to renovation works, but at least we can say we’ve been there.

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Moving South again, we reached Conimbriga, just South of Coimbra, a huge Roman site. This was occupied by the Romans from around the first century BC until the fourth century AD. We first saw a couple of houses and were very impressed by the mosaic floors – much better than anything we’d seen elsewhere.

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Then we headed over to a covered area and realised we hadn’t seen anything yet. Here was an aristocratic house and the mosaics there were amazing. There were even remains of colour visible on some of the interior walls.

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Elsewhere in the extensive site (which is not yet anywhere near fully excavated; you can see tell-tale bumps in the surrounding fields…) were the usual forum, baths, and more houses. Here we found evidence that the Romans did invent Trivial Pursuit!

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The small museum was also fantastic with a wide range of great objects sensibly displayed in themed cabinets, the emphasis clearly being on quality rather than quantity.

From here we’ll be continuing our slow trundle South…..

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