Anne-Laure Murier - 2012-06-07
Despite its rich heritage, exceptionally youthful population and distinctive brogue, Guimarães is still relatively underappreciated outside of Portugal where its status is nothing short of legendary. Yet this European Capital of Culture 2012 whose historic centre is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site has a heart of gold!
With a heart as its symbol and ‘You are part of it’ as its slogan, Guimarães has launched a marketing campaign with a broad appeal. Result: nearly every inhabitant you’ll see will be wearing the city’s European Capital of Culture 2012 pin, available in a good thirty versions from chic white to in-your-face fluorescent. In hardware shops and trendy bars, in perfumeries and pastry shops, the town’s enthusiasm is visible everywhere, especially in store windows displaying customised wine corks, azulejos, lollipops, lipsticks, etc. ‘Why visit Guimarães?’ queries the tourist brochure. ‘Because it exemplifies Portuguese identity. It broadens our vision of what today’s Europe is all about. The food is good, very good. You can walk everywhere and everyone says ola. And while you will quickly get a feel for the city, there’s always more to discover.’
Guimarães over the centuries
From the 11th century to the 13th, Guimarães was the capital of the Kingdom of Portugal. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001, the city’s centre has thousand-year-old roots that are still visible in its crenellated towers, ramparts and monastic bell towers. Considered the heart of the city, Toural Square is where the market and cattle fair were held during the 17th century. Today it holds buildings and a music pavilion... and motorists have been using it as a roundabout. For the past few months, however, the square has been closed to traffic so that pedestrians can take their time and admire the Pombaline façades (the Pombaline style, which closely resembles neoclassicism, appeared in Portugal after an earthquake destroyed Lisbon in 1755).
The birthplace of Portugal
The lasting imprint of the centuries has graced Guimarães with a great deal of charm. In its medieval heart, baroque convents neighbour the working-class cottages that contribute to the city’s authenticity. Today, the arched doorways and narrow alleys are populated by students - notably those from the Universidade do Minho - who give Guimarães plenty of dynamic energy. Fully half of the town’s 50,000 inhabitants are under thirty, which might explain why wifi is free and available everywhere, even between the half-timbered houses!
The statue of Afonso I (King of Portugal from 1139 to 1185) stands guard over the medieval city’s castle, now a popular playground for children. It is thought that the kingdom’s first sovereign was born within the walls of this rustic fortress. Nearly a thousand years later, young knights - their coats of mail replaced by jeans and tee-shirts - still roam the streets of Guimarães in view of conquering café terraces, restaurant counters and museums dedicated to azulejos and contemporary design. ‘The past is a source of energy for the future,’ says Francisca Abreu philosophically. Guimarães’s Culture Councillor, Abreu asserts that they are ‘inventing tomorrow’s memories today.’
Guimarães is 53 kilometres from Porto; trains run frequently along the Porto-Guimarães line.
Where to stay
Pousada Nossa Senhora da Oliveira offers good comfort next to the praça de Oliveira in the city’s historic centre. Rustic decor. Double rooms from € 90/£ 72, breakfast included.
Tel: + 351 253 514 157
Perched above the city but accessible on foot, the imposing Pousada Santa Marinha is a former monastery set in a peaceful park. Special prices start at € 110/£ 88 for a double room with breakfast.
Tel: + 351 253 511 249
Handed down from one generation to the next, Casa de Sezim is a superb property with 18C wallpaper and colonial antiques. Terrace where breakfast can be taken with a view of the garden amidst a working vineyard which supplies the house vinho verde. Double rooms from € 110/£ 88 breakfast included; table d’hôte available on request.
Tel: +351 253 523 000
Cheers Praça: ‘bistronomical’ ambience in this little designer restaurant with open kitchens, delicious dishes concocted from market-fresh and local ingredients, excellent wine list. Situated on the praça Santiago in the heart of the historic centre.
Tel: + 352 962 417 406
Pimenta Moscada: casual and welcoming, rustic decor, serving traditional cuisine that is unbeatable value for money.
Tel: + 352 253 419 020