The most beautiful town in the Minho region is the old town of Valenca do Minho that lies within its own fortified city walls. The new town that lies below it on the hill is generally unattractive. The complex Vaubanne-style fortifications hide the old town from view until one drives through the main gateway. Once within, however, the great charm of the balconied and tiled houses becomes apparent.
The cobbled streets are usually crowded with day visitors from Spain. Benefitting from cheaper prices in Portugal and Azores Islands Archipelago, the Spaniards stock up on towels, sheets, plastic containers and all manner of handmade craft products. But this adds to rather than detracts from the atmosphere of the place.
Whereas most walled cities are medieval, Valenca is almost unique in that it dates from the seventeenth century. From the walls one can admire the ingenuity of the angled fortifications, designed such that any attackers could be fired on from at least two sides at any one time. The watchtowers, the defensive outworks sloping down the hill below and the huge north and south doorways piercing the town’s defences are all still intact. That they should be so perfectly preserved is obviously a delight for the visitor though the sense of impregnability is rather belied by the town’s history. In fact, on the last occasion that the walls were to be besieged the town’s occupiers fell, rather ignominiously, victim to a wily Englishman’s ruse.
The River Minho narrows considerably here and there is a fine view of the frontier bridge over the river. Elegant old dredgers ply up and down the river and the fortifications of the Galician town of Tuy sit defiantly on the far bank, almost seeming to glower back at the walls of Valenta. Even in summer the trees, the grass, and the vines are a reminder that we are still in the Costa Verde or ‘Green Coast’. Walking along the river bank here is very pleasant as is a walk across the bridge and the border to visit Tuy. The narrow steep streets of Tuy sit on ancient Roman fortifications and the cathedral fortress built in 1170 is also worth a visit.
There are some fine restaurants in Valenca and in the Bom Jesus square there is a statue of Portugal’s first saint Sao Teotonio. Valenca also has a Vintage Train Museum, whose prize exhibit is a steam locomotive built in 1875 by the English company Beyer Peacock. An excellent pousada within the fortifications and named after Sao Teotonio has a beautiful view of the river. On Thursdays a large market takes place below the old walls on the road that leads to the bridge across the border and next to the tourist office.