In Northern Portugal’s Sousa Valley is an understated rural town that doesn’t appear in many tourist guides. But that’s not to say there’s nothing to do, as Felgueiras is on two regional trails. The Vinho Verde Route passes through, stopping at an estate where you can amble through the vineyard and get absorbing snippets about how this fabulous wine is produced.
There’s also a Romanesque trail, and within minutes of the town are many medieval churches that have hardly changed in 900 years. Last but not least, Felgueiras has been a centre of excellence for lacework and embroidery for more than a century, and its industry is still thriving, anchored by the Casa do Risco, which help trains people in fine needlework.
Let’s explore the best things to do in in Felgueiras:
1. Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Pombeiro
Founded in the 11th century, this was once one of Northern Portugal’s foremost Benedictine monasteries and is now a National Monument.
The complex was given a major overhaul in the 18th century, but there are still a few Romanesque fragments that have been here since the 1000s.
Historians should be sure to inspect the radiating chapels in the apse, and the main portal.
This has five fastidiously carved archivolts held up by pillars with carved capitals, all below a rose window.
Of the newer elements the most captivating part is the unfinished Classical cloister, abandoned and surmounted by a coat of arms and balustrade along the roof.
2. Igreja de Santa Maria de Airães
Another church from the High Middle Ages, and another National Monument, this example is probably from the 1100s.
Like the Monastery of Pombeiro it was updated later, although the changes do little to detract from the beauty of the building.
The earliest details are on the portal, which has four archivolts and capitals with foliate motifs.
The nave has powerful circular pillars, and at the end of the two outer aisles are gilt-wood retables.
And in the central chancel there’s beautiful vaulting, and walls partially covered by patterned azulejos.
3. Villa Romana de Sendim
In 1992 during the construction of a house, Roman foundations and a cache of ceramics, glass, coins and metallic utensils came to light in the parish of Sendim.
The pieces recovered during the dig are laid for you to browse at the villa’s interpretation centre, and in some cases the fragments of glass and pottery have been painstakingly pieced back together.
The villa is from the 1st century and you might be caught off guard by its scale.
The site has been covered with a metal canopy and you’ll traverse the ruins on a walkway, looking down at the heating system and floors with opus signinum (decorative broken tiles) and polychrome mosaics with geometric shapes.
4. Casa das Artes
The grand performing arts venue in the town was funded and designed by António José de Fonseca Moreira, a Felgueiras local who struck it rich in Brazil at the turn of the 20th century.
He came back and built an enduring monument for the town, which was inaugurated in 1921, staging a play written by Moreira himself on its opening night! Although a cherished amenity, it fell into disrepair at the end of the 20th century before being bought by the town and restored.
There’s a cafe inside and a program of talks, live music plays and cinema screenings.
5. Igreja de São Vicente de Sousa
Yet another National Monument, this church is also medieval.
Like the others in the list it might be modest in size but has a lot of riveting features.
You can make out two medieval inscriptions on the walls, one from 1162 to commemorate a burial, and another engraved in 1214, the date of the church’s dedication.
There’s another Romanesque portal here, but people aficionados of this design will be interested in the unusual way the entrance projects from the body of the church with a little vestibule.
Also noteworthy are the corbels on the south facade, which suggest that there might have been a cloister attached to the church at one point.
The ceiling paintings, polychrome statues and altar in the chancel are from the 1600s.
6. Vinho Verde
The Vinho Verde Route crosses Felgueiras, in hilly countryside decked with a mosaic of vineyards.
For the uninitiated vinho verde is a type of wine unique to northwestern Portugal and the south of Galicia.
Here “verde” refers to the age of the wine, as it is young, making light and fruity reds, and fresh and sharp whites that often have a subtle sparkle.
Around Felgueiras you can get the full story on a tour and tasting session at the Quinta da Lixa or browse the shop for Felgueiras’ farming cooperative, which is like a trove of wine and locally-made goodies like kiwi jam.
7. Local Sights
Although they’re not set up for visitors inside, there are a few other great sights to catch as you make your way around Felgueiras.
One is the Casa de Valmelhorado, built in the early 1700s on a plateau above the Pombeiro Monastery.
It’s a Baroque country house integrated with an older medieval fortified tower.
The Casa de Simães is an 18th-century mansion with older annexed houses all wrapped in high walls and bearing the family coat of arms.
You can make a whirlwind tour of the gardens, enriched with a fountain and Baroque sculpture.
8. Romanesque Route
Medieval architecture is so profuse around Felgueiras that there’s a designated Romanesque Route (Rota do Românico) that takes in a number of towns in the Sousa Valley.
On top of the three monuments we’ve already looked at, there’s a solemn example at the Igreja do Salvador de Unhão, founded in the 12th century and with its original nave intact.
The other is Igreja de São Mamede de Vila Verde, which goes back as least as far as the 1220s.
If this has only whetted your appetite for medieval architecture you can move on to Penafiel, Amarante or Moarco de Canaveses for more.
This handsome town borders the Felgueiras municipality and has history and sights aplenty.
A lot of its most picturesque scenes are on the banks of the River, where the houses stick out uncertainly over the water.
This is also crossed by the fabulous Ponte de São Gonçalo: There has been a bridge at this location since the Romans, but this structure has Baroque and Neoclassical architecture from the 18th century.
The Igreja de São Gonçalo, with its terracotta dome and lavish facade, sets off the bridge beautifully.
There’s also a top-notch museum, more historic churches and a designated nature walk along the rocky banks of the Tâmega.
10. Traditional Crafts
Felgueiras is famed for the dextrous hands and patience of its residents, with more embroiderers plying their trade here than any other town in the north.
If you’re fond of filet lace, cross-stitching and the like, you have to call in at the Casa do Risco.
This was established in a large 19th-century building on a rise over the Sousa and Tâmega valleys.
Its aim is to set the standard for needlework in the areas and train local artisans.
There are workshops, studios and regular exhibitions for needlework fans.
Shoemaking is another Felgueiras forte, and if you’re out for a bargain or want to go to the source of this craft there are ten factory shops open for business in Felgueiras.