In the Upper Douro Valley, wreathed in vineyards and maize farms, Lamego is a town that turns heads for its art, Baroque architecture and wine. Every church or chapel needs a moment because it might be hiding a treasure like gilded woodcarving or the tomb of a historic figure.
And if you’re truly devoted you’ll think nothing of conquering almost 700 steps to ascend the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. In the fashionable Douro Valley it’s no surprise that wine is on the agenda in Lamego, but you might not be ready for the sparkling wine, a local point of pride stored in caves in the town.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lamego:
1. Museu de Lamego
Hosted by the glorious episcopal palace, the Museu de Lamego is loaded with precious painting, sculpture, goldsmithing, tiles, archaeology, furniture and liturgical artefacts from many eras.
A lot of these works were gathered by the Bishops of Lamego, but the collection has been expanded in the 80 years that the museum has been open.
The knockout pieces are from the Renaissance period, like the four 16th-century Flemish tapestries evoking the Oedipus tragedy, or the five paintings by the Renaissance master Grão Vasco that originally made up a polyptych in Lamego’s cathedral before it was removed in the 1700s.
2. Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios
A theatrical stairway climbs Monte de Santo Estêvão (St Stephen’s Hill) to this 18th-century Baroque and Rococo sanctuary.
Religious devotees have been braving the climb since at least the 1300s.
The journey is half the fun, and requires 686 steps via nine landings and is enriched with tile panels, chapels, fountains, obelisks and statues.
You can catch your breath on the nine patios, and one, the “Pátio dos Reis”, has the images of the 18 kings of Israel.
When you finally make it to the top you can go in to meet Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Our Lady of the Remedies) at her resplendent altar.
Also on this upper terrace is a chestnut tree more than 700 years old and cloaked in ivy.
3. Lamego Cathedral
This National Monument goes back to 1129, but has come through hundreds of years of refinements.
Today the only feature from the early days is the square bell-tower, which bears telltale Romanesque narrow windows with semi-circular arches.
The facade is Gothic, with pinnacles and detailed masonry in the ogival archivolts above the three portals.
But entering the cathedral is like stepping into a different era, as the remainder of the church is from the 18th century.
That is, apart from the cloister, dating to 1524 and with Renaissance arches around a dainty formal garden with a fountain.
4. Castelo de Lamego
Cresting a rugged granite spur, Lamego’s castle is another National Monument.
Not a great deal of the original fortress has made it to the 21st century, but there is still enough to transport you to the age of wars between the Moors and Christians.
It was captured at the end of the 10th century by the fabled Moorish commander Almanzor, and only won back by the Christians 60 years later at the expense of many men.
The quadrangular keep has a small museum inside with interactive exhibits, and from the parapet you can see the Coura , Balsemão and Varosa Rivers in one panorama.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for the castle’s Moorish cistern, which lies outside the walls and has ribbed vaults held up by four arches resting on pillars.
5. Chapel of São Pedro de Balsemão
This chapel is older than any other monument in Lamego.
Although the outside has a Baroque design, the interior is as old as the 600s when this was a Visigothic sanctuary.
A cool thing about this chapel is that stones from a nearby Roman villa were used as material for the altar in the present building.
Youe attention will be drawn to the 14th-century Marian statue sculpted from while limestone from the famous quarry at Ançã.
And the centrepiece, framed by two sets of columns and semi-circular arches, is the 14th-century granite tomb of the Bishop of Porto.
6. Capela do Desterro
What looks from the outside like an ordinary church conceals one of Lamego’s treasures.
The building here today is from the 1640s when the Bailiff of Leça replaced the chapel that had been on this site with a full-sized Baroque church.
Some of the paintings commissioned for the church have ended up at Lamego’s Museum, but still inside is the gilt wood that was fashioned in the 1700s by the local sculptors, Manuel de Gouveia, Manuel Machado and Manuel Martins.
The coffered ceiling is breathtaking too, with episodes from the life of Christ painted on the panels.
7. Wine Tourism
The advent of port wine was a boon to Lamego’s economy, with graceful estates sprouting up amid a sea of vines.
Port is only one of several types of wine produced near Lamego; in fact the town has made a name for its sparkling varieties.
These can be red or white, and you can buy them in caves (try Caves da Raposeira), going underground where the secondary fermentation that gives the wine its fizz.
Lamego’s sparkling wine is generally fruity and is perfect as an aperitif.
You can also visit port wineries to get the inside track on the Douro Valley’s centuries of viticultural heritage: Quinta da Pacheca and Quinta de Santa Eufemia overlooking the Douro are two to jot down.
8. Baroque Architecture
Lamego is often described as Portugal’s capital of the Baroque, and it is blessed many splendid buildings from the 1700s when the style reached its zenith.
As well as the Nossa Senhora dos Remédios Sanctuary and the episcopal palace that houses the museum, there’s the Cine-Teatro o Ribeiro da Conceição, which is in the town’s old hospital dating to 1727, and converted in 2008. The Municipal Library is exquisite from the outside, featuring a curved pediment and pinnacles, and is the old library for the episcopal palace.
Also see the refined “Solar” mansions the Casa das Brolhas, Casa dos Serpas and Casa dos Mores from the outside.
And don’t forget the Chafariz dos Remédios fountain, conceived by the Italian Baroque master Nicolau Nasoni.
9. Jardim da República lamego
Facing the town hall and edged by genteel granite and whitewash buildings, this garden is a somewhere to take break for a few minutes.
It has lawns in a formal pattern and abundant shade under palms and fresh deciduous trees.
On the eastern fringe next to the town hall there’s the nobbly trunk of another ancient chestnut tree, a few paces from a bust of the Lamego-born poet, Fausto Guedes Teixeira.
At the centre of the park is a pretty Art Nouveau bandstand, while the western, northern and southern boundaries of the park are all framed by a grand granite balustrade.
10. Miradouro de São Domingos
The banks of the Douro are under 10 kilometres from Lamego, and there are a few vantage points that let you take in the full majesty of the river.
One of the picks is the Miradouro de São Domingos at Peso da Régua.
On a natural balcony over the right bank you can marvel at the emerald green river and the backdrop of steep banks terraced with vines, interrupted only by lone cypress or pine tree.
It’s a sight to see of photograph in any weather, and the only thing that could make improve it is if an old-time rabelo sailboat goes gliding past.
11. Museu do Douro
Also by the river in Peso da Régua, the Museu do Douro celebrates the history and culture of this UNESCO-listed wine region.
The Douro Valley is the oldest designated wine region in the world, with roots in the 18th century.
And the museum’s building has special meaning as the Casa da Companhia Velha, which regulated wine production in the Upper Douro from 1756 on.
You’ll be sent back to the earliest days of wine growing in the valley, find out more about the soils, the landscaping techniques that made extra room for vines, the origins of traditional rabelo boats and the customs that come with the grape harvest.
Finish up by sipping a glass of wine at the museum’s bar that opens out onto the Douro.
12. Convento de São João de Tarouca
Portugal’s first Cistercian monastery was founded a little way south of Lamego in the 1100s.
And in the decades after King Afonso Henriques was crowned, the monastery received generous endowments.
These allowed it to grow to become the mother institution for several convents in northern Portugal.
The church is where you’ll pass most of your visit and has Romanesque, Gothic , Renaissance and Baroque architecture and fittings.
Historians and art-lovers will be engrossed, studying the azulejos, paintings, the radiant gilt-wood on the three altars and the 14th-century tomb of Pedro Afonso Count of Barcelos.
This has a recumbent sculpture and sculpted reliefs on the sides of the sarcophagus.
13. Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios
For two weeks at the turn of September there’s a festival in homage to the shrine of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios at the hilltop sanctuary.
For the first three days after the celebrations kick off there are daily pilgrimages up those nine flights of stairs to the church.
But this is one small part of a big program of fado music performances, dance recitals and an annual folklore festival that takes place as a side event.
Towards the end of the two weeks there’s the Batalha das Flores, with parades featuring marching bands, floats with folklore themes, samba dancers and traditional giant ceremonial puppets.
And then on the September 8 is the Procissão do Triunfo, the high point of the fortnight, when floats sporting sacred images are drawn along the streets by oxen.
14. Parque Biológico da Serra da Meada
A way to break out into the serene countryside outside Lamego, this park has wooded trails that conduct you past the habitats of a nature sanctuary.
Some animals are kept here for a time before being released into the wild, while others are permanent residents because they wouldn’t survive in the wild.
Typically the park has domestic animals like horses and goats, as well as deer, boars, foxes and a diversity of birds native to the hills and woods in the Douro Valley.
There are 50 hectares in all, and three kilometres of paths in ancient pine woodland.
In the Upper Douro valley the food is rustic and meaty, with lots of roasts like kid goat with potatoes and rabbit cooked in wood-fired ovens.
Presunto (cured ham) is also big in Lamego, and can be had as a snack with a glass of wine, in sandwiches or with melon.
A bola de Lamego is a typical sandwich, filled with ham, vinha d’alhos (marinated pork), sardines or cheese.
As you make your way through the Douro Valley you may notice that maize crops are almost as plentiful as vines.
Corn is used in a lot of preparations, including various salads, vinha d’alhos and broa de milho, Portuguese cornbread.