At MIRANDA DO DOURO, you arrive at an eastern Trás-os-Montes town with a certain presence. In part, this is due to its location – across from Spain, and set above a magnificent gorge of the Rio Douro – but there’s also history and tradition here in abundance. The border town was always at the forefront of fights with the Spanish, and was fortified to the gills in earlier times – until an apocalyptic explosion in 1762 destroyed its castle, killed hundreds and sent Miranda into a gentle decline. After the explosion, Miranda remained a neglected outpost for two centuries – sufficiently remote for a distinct language, Mirandês, to flourish. It is still spoken today and even taught in schools: local street and town signs are usually in both Portuguese and the Mirandês equivalent.
Modern Miranda might be small – with just a couple of thousand inhabitants – but it still retains the status of a city and boasts an outsized sixteenth-century cathedral and a charming old-town area from its glory days. What changed the character of Miranda completely, however, was the building in 1955 of the huge Barragem de Miranda, just below town. With the dam wall and border just a couple of kilometres away, there’s a constant stream of Spanish tourists, who come to view the staggering gorge scenery, take a river trip and wander briefly around town. Stay the night, and you can also see a bit more of the Douro river gorge by driving out to the magnificent local viewing point – or even hiking there on one of the region’s finest one-day walks.