Montalegre, Portugal

Through Alto do Barroso, Top of Trás-os-Montes

On the way to the farm
Residents of Pitões das Júnias cross one of its granite streets on a tractor.
blessed cattle
Pitões against Fragas II
suspicious horses
The homes of Pitões das Júnias
granite art
The Religious Walls of Rio
Oldest Monastery II
the oldest monastery
Morning in Sirvozelo
Walls & Walls
Sunset gilds the towers of Montalegre Castle and the village houses
Great Barrosã
Open bar
Junia's pythons
Panoramic of the village of Pitões das Júnias, one of the highest in Portugal
we moved from Terras de Bouro for those of Barroso. Based in Montalegre, we wander around the discovery of Paredes do Rio, Tourém, Pitões das Júnias and its monastery, stunning villages on the border of Portugal. If it is true that Barroso has had more inhabitants, visitors should not miss it.

João Dias joins us at one of the tables in his Casa do Castelo, an elegant and welcoming inn-restaurant, as the name suggests, adjacent to the walls of the fortress overlooking Montalegre.

The topics of conversation follow the rhythm of the mouthfuls in the delicious Baroque cuisine that we taste.

As you would expect in these ruthless weather confines, the weather comes to the fore. "You are seeing Oscar Branco, right?" John asks us. “He was from here. His father used to say "in Montalegre there are only two seasons: the winter and the post office (where he worked)." In the middle of the Portuguese summer, we soon realized that, humor and drama aside, it was far from being like that.

Days followed, dry and warm. We could feel its breath on our skin shortly after each morning game and, as a rule, it was still fresh from the top of the village.

The Alvor Shades of Montalegre Castle

In the first of these, we hurried down the alleys to the south of the castle, determined to follow the soft sunlight on the walls. Most of the residents dozed off. Three or four dogs, surprised by our clumsy passage, barked their indignation at us.

Montalegre Castle, Barroso, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal

Towers of Montalegre Castle above the village houses

We didn't know about those places. Despite this, we found a corner there from which we could contemplate the slow yellowing of the towers that crown the village since 1273, still in the reign of D. Afonso III, although most of its construction as a key fortification in the region of Montalegre will have elapsed during that of the settler king Dom Dinis.

There is no lack of settlements in the vast Lands of Barroso that can be seen from its battlements, Gerês mountain to the west, that of Larouco to the east and, to the north, the imminent Galicia.

With the sun already climbing the plane of the towers, we return to Casa do Castelo. From there, we point to one of the many local villages that continue to suffer from depopulation. We take the M308 road.

We will soon wind towards the west, in the company of the Alto Cávado which is born there and irrigates an eponymous reservoir from which it emerges as a mere Cávado. We pass south of Frades. From Sezelhe. From Travassos do Rio and Covelães.

The Cávado and the road continue towards Albufeira de Paradela. We stayed in Paredes do Rio. We walked along Rua da Igreja.

We spoke with Mr. Arthur, an old man we found trying to limit the drenched misadventures of the Lion, his golden retriever.

Resident Paredes-do-Rio, Barroso region, Montalegre, Portugal

Mr. Artur drives his golden retriever near the church in Paredes do Rio.

Discovering the Walls of Rio

We pass the doors of Casa da Travessa, a manor house of carved granite, when Mr. Acácio, owner of the inn and member of the Paredes de Rio Social and Cultural Association, approaches us: “Ah, you are the ones who come to visit us from Lisbon. They called us from Montalegre and told us about it.” From then on, we followed him in guided tour mode. Acácio takes us straight to the ex libris historic village, Pisão.

Several corgas flow down the slope that leads the village down towards Cávado. Always rural, in need of a driving force to process their agricultural production, the inhabitants of Paredes do Rio spared no effort. The first mill was followed by a second.

To those, others. At one point, there were already eight. In more recent times, the late Mr. Adelino Gil, who lived among the mills, secured the village with a Pisão, a water device that powered a generator, an electric saw and two huge hammers that punished wool wet in hot water, so to make it strong and waterproof.

The Multipurpose Invention of Pisão

Over the years, Pisão had different uses. The most popular continues to be the production of burel, the famous black handcrafted fabric, used in the capes, pants and collections still worn by the natives of this northern ray.

In our days, Pisão was bequeathed to the Cultural Association. The community oven in Paredes do Rio is also still operational. During the mostly cold weather in the region, it served as a House of People and socializing. It welcomed debates and discussions.

It sheltered travelers and homeless people who were allowed to spend the night in the wood-fueled heat while the bread stews. Often in batches of thirty.

Before leaving Paredes do Rio, we still had a look at the community tank. When we approach it, a small herd of cows blocks our way.

Another villager led them to the nearby drinking fountain, beneath a cornfield embellished with sunflowers. He didn't exactly follow them in the traditional way of other eras: on foot and with a hoe on his shoulder. He did this behind the wheel of a convenient little blue quad.

The Enigmatic Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias

We return to the M308. We go back towards Montalegre. Arriving in Covelães, we turn onto the M513 that leads to Tourem and Galega Spain.

Halfway through this stretch, we cut to Pitões das Júnias and, no longer resisting the appeal of its mysticism, we went down in search of the Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias.

We found it in the depths of a narrow valley, in the vicinity of a stream that, farther down, plunges into a waterfall at that dark hour, hidden between the cliffs.

Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias, Pitões das Júnias, Barroso, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal

Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias about to give way to the shade

We immediately noticed the combination of the structure's Romanesque and Gothic styles. It is believed that the monastery was built, little by little, even before the establishment of the Portuguese nation (early XNUMXth century), in place of a hermitage retreat used since the XNUMXth century.

From Medieval Origin to XNUMXth Century Ruin

At first, it was occupied by the monks of the Order of St. Benedict. In the middle of the XNUMXth century, it became Cistercience and was added to the Galician Abbey of Oseira.

Nestled in an unlikely niche, this has never turned out to be a conventional monastery. As a rule, even isolated, the monasteries used to subsist on the cultivation of groves. Instead, the monks of Junias devoted themselves to animal husbandry and herding. Even so, they prospered as much or more than other contemporary monasteries.

Over the years, the Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias brought together more and more lands from the region of Barroso and Galicia. During this period, its relief justified several expansion and improvement works that continued into the Modern Age, until almost the middle of the XNUMXth century.

But the monastery's adventurous location imposed distinct setbacks. The stream that we heard and saw flow in the back of the building silted up and destroyed part of the added structures. In the middle of the XNUMXth century, an overwhelming fire ruined other dependencies.

Anyway, by that time, the monastery had already been abandoned. In 1834, the male religious orders were extinguished. Shortly after, the last monk of the abbey of Júnias assumed the role of parish priest of the neighboring village of Pitões.

The monastery was handed over to the valley that received it. And at the time.

ruins of the Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias, Barroso, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal

The ruins of the Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias, near Pitões das Júnias

Raia ex-Smuggler from Tourém

The shadow soon took hold of the thalweg and highlighted the gleaming granite ruins. We then realized that the day was running out and we dedicated what was left of it to other essential parts of Barroso.

From Pitões, we return to the M513. We point to a strange Portuguese rectangular bulge in Galicia and a border village situated almost at the top of this mapped peninsula.

We crossed the bridge over the eastern arm of the Encourage of rooms, that is what the Galicians call the dam. From there, we are at the top of the parish of Tourém and already in Galicia. Thus, we enter one of the only two exclaves in the territory of Portugal, alongside that of Mourão.

Like so many others in our border towns, in times of closed borders, Tourém prospered. It's something we notice when we walk along its long main street.

This can be seen in the abundance of homes, in the unobstructed dimensions of homes and in materials far more modern than the rough granite from other parts and, today, in a much better state of conservation.

“Tourém, was always a case apart…” explains João Dias, himself experienced in crossing borders. João emigrated early to Boston, United States. Thanks to a lot of dedication and work to match, she returned to Montalegre and managed to find financial comfort that is rare in this bordering region and, for a long time, a slave to agriculture and livestock.

From Codfish to Mattresses: merchandise for all tastes

In Tourém, with Spain beyond Salas, favored by the scarcity of various goods and a somewhat permissive fiscal guard, many villagers who still speak a miscellany of Portuguese and Galician today resorted to the only alternative financially comparable to emigration: smuggling. That's how they guided their lives.

Merchants got used to hiring merchandisers who charged upwards of 1000 escudos (5€) an hour, at that time, a real luxury.

The chosen goods formed an unusual assortment: the Portuguese mainly wanted cod and bananas. But they also ordered mattresses, oil, cows, beehives and other disparate products. The Spaniards, on the other hand, favored clothing, home textiles and televisions.

The business prospered until the borders were opened. From 1990 onwards, most of these men had to adapt to a new reality: rural life, raising cattle. In any case, almost everyone had accumulated good savings and the ever-available European funds only eased the transition.

The Elusive Garranos of the Mourela Plateau

The afternoon starts to give way to the night. We cross Tourém in the opposite direction and re-enter the green hills and valleys of the Planalto da Mourela, at an altitude of 1200m. We cross lands idolized by bird watchers who look for, among dozens of birds, the red-backed shrike. Without expecting it, the backs we saw are different.

Garranos in the Mourela Plateau, Montalegre, Barroso, Trás-os-Montes, Portugal

Garranos worried by the presence of humans in their territory of the Plateau of Mourela.

A herd of Garrano grazes on a slope lined with gorse and tender herbs. Some are black, some are a golden brown, all of them wild. At the signal of the leading stallion, they dodge our attempts to approach at a trot. They end up trotting behind a ridge.

Add to the sides of Couto Misto, a microstate that, favored by a combination of political circumstances, remained independent from Portugal, the northern kingdoms and, later, Spain, it is estimated that from the 1868th century until XNUMX .

When we got back to Montalegre, the setting sun had already washed over the castle towers and the houses of the village from which they stood out.

We re-sheltered in Casa do Castelo. We recover energy. And we resumed the prolific conversation with João Dias.

Back to Junias. Now to your Pitões

The next morning, in his company, we went off to Pitões das Júnias.

As we climb the 1100 meters that make the village one of the highest in Portugal, we see it set in its gray and tile-red granite tones, between a harmonious patch of walled plantations and the rocky cliffs of Serra do Gerês .

House of Pitões das Júnias, Montalegre, Barroso, Trás-os-Montes

Casario de Pitões das Júnias located at the foot of sharp cliffs

We enter the town on Avenida de São Rosendo and Rua Rigueiro. Arriving at Largo Eiró, João Dias meets an acquaintance. We leave them to the conversation. On our own, we continue to unveil the village which, among its approximately two hundred inhabitants, has several returned emigrants and Brazilians who, like the newcomer rural tourism, help to revive it.

It's time to point to Braga. Along the way, João Dias still takes us to Sirvozelo, another charming village, set between large rounded granite boulders. Then escort us to Ferral where one of the frequent livestock competitions takes place.

We went up to the event's precinct at the exact moment of Bênção do Gado. There we watched the priest on duty spraying with holy water Barrosã cows with the biggest horns we have ever witnessed in Portuguese cattle.

Bênção do Gado de Ferral, granite and tile houses from Pitões das Júnias, Barroso region, Trás-os-Montes

Priest sprinkles Barrosã cows with holy water during the Blessing of the Gado de Ferral

Patient owners of animals hold them by the snouts, to avoid interactions that could ruin the priest's religious passage.

Not everything goes as it's supposed to. Some of the cattle raisers complain, in a derisive way, of having been more blessed – read sprinkled – than the cows themselves. We told João Dias what happened and shared generous laughs. After which we said goodbye to Ferral, the host and Barroso.

Book Outdoor Activities and Stays in Traditional Houses in the Barroso and PN Peneda-Gerês region at:

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