Driving from the Spanish city of Ciudad Rodrigo, if you cross the Portuguese border, you will come across some very special places: Almeida, Castelo Mendo, and Castelo Bom. They are all defensive forts that once used to protect the border. Currently, they can all be visited in a single day. They are beautiful and in good condition. The three have been declared as National Heritage monuments. Let us have a closer look at them!
It was once the ultimate defense of Portugal against the dangerous Spanish troops. It is a true bunker and a bomb-proof. You can feel it the moment you go through the two defensive entrance gates. Inside, a house made of thick granite stone -even the roof!- would protect soldiers and civils from the attacks. And even though a French bombshell destroyed a big part of the village, it was quickly rebuilt, and to this day, it is still quite impressive. The fort is beautifully star-shaped, with twelve points, and a 12m large moat. The city wall can be walked, and it is 2.5kms long. Everything can be visited, together with a lovely museum where the history of Almeida is well explained.
In the beginning, Almeida was Spanish, but it was transferred to Portugal in the XIIth century. Immediately the Portuguese king realized how strategic its position was and built a castle there. As time went by and the weapons got more powerful, the defenses were enhanced. It is all explained at the museum. An interesting collection of weapons is shown there as well. They go from the pre-Roman Lusitanian warriors until World War I. By the way, if you are Spanish, prepare yourself: according to the museum videos, we have been really annoying enemies for the Portuguese throughout the history…
It belongs to the municipality of Almeida. It has a very similar history, but the place was not as strategic as Almeida, and thus it kept the Medieval castle, very well preserved. It was built in the Gothic style. It has an homage tower. The village that surrounds it is charming -and extremely small! At the entrance gate, have a look at the stone pigs, from the pre-Roman times. They had their snouts cut - apparently, they scared the passing horses!
Since the visit should not take long, you still have time to go to one more place: off to the Castelo Bom!
This village has not changed at all since it was built. Again, first Spanish and then Portuguese, it also hosts a Medieval castle, or what is left of it. It has a beautiful mirador over the Coa River. The houses are all made of local granite stone. This allowed them to survive all these centuries and preserve their excellent condition. One of them hosted for a brief period of time the Duke of Wellington, during the war against the French.
Obviously, since the end of all wars between Spain and Portugal, the whole area has lost its point. But now they are reinventing themselves as a tourist attraction and frankly, what these three villages have to offer to the visitor is quite amazing. Do not forget to pay a visit too to any of the typical restaurants of the area, but above all, do not get too carried away ordering dishes: they are huge! Cod is always a safe bet, no matter how they prepare it. Bon appétit!
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