The small town of Freixo de Espada à Cinta sits just before the River Douro leaves the confines of the International Douro Natural park to begin its journey through the demarcated Alto Douro wine region. If you’re in the area, here’s what to expect from a visit to the town and surrounds.
Note: If you choose to do this self-guided walking holiday in the Douro International Natural Park and Côa Valley, you’ll be staying just outside this intriguing village.
Manueline architecture and Jewish heritage
For such a remote spot amid the agricultural lands of Trás-os-Montes in the northeast of Portugal, it comes as something of a surprise to find it dubbed the ‘most Manueline town in Portugal’.
It seems we have the Jewish community to thank for this. An influx of Jewish merchants in the mid-16th century brought with them the means to hire skilled stonemasons to decorate their dwellings, hence the carved windows and doorways around town. Look closely at some of the granite blocks and you’ll also see Jewish symbols carved into them.
Among the more striking examples of Manueline (Portugal’s unique version of Gothic) architecture are intricately carved doorways to the parish church, although I doubt they’re down to the Jewish contingent.
Heptagonal Tower- Torre do Galo
Very little remains of Freixo de Espada à Cinta Castle, which dates back to the 13th century. The most obvious is the 7-sided tower, known as Rooster Tower (Torre do Galo), which you can visit (open daily from 8 am to 5 pm) for views of the surrounding countryside.
Works are currently afoot to improve what’s left of the castle, including building structures where the other towers would have stood in the citadel walls.
How Freixo de Espada à Cinta got its name
Next to this church, you’ll find an ash tree with a giant sword strapped against it by a belt. If you translate Freixo de Espada à Cinta, that’s exactly what it means but not everyone agrees on the origins of the name.
Some claim that the town’s founder had both an ash tree and a sword on his coat of arms, which gave rise to the fanciful name.
Others belive that a noble Goth called Espadacinta found shade under an ash tree there after doing battle with the Moors and hung his sword on the tree while he rested.
Yet another theory argues that it was King Dinis, tired from doing battle with his bastard son Afonso Sanches, who hung up his sword while resting under an ash tree.
Igreja do Convento de São Filipe Nery
A short wander around the small town lead us to some more unique arquitecture, this time in the form of a jagged church, Igreja do Convento de São Filipe Nery. This Baroque church is actually unfinished, hence the stones sticking out of its side.
Breathtaking viewpoints near Freixo de Espada à Cinta
Thanks to its location at the southern end of the International Douro Natural Park, Freixo de Espada à Cinta has several great scenic spots nearby.
I only had time to track down Colado, which overlooks the village of Mazouco and the hills and valleys around the river. Apparently, there’s a palaeolithic rock engraving of a horse between Mazouco and the river.
Tip: If you want to find this and other viewpoints in the area, pick up a leaflet from the tourist information centre for details of Penedo Durão, Cruzinha, Carrascalinho, Assumadouro and Alminhas, or look out for the brown miradouro signs as you drive.
Update: I’ve since been to Penedo Durão, which is sectacular and, if I had to choose between this and Colado, I’d go there.
Congida river beach
Freixo de Espada á Cinta is just a few kilometres from the River Douro and the gorgeous Congida river beach and park. There’s a café jutting out over the water and plenty of shady spots under willow trees for picnics or general lounging, as well as a roped-off swimming area marked out by floating board walks.
The official swimming season (with lifeguards on duty) is short-lived, encompassing July and August. When I went in early September, the gates to the swimming area were already locked but too be honest, the water was so cold, you’d have had to throw me in.
River cruise through International Douro Natural Park
My reason for coming to Freixo de Espada á Cinta in the first place was to take the river cruise along the Douro to see the wild, unspoilt beauty of the International Douro Natural Park.
The boat leaves from Congida river beach and meanders along the river into the mid-section of the park before returning and is a bargain at €14.
Practicalities for visiting Freixo de Espada à Cinta
You’ll definitely need a car if you want to visit Freixo de Espada à Cinta – see rental car prices here – and it’s a good couple of hours drive from the heart of the Douro Valley so you’ll need extra time in your itinerary if you want to visit.
You could turn it into a day trip from a base in the more central part of the Douro Valley, which is what we did, or plan to stay overnight.
Other places of interest in the area include Vila Nova de Foz Côa, famous for rock art, almond blossoms and more Manueline architecture, and Marialva, a medieval village with ruined castle and a fabulous accommodation complex.
Cool places to stay in or near Freixo de Espada à Cinta
Casa de Alpajares has everything you need for an idyllic rural stay, including outdoor pool, spa facilities and a restaurant.
Casa do Rio Wine Hotel is between the Douro wine region and the Douro International Park so if you want rural luxury with the best of both worlds, this is the place to come.
Further upstream, and on the banks of the Douro River are the charming cottages at Quinta Da Ferradosa.
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