Monument to Pope John Paul II, Braga

Braga is the oldest city in Portugal, with a history going back to pre-Roman times.  It’s not exactly where you’d expect to find a modern art sculpture in the middle of the city.  Yet, there it is.  The Monumento ao Santo Papa João Paulo II was created by Portuguese sculptor Zulmiro de Carvalho and architect Domingos Tavares to commemorate the Pope’s 1982 visit to Braga.

The shape of the monument is reminiscent of the mitre, the tall pointed ceremonial hat worn by the Pope.  According to one website, the three points of the sculpture represent the three great mountain top sanctuaries of Braga- Bom Jesus do Monte, Santuário do Sameiro and Igreja de Santa Maria Madalena.

The sculpture is a beautiful monument to the Pope’s historic visit, and one of the many monuments celebrating Braga’s reputation as the religious heart of Portugal.

John Paul II Monument

Praça da Republica, Braga

The Praça da Republica Square is considered by many to be the heart of Braga.  Located at the north end of Avenida da Liberdade, the square was the trading center in sixteenth century Braga.  Today it’s a great place to start your tour of Braga.

The Arcada, as it’s popularly called, is home to two excellent cafes, both over 100 years old, Cafe Vianna and Cafe Astoria.  We chose to have breakfast at Café Vianna.  In operation for over 150 years, the café is supposedly where the 28 May 1926 coup d’etat began.  Portuguese novelists Eça de Queriós and Camilo Castelo Branco are said to have been visitors to the café during its long history.

The view from Cafe Vianna is spectacular.  You look past the Praça da Republica fountain, across Jardim da Avenida Central, all the way to Bom Jesus do Monte, 5 kilometers away.  The cafe is also a great place for people watching; there are always crowds of people passing by.

This view of Praça da Republica was taken from the Jardim da Avenida.  You can see the Braga Tower, the last remnant of the castle, behind the Arcada.

There are so many things to see and do in Braga and it’s nice to have a central point where you can sit and relax while catching your breath and enjoying a drink.  For us, Praça da Republica was that place.

Braga Arcada

Capela de São Bentinho, Braga

There are churches everywhere you look in Portugal.  Many are tourist destinations, like the monasteries of Jeronimos, Batalha and Alocbaça, the Sanctuary of Fatima and Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga.

The tiny São Bentinho Chapel in Braga is not on most tourist itineraries.  We stumbled upon it while exploring areas near the Braga Cathedral.  It’s a beautiful little shrine to Saint Benedict, located on a narrow lane that gets its name from the chapel.

Inside the eighteenth century chapel is a lovely painting depicting Saint Benedict, Saint Bernard and Our Lady of Light.  Capela de São Bentinho provides an intimate setting to practice your faith.

Capela de Sao Bentinho

Rua Dom Paio Mendes, Braga

It was raining when we visited the cathedral  in Braga.  That’s not unusual; it rains a lot in Braga.  The street was virtually deserted when we got to the cathedral and most of the shops were closed.  We found, on our trip through Portugal, that a lot of shops close between lunch and dinner.

Rua Dom Paio Mendes is the street in front of the cathedral.  The yellow tiled building in the center caught my attention because of the strange figures on the balcony over the first floor.  I don’t know how old they are, but the figures have a kind of medieval feel.  I can imagine them as characters from the Canterbury Tales.

Braga Street Scene 3

Cafés, Portugal, March 2018

Travel can be stressful, with planes, trains, or even ships that must be caught, unfamiliar roads to follow, schedules to be met and new languages to learn.  It’s nice to be able to slow down from time to time and to stop at a café for a coffee or a glass of wine.  We experienced a lot of interesting cafés and we took advantage of them to stop and relax for a few minutes on our journey.  Here are just a few.

Aveiro is home to one of our favorite cafés, A Mulata.  It’s a tiny place on Avenida Santa Joana and a block from the Museu do Aveiro.  A Mulata has a nice breakfast and fresh baked goods with a lot of vegetarian options.  It was also a quiet place to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or beer.  We like quiet.

Porto’s most famous café is Café Majestic.  Opened in 1921, this art nouveau café was a favorite of British author J.K. Rowlings, who is rumored to have worked on the first Harry Potter book here.  The notoriety that comes with being associated with anything Harry Potter means that the café is always crowded with tourists.  We were looking for a nice quiet atmosphere where we could sit and enjoy breakfast and coffee, and Majestic was not the place for us.

Majestic Cafe

Fortunately, Porto has another iconic café just a short walk from Majestic.  Named for a Brazilian indigenous people, Café Guarany has been a popular gathering place for Portuenses since 1933.  It’s a beautiful restaurant.  Renovated in 2003, the interior’s centerpiece are two paintings, “The Lords of Amazonia” by University of Porto alum Graça Morais.  We had a wonderful breakfast at Guarany and, later, stopped there again for dessert and coffee.

Braga has a pair of nice cafés in the Arcada at Praça da República, Café Astória and Café Vianna.  We chose to have breakfast at Café Vianna.  In operation for over 150 years, the café is supposedly where the 28 May 1926 coup d’etat began.  Portuguese novelists Eça de Queriós and Camilo Castelo Branco are said to have been visitors to the café during its long history.  We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast while we planned our day.  Located at the end of Praça da República, it proved to be a nice place to people watch.

Cafe Vianna Interior

Coimbra is home to another interesting historic café.  Located in what was once an auxiliary chapel, Café Santa Cruz has a wonderful interior, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass.  Opened in 1923, it’s another great place for coffee and a snack.  It’s location on Praça 8 de Maio and next door to Igreja de Santa Cruz make the café a good place for people watching.