Castillo de Monterrei
We left our very comfortable temporary home in O Mundil after suffering through three very relaxing days, with the site to ourselves, and headed south east towards the Portuguese border, first to the outskirts of the town of Viren.
The fortress, Castillo de Monterrei, was beautifully sited for both strategic and aesthetic value. The drive to it passed by vineyards where the harvest was underway, and we watched locals picking grapes ready to be turned into wine. The winding access road was lined with impressive lime trees and offered great views of Verin and other nearby towns.
The fortress compound, originally a frontier post during the Portuguese-Spanish wars, was begun in the 14th century, with the central keep of the Torre de las Damas (Lady’s Tower). The 15th century brought the Torre Del Homenaje (The main Keep). There are three concentric rings of protective stone walls, the final outermost wall being completed in the 17th century.
A decorative three storey stone arcade lined the enclosed courtyard, providing a softness to the building in comparison to the harsh austerity of the ancient stone keeps. The small chapel was even older, built in the 13th century. It had a tiny portal to the right of the main nave with a delicately carved tympanum showing various images of the life of Christ, along with a very unusual statue showing not a mother and child, but a pregnant Mary, pre-birth. A glass case also housed a replica of the first ever book written in Galicia, so we were told.
The fortress has been sympathetically and subtly added to, to provide decent access and facilities for visitors and functions. We could easily imagine this being a sought-after wedding venue, with its own chapel, restaurant and a spacious garden terrace commanding exceptional views. There were many simple and effective solutions offered by the chosen architect, incorporating the new elements neatly into the original courtyard; timber decking to level out courtyard steps, grey steel stairs to access the courtyard and glass infills for fall protection. The works may not be considered exceptional by architectural magazines and current fashion, but ego-free, sympathetic, neat conservation works of this calibre and level of subtle detail are hard to come by and should be lauded much more than they are.
After a quick supermarket shop and a tasty lunch, we decide to change our plans to cross into Portugal to the town of Chaves and instead, as we had a bit more time to spare, to travel further into Portugal to the town of Bragança. We stayed in Spain for an hour longer as we first drove east, parallel to the border, before turning south over the mountains into Portugal. The drive across the rolling hills in the border area was exceptionally pretty with new vistas opening out around every turn, of orchards and vineyards and cultivated hills in autumnal colours. Pink Floyd instrumentals, soaring to match our mood, provided the perfect accompaniment to our arrival in this new country. A great start to a new country.
The steep sloping sides of the mountain passes were covered in dry yellow grass and rows of horse chestnut trees all neatly planted like a large orchard. We wondered if there is an edible variety, or an attempt to repopulate the slopes over time. Either way it formed beautiful vistas when interspersed with the cultivated mountain slopes behind and the autumnal colours of the adjacent trees.
Our first view of Bragança was disappointing, with several huge 8-storey apartment blocks each stretching hundreds of metres long; like a collection of solid anonymous monstrosities from the Soviet era. The centre was much more appealing, and we parked up in a pleasant aire in the shadow of the walled citadel. We bagged a great spot, we had French neighbours and blazing sun; all was good for both relaxing and language practise.
Our space in the aire was on a central, level terrace with lime and walnut trees defining the front and back. We parked parallel to the side wall, with Benny’s nose looking directly at the walled citadel in front and above us. A sublime space to spend a night or two, and all free for visitors to the town to enjoy. We felt rather privileged to be here, quiet and safe, great hillside views and with the bright sun burning hot.
The original idea that we can be anywhere, see anything and enjoy the journey as we go is really beginning to sink in. It’s not a holiday from which we have to return; this is our real life and we live it where we want, one day at a time. We can change plans at a moment’s notice, stay still another day or leave immediately for another venue, as we wish. We’ve always known this was to be the case, but intellectually only now are we beginning to appreciate and fully understand what this means, and how liberating it really is. This morning we had no firm plans to be in Portugal, now here we were in a beautiful walled town set in glorious green hills, surrounding by like-minded travellers with tales to share.
After an afternoon of chatting, sun-worshipping and a few chilled beers with dinner, we decided to go for an evening wander around the walled citadel to watch the sunset and gain a flavour of the town. We didn’t go far, but the views from the fortress, both over the green, neatly cultivated slopes of nearby hills and the terracotta rooftops of the nearby town, were quite stunning.
The next morning we enjoyed a breakfast entirely consisting of copious amounts of tea and pain au chocolats on a bench in the nearby park, whilst we read our books in the early sun. There was a deep chill in the air, the October days were definitely slow to warm up.
We decided to remain in place for one more night, so a more thorough city explore was the order of the day. We walked back up through the walled castle, passing through on our way down cobbled streets to the main centre of Bragança. The traditionally detailed whitewashed buildings contrasted beautifully with the morning sky.
We passed several small churches to reach the modern heart of the town. We bought a few trivial essentials (a larger diameter hose connector, super glue) in the myriad bric-a-brac shops that lined the central road, before passing the railway station that had an old siding transformed into part of the entrance pathway, along with curved timber benching that was set on the chassis of old rolling stock – a very neat and effective idea. On a back street we passed a haphazard private garden filled with many aeroplanes and scale models of famous monuments, such as the Leaning tower of Pisa and the Eiffel tower. We climbed the many steps to enjoy the view from above the external auditorium space, before returning and following the river back to the walled castle near our aire. The weather flicked a switch and looked like threatening rain again, and then delivered a deluge for much of the night, but we’d already enjoyed our lazy town explore and our time here.