The small town of AROUCA has always been associated with the vast, medieval Convento da Arouca, whose imposing walls loom over the main road that cuts through town. In the kitchen there are huge fireplaces that give an idea of the number of its former inhabitants, while the Baroque church (which you can see without buying a ticket; enter from the main road) holds richly carved choir stalls and a great organ with 1352 notes, played on rare occasions by one of the country’s few experts. The convent peaked in importance when Dona Mafalda, of whose dowry it had formed a part, found her marriage to Dom Henriques I of Castile annulled and retired here to a life of religious contemplation. In the museum upstairs, you can see some of Queen Mafalda’s most prized treasures, including an exquisite thirteenth-century silver diptych.
The town itself is a handsome little place with a certain sleepy appeal. The central square holds a couple of pavement cafés, while in the medieval backstreets there are some beautiful old houses decked with wisteria. Local heart rates increased slightly following the discovery of an extraordinary fossil site, 10km to the northeast near Canelas (N326), containing 400-million-year-old trilobites and gastropods. This sits within the wider Geoparque Arouca and to see the fossils you need first to visit the park interpretation centre, which is on the left-hand side of the N326 before you turn off for Canelas; it exhibits some of the finds and explains their significance.Read More