The southernmost town in Trás-os-Montes is FREIXO DE ESPADA À CINTA, around 40km southeast of Torre de Moncorvo. The mouthful of a name translates as “ash-tree of the sword of the belt” and supposedly refers to Dom Dinis hacking at a nearby tree as he announced the founding of the town. Hidden in the folds of the undulating Douro mountains, the town was once considered so remote that prisoners who had been granted an amnesty were allowed to settle here in obscurity. It doesn’t feel quite so end-of-the-worldish any more, with a new town straddling one side of the main through road (N221), and a small, surviving old town on the other, dominated by a surprisingly rich Igreja Matriz with a retábulo of paintings attributed to famous Viseu artist, Grão Vasco. Across from the church is a magnificent heptagonal keep, a landmark for miles around, which affords great views from its bell tower, while beneath lies the town’s spectacularly sited cemetery.
Freixo only really warrants, say, an hour and a cup of coffee. However, the drive is marvellous, particularly the approach north from Barca d’Alva on the N221 (20km), which follows a beautiful stretch of the Douro River, with viewpoints at strategic intervals. This is part of the Parque Natural do Douro Internacional, whose regional office you’ll find in the modern town centre on Largo do Outeiro.