The ancient bridge, Santa Comba Dão

The rejuvenating properties of white cement are noticeable in the lakeside town of Santa Comba Dão (aka the ‘Princess of the Dão) in central Portugal.

Like botox for buildings, the cement has been used extensively to smooth out the deep gaps that had formed between the granite blocks of traditional buildings. The rough stones are now boldly outlined in white, creating a lace-like effect around the smaller ones and a dramatic background for the chunkier ones.

before and after restoration, granite buildings in Santa Comba Dão, Portugal
before and after restoration

I stroll downhill along granite-cobbled streets and admire the variety of buildings dating back to medieval times that have been left to the pigeons, painstakingly restored or cleverly modernised. By the time I reach the central square, Largo Municipal, I’m struck by the civic pride that is evident throughout Santa Comba Dão. And the cabbages!

cabbage trees growing out of stone steps
Cabbages will grow just about anywhere if you let them.
Flying the flags: European Union, Portugal and Santa Comba Dão
Flying the flags: European Union, Portugal and Santa Comba Dão

In the square, three flags flutter outside the pristine town hall building and there is a sunken map of the Santa Comba Dão municipality with lights marking the points of interest. A message by Lauro Gonçalves engraved into the wall next to it translates as:

Santa Comba Dão: legendary land, full of traditions.

The remembrance of its past – its history – is the bond which guarantees an evolutionary struggle for modernisation.

The beauty and charms of its landscapes earned it, in times gone by, the nickname ‘Princess of the Dão’.

Welcome to this municipality – of friendly and hospitable people.

The few people around on this particular day seem to be gathered at one of the Municipal Square’s outdoor cafés and it’s hard to say how hospitable they might be. The waitress is very friendly though. Two coiffured ladies of a certain age, nothing short of immaculately turned out and dripping with chunky gold, big shades chat animatedly over their tiny cups of coffee. A multi-generational family group catch up on gossip while the children play on the thick granite steps to the stream that runs through the square.

Cafés at Largo Municipal, Santa Comba Dão, Portugal
Cafés at Largo Municipal, Santa Comba Dão, central Portugal

A little boy, about three years old, squeals in excitement and disgust as his investigations under the water with a stick reward him a clump of slimy gunge. His female companions (sisters?) recoil in girlish horror, which spurs him on to prod and poke about some more.

There are little fountains in the stream, not spurting at the moment, that lead to the tiny bridge that could be Roman or possibly medieval; no one really knows. Wooden walkways with pots of petunias have been built to pretty up the waterway, creating a pleasant place for a stroll. There’s even a theme park for ducks complete with climbing frame and Wendy house.

Wooden walkway along the stream, Santa Comba Dão
Wooden walkway along the stream in the centre of Santa Comba Dão, central Portugal

The water in the central sections of the stream looks clean but further downstream, a greasy, grimy scum is trapped in one of the layers, possibly due to the few remaining women who still do their laundry in the stream at the communal stone washboards. At the end of the walkway, the now milky water splashes over a gigantic boulder into a smaller stream below and onwards to the river Dão, one of Portugal’s wine-producing regions.

The stream disappears off into the distance, Santa Comba Dão
The stream disappears off into the distance, Santa Comba Dão

Not far from here, I find a viewpoint (miradouro). The view over the expanse of lake created by the Aguieira Dam is somewhat spoiled by the swathes of plastic covering the repair work being carried out on one of the major bridges but I manage to ‘PhotoShop’ this from my mind and concentrate on the wiggly fingers of land that creep into the calm blue water, creating countless small bays.

One of these natural bays is home to Senhora da Ribeira river beach, which looks enticing on photos, but my attempts to find it on my way home are in vain. I can’t find it on this map of the area either but I know it exists. More signs might help – local authority, please take note.

Santa Comba Dão municipality painted onto tiles
Santa Comba Dão municipality ‘azulejo’ style

There are no major sights in Santa Comba Dão but it’s a pleasant place to spend an afternoon, and you could easily spend a few relaxing days exploring the surrounding countryside to find out why it was dubbed the ‘Princess of the Dão’. She and her people continue to take pride in her appearance so why not go and admire her natural beauty.

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15 Comments

  1. I can´t believe I missed this post! Santa Comba was just 15km away from the place we used to live in Portugal, which was Carregal do Sal. My son actually went to High school in St.Comba as their high school had an arts Dept., and my husband worked in St.Comba too for a couple of years. I seem to recognise those houses, I think they were in that street that is closed to traffic.
    I had never taken a photo in Santa Comba!! Funny that only after starting my blog did I start taking an interest in photography and now observe my surroundings with different eyes!

    1. Author

      I know what you mean about blogging fuelling an interest in photography. I’ve enjoyed taking photos for years, but when I look back at photos I’ve taken from before I began blogging, I realise how few I actually took of each place I went to, which is very frustrating now, when I need images to accompany my articles! I take way more these days 🙂

      I’m glad you finally got to see this post and that it brought back memories for you. It’s a beautiful area and it’s easy to understand why people are so proud of it.

  2. Beautiful photos, and place! Those cabbages are hilarious as well! Might see if I can grow them, haven’t had much success with anything else! 🙂

    1. Author

      Good luck! If you can’t grow the cabbages, it might be time to rethink the veggie patch though 🙂

  3. Good read – I love that phrase ‘botox for buildings’!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Andrew. I admit I was quite pleased with that one myself 🙂

  4. Looks gorgeous. You’ve really captured the lazy, languid feel of easy small-town life. And the characters (the children and the washerwomen you mention) add real depth. If only that bridge could talk…

    1. Author

      Thanks. Yes, I’m sure it has many fascinating tales to tell!

  5. No major sights needed – just a charming little town. Perfect place to visit.

    1. Author

      Thanks, I agree!

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