Three perfect days in Braga, Portugal
original source and all credits
Jeanine Barone/Special Contributor
The design-oriented lobby and reception area of the Melia Braga Hotel & Spa in Braga, Portugal
By JEANINE BARONE
Published: 22 February 2013 06:04 PM
BRAGA, Portugal — Home to almost four dozen churches, the baroque town of Braga can’t seem to get past its reputation as an ecclesiastical city. Yet Braga, which held the title of 2012 European Capital of Youth, successfully combines its ancient origins with the appeal of a modern, vibrant city. Rather than the typical day trip from Porto, one hour away, a three-day visit makes for an intimate, eye-opening experience.
Museu dos Biscainhos: While the exhibits of hand-embroidered Arraiolos carpets, Portuguese watches and Dutch Delft porcelain are certainly noteworthy in this centuries-old manor house, it’s the surrounding baroque gardens, snuggled behind fortresslike walls and flecked with rosebushes, orange trees and cypress, that may be the most seductive.
Museu da Imagem: Dedicated to contemporary photography, this museum blends the old and the new, with exhibitions held both in the airy 19th-century building as well as a 14th-century stone tower that was part of the original city wall.
Spirito Cupcakes & Coffee: The often young crowds that flock to the comfy couches and daybeds on the outdoor patio come for the cream-swirled cupcakes in red velvet, Oreo, cheesecake and other tempting flavors, as well as the gingerbread latte and raspberry mocha.
Quatorze: By day, this bilevel space is a by-appointment art gallery, where the first floor exhibits photos, paintings and drawings by emerging Portuguese artists. By night, it transforms into a bar with an ever-changing array of live music that varies by the day. Thursday, for example, is bossa nova and jazz, while weekends often host techno and DJ-driven music.
Livraria Mavy Café Snack & Bar Galeria: With so much in Braga all about repurposing, it’s no wonder a 19th-century bookstore recently reopened as a coffee shop-bar along a popular pedestrian street. Original pages from some of the inventory cover the walls, and books are scattered about the tables and cabinets. Here, patrons listen to indie rock music while sipping a warm Portuguese brandy with honey, along with a traditional dessert, such as the egg-based pastel de nata.
Bom Jesus do Monte: From the base, a baroque staircase zigzags its way to the top where a neoclassical whitewashed church is perched. The 570 steps attract fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers and others who come for the panoramic views. Six stone chapels on different levels depict the Passion of Christ through terra-cotta statues. Brilliant gardens spread along the summit expanse where there’s a natural grotto, a terrace cafe and a lake ringed by lawns that are perfect for a picnic.
Monastery de Tibães: A short taxi ride from the city center, this Benedictine monastery is a treasure with elaborate woodwork, a grand baroque organ and stunning tilework (azulejos). In keeping with its long history in the arts — formerly an epicenter for carvers, gilders and architects — the monastery now holds contemporary art exhibitions in a barrel-roofed room where niches with window seats once served as spots for meditation. Visitors can spend some reflective time in arcaded cloisters with blooming flowers and in the expansive monastic gardens.
Galeria Mario Sequeira: Not far from the monastery, the two adjacent buildings of this gallery are worlds apart architecturally. The original art space is set in a transformed olive oil repository on the lower level of the owner’s house. Next door, a blindingly white modernist structure is rimmed by a grassy knoll, making it, curiously, not so easy to spot as visitors stroll about. Dedicated to contemporary art, particularly young artists, the gallery also exhibits works by Rui Chafes, Richard Long and others in an open-air sculpture garden.
Taberna Subura: The locals can be found playing chess, cards and dominoes at this informal cafe and bar that often has live ’70s Portuguese pop music. The decor reflects a love of Zeca Afonso, Portugal’s Bob Dylan, as well as Rome, given that the former owners were archaeology students. One of their specialties is Roman wine, a mulled beverage with honey and spices.
Livraria Centésima Página: This bookstore regularly holds author events and is all about providing a well-rounded cultural experience. A glassed-in atrium coffee shop sells Portuguese gourmet goods. The adjacent cafe is decorated with a regularly changing installation of contemporary art from around the world. The backyard garden, lush with foliage and peppered with shaded tables, makes for a perfect locale for an afternoon respite or, depending on the day, a venue for concerts or kid’s theater.
Casa dos Coimbras: This 16th-century mansion serves as a bar and art gallery where the paintings and photographs are displayed in corridors and rooms with Manueline detailing.
Museu Nogueira da Silva: Entrepreneur Nogueira da Silva accumulated a wealth of art and antiques that bedeck the ornate rooms in his former house-turned-eponymous museum.
In the rear, a French-inspired garden is flecked with statuary from da Silva’s collections, including the sculptures of Alberto Peixoto.
Jardim de Santa Bárbara: Behind the Archbishop’s Palace is a manicured garden landscaped with cedar topiaries, pansies, roses and beds of sculpted boxwood. Scattered about are the ruins of arches that remain from the palace’s medieval arcade as well as ancient capitals and coats of arms.
Jeanine Barone is a freelance writer in New York.
The churches of Braga
Aside from Bom Jesus do Monte and Monastery de Tibães, these five are also notable:
Sé de Braga, Rua do Cabido
Portugal’s oldest cathedral is graced with numerous treasures, from the elegantly carved wooden choir stalls to the richly embroidered vestments on display in the museum.
Igreja de São Vicente, Rua de São Vicente
The life and martyrdom of St. Vincent are depicted on azulejos that adorn the walls in the church’s nave and chancel.
Chapel Tree of Life, Largo de São Tiago
Nestled within the St. James Seminary stands this curvy, innovative chapel that resembles a minimalist hut.
Igreja de São Víctor, Rua de São Victor
With its gilded pulpits and balconies, and tile-coated interior painted by the renowned Spaniard artist Gabriel del Barco, this church is considered a fine work of art.
Igreja de Santa Cruz, Largo Carlos Amarante
An intricate gilded organ and pulpit are two of the renowned features in this 17th-century baroque church that’s carved of granite.
When you go
Restaurante Brac: brac.com.pt. Built around medieval and Roman ruins, the restaurant serves modern cuisine, such as prawns in curry or octopus carpaccio with olive vinaigrette, that relies on traditional Portuguese ingredients. $40
Anjo Verde: anjoverde.com. This vegetarian restaurant decorated with Asian accents offers a petite menu of flavorful, filling options, such as mushroom empanadas and a spinach quiche along with a tart lemon meringue pie. $20
Braga Pop Hostel: bragapophostel.blogspot.com. Helena Gomes, owner of Braga’s first hostel, shares her insider city knowledge with anyone of any age who occupies these bright, airy quarters that include one private room and a sunny terrace to socialize. $21 (dorm), $53 (couple’s room), both with breakfast
Meliã Braga Hotel & Spa: www.meliabraga.com/en. Ultra contemporary design elements suffuse every aspect of this brilliant, whitewashed, 182-room hotel that’s several miles from the city center. From $96
Mercado da Saudade: facebook.com/Mercado
dasaudade. This shop sells quality Portuguese-made goods, including stylish paper, Laga bags, cork belts, handmade soaps and bitter orange jams.
UNA Concept Store: facebook.com/pages/UNA-
141422895935727. Three young creatives stock the shelves with their products and those of their friends, which might include a whimsical doll with a giant 3-D heart, custom pillows emblazoned with photos and felted iPhone covers.