The small town of Freixo de Espada à Cinta lies just before the River Douro leaves the confines of the International Douro Natural park to begin its journey through the demarcated wine region. If you’re in the area, here’s what to expect.
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.
How did the name come about?
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.
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.
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.
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 and meanders along the river into the mid-section of the park before returning and is a bargain at €14.
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.
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