Although you can drive to the top of Monte da Penha (Mount Penha) also known as Monte de Santa Catarina, our chosen mode of transport was going to be a cable car. The Teleférico de Guimarães is a ten minute journey, travelling 1.7km and rising 400m from the base station just outside the historic centre of Guimarães to the Penha station near the top of the mountain. The journey up provided excellent views of Guimarães and it’s famous castle, which was also going to be our final destination after exploring the top of the mountain.
Disembarking at Penha station we were greeted with a lush forested hill top. There is a lovely network of trails which snakes its way up the remainder of the mountain top and bring you out at the very top to be greeted by the sight of Sanctuary of Our Lady of Carmo da Penha, or just Santuary of Penha.
The church was constructed in the 1930s, made mostly from granite quarried in the region. A fire in 1939 delayed the completion of the building works quite a bit and the official opening did not take place until 1947. The building in unlike most religious monuments I have visited in Portugal, mainly due to its age. The building has mostly straight lines and very much has an Art Deco feeling that was popular in the 1930s.
After walking down from the church we found a great little coffee stall selling drinks, and where one of our travel companions had the best coffee of her trip, after many recent disappointments in Braga and Porto, but that is another story. After refueling with some caffeine there was another set of trails winding around boulders and further up the hill to the very top of Mount Penha.
At the very top of the mountain there is a large statue of Pope Pius IX and also the lovely Gruta Nossa Senhora de Lurdes (Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes) a shrine to Mary carved right into the rocks. From the top of the mountain you can see all the hill top has to offer.
Below us we could see various hotels nestled around the top of the mountain, there is also a camp site, Parque Campismo da Penha. The campsite is one of those in Portugal that has been awarded the Green Key certification, recognizing it for its environmental practices. Although we did not visit any of the other attractions at the peak, there are also various restaurants sprinkled across the mountain, a mini golf course, and even an equestrian centre.
With the younger travellers in our group complaining of weary legs and “not another church” we decided to head back down the cable car and venture into Guimarães to discover the “cradle” of Portugal, and “not another old castle!”
Getting off the gondola cabin it was only a short walk to the historic centre of Guimarães, which is UNESCO World Heritage Site I spoke of at the beginning, through winding medieval streets up the castle. On the walk up the castle you travel along the Rua de Santa Maria, the first street in Portugal, as one happy singing Portuguese tourist was more than happy to let us know as we all walked together towards the castle. On the way we passed through the old squares of the historic city, all filled with many restaurants and cafes bustling with diners and drinkers.
Just before getting to the castle we passed through the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança. The Palace was home to the Dukes family throughout the 15th century until it was abandoned and later even used a source of building materials by locals until a controversial restoration in began 1910. The government of the time restored the building to perhaps a grander entity than it was originally, modellling the restoration on other European medieval castles of the time. The first floor is a museum, and the second floor also contains the official residence of the President of Portugal when they are traveling to the North of Portugal.
We visited the castle next and took a walk around it’s ancient walls for an amazing view of the city and looking back on the mountain that had begun our journey in Guimarães. So I’ve told you about some of the Hidden Gems around the home of the Dukes who in the 12th century declared independence and founded Portugal, If you call Portugal home, this place should definitely be on the list to visit. If you just want to soak up the energy of Portugal’s home, then the squares are a great place to do it with a beer in your hand.