On a plateau in the Norte region, Paços de Ferreira is a small municipality that buzzes with light industry. The big employer since the 1800s has been the furniture business, and the town hosts Ikea’s Portuguese manufacturing HQ. The furniture museum in the old town hall goes into more depth about Paços de Ferreira’s flair for woodwork.
For culture, the Sousa Valley’s Romanesque Route passes through, and there are a couple of 1,000-year-old churches ready to be studied. Add these to the exciting ruins of a lost city, once home to thousands of people, and a football team that punches above its weight in the Primeira Liga.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Paços de Ferreira:
1. Citânia de Sanfins
Paços de Ferreira has the ruins of a city, spreading over 15 hectares and founded by the Celtic tribes that held sway over this corner of Iberia before the Romans came.
Experts rank the site as one of the great castros (fortified villages) on the Iberian Peninsula: The Citânia de Sanfins was a kind of regional capital, home to 3,000 people at one time What grabs you about at the site is how much evidence remains, as the first metre of each building was made from imperishable stone walls , leaving patterns on the hilltop.
And one of its dwellings has been reconstructed with a thatched roof to make the experience a little more real.
2. Museu Arqueológico da Citânia de Sanfins
Next to the ruins you can step inside the Solar dos Brandões for the background and chronology of this mysterious city.
The building deserves a mention too as it’s a dignified 18th-century mansion later expanded by a nobleman who made his fortune in Brazil.
The galleries inside will tell you about the excavations, which began in 1944 and lasted five decades.
You’ll also get a more intimate portrayal of the people who lived in the city, their customs and trade with cultures as far away as the Middle East.
In the galleries is a fabulous statue recovered at the site, along with pottery, coins, inscribed stones, masonry nails and a scale model of the city at its peak.
3. Igreja de São Pedro de Ferreira
Paços de Ferreira’s cultural highpoint is this Romanesque church from the 1100s.
This is one of the prized monuments on the Rota do Românico, an itinerary of 21 churches, chapels and monasteries along in the Sousa Valley.
Students of medieval architecture are drawn to the building as it rolls together styles from the schools of Zamora (in the archivolts) and Coimbra in the intricate masonry on its capitals.
While the ornate carvings on the side portals mirror those found on a church close by in Unhão.
Of the newer fittings inside, you can examine the Manueline baptismal font and the polychrome image of St Peter, both from the 1500s.
4. Dólmen de Lamoso
In the bucolic countryside in the north of the county you’ll come across a megalithic monument that has stood for more than 3,000 years.
Also known as the Dolmen de Leira Longa, this is a funerary monument on a deceptively large scale.
The total diameter of the site 25 metres centring on a main polygonal chamber that is more than three metres high and comprising a humungous slab held up by nine pillars.
You enter along a shot corridor with four smaller slabs on each side.
5. Museu do Móvel
Paços de Ferreira sometimes goes by the nickname “Capital do Móvel” (Capital of Furniture), and that is the focus of the town’s municipal museum.
The venue is Paços de Ferreira’s refined former town hall, where pieces of furniture and the tools for making them are exhibited in spacious rooms.
There are antique beds, couches, chairs, cabinets, dressers with marble tops, all crafted locally, while the museum also walks you through the process of turning raw timber furniture.
You can browse an extensive set of tools like saws, manual and mechanical, wood planes, old vices and workbenches.
6. Capela de São Francisco
In Freamunde this 18th-century chapel is one element of a triangular ensemble that comprises a hospice from the same period.
Both the hospice and chapel were set up by the Third Order of St Francis, and although the ensemble is small it is perfectly formed.
On the chapel’s portal cast your eye over the triangular pediment, which bears the order’s insignia.
Just above that is a niche with an stone image of St Francis.
Go in to see the understated 18th-century altar and its two lateral retables, blending Baroque and Neoclassical styles.
7. Pelourinho de Paços de Ferreira
In Portuguese towns pillories hold judicial, administrative and political meaning: They symbolise a town’s autonomy, and were also posts for criminals to be punished in public.
The pillory in Paços de Ferreira sits in a little formal garden in front of former town hall, now the Furniture Museum.
This one was sculpted from granite in the 18th century and includes a Doric column and capital sporting the Portuguese national coat of arms below under the royal crown.
This monument replaced an earlier pillory from the 1400s that disappeared in the 1700s.
8. Miradouro do Monte do Pilar
The highest point in the municipality is under ten minutes from Paços de Ferreira in Penamaior, on the road to Santo Tirso.
Monte do Pilar is 500 metres above sea level and when the weather is good Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia, the sky-scraper in Maia and Matosonhos are all on the horizon to the west.
The eye-catching monument up here is the big statue of Christ the King, from 1961, replacing a previous one that lasted one year before being levelled in a storm.
There’s also a small chapel and a picnic area in a grove, and the sunsets are magical up here.
9. Igreja Matriz de Carvalhosa
With medieval origins, this church was expanded at the start of the 17th century.
This turned the building into an oddity, as its only one of two churches in the county to have two identical naves side by side.
The facade is sober, without ornamentation except for a Gothic limestone image of St John, the church’s patron.
But there are some neat things to be found inside: On the altar there’s an 18th-century Tree of Jesse, depicting Christ’s ancestors.
This type of artwork is also very rare in Portugal, and there are only two other recorded examples.
10. Castro do Monte Padrão
West of Paços de Ferreira there’s another compelling ancient site.
There’s a dual motive for seeing these ruins and their interpretation centre, because this wooded granite spur also has stunning views over the Ave Valley.
The castro is one of the older settlements in the region and has been dated to the 9th century BC. Amazingly the settlement was inhabited until as recently as the 1300s.
Three lines of defences contain a network of low walls that were once houses and meeting places.
The interpretation centre has a timeline of the site, while there’s a cache of artefacts at the Museu Abade de Pedrosa in Santo Tirso.
11. F.C. Paços de Ferreira
The town’s football team are by no means giants, but they’ve been playing in the Portuguese top flight in more than a decade.
Show up on any match-week and you’re guaranteed a good standard.
Back in 2013 they shocked everyone by breaking the Big Three’s hold on the Primeira Liga’s top positions, finishing 3rd and making it to the Champions League qualifying rounds.
The extra income from their recent European exploits has been reinvested into the stadium, Estádio da Capital do Móvel, which by 2017 had been bumped up to a capacity of just over 9,000. Matches are usually every other week between August and May.
The crowd will be larger and more boisterous for the visit of local rivals Guimarães, Moreirense, C.D. Aves, or FC Porto.
12. Santo Tirso
Don’t pass up the chance to see Santo Tirso and its Benedictine Monastery, minutes up the road.
The monastery was here before the town, and goes back to the 10th century.
The current building is a labyrinthine complex housing a church, government offices and the municipal museum.
In a new annexe to the side is the International Contemporary Sculpture Museum.
This was only unveiled in 2016 and was conceived by Álvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto de Moura, two of Portugal’s leading architects.
The museum is a kind of directory for the 47 pieces of public art around the city, designed by the likes of Peter Klasen, José Barrias, Wang Keping and Peter Stampfli.
13. Mosteiro de Cete
If you’re up for more medieval history, the Romanesque Route’s showpiece attraction is a short hop south.
This church is a National Monument and is one of the older Romanesque buildings in the region, started in 985. Towards the end of the 11th century it was restored by Gonçalo Oveques, a close companion of the Count of Portugal.
The church is free of later embellishments, and in the apse there are blind arches with sculpted capitals, while outside is a square crenellated Gothic tower constructed in the 1300s.
Gonçalo Oveques’s granite tomb is in a funerary chapel, with walls covered in Moorish-style geometric tiles from the 1500s, around the time that the cloister was finished.
Once you’re on the A4 or A41 the city of Porto will be in your sights and should get there in 20 minutes or so.
There are hundreds of great reasons to come to this thrilling UNESCO city.
You might want to learn the difference between tawny and ruby port at a wine lodge, or get lost on the tight, twisting alleys in the fun-loving Ribeira district.
There are blockbuster sights like the Dom Luís I Bridge, designed by a founder of the Eiffel company, or the Clérigos Church, by Nicolau Nasoni, the star of the Portuguese Baroque.
For contemporary culture Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Música and the Serralves Museum and Art Deco house are mandatory.
15. Capaõ de Freamunde
If the Paços de Ferreira municipality has one culinary claim to fame, it’s the Freamunde capon.
These are castrated roosters that are plumped up and become very tender and succulent.
Freamunde is so proud of its capons that it puts on the Feira dos Capões, a fair all about these birds.
And this fair isn’t some new tourism initiative, but actually goes back to the 1400s and was made a official by a royal decree in 1719. The fair begins at the end of November, when restaurants in Paços de Ferreira put capon on the menu and compete to see who roasts the best bird.