Up in the Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro Province, Mirandela is a university town in Portugal’s far northeastern corner.
The Tua River winds through Mirandela and is crossed by a 200-metre bridge, built in the 1500s and the town’s shining monument.
The old town is on a hill and has palaces, a first-rate art museum, neat historical vestiges and a Mannerist church to keep you engrossed.
The wooded slopes around Mirandela have some awesome vantage points for picnics or just to appreciate the scenery, and in summer the Tua is a magnet for bathers.
Food-wise, Mirandela has made a name for its olives and alheira smoked sausages, and there’s a museum in the town all about the ancient art of pressing olive oil.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Mirandela:
1. Ponte Sobre o Rio Tua
Built in the 1500s, Mirandela’s oldest bridge has just been spruced up and is one of two National Monuments around the city.
New granite flagstones have been laid on this pedestrian crossing, replacing the old concrete and reverting to the material used before the 20th century.
Whether you’re using the bridge to head into the old town on the left bank or sizing up the structure and its 19 arches from the riverside it’s an arresting monument.
There are iron gaslights on each side of the path, and you can take it slow to look over the Tua and the jumble of old churches and palaces on the left bank.
2. Museu Municipal Armindo Teixeira Lopes
The 20th-century painter Armindo Teixeira Lopes is was born in Mirandela, and after he passed away in 1976 his two sons donated a selection of his work to the town.
By 1981 there was enough to set up a museum in the artist’s name in the cultural centre, and over time this museum purchased and accepted works by many other Portuguese 20th-century and contemporary artists.
Graça Morais, Nadir Afonso, Júlio Pomar, João Hogan are names that foreign art enthusiasts might recognise, and there are many more besides.
The museum holds around 500 pieces of painting, photography, sculpture, drawing and engraving from the 1800s to the 21st century.
3. Zona Antiga de Mirandela
There are some cool things hiding in the tight tangle of lanes that weave up the hill in the old town.
A lot of this quarter was once within the walls of Mirandela’s castle, constructed by Denis of Portugal in the 13th century.
As the town is some way from the Spanish border Mirandela no longer needed a castle after the victory over Spain at Aljubarrota in 1385, and so the structure was pulled down and quarried.
One of the last surviving fragments is the stone arch of the Porta de Santo António.
There’s also an elegant mansion in the old town, the Solar dos Condes de Vinhais, going back to the 16th century and with the coat of arms of the Vinhais family on its gable.
4. Paço dos Távoras
Proudly standing in front of a belvedere, the most distinguished building in the old quarter is the town hall.
This is the Paço dos Távoras, the palatial Baroque home of the Távoras, who were granted privileges by the Portuguese monarchs.
That was all forgotten when the family were accused of a plot to kill the king in the 18th century.
Their home has stood here since the 13th century, but the current palace, with its scrolls, rounded pediments and pinnacles dates to the turn of the 1800s.
The palace commands a supreme view of the valley and has been the town hall since the start of the 20th century.
5. Igreja da Misericórdia de Mirandela
The first church to tick off in Mirandela is this 17th-century Mannerist temple, which was restored in 2016. The Távora family had a hand in much of the interior decoration as they were members of the Misericórdia brotherhood.
The central altar of lavish gilt-wood was commissioned by António Luís de Távora at the start of the 18th century, while one of the retables on the side was actually moved here from the Távoras’ family chapel after they had been disgraced.
Separating the chancel from the nave is the “triumphal arch”, which has granite etched with leaf motifs and painted to create a marble effect.
6. Museu da Oliveira e do Azeite
If you’ve spent any time in Mirandela’s countryside you’ll know that olives and olive oil are still the region’s lifeblood.
This museum investigates their history and culture in northeast Portugal.
The museum was several years in the making, interrupted by the recession and finally opened in 2014. It is on the site of an old industrial mill and adopted sections of the building into its new architecture.
There’s an ancient millstone in the central pavilion, and video projections detail the biology and natural history of this ancient plant.
Another room studies the human history of olive cultivation, and on the top floor you’ll learn about olive oil’s myriad applications.
7. Parque do Império
Beside the old bridge on the Tua is a riverfront park around a long avenue paved with calçada Portuguesa mosaic tiles.
By the water there’s a line of palms, while hardwood trees provide shade for benches if you’re in search of a peaceful spot to read a book for a while.
Saunter up to the illuminated fountain, and at the southern end there’s a sizeable amphitheatre for concerts and other events.
If you’re in town at the beginning of March there’s the Festa da Alheira, for the region’s characteristic alheira cured sausage.
8. Comboio Turístico de Mirandela
In summer a tourist train (Comboio Turístico) carries tourists past sights on either side of the river.
It’s a decent way to beat the heat in July and August, Mirandela was one of the first towns in the country to get a tourist train, and it is now in its third decade and still going strong.
The train is a private enterprise, but with the approval of the tourist board.
The route is flexible and changes according to what you’d like to see, but normally starts around Rua da República, crossing the river at Ponte da Europa and finishing up at the old bridge.
9. Scenic Lookouts
Mirandela is in the centre of a bowl of tall hills, and there are a few perches for widescreen views of the town or its countryside.
The Miradouro de Mirandela is on the N15, a couple of kilometres west of the centre and has a neat panorama of the town and the schist peaks behind.
Go southwest on the A4 and the peaks grow as you come to the Serra de Santa Comba.
At more than 5460 metres is the Miradouro de Franco, posted above a rolling olive groves.
South of Mirandela is the more jagged silhouette of the Serra de Faro.
Park up just east of the village of Barcel to view the serrated edge of the mountain and the River Tua curving past on its long trip down to the Douro.
10. Igreja de São Tomé de Abambres
A short way up the road from the centre of Mirandela in the village of Abambres is this compelling 13th-century Romanesque church.
It has the sober architecture of the period, with no more than a single nave, chancel and a vestry to the side.
The walls are flat and unadorned, with almost no openings except for the main door.
The interior was decorated in the centuries that followed, and the marvellous trompe-l’oeil frescos around the triumphal arch date to 1584 and merit the trip alone.
11. Parque Natural Regional do Vale do Tua
In the southwest of Mirandela’s municipality is a new natural park only established in 2013 to look after the wildlife and scenery in the Tua Valley.
Over the last few years millions of Euros have been invested on this 25,000-hectare space to prevent forest fires and plot signposted walking trails.
The canyons provide the most memorable scenes, where the river has sliced through the quartzite rock, shaping high stony walls.
The foliage in the park comes from boxwood, maples and cork oaks, while you could bring a pair binoculars as more than 120 bird species have been registered.
12. Ponte de Pedra Sobre o Rio Tuela
A partner to the historic bridge in Mirandela, the other National Monument in the wider municipality is also a bridge.
This one is much older, spanning 100 metres and crossing the Tuela near the village of Torre de Dona Chama.
Its six arches date to back to the Roman period, although it has probably been reconstructed a few times.
What is known is that this crossing is on the Via XVII Augusta Roman road, linking the ancient settlements in Braga and Astorga.
13. Festas da Cidade e de Nossa Senhora do Amparo
In mid-summer Mirandela lets its hair down for the annual town festivities.
These begin on St James’ Day on July 25 and come to a close on the first Sunday of August.
The event first started at the end of the 18th century, and mixes religious rituals with fun for all.
The procession in honour of the Nossa Senhora do Amparo Marian shrine is always an atmospheric event.
There are also nightly concerts by well-known pop and rock artists, fireworks displays, markets, and the always cacophonous Noite dos Bombos when dozens of drum bands march through the streets.
14. River Beaches
Just because there’s no sea or ocean nearby doesn’t mean you can’t go to the beach.
There are six river beaches close by for swimming or just taking it easy in the shade.
One of the nearest is the Praia Fluvial do Parque Dr.
José Gama on the right bank of the Tua just south of the centre of Mirandela.
This has a sandy patch monitored by a lifeguard in summer and a swimming area marked out by buoys.
In more of a natural setting is the Praia Fluvial da Maravilha, close to where the Tuela and Rabaçal Rivers merge into the Tua.
There’s a campsite and restaurant here, and people sunbathe on top of the dyke that contains a pool to bathe in.
15. Food and Drink – olive route
We’ve already mentioned two culinary strong points: Alheira sausages and olives.
The former have an interesting past as they are made with beef and poultry instead of pork.
This is because they were for Jewish people who had been forced to convert to Christianity but still refused to eat pork.
Alheira can be cold, fried, grilled or cooked in stews.
Olive oil has designation of origin within the Trás-os-Montes region, and if you want to meet the growers there’s even an “Olive Route” passing through Mirandela.
Honey, cabbage and goats’ cheese are other certified products, as is kid goat, which is baked in this region with rice.
Also make room for roast partridge, roast lamb, veal steak, trout with olives and caldo verde (vegetable soup).