Amarante is a dreamy town in upland countryside in the North of Portugal. To the east looms the vast mass of the Serra do Marão, while the Tâmega Valley is lined with high hills with a mantle of woodland. The postcard image in Amarante is the São Gonçalo bridge on the Tâmega beside the Renaissance monastery of the same name.
Amarante is a town that has given Portugal many important artists and writers, notably in the early 20th century, and their work is presented at the superb municipal museum. In the neighbourhood are Romanesque churches, picturesque mountain villages and cycling and hiking trails to dive into the natural richness of the Tâmega Valley.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Amarante:
1. Ponte de São Gonçalo
0The image that will always be associated with Amarante is this tall and graceful stone bridge spanning the Tâmega River in front of the Church São Gonçalo.
There has been a crossing at this very location since the Romans, but the current design is from a Baroque and Neoclassical rebuild at the end of the 18th century.
This was when the two bow-shaped platforms were completed, so you can take a seat halfway along the bridge and photograph of one of Portugal’s most stirring townscapes.
On each side there are two stone obelisks marking the entrance, and on the left bank is a plaque commemorating the centenary of the Defesa da Ponte de Amarante, when in 1809 the bridge held firm against French troops.
2. Igreja de São Gonçalo
The bridge and church are a perfect couple, and you can make the church your next stop.
Linger by the side portal for a few minutes to observe every detail on the facade.
The doorway is 16th-century Renaissance, with three tiers of columns that are Corinthian further down and Solomonic on the top level.
These border niches with images of various saints, and a statue of Mary (Our Lady of the Rosary). Above this to the left is the Varanda dos Reis (Balcony of the Kings), where each of the four kings alive during the church’s construction are represented on the arcade’s columns.
The best bit inside is the tomb of the 13th-century beatified priest, Gonçalo de Amarante who is venerated on his saints’ day in June.
3. Museu Municipal Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso
This museum for modern and contemporary art is in the church’s renovated convent buildings around a solemn Mannerist cloister.
It was all set up in 1947 to pay homage to Amarante’s long line of respected writers and artists.
One of these was the man who gave the museum its name, Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, a Modernist just making waves when he passed away at 30 in 1918. There are also works by another Amarante native, the Expressionist António Carneiro, but this is just the merest introduction, as there constant short-term shows by active artists and permanent galleries loaded with Portuguese modern art.
There’s also a small gallery dedicated to the region’s archaeology.
4. Parque Florestal de Amarante
On the left bank of the Tâmega, a short way downriver from the centre is a serene park landscaped in 1916. This five-hectare space was planted with hundreds of exotic trees like ginkgos.
It was part a scheme that continued on the mountain ranges surrounding the town, the Serras do Marão and Meia Via where thousands of trees were planted in the 1920s.
In the park are playgrounds, a man-made cascade, aviaries and a large pen with deer.
But at its best it’s a slice of wilderness near the centre of town, with tracks through the woodland beside moss-covered rocks.
Step down the river where there’s a stone path taking you out to a small rocky island.
5. Ecopista do Tâmega
Inaugurated in 2013, this paved cycle path links Amarante with the town of Arco de Baúlhe, 35 kilometres upriver.
It is the exact course of the old Linha do Tâmega railway line, which closed down in 1990 and weaves through a hilly green landscape of vineyards and forest.
Many of the stations are still standing and have been turned into cafes and rest stops.
The station at the starting point, Celorico de Basto, has been restored is now a hostel, bike rental centre and small museum, while there’s also a museum at Arco de Baúlhe’s renovated station.
The options for sightseeing on the route are almost endless as you coast past picturesque old towns, quintas, wineries and castles.
6. Festas de São Gonçalo
The first weekend of June is time for Amarante’s main annual festival, devoted to São Gonçalo, whose tomb we’ve seen in the church.
Now, many festivals in Portugal have rituals that are much older than Christianity, and São Gonçalo is a celebration with clear pagan overtones.
There’s a fertility theme woven into the festivities: For instance, people out to find a partner will go and touch São Gonçalo’s tomb in the church.
But maybe the most peculiar custom is exchanging “bolos de São Gonçalo”, a sweet pastry and fertility symbol, unmistakably shaped like a man’s private parts.
7. Solar dos Magalhães
As the information board on the lawn outside makes clear, this manor house has been in ruins since the 2nd French Invasion in 1809 when it was burned down by Napoleon’s retreating army.
With a beautiful set of arcades, the 16th-century house is in the Renaissance style and belonged to the Magellan family: The same that gave us Ferdinand Magellan, the 16th-century navigator and first man to circumnavigate the earth.
After the fire it was kept as a memorial to the conflict and in summer concerts and get-togethers take place on the lawn.
8. Igreja de São Domingos
A few strides up the hill from the Church of São Gonçalo is a newer church built by the Dominican Order in 1725. As a Baroque church the decoration is suitably extravagant, and the whole interior is illuminated by gilded woodcarving and polychrome wooden images of Christ, Mary Magdalene and John the Evangelist.
Like its neighbour down the slope, this church has a museum in its convent buildings, and this one is for sacred art with vestments, ceremonial items, painting and decorative arts.
9. Romanesque Route
A tourism route for medieval history cuts along much of northern Portugal and also passes through the Amarente municipality.
There are ten Romanesque buildings in all, counting three monasteries, six churches and a bridge.
You could allow a whole day to this route, driving through bucolic countryside and visiting 1,000-year-old monuments like the Mosteiro do Salvador in Travanca.
This one is unique as it has a fortified bell-tower completely separated from the rest of the church.
The other obligatory stops are the Igreja de Santo André in Telões for its strange vestibule, and the 13th-century Mosteiro do Salvador in Freixo de Baixo.
10. Serra do Marão
Go east on the A4 for 20 kilometres and this massif will hove into view.
The Serra do Marão is a granite range, and has the sixth highest peak on mainland Portugal, cresting at 1415 metres.
This colossal bulk has been an obstacle for hundreds of years, and only now is it possible to find a direct route past it after a tunnel was opened in 2016. Visit for the sensational scenery, trekking through coniferous woodland until you get to the upper reaches, which have exposed schist bluffs where golden eagles and peregrine falcons make their nests.
For accommodation, the Pousada of São Gonçalo is a blessed with a view of the mountain and Tâmega valley that you’ll never forget.
11. Parque Aquático de Amarante
A waterpark is one of those unavoidable attractions if you’re visiting with smaller family members.
And as there are no large bodies of water in the area, this will be your best bet when the mercury rises in July and August.
The park gets busy, so arrive early if you can to save a sunbed or space on the lawns.
For slides there are two multilane racers, one faster than the other, as well two flumes, one of which, “Fast Mountain” has only recently opened.
The park also has two large pools on the site and constant views of the Tâmega and its wooded valley.
One of the stops on the Romanesque Route, Travanca’s monastery among the standout monuments in the Amarente area.
But you should also come for the phenomenal natural scenery.
Travanca is on a natural balcony with clear views of the Cabreira, Marão and Gerês mountain ranges.
If you’d like somewhere romantic to spend the night, the Casa da Levada is unbeatable, a Gothic manor in the clouds.
This imposing house was once the home of the family of Teixeira de Pascoais, a treasured poet and Nobel prize nominee.
13. River Activities
The Tâmega River is the thread running through many of the activities you can get up to around Amarante.
On the water there’s a regular guided cruise in summer, and you can get in touch with the tourist office for details.
You can also rent a canoe or even just a pedalo for an hour or so.
The banks are lovely, edged with alder and willow trees for cool walks in summer.
And lastly the local golf course, Golfe de Amarante is on high ground on the right bank with panoramas over the valley that may distract you from your swing!
14. Vinho Verde
Some of the most charming countryside around Amarante is draped in vineyards for Northern Portugal’s distinctive VInho Verde vine.
In this region (Terras de Basto), the vines are kept off the ground to allow room below to cultivate other crops.
Vinho Verde has a few things to distinguish it: First it’s picked and bottled early, and is best consumed soon after.
Whites are sharp and fresh, while reds are usually light and fruity.
Another of the wine’s quirks is a slight fizz, which used to be a natural part of the process, but is now done with carbonation.
If there’s one dish associated with Amarante it’s roasted kid goat.
In this town there’s a particular way of making it, as the meat marinates in wine, garlic, bay and parsley for a whole day before it goes in the oven.
On any trip to Portugal, salted cod (bacalhau) will be on the menu.
In Amarante it is baked in the oven and comes with a mustard mayonnaise, mashed potatoes and fresh garden vegetables.
Lastly, as a town of many convents, Amarante has a rollcall of typical sweets first made by religious sisterhoods hundreds of years ago.
Foguetes (rockets) for one are little cylinders with a soft filling made from egg yolks, almonds and sugar.