One of the least obvious places to visit in Portugal, but which most certainly warrants a visit during a trip to Portugal, is the city of Chaves, in the northeast part of the country. Its glorious past, natural beauty and water resources, along with its rich gastronomy, make Chaves not just one of the places to see in Portugal, but also a great alternative to other more crowded mainstream destinations.
Although there is archeological evidence to support the claim that Chaves has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, its Golden Age seems to have been during the Roman occupation. One of the city’s most famous landmarks, Trajano’s Bridge, still standing today, was probably built between the 1st and 2nd century A.C. and its columns have detailed inscriptions mentioning the works carried out by the roman Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus.
During the Roman occupation, Chaves was known as Aquae Flaviae, This name was as homage to the Emperor Titus Flavius (Flaviae) and to the abundance of water (Aquae) resources present in the region. These allowed the Emperor to create thermal baths which are one of the most characteristic innovations brought in by the Romans.
These thermal resources have been exploited since then and today are part of some the most relaxing vacation packages to Portugal: the temperature of the thermal waters in the city of Chaves has been steady at 73º degrees, which makes these the hottest bicarbonate waters in Europe. Today, at least 4 of the 9 local springs have Spas open to the public, namely in Vidago, Campilho, Pedras Salgadas and Carvalhelhos.
There is nevertheless much more to this region in Portugal than just Spas. The castle of Chaves, built by King Dinis in the 14th century in order to protect the city from its Leonese neighbors, has suffered considerably from the burden of time and history, but its "Torre de Menagem" (prison block) still stands today. It houses the Military Museum, in which you can see an exhibit of arms, uniforms, flags and trophies from the Middle Ages to the present time. Other interesting reminders of the city’s historical past can be seen in the Medieval quarter, which is characterized by its small townhouses, narrow streets, with a multiplicity of styles portrayed in its façades often featuring cheerful and bright colors. Another monument worth discovering is the San Francisco Fort. Built in the 17th century and now converted into a 4-star hotel, this historical monument still uses all of its charm to lure in the tourists passing by.
Last but not least, Chaves can proud itself of been a gastronomic landmark for anyone traveling in Portugal. It is famous for its Pastéis de Chaves, or minced pies, its ham, and the folar, a special kind of stuffed bread, traditionally served during festive times, such as Easter, but which today can be found all year round.
Whether you like Spas, strolls around medieval quarters, great food or all of the above, Chaves is certainly a place to visit in Portugal.
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