The pretty town of VILA VIÇOSA is dominated entirely by its ducal palace – the last residence of the Portuguese monarchy – and by the coachloads of tourists who descend upon it for a quick visit before being whisked off again. Because of that, it’s actually quite a pleasant place to spend the night, with an unhurried small-town atmosphere that survives the daily imposition of visitors. As at Estremoz, marble is the dominant building material: the road from Borba, 5km away, is lined on either side with enormous marble quarries, and in town everything, from the pavements to the humblest building, is made of the local stone.
The dukes of Bragança established their seat here in the fifteenth century, originally in the castle and then, from the early sixteenth century, in the Paço Ducal. The family were always an influential part of Portugal’s ruling elite, but it was only after Spain’s Philip II took over the Portuguese throne in 1581, that the Bragança family became truly powerful. After sixty years of Spanish rule, Portuguese soldiers rebelled and occupied the palace at Lisbon. The Duke of Bragança was the obvious choice to take back the throne from the Spanish and he duly became Dom João IV of Portugal. From 1640 to the birth of the Republic in 1910, the dynasty continued to rule as monarchs. Although the Bragançan dukes and kings had lavish palaces all over the country, they often chose to stay in Vila Viçosa – indeed it was here that Dom Carlos slept the night before he was shot in a republican uprising in the capital in 1908. His son, Manuel II, also used the palace frequently before his eventual exile to Britain two years later. Afterwards, the family was banned from entering Portugal until 1950 so, it is alleged that when the current duke, Dom Duarte Pio – who still considers himself heir to the throne – was born (1945) it was in the Portuguese embassy in Berne, Switzerland, to ensure any possible future right of succession.