Best known for its velvety red wines and luscious gastronomic delights, Viseu will entice you with its vibrant folklore festivals, pastoral scenery and plentiful collection of cultural gems.
Roughly half way between Porto and Coimbra, the rural district of Viseu nestles in the heart of the winemaking Dão-Lafões sub-region, a landscape formed by lush pine forests, crystalline rivers and some of the most reputable vineyards in the country.
Across the western border of the district lays the Serra do Caramulo, a 1,075 metre-high (3,500 feet) range known for its fresh mountain water, sleepy schist villages and golden-coloured honey. On clear, sunny days one may climb Caramulinho, the highest peak on the range, to enjoy dramatic views of the distant Serra da Estrela (Mountains of the stars).
You will find the district’s prime attractions in its capital – the city of Viseu. Head to the historical Adro da Sé square and enter the richly embellished cathedral that stands in its centre. Go to the nearby Renaissance art museum and let your eyes wander from painting to painting and book a wine tour of the Solar do Dão to reward your taste buds with slow-paced sips of this region’s full-bodied wine. Also explore the Cava do Viriato, a pentagonal shaped park believed to have once been the military camp of the Lusitanian leader Viriato – a legendary warrior who protected Viseu from Roman invaders long ago.
Try the district’s renowned smoked ham and exquisite sparkling wine in the northern city of Lamego and be sure to visit some of its most significant religious landmarks such as the 12th Century Santa Maria de Almacave Church and the São Pedro de Balsemão Chapel – the second oldest temple in the Iberian Peninsula.
The hilltop town of Sernancelhe is home to a wonderful medley of lovely manor houses and palaces and is widely known for its esteemed pilgrimage site, the 17th Century Nossa Senhora da Lapa Sanctuary. Three times a year, religious mass’s and processions are held to honour this local saint – an age-old tradition that continues to attract large crowds of faithful pilgrims from all over the country. To discover typical homes constructed from schist stone, visit Aldeia da Pena and Aldeia da Póvoa Dão, picturesque villages that exemplify the medieval influence that still remains in many parts of the district today.
Places to see
Sé Catedral de Viseu (Cathedral of Viseu)
This 13th Century cathedral is one of the oldest monuments in the district and Viseu’s most sought after attraction for its unusual blend of architectural styles and enchanting location. Take time to admire every angle of this magnificent work of art, from its austere Mannerist façade, to the rich Baroque-inspired ornamentation that embellishes its interior. Two cloisters, one of which is Renaissance, are also part of this beautiful structure. A vast collection of religious relics can be seen in the Sacred Arts Museum located on the top level of the cathedral.
Igreja da Misericórdia (Our Lady of Mercy Church)
This Rococo church has an elevated position above Viseu in the Adro da Sé square, where you can delight in remarkable views of the landscape below. Often compared to a traditional manor house, this 18th Century church stands out amongst its neighbouring granite buildings (Grão Vasco Museum and Sé Cathedral) with its traditional whitewashed walls, charming bell towers and intricately sculpted features on its façade and interior.
Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Our Lady of Good Remedy Sanctuary)
The Nossa Senhora dos Remédios Sanctuary is one of the most influential sites in the district and attracts many visitors, whether for worship or sheer curiosity. Walk up a 600-step staircase surrounded by superbly manicured gardens to reach the top of the hill and explore this marvellous landmark. Reflecting the time in which it was built (1705–1905), florid Baroque-inspired features, delicately painted blue and white tiles, wooden sculptures and colourful stained-glass windows are some of the exquisite details that characterise this remarkable temple.
Termas de São Pedro do Sul (Hot Springs in São Pedro do Sul)
Enjoy true peace of mind in São Pedro do Sul’s famous hot springs, a place where a legacy of kings once visited for the natural therapeutic properties this magnificent setting possesses. Including a vast array of modern equipment and facilities, this healing haven is an idyllic destination to treat respiratory complaints, rheumatism, skin conditions and more, as well as the perfect setting to experience the pleasures of beauty and leisure surrounded by nature at its best.
Reserva Botânica de Cambarinho (Cambarinho Nature Reserve)
The awe-inspiring Reserva Botânica de Cambarinho is a protected reserve containing the largest group of rhododendra in Europe. During May and June, nature lovers and avid hikers can admire 59 acres (24 hectares) of mountainous landscape bloom into a blanket of bright purple petals – an extraordinary sight.
Museu Grão Vasco (Grão Vasco Museum)
Named after one of the country’s most acclaimed Renaissance artists, the Grão Vasco Museum is undoubtedly one of Viseu’s most cherished highlights. Exhibiting the works of 15th Century Portuguese artists, this museum shows a rich collection of oil paintings, water colour canvases and sculpture, as well as traditional crafts and tapestry. Be sure to see Grão Vasco’s most famed masterpiece – a series of paintings depicting the life of Christ that once decorated the city’s cathedral.
Museu do Caramulo (Caramulo Museum)
Founded in the 1950s’ by two art-passionate brothers, Abel and João de Lacerda, the Caramulo Museum contains one of the most diverse collections in Viseu. Considered to be the first of its kind in the country, this museum shows the works of prestigious artists such as Vieira da Silva, Amadeo Souza Cardoso, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, as well as a magnificent automobile exhibition that will drive you through time with its charming display of old cars – all personal items donated by the museum’s founders.