DISCOVERING

AMARANTE AWAITS

DISCOVERING

AMARANTE AWAITS

About an hour east of Porto, there is a little town that for hundreds of years has fallen asleep to the lullabies sung by the Tâmega River that passes through its centre. Go there, be enchanted, and celebrate love.

The sun is rising above the river. A narrow path, majestic trees, and a silhouette of the bridge emerge from the dead of the night. Single rays of light touch the surface of the water, shine and run through its essence into eternity.

Another day is about to start in Amarante. The day when local sellers will go to their stands to sell sweets; the day when the smell of freshly brewed coffee will attract passersby into one of the cafés with balconies that hover above the surface of the water; the day that pilgrims and wanderers are going to pass through this city, guided by Saint Jacob’s shells, or inexplicable power of the Universe.

Sunrise is the best prize for getting up much too early. I can admire São Gonçalo bridge, shining in its full, massive splendour;there is no place for doubts… it is the crucial point of Amarante.

You can see the bridge from almost every place, emerging from the corner of the old buildings, presenting its beauty to the people, who stand on the bank of Tâmega, or shyly hiding behind yellow leaves on the tree branches.

The name of the bridge commemorates the most important person in this city: Gonçalo. Even though he was beatified by the church, for Portuguese believers he is São Gonçalo – the Saint. This Dominican monk arrived in Amarante at the beginning of the 13th century and played a crucial role in the architectural development of this area.

The dramatist Gil Vicente (1465-1537), who wrote in both Portuguese and Spanish, was considered chief amongst writers of Auto and was sometimes called the Portuguese Plautus and often referred to as the Father of Portuguese Drama.

Amar means to love

Amar is the Portuguese verb ‘to love’. Why did this town get that name? It is hard to say, but it seems like São Gonçalo is responsible for it as well. According to local stories, Gonçalo was a perfect matchmaker. With his wisdom, he could find love for older widows and widowers, heal male impotency, and help singles to get married.

The bridge was his main opus. Gonçalo connected too the banks of the Tâmega, creating an easy pass between two hills on either side of the river. After his death, Amarante blossomed, thanks to the pilgrims that came here to see vivid memories of the famous monk. Many people arrived here to live in the place where they could experience the power of the saint of fertility, and love life.

The residents of Amarante rebuilt São Gonçalo’s bridge in 1763, after a flood destroyed the work of the monk. During Napoleon’s invasion and the civil war, Portuguese troops fought on this bridge and saved Amarante from destruction.

A big church named – just as the bridge – after the saintly monk dominates the landscape of the city. It was created in 1540 on the place where São Gonçalo’s grave was located. With a majestic portico executed in the Baroque style, it is one of the most high-grade examples of sacral architecture in Northern Portugal.

Timeless Power of Love

The legacy of Gonçalo is still alive in Amarante. If you’re looking for love, or want to heal your bed problems, no worries. According to beliefs, São Gonçalo has been helping lovers long after his own death.

The small chapel, with a tomb located in the middle of it, is usually filled with the smell of the flowers. Carnations are the main decoration during national celebrations. Praying to São Gonçalo is supposed to help with all the problems you may have. In the church sacristy, the old sculpture of São Gonçalo can be found. Pull the tassel attached to the monk’s robe and expect to get married within the year.

Outside of the church, little carts offer local sweets that are loved by many. Under the colourful umbrella, older ladies call passersby to get some of their delicacies. Teenagers giggle and point at the pile of phallic-shaped cakes. They are a local delicacy and come in different sizes and, as they are hand-made, also various shapes. These specialties, that have a few names, for example, colhões de São Gonçalo, caralhinhos, quilhõezinhos, were illegal during the Estado Novo, when the government considered them amoral and banned them from being sold.

According to tradition, a man should offer one to the parents of the girl he wants to marry. Of course, the bigger the better. It’s not clear where the custom came from. Considering that Amarante used to be a conservative town, with a rich Catholic culture, most probably it has its roots in the pagan cultures in which sexuality, and fertility, played a crucial role. Try the best caralhinhos at Confeitaria O Moinho.

The View From The Bridge

When you look down from the bridge, a rural scene appears. The waters of the Tâmega steadily flow, swinging boats that someone attached to trees with rusty chains. You can’t say you’ve seen Amarante if you haven’t had a stroll by the river.

It seems like on the river level, Amarante is another world. A separated place, without the hustle and bustle of the town, without busy cafés and the old ladies loudly encouraging tourists to taste some Caralhinhos.

After steep stairs that lead from the bridge a few meters down to the bank of the river, the top part of Amarante seems to be very far away. An enormous wall keeps the soil and protects it from collapsing. Roots of the trees from the upper part wade through the stones, creating different shapes and reminding that they can find a way through all human creations.

The narrow path that I follow for a while, enjoying the beautiful scenery, opens up to the natural lawn with old elms that proudly surrender to the soft caress of the wind. Brown leaves fall fast or in slow-motion, depending on the gusts, and stop under my feet, preaching the upcoming autumn.

A few minutes by the river is enough to know that on the lower part of the city, water rules. Showing its stillness on the open waterway and roaring with power on the steps near the beach. Here and there, the little island with willows creates a home for wild birds, interrupting the constant run of the water that stubbornly heads towards the ocean.

Admiring the sunset that colours the water in intense shades of pink and red, I know that Amarante is a perfect place for all kind of wanderers. It doesn’t matter if you believe in São Gonçalo, or you just feel connected with nature. The city has it all to give a spiritually fulfilling time to all kind of explorers.

Getting there from Porto

  • By car it’s a 60.5km run on the A4
  • By bus, the journey is 50 minutes. Buses leave every two hours
  • By taxi, allow €40-€55 and 40 minutes

Where to stay

There are many choices here, in every category, but Casa da Calçada Relais & Chateaux stands out as exceptional. What was a grand palace is five-star luxury all the way –lush and plush with amazing views and a Michelin starred restaurant that is in a class of its own.

: +351 255 410 830 /  reservas@casadacalcada.com

Worth visiting

The Romanesque Route: This tour takes in some 58 monuments, including monastries, castles churches and towers found around the rivers Tamega, Sousa and the Douro. The four-day tour will provide you with a never-to-be-forgotten experience, but of course you can settle for a taster visit, too. Find out more at rotadoromanico.com

Words: Anna Zielazny

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