Like most visitors, the the first time I went to Valença do Minho I made a beeline for the fortress. It is, after all, where you’ll find the best views and architecture. Plus a whole load of gaudy towels and linens on the main shopping street!
Valença do Minho, beyond the shops
Unless you’re going to Valença specifically to buy sheets or tea towels, I’d venture away from the textile shops as quickly as possible. Off the main street, the atmosphere is calmer and you’ll soon discover small squares and churches as you roam around the walled settlement, spread over two hills within the fortress.
During the Middle Ages Valença’s hilltop position and privileged view over the River Minho were vital to protecting Portugal from invasion by its northern neighbours. Valença was besieged several times by Spanish and French troops but managed to keep them at bay.
The original 13th century structure was fortified in the 17th and 18th centuries with pointed bulwarked walls and moats that surrounded the old town. As you walk around the grounds of the fortress, you’ll start to appreciate why it was so successful at resisting attacks by both Spain and France.
You’ll also get fantastic views of the River Minho and across into Galicia. The attractive hilltop town on the other side of the water is Tui.
Bridge from Valença to Tui
The main access to Tui and the rest of Spain lies to the east of the fortress. The international road and rail bridge across the River Minho was built in 1879, once invasions had become a thing of the past. Inspired by Eiffel (as in Tower), the metal structure is quite something to drive though. Or to walk across as I did on the Portuguese Camino de Santiago.
Once bitter enemies, Valença and Tui now actively cooperate to encourage their tourists to use this bridge and pop across the river to visit both cities. Since each offers tantalising views of the other and they are only 3 km apart, most people need little persuasion. In July and August, cross-border visits are made even easier with a special tourist train.
Where to stay in Valença
With easy access by train and road, you could use Valença do Minho as a base for exploring the Minho region and Galicia.
The Pousada de Valença, again within the old fortress, has unrivalled views, imposing surrounds and modern rooms. This historical hotel offers both comfort and style. Check verified reviews, current prices and availability.
If that’s beyond your budget, you may find Hotel Val Flores more suitable. Clean, comfortable and with friendly staff, this is a simple hotel in a convenient location overlooking the fortress. Check prices and availability
Along the same lines is Hotel Lara, a modern 3-star hotel in the newer part of Valença.
For a modern, stylish base nearby, head a few kilometres out of town towards Vila Nova de Cerveira, to the design Hotel Minho, complete with spa and pool and ultra sleek lines. See more photos and check availability.
How to get to Valença to Minho
Valença is well served by trains with services from Porto that continue into Vigo in Spain – check the CP website for timetables. Several companies operate buses run from Porto, Braga and Viana do Castelo among other places.
If you decide to rent a car, you’ll find the city is well connected by road, too.
Insider tip: Driving into the fortress town itself can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially in a rental car, because you have to drive through the narrow ancient archways in the fortress walls. Either choose a small vehicle and remember to tuck your wing mirrors in or park outside the walls then walk.
If you would rather visit Valença as part of a tour, this full day tour from Porto to Santiago de Compostela in Spain makes a stop in Valença on the way back south.