Guarda, or “Guarding city” is historically known as the protector of Portugal due to its close proximity to the Spanish border. The city also defended Portugal from the French during the Peninsular War in the 1800s. Guarda is the highest town in Portugal, sitting at 1000 meters above sea level. True to its watchful nature, the hilltop villages can be seen in this Beira region.
2 hours and 30 minutes east of Porto by car, Guarda is also known as the coldest and highest town in Portugal. If you’re heading there during winter time, make sure to put on a thick jacket.
Commissioned by King Sancho I during the 12th century, medieval wall after wall can still be admired in Guarda today. Its purpose to protect can be seen in the architectural forms as well: simple and rigid. Getting to know a different side of Portugal’s history is much about a day trip to Guarda. Here’s what you should do:
Also a wine gallery, Aquariu’s is a great way to start your day in Guarda. Here, seafood is from the seaside town of Aveiro. This restaurant serves traditional Portuguese cuisine, and it’s hailed by many as their favorite eatery in Guarda. Don’t need to dress up for this joint as it’s not a fancy restaurant, but the dishes are well prepared and tasty.
2. SEE: Hike up to Guarda Cathedral’s rooftop for a breathtaking city view.
As opposed to most architecture in Guarda, the main cathedral was built in Gothic style. Walk inside, and you can admire the interior 16th century white marble altar. The cathedral is Guarda’s main landmark but you’ll notice it isn’t as decorative as most Portuguese Baroque architecture. Instead, it features intricate: stonework, pinnacles on all exterior walls, interior spiral columns, and an incredible limestone vault.
Or, Museum of Guarda, explains the history of the city via 4,800 artifacts. Founded in 1940, this museu notes archeology from prior to the Romans’ arrival. You’ll see sculptures, paintings from the 1800s, old weapons, and folk traditions from this regions in photographs and ceramics.
4. DO: Walk through Judiaria – the ancient Jewish district.
The ancient Jewish District in Guarda still appears as it did during the 14th century, it’s an area that signifies the amicable relationship between Portugal and Israel. Very close to Porta D’el Rei, there are Hebrew inscriptions throughout this neighborhood. The Jewish community stayed in Guarda for a long while and it’s one of the oldest Jewish communities in Portugal.
It started during the 13th century, when King D. Dinis offered the royal charger, or foro, to the Jewish communities of S. Vincente parish. By the end of the 14th century, around 200 people lived in this neighborhood and increased to 850 in less than a century. Many became the city’s: shoemakers, tailors, physicists, surgeons, carpenters, tanners, and blacksmiths.
5. SEE: The old defensive walls.
Continue walking around Guarda’s old town, you’ll pass by a stone pathway which is what many refer to as the old defensive walls (or old medieval walls.) During the reign of Sancho I at the turn of the 13th century, these walls were boosted.
6. SHOP: Around Praça Luís de Camões.
Shopping in Guarda requires minimal traveling as most stores are around the main square right in front of the cathedral. Be on the lookout for local artisanal products, including: jewelry, soap, yarn, and chocolate.
When you’re in a town dressed in medieval buildings, a modern edifice becomes an obvious standout. Welcome to Teatro Municipal da Guarda, which acts as both alive music venue and an art gallery. Opened in 2005, you can check out the contemporary art and photography exhibitions while you’re in town. But if you have more time, check out the events calendar and attend a dance, concert, fado, or movie screening here!
Inside an old stone house, Don Garfo is a family-run restaurant featuring (what else!) traditional Portuguese cuisine. Though mixed with a modern twist, you can get a taste of everything by opting for a set menu.
Note: A pousada is a Portuguese heritage hotel. Solar do Alarcão was a mansion with an annexed chapel since 1686. Now transformed into a pousada, you should definitely stay here if you have a certain taste level. Situated next to the main cathedral, the hotel also has a gallery, garden with a terrace, and a city view. Breakfast is served highlighting regional produce, and you can devour it all in the Tea Room.
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