I often get asked about places to visit in the Douro wine region. One of my favourite towns in the area has to be Lamego. Although not on the River Douro itself, it’s only 20 minutes away by car, still in the wine region and well worth the trip.
Why do I like Lamego so much?
In a nutshell, its architecture, museum, compact town centre and the view from the hilltop sanctuary, all of which offer a cultural break from touring the Douro wine estates and vineyards.
Let me go into a little more detail and you’ll soon understand why I recommend Lamego to so many people.
I’ll start with my favourite place in town, the Lamego Museum. An astounding collection of ancient art and artifacts, including a fully reconstructed chapel dripping with gold, is displayed within the walls of an 18th century bishop’s palace.
Among the many highlights are the set of paintings by one of Portugal’s most renowned painters, Grão Vasco. You can see more of his work in the museum dedicated to him in the town of Viseu but if that’s not possible, simply feast your eyes on these. The luminosity and level of detail is remarkable considering he painted them almost 500 years ago.
Equally impressive are the 16th century Flemish tapestries that depict the Greek legend of Oedipus, the guy who unwittingly killed his father and married his mother.
What drew me to Lamego Museum in the first place was the promise of azulejos (painted tiles). I was not to be disappointed. These colourful 17th panels, rescued from a Lisbon palace, are extraordinary.
Lamego historical centre
The heart of Lamego is a wide leafy avenue that runs from the museum to the foot of the steps to the sanctuary. You’ll find several restaurants and cafés along here as well as the tourist information centre. The cathedral lies just off this central strip.
The cathedral was built by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, in the 12th century, although little remains of the original structure. To be honest, I’m more impressed with the chunky, frilly Gothic exterior than the interior of this particular religious structure although other people rave about it so you’d best judge for yourself. Gail at Large has better photos of it on her blog if you’re interested.
I prefer the interior of nearby Cistercian Monastery of São João de Tarouca (about 25 minutes by car), especially if you can arrange for a guide to help you appreciate the story of the azulejos behind the altar.
There’s not much left of the castle but it’s still worth venturing up the hill to visit the ruins. To get there, you’ll walk up a narrow cobbled street, passing traditional shops and houses. When I went, the staff seemed delighted to have guests and couldn’t do enough for us, not that we really needed any help to walk around the walls and admire the views.
As you look up the avenue, or across from the castle, you can’t miss the monumental Baroque staircase that leads up to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies (Nossa Senhora dos Remédios). Visit Lamego on September 8th and you can watch the annual pilgrimage procession as townsfolk carry her statue all the way up to the church. The festivities begin at the end of August with party lights in the streets, stalls and concerts.
We took the lazy/easy option and drove to the top of the hill. As you might imagine, the views from up there are impressive, as are the statues. We did walk down a few of the steps to take a closer look at the azulejo panels that decorate them.
What to see near Lamego
São Pedro de Balsemão chapel is only a few kilometres outside Lamego so you could walk there and back if you wanted to. The scenery consists of the Douro wine region’s typical terraced slopes with grape vines and olive trees, making for a pleasant journey on foot or by car. When you get there, allow the attendant to explain the features of the chapel.
The Celtic symbols date way back and the elaborate Bishop’s tomb is interesting, especially when you understand the symbolism of the carved stone figures that support it.
Traditional carnival at Lazarim
If you happen to be in the area at Lent, take a drive out to the nearby village of Lazarim to see the wooden masks and costumes used in the traditional rituals.
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