The Beira Alta capital is ripe for exploration. Vibrant, cosmopolitan, artistic and verdant, it’s a great destination for discerning foodies looking for genuinely Portuguese cuisine, as well as an excellent base to discover the wine-producing region, Dão.
First the city: Viseu
text João Macdonald photos João Margalha (except if indicated)
GREEN, CULTURED AND POPULAR
In the words of Francisco Almeida Moreira (1873-1939), founder of the Grão Vasco National Museum, Viseu is the heart of the country. If you look at the map of Portugal as a body with the city almost in the centre-left of the geographical chest, you’ll see he’s right. Viseu is pulsing with new things, cosmopolitanism, real quality of life, culture and plenty of green, as well as a historic centre that teems with life in a city of about 70,000 inhabitants. In recent years, there has been positive urban redevelopment in the country’s interior (continuing the spirit of Manuel Engrácia Carrilho, who was mayor here in the late 1980s – find out more the Casa das Memórias exhibition). Over 1,500 years old (it was episcopal seat in 569) and standing at an altitude of almost 500 metres, it’s baptised as the “capital of Beira Alta”, the mountainous region of central Portugal. Located three hours from Lisbon and 90 minutes from Porto, this year, the local council declared 2017 the Official Year to Visit Viseu. As you’ll see, there are plenty of reasons to follow their advice.
The city’s parks and woods make it one of the country’s greenest: Parque do Fontelo, Parque Aquilino Ribeiro, in the centre (named after a great Portuguese writer with a close connection to the city), Parque Urbano de Santiago – 1,150 metres along both banks of the River Pavia. It’s worth mentioning the route linking Espelho d’Água and Cava de Viriato, the latter being one of the country’s most interesting archaeological mysteries: a 38-hectare octagon bordered by two kilometres of slopes, which the Roman imperial army may have been used to camp and for protection, sometime between the 1st and 2nd centuries BC (although nothing to do with the warrior Viriatus, a kind of Portuguese Vercingetorix and a symbol of the city and region, with his own statue).
The Grão Vasco National Museum is one of the country’s most important, but it’s also worth mentioning the Almeida Moreira Museum and its collection of naturalist painting. In Quinta da Cruz, another green space (fragrant forest), there’s another contemporary art centre that works in partnership with the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, in Porto. In 2017, the Keil Museum opens at the Casa da Calçada palace, which is dedicated to the work of the Keil do Amaral family of artists (music, architecture, fine arts and theatre), whose relationship with Viseu remains strong. There is also the Quartz Museum, which was set up by the geologist and palaeontologist, Galopim de Carvalho.
Viseu has always been a place of transit between the Iberian Peninsula’s major cities. A symbol of this status is the revamped and ever-popular São Mateus Fair (staged this year between 11th August and 17th September), which has been held since 1392. Nowadays, it boasts a line-up of modern musicians and the return of stalls serving petiscos (Portuguese version of tapas) that are traditional to the city: preserved eels and Lisbon style liver – Viseu has rediscovered itself and is a great destination to discover the beating heart of the country’s interior.
Grão Vasco National Museum
Vasco Fernandes (c. 1475-1542), otherwise known as Grão Vasco, is one of Portugal’s most important painters. Many of his works – such as the masterpieces Adoração dos Reis Magos and São Pedro – can be found in the museum that bears his name, in the old seminary, next to Viseu Cathedral (which also boasts a fine collection of sacred art). Given national status in 2015 (only Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra had national museums beforehand), thanks to ex-director Agostinho Ribeiro’s project, the institution celebrated its centenary and hosted around 115,000 visitors in 2016.
THE COSMOPOLITAN LIFE
“My comfort zone is risk, experimentation,” warns Sandra Oliveira, founder of Jardins Efémeros, one of Portugal’s most important artistic festivals outside the big cities, and an event that provides Viseu with a real buzz. Paula Garcia, director of Teatro Viriato: “Being in Viseu is strategic”. Liliana Bernardo, illustrator, singer: “Here, cultural and rural are combined, which is what I am.” Nuno Leocádio, from Carmo’81, HQ of the Acrítica association: “We’re where the best of village spirit becomes cosmopolitanism.” Other concepts: “Viseu produces charm”, “networks are created that generate affection”. Here, it would make sense to say, “see you yesterday!” instead of “See you tomorrow”, that way nobody forgets what has just been constructed. A racing urban pulse is evident here. At 2º Andar-Sala 5, in the near-empty Ecovil Shopping Center, various creatives can be found at work: this is where artists António Silva and Ricardo de Almeida Correia’s studio is, Rosa Coutinho’s contemporary dressmaker’s and the rehearsal room of musicians José Carlos Rebelo and Paulo Sousa – who plan to relaunch B, an independent local online radio station. At Saguão-Espaço Experimental, artist João Dias has a “window art gallery” – he only exhibits in the shop window – and this year he’s opening another in Abraveses, on the outskirts of town. Short films (under 30 minutes) are promoted by Shortcutz Viseu, which is coordinated by Carlos Salvador, Luís Belo and José Crúzio, who organize sessions every month (over 80 so far), bringing filmmakers to talk to the public. At the end of September, the city hosts Vista Curta, an event organized by the highly active Cine Clube de Viseu. In April, there’s classical music with the Festival Internacional de Música da Primavera (Proviseu/Conservatório Dr. José Azeredo Perdigão), and other sounds in July at the Festival de Jazz (promoted by the Girassol Azul association and music school). December is the time for the local council’s Tinto no Branco literary festival, which is curated by the Booktailors agency. Viseu is rather busy all year round.
Every July since 2011, for a week, the city reaches the artistic heights with Jardins Efémeros, a “multidisciplinary cultural event with an experimental bent that aims to foster relationships between the different agents in Viseu that make things happen.” Dozens of places are occupied with exhibitions, performances, shows, concerts, cinema, workshops, involving both the local population and visitors. Runnng the show is the unstoppable Sandra Oliveira. This year, it takes place between 7th and 17th July. For the rest of the year, culture vultures can enjoy the Venha a Nós a Boa Morte project, which serves up independent music concerts once a month. Essential!
One of Viseu’s temples of urban culture is Carmo’81, which is part of the Acrítica cultural cooperative. It boasts an indoor and outdoor venue, a bar, bookshop, projection room, meetings, exhibitions and permanent interaction in every artistic area. A place to discover new music, such as Galo Cant’às Duas (Hugo Cardoso and Gonçalo Alegre), at 81 Rua do Carmo, it prides itself on breathing new life into this part of the town.
In 1999, Portugal saw the beginning of a cultural revolution that went well beyond Lisbon and Porto: many municipal theatres were renovated and handed over to modern organisations. That year, the Companhia Paulo Ribeiro (choreographer) took up residence at Teatro Viriato and became a shining example of how things can be done. Now directed by Paula Garcia, it’s Viseu’s finest venue, with a programme that reflects contemporary and popular culture, while retaining a strong educational focus. Highlights for March are Mickaël de Oliveira’s A Constituição, Jean Genet’s The Maids, directed by Marco Martins, and Martin Zimmerman’s new circus show Hallo.
EXPLORE, BUY, WANDER
Viseu’s cosmopolitan edge can be seen in its rethought forms of consumption and production that have created a new commercial network. At the Só Sabão factory and shop (Amor Luso brand), there are soaps with original aromas (regional wine being one) and packaging created by illustrators. Cem Réis makes fine handicraft. At Anda Ver Viseu there’s clothing by Portuguese fashion designers, regional products and books by Edições Esgotadas, an independent local publisher which also organizes trips. More extensive tours are organized by Neverending – Thematic Tourism. Those interested in books can explore the Sidarta bookshop. The Delícia chocolate makers and Velvet, which crafts cupcakes and other sweets, are well worth checking out and are complemented by the historic Horta patisserie. A distinctly urban lifestyle can be felt at VeloCafé, at the hipster-friendly Garage Barber Shop (located at the Fábrica, a multipurpose space in Abraveses) and at the internationally renowned Piranha Tattoo Studios. You can buy wine and other things at Cave Lusa Premium and Syrah Wine & Gin. In the sartorial world: AC Alfaiates give the country’s best a run for their money, and Gothic fashion designer Catarina Maria Marques, whose company is called Angélique Clothes and Accessories, gets orders from England to Croatia. At Ecletic, Clarice Lugatte and Gabriella Delicata sell women’s clothing and objets d’art. They also have the Marie Antoinette tea room in Mangualde, which is 20 kilometres from Viseu.
amorluso.pt \\\ facebook.com/lojacemreis \\\ facebook.com/andaverviseu \\\ edicoesesgotadas.com \\\ neverending.pt \\\ facebook.com/livrariasidarta \\\ chocolateriadelicia.com \\\ facebook.com/cupcakesvelvet \\\ facebook.com/garagebarbershopviseu \\\ fabricaviseu.pt \\\ facebook.com/piranha.tattoo.studios \\\ facebook.com/cavelusapremium \\\ facebook.com/syrah.viseu \\\ facebook.com/angeliquealternative \\\ facebook.com/ecleticviseu \\\ facebook.com/VeloCaf%C3%A9-222153697973466/?fref=ts
A stone’s throw from the cathedral, the night’s enjoyment begins well at the Belle Époque, whose sign explains its raison d’être well: “house of conversation – ingestion, conspiracy, reverie, banter, tasting.” Here, much of the city’s movida converges. Close to Belle Époque is the Penedro da Sé bar, which sits under a huge granite rock. A few streets away is the Old Skull Inn – Rottenroll Tavern, rock ‘n’ roll territory, where you can discover the Fora de Rebanho association’s latest projects (including unexpected heavy music concerts in the village, Quintela de Orgens, five kilometres from Viseu). For something a little calmer, there’s the Irish Bar, in Largo Pintor Gata, and the neighbouring Maria Xica. Further south, in the administrative centre, The Brothers bar, in Rua da Paz, boasts a fine list of spirits. For the best in live music, head for Faces, on Rua Formosa, which has concerts almost every week. Springs heralds the reopening of many other places and Viseu’s nightlife gets even more intense.
Sitting atop the Serra do Caramulo, a kind of Portuguese Magic Mountain à la Thomas Mann, we can see the Planalto Beirão plateau, surrounded by rich fauna and flora (the wild orchids here are famous) and the sometimes-remarkable outline of rock formations. Here, between the 1920s and 1980s, 40 kilometres south of Viseu, there was a sanatorium made up of 19 health centres for people with respiratory problems, founded by pioneering doctor, Abel de Lacerda. Today, these buildings make up a potential network of clinical archaeology, one already having been converted into a hotel in Caramulo itself (closer to Viseu, we find the Termas de Alcafache spa). This is the place visitors can also see the Caramulo Museum and its amazing collection of art and cars. Making our way down the road that traverses Vale de Besteiros, we enter Tondela, home to the ACERT association and the Trigo Limpo theatre company, a good example of cultural decentralization. The same can be said at the other extreme – 50 kilometres north of Viseu -, for the Teatro Regional da Serra do Montemuro theatre company, which has been producing “theatre of the rural world, in the rural world, for the whole world” (teatromontemuro.com). These are just some of the key destinations for those using Viseu as a base – including the Ecopista do Dão trails.
In 1959, an unusual museum opened in Caramulo. Boasting a collection of dozens of vehicles dating back to the 19th century, it was the first Portuguese Automobile Museum (including motorcycles, velocipede and toys). It also had a collection of ancient, modern and contemporary art that included around 500 pieces (painting, sculpture, furniture, pottery and tapestries), ranging from ancient Egypt to Picasso and great names of Portuguese modernism, such as Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, António Soares and Canto da Maya. The Abel and João de Lacerda Foundation (the former founded the Caramulo Sanatorium) runs the museum.
In 1979, five years after the Carnation Revolution, Portugal was abuzz with cultural decentralization. Tondela saw the birth of a theatre company, Trigo Limpo, which, in turn, founded the ACERT association – still a catalyst for the arts in this part of Beiras, but permanently on tour. Run by theatre director, José Rui Martins (another key figure is long-time collaborator Carlos Clara Gomes, who is a musician and director of the Companhia DeMente, based in Viseu), it occupies an original theatre built from scratch with two facets: an indoor venue and outdoor amphitheatre. Two annual events are particularly important: the very pagan Queima do Judas, at the end of March, and the Tons de Festa festival in July.
Ecopista do Dão
A new route on an old railway line: Ecopista do Dão is a cycle route inaugurated in 2011 that stretches along the 49.2 kilometres of the disused Linha do Dão railway tracks connecting Viseu to Santa Comba Dão. There are ten routes for cyclists – or hikers -, offering the chance to explore the extraordinary scenery of Beira Alta.
Seven options to experience the gastronomy of Viseu, from the purest concepts of local cuisine to the vanguard of young chefs.
The arouquesa bovine breed, which gets its name from the Arouca region but is actually raised in various regions of central and northern Portugal, produces top-notch beef and enjoys protected designation of origin (PDO). In Repeses, near Viseu, Casa Arouquesa is the place to try this delicacy, on a menu dominated by oven-roasted veal and steak. The finest fare and service.
Empreendimento Bellavista, lote 0, Repeses \\\ +351 232 416 174 \\\ casaarouquesa.pt
Founded in 1978 by Vasco da Trindade and Jorge Lopes Ferreira, the Santa Luzia is now housed in an elegant restaurant, ten minutes’ drive from the historic centre, with an excellent wine shop. It’s one of the city’s classic restaurants, serving top roast kid and octopus. You have been told.
Estrada Nacional 2, Viseu \\\ +351 232 459 325 \\\ restaurante-santaluzia.pt
Located next to lovely neoclassical buildings in Viseu’s administrative centre, this is one of the city’s most interesting culinary options. Dishes include fava beans and mushrooms, cooked to perfection. Mesa d’Alegria’s expertise will soon extend to Casa dos Cheijos, in the old part of town, reviving a classic tavern.
Rua da Vitória, 21, Viseu \\\ +351 232 400 765 \\\ facebook.com/mesadalegria
Travessa das Escadinhas da Sé, 9, Viseu \\\ +351 232 422 643 \\\ facebook.com/casadosqueijos
This is one of the region’s three major culinary projects (alongside the Taberna da Milinha and Mesa de Lemos). Dux Palace (an extension of the Dux Taberna Urban and Dux Petiscos e Vinhos concept, both in Coimbra), has been designed by a young team of chefs and winemakers, with its own brand of wines, offering avant-garde petiscos (Portuguese tapas) and excellent service. A must. (We reckon that it will soon be praised by an international guide published by a tyre manufacturer.)
Rua Paulo Emílio, 19, Viseu \\\ +351 963 004 817 \\\ duxrestaurante.com
Muralha da Sé
It’s worth coming here for the yellow knight mushroom risotto, which is one of the best in this region. Located close to the cathedral, next to the Misericórdia church, it also makes an award-winning bread pudding and famous Vouzela cake.
Adro da Sé, 24, Viseu \\\ +351 232 437 777 \\\ muralhadase.pt
Taberna da Milinha
Diogo Pereira is a well-known chef in the city. His taberna (tavern), which opened in 2013, may be small but offers a very original range of local gastronomy. His mushrooms with Serra da Estrela cheese are legendary, as is his excellent mini burger. Reservations advisable.
Rua Nunes de Carvalho, 1 \\\ 969 700 056 \\\ facebook.com/taberna.damilinha
Hotel Grão Vasco
There aren’t many hotels like this in Portugal, owned by the same family for decades. An important part of the city’s social life, generations of local people have visited its restaurant, which has gained a reputation both at home and abroad. Popular with important figures from the world of cinema, music and politics, the magnificent dining room offers the finest regional cuisine. It would be criminal to visit Viseu and not come here.
Rua Gaspar Barreiros, Viseu \\\ +351 232 423 511 \\\ hotelgraovasco.pt
And now, the wine!
109 years ago, a very special winegrowing region was created in Portugal. Today, it has reached the zenith of excellence, leaving the wine world astounded. We explore the wonders of Dão.
by Patrícia Brito
Nestling between the Caramulo, Buçaco, Nave and Estrela mountains, which protect it from the sea’s humidity sea and continental winds, Dão is the country’s second oldest demarcated wine region, after the Douro. That said, much like its landscape, it hides its greatest treasures behind stone walls and old façades, pine forests, shrubs and bushes, throughout the districts of Viseu, Guarda and Coimbra. In this rugged terrain, the soil is granite and temperatures vary wildly, creating the type of terroir where grapes thrive. There have been vineyards here since the time of the Romans, however, it was only in the second half of the 19th century that the wines started to gain a reputation. In 1908, such was the importance of area’s wines that a geographical area (currently 388,000 hectares) was designated as the Dão Demarcated Region. Such was their finesse, elegance and lightness, at the time they were compared to one of the world’s most famous wine regions, Burgundy, in France.
The 1960’s saw the rise of cooperative wineries, a major increase in production and a corresponding loss of quality, with the Alentejo and Douro regions taking advantage to gain market share. In the 1990s, the region’s vineyards began restructuring. Today, there are about 20,000 hectares of vineyards, almost hidden within a landscape of smallholdings and wild vegetation. The diversity of grape varieties includes reds like Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Jaen, and whites, such as Encruzado, Bical, Cerceal and Malvasia Fina. The region produces full-bodied, aromatic reds that become more complex as they age, and very aromatic, fruity and balanced whites that pair well with the strong flavours of Dão, such as Serra da Estrela cheese, the Bravo de Esmolfe apple, roast kid and octopus, cured sausages and sweets, among many other dishes that attract lovers of wine, culture, nature and gastronomy.
The seven producers we visited can be found on the comprehensive Dão Wine Route. Different wines with different philosophies, approaches and experiences that produce creations whose history, terroirs and producers’ vision are always distinct.
QUINTA DE LEMOS
Celso de Lemos’ business is high-quality textiles, but his real passion is promoting the best of the region and country. A student and emigrant in Belgium, when he returned home, he wanted to fulfil an old ambition: making wines. Today, after 17 years, when you arrive at the estate, perched on a hill on the outskirts of Viseu, what stands out are the vineyards, the winery and the beautiful Mesa de Lemos restaurant. One of his sons, Pierre, shares his father’s love of vineyards and pride in Portugal (despite being Belgian) and it’s he who runs the business: “Our wines are almost all single varietals because it’s the best way of showcasing what is unique about the region,” he says during a visit to the winery. The wines have time to grow old: “Our wine ages for five years before it is sold”. To guarantee quality, only about 30% of the grapes are used. Every year, between 80,000 and 100,000 bottles are produced (50% for Portugal and the remaining 50% for export).
Passos de Silgueiros, Silgueiros, Viseu \\\ celsodelemos.com
CASA DE SANTAR
The beautiful 18th-century architecture that is home to Paço dos Cunhas de Santar was renovated by Global Wines, who used the magnificent boxwood gardens and wineries to create top-quality wine tourism. Owned by the family of the Counts of Santar, the palace, wineries and vineyards are run by the company responsible for one of the largest (103 hectares of vineyard) and most emblematic of the Dão’s wine producers. During a visit to the wineries, we see various manor houses with an important history. In the cosy restaurant, local chef Henrique Ferreira explains: “The menus are made for our wines”, which are Casa de Santar 2015 (white), Casa de Santar Reserva 2012 (red), Paço dos Cunhas de Santar Nature 2013 (red) and Outono de Santar (late harvest).
Rua da Miragaia, Santar, Nelas \\\ casadesantar.com
The smallest of the 200-odd producers in Dão. Pedro, Ana and Luís are three siblings who have taken the family’s old vineyards to create a unique wine that combines modern techniques (Pedro is a winemaker) and artisanal craft. In 2012, this produced Palwines. “A total of two hectares made up of microplots of old vines planted by our great-grandfather,” says Pedro. The big difference is that they use old-style processes of 70 years ago, including grape treading: “We make a kind of handicraft”, which got noticed when it won an award from the Dão Winegrowing Commission in 2012. With annual production of just 2,000 bottles, Quinta dos Três Maninhos runs the risk of becoming a collector’s item, both for its quality and rarity.
Rua do Mondego, 3, Nelas \\\ palwines.pt
QUINTA DA PELLADA
Next to Vila Nova de Tazém, in the Serra da Estrela sub-region, this old estate dates back to the 16th century. After inheriting the property in 1980, civil engineer Álvaro Castro decided to restart a family tradition, creating his first wine in 1989 and working on the wines produced by Quintas da Pellada, Saes and Outeiro. For Álvaro, the viticulture and climate of each year shapes the vintage, although “supporting” nature is key, despite keeping human intervention to a minimum, as exemplified by Quinta da Pellada Primus, which is made from old vines and a number of grape varieties.
Pinhanços, Seia \\\ quintadapellada.com
António Madeira is second-generation Portuguese Parisian. Despite obtaining an engineering degree from one of France’s most prestigious universities, he gave it all up and moved to Portugal in 2016 to make wine. He began in 2010 by renting small vineyards and experimenting, applying the Burgundy method and a simple philosophy: plenty of work in the vineyard means less to do at the winery. Currently, he has 15 small vineyards, many of them over a hundred years old: “With my wines, you feel the soil, the granite, the herbs, the resins, the entire region’s landscape fits into a glass”. He treats every vine as a human being, they’re all different, which makes each plot are a kind of “living museum”. Each is vinified separately, which means 15 presses, 15 tanks and 15 barrels. The label reads: Dão – António Madeira. First the terroir and then the producer’s name, French style but with all the ingredients of good Portuguese wine.
provas / wine tasting: Quinta da Pellada, Pinhanços, Seia \\\ vinhotibicadas.blogspot.pt
CASA DA PASSARELLA
Founded in 1892, this historic estate has produced some of Dão’s greatest wine. After a less productive period, the quinta was acquired in 2008 by the current owners, who recovered the old vines and buildings, which host the winery, shop and interpretation centre, where we learn about the place’s history. Paulo Nunes, the winemaker who accompanies us on a visit to the vineyards (45 hectares) and the winery, is the faithful custodian of a precious legacy. He has restructured the old vineyards and re-established the reputation of the wines, such as the excellent Villa Oliveira. Producing around 300,000 bottles per year (40% for export), Casa da Passarella has been modernized, while its philosophy maintains traditional cultivation, harvest and vinification methods: “Closer to the Serra da Estrela, there is a microclimate and the terroirs are different. This means that the harvest is carried out later.” It’s this knowledge, which stems from experience and experiments, that the winemaker transmits to the wines.
Rua de Santo Amaro, 3, Passarela, Lagarinhos, Gouveia \\\ casadapassarella.pt
QUINTA DA LOMBA
Dirk Niepoort is a famous wine producer in the Douro. One day, he got it into his head that the best wine in Portugal would be the result of the mixture between the Douro and Dão. He mulled this over for a few years, until 2014 when he had the opportunity to acquire Quinta da Lomba in Gouveia, saving five hectares of vineyards that were over 60 years old. Production currently now extends over 27 hectares and some of the old vines are being replanted. Respecting and renovating heritage is key, so the old winery has been rebuilt. In Lomba, and throughout the region, the new trend is biodynamic production, which goes beyond organic methods and considers details as important as the lunar calendar. “Conciso” is the name of the wine. 12,000 bottles were produced in 2014, however, “if everything goes as planned,” annual production will soon reach 80,000.
Lugar de São Pedro, Gouveia \\\ niepoort-vinhos.com
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