At PENAFIEL, 35km east of Porto, you enter vinho verde country. The wine’s origins lie with the Benedictine monks, who were famed in this region for their laborious terracing of the valley slopes. The Benedictine legacy also extends to a handful of fine Romanesque churches, hidden away in folds of the rolling hills hereabouts. However, despite the promise, Penafiel itself comes as something of a disappointment, though that’s much to do with the main-road traffic that splits the town and jars the ears. The few old streets of granite mansions behind the handsome Renaissance Igreja da Misericórdia are barely reason enough to stop – certainly not if you’re reliant on public transport (and the train station is 3km from the centre in any case). Drivers should instead divert to the charming, ivy-festooned Quinta da Aveleda, where the local vinho verde is made. The guided tours include wine and cheese tasting (and there’s more on sale in the shop), but it’s really the gorgeously unkempt, wooded gardens and their follies that make the visit.
Penafiel’s local boy made good is one Egas Moniz, a great figure of loyalty in Portuguese history, whose statue stands by the public gardens on the main avenue. He’s buried in the Romanesque abbey church of Paço de Sousa, 10km south of Penafiel, which was the former headquarters of the Benedictines in Portugal. The panels on the tomb of Moniz tell his story, while outside the church is a shaded dell beside the Rio Sousa, a popular picnic spot; and there are a couple of cafés in the village below.
Apart from Paço de Sousa, the easiest local Romanesque church to locate is São Gens at Boelhe, 10km further southeast. Tucked up a minor country road, it’s reputedly the smallest Romanesque church in the country, and gains its power from a stunning position on the brow of a hill overlooking the Tâmega valley.Read More