There’s more to see in Braga than its vast collection of churches. Knowing I only had a few hours for visiting Braga’s sights on this taster trip, I decided to head for the Biscainhos Museum and made some pleasing discoveries on the way.
My Braga day trip got off to a good start when I stumbled across Centésima Página, a cute bookshop on Avenida Central with a café at the back housed in Casa Rolão, an 18th century Baroque style house. Sadly, I didn’t have time to fully appreciate the books or the refreshments but it’s definitely a place to head back to with more time on my hands. A little further up the street, these tiles in a beautiful Art Nouveau doorway caught my eye.
Braga city centre
As city centres go, Braga’s is spacious and attractive with a swathe of pansies adding colour to one of the shopping streets while another was dotted with trees blooming with purple blossom and providing shade for the clusters of old men sitting on the benches beneath the branches. It’s got some fairly unusual sculptures, too.
As I made my way slowly in the general direction of the museum, the sound of children singing drew me into a square. A crowd of proud mothers and grandparents, supplemented by curious passers-by like myself, gathered to watch as the local primary school put on a show. Children jostled for space in every window of the two-storey building and the rest spilled out of the front door onto the steps. Every one of them belted out their songs, putting a smile on the faces of their audience. Even mine, although a couple of tunes was sufficient to brighten my day.
Museu dos Biscainhos, Braga
The Biscainhos museum is in a palace which shares its name with the street it’s on. The Biscainhos were the Basque stonemasons who were brought to Braga to work on the new Gothic tower of the nearby cathedral in the 16th century. Since they all lived on the same street, it became known as Rua dos Biscainhos.
The palace was originally built in the 16th century but many of the architectural and decorative features were added in the 18th century by the family who were keen to display the wealth they had accumulated from coffee and tobacco plantations in Brazil. They even had one of the uncles, a Jesuit priest, incorporated into the decorative oil painting on the ceiling of the Sala Nobre (Noble Room).
Visits to the museum are guided, although there is extra printed information about the furniture and features at the entrance to each room. The guide certainly helped me get a better appreciation of the lifestyle of the palace’s inhabitants. When I commented on the tiny beds in the master’s bedroom, he explained that because the noblemen used to gorge themselves on rich food in the evenings, they had to sleep upright, supported by cushions so long beds weren’t necessary.
The rooms are filled with furniture which matches both the period in which each one was decorated and the intended use of the space, enabling me to imagine small groups of ladies and gentlemen playing cards at small tables and the nobles being served at the dinner table.
After touring the house and the cloisters, we headed to the kitchens, which are separate from the main house. This was a sensible safety precaution since its fires burned constantly and could easily have set fire to the palace.
Round and round the garden
I loved the house but was equally impressed with the well-tended gardens. The terracing allows each of the three different gardens to be seen when you enter through the grand gateway, a popular feature in baroque gardens of that period. The first section is carefully manicured formal gardens with flower beds, fountains and sculptures separated by hedges and tiled walls. A fabulous circular viewing room is built into one of the walls and decorated with blue and yellow azulejos.
The middle space is devoted to lawns and fruit trees while the last area is a vegetable garden. My only regret is that I was shooed out of the garden at quarter past twelve because the staff wanted to take their lunch break. I’d have been more than happy to sit there and read for a while. Even though my visit ended sooner than I would have liked, I definitely felt I got my money’s worth for the 2 euro entrance fee. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 to 12.15 and 2 to 5.30 but you should ring to check about public holidays (+351 253 204 650).
Museu das Imagens, Braga
It took a little while to find the Image Museum; somehow I managed to miss the arch I was using as a reference point and walked further than necessary. The museum itself is smaller than I expected.
An ingenious architect has made excellent use of the original medieval tower, creating several floors, each of which contained a different exhibition of photographs including still life, landscapes and portraits. If you’re interested, it’s at Campo das Hortas 35-37 and open Tuesday to Friday from 11 to 7 and Saturday to Sunday from 2.30 to 6.
Although I hadn’t intended to spend time in any of Braga’s religious buildings, I happened to be walking past the cathedral and felt it would be rude to ignore it. It’s a real mish mash of architectural styles including Gothic, Romanesque, Manueline and Baroque. Photography is not allowed inside and a very stern-faced man will wave his finger at you if you so much as look at your camera.
Tours that go to Braga from Porto
You could spend an morning, or longer, in Braga on this 3-day tour of the Minho’s Historical Charms.
This 1-day Guimarães and Braga tour includes a visit to a famous sponge cake factory.
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