The best independent guide to the Northern Portugal
The best independent guide to the Northern Portugal
Chaves is a charming Portuguese town, famed for its healing thermal waters and history as a defensive border stronghold.
The strategic importance of Chaves on the northern Portuguese border with Spain, frequently had the medieval town described as the “keys to the kingdom” and the name Keys (Chaves) endures.
Today Chaves is peaceful and scenic, but the medieval legacy can be seen throughout the town. There is the fortified Castelo de Chaves, the ancient Ponte de Trajano bridge and gothic Santa Maria church.
Chaves was originally established by the Romans as a spa town, and since the 17th century Chaves prospered with the discovery of the healing properties of the mineral-rich spring water. Chaves is popular with many older Portuguese, who travel here to receive water-based treatments in the massive Termas Spa.
For your Portuguese holiday, Chaves is a wonderful destination to visit. It is a charming historic town bursting with Portuguese character, and is a highlight of the far north of Portugal.
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The Ponte de Trajano, the original Roman crossing point of the Tâmega River
The Jardim do Castelo, the grounds of the medieval castle which offer outstanding views of the town
The Praça de Camões, the historic centre of Chaves, on which the Town Hall and gothic Santa Maria church stand
A scenic riverside stroll along the Alameda de Trajano and the banks of the Rio Tâmega
Chaves can be easily explored as a day trip, and takes around 3 hours to fully see. The main sights of the town are in a relatively compact area, but there are pleasant riverside walks which can easily extend any day trip.
The map interactive map below shows a suggested tour of Chaves.
Sights of the day trip: 1) Praça de Camões 2) Castelo de Chaves 3) Igreja Matriz de Santa Maria Maior 4) Ponte de Trajano 5) Igreja de São João de Deus 6) Alameda de Trajano river walk 7) Termas & Spa 8) Fuente de agua (free spa water to try) 9) Castle walls 10) Roman baths museum 11) Praça General Silveira 12) São Francisco fort (now a hotel)
The gothic interior of the Matriz de Santa Maria Maior
For your plans you may wish to spend longer in Chaves, mainly because of its location. For a day trip to Chaves requires a significant amount of driving, and it may be worthwhile to spend a night. Chaves boasts a wide selection of restaurants, shops along with a handful of bars, and has a pleasant small-town atmosphere.
Chaves also makes for a pleasant base from which to explore the far north of Portugal and the Trás-os-Montes region. From Chaves you could take day trips to Peneda-Gerês National Park and Bragança. Closer are the spa towns of Vidago and Verin (in Spain), the Castelo de Monforte, or the balancing rock at Pedra Bolideira.
The name of the town stands on the Praça General Silveira, one of the lesser plazas of Chaves
The delightful Trajano bridge is the icon of Chaves and has been a crossing point of the Rio Tâmega at this site since the Roman era. The bridge was initial constructed in the 1st century on the orders of Emperor Trajan, and is named after him.
The course of the river has altered over the generations and at its maximum, there were 18 arches spanning the river. Today the river is narrower and only spanned by 16 arches.
At the centre of the granite bridge, are two replica pillars of the Roman commemorative inscriptions which once stood here (these can be seen in the Chaves Regional Museum).
The first pillar states that the bridge was funded by the population of Chaves and is dedicated to Emperor Trajan, while the second pillar, the Padrão dos Povos, is dedicated to Roman emperors Titus and Vespasian.
The Padrão dos Povos, an early form of Roman propaganda
Deep below the Tâmega River valley runs the Corga tectonic fracture, which allows highly mineralised water to escape. One of these springs is in Chaves, and became popular during the Roman era due to its high temperature, a steady 73C (163F).
The Roman baths in Chaves were discovered by accident when the city was planning a new underground car park. The Roman bath complex of nine pools is of surprisingly good preservation, being buried by an earthquake landslide in the 3rd century. The construction of the museum which will eventually exhibit these baths has been fraught with issues, and hopefully by the time you visit will be open to the public.
A glass of the good water, just mind, it is at 73C!
In the mid-17th century, the healing properties of the mineral water became fashionable, and older people would travel to Chaves to bath in the water for an assortment of illnesses. The water is rich in Sodium bicarbonate, fluorides and lithium, while the high temperature is naturally relaxing.
Today a modern bathing and wellness complex has been constructed above the thermal spring, the Termas & Spa, and details of all their treatments and services can be seen on their website: www.termasdechaves.com/
Just outside of the sprawling spa complex, in the pretty Jardim do Tabolado, is the Fuente de Agua a natural spring and location to drink the water. Within the Fuente de Agua building, the hot spring water is served for free, and locals even bring coffee or tea to add to the hot water!
The Fuente de Agua may not be as idyllic as the idea of a natural spring conjures up, but the water is free and healthy
At the heart of Chaves and occupying the highest point of the city is the Castelo de Chaves.
All that remains is the medieval keep and impenetrable walls, which were strengthened in 1662 during the Restoration Wars with Spain. Within the castle is the delightful Jardim do Castelo that provide wonderful views over the city.
Housed in the keep is a military museum (€1) and at the top of the tower is another great viewpoint.
The mighty castle walls
The N2 road is the most famous road in Portugal and extends the whole length of Portugal through the interior of the country. The route travels from Chaves in the north 739km (453mile) to Faro in the south. This is a very scenic route and is popular with bikers, taking two or three days to complete.
There is even a “Passport” booklet where a stamp from each of the 35 tourism offices along the route can be collected.
The actual N2 0km marker is just to the east of Chaves historic centre and is decorated with stickers from groups who have travelled the route
Even the most hardened Portuguese biker wants to get their N2 stamps in their book
12km east of Chaves, standing at the top of an 820m hill is the Castelo de Monforte. The setting of this 13th century stone castle provides wonderful views over the Chaves Valley.
Note: Due to its remote location and few visitors, it is often closed, with door to the central courtyard locked.
The Castelo de Monforte, once an important fort now barely visited….