As though it were planned (it was not) we landed in Bragança on the autumnal equinox (ok, one day late).
As we drove north, there were wisps of fall with gold in the tops of some of the trees as we rolled along on the M15 through cow pastures and pumpkin patches, past farms and rolling hills. The drive was reminiscent of many late summer and early fall northerly drives to Vermont during my college days as the night air was starting to get a little crisper, readying us for winter.
Bragança was our most northerly stop on our September tour of Portugal’s Norte and Centro regions. Just south of Spain and the Natural Park of Montesinho and its mountains which look more like Vermont than others we’ve seen, Bragança is a modern white-washed, predominantly orange-roofed city settled below its medieval walled citadel.
As per usual, we headed straight to the citadel for lunch and then to wander amidst the walls, church, octagonal Domus Municipalis which was built by the Romans, estimated to be early in the 13th century as maybe a cistern, but no one really knows why it was built. In the 19th century the “gentlemen” used it it as a meeting house. We ate at Tasca do Zé Tuga, catching (literally) the last meal served before they closed between lunch and dinner.
We also visited the Iberian Museum of Costumes and Masks which displays and honors the pagan rituals and costumes of the region. Alas, these pagan rites of passages take place following Christmas and at Carnival, not during the autumnal equinox. Like many Portuguese museums, it could have been enhanced with a few placards of explanation but here’s what I found on the internet:
During the Saturnalia (winter solstice and right after Christmas) the festival with Celtic Careto religious rituals takes place. “Caretos are masked young men dressed in suits made of colourful fringe wool quilts, wearing brass, leather or wooden masks and rattles in their belts.” (source). Also, on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) just before Ash Wednesday they “appear in groups from every corner of the village running and shouting excitedly, frightening the people and ‘robbing’ all the wineries. The main target of these masquerade groups are single young girls, who” they make climb to the top of walls and verandas. Historians believe the origin of these festivals are tied to early agrarian fertility festivals.
The houses inside the walls are a mix of decrepit and lovely. The residents seem to be a mix of the same, some donning only their best Metallica garb (far be it from me to criticize having spent 2 of my 4 high school years wearing exclusively concert and Led Zeppelin tees) going sans haircuts since, I would estimate, long before COVID times. Aside from about a dozen elderly residents and restaurant workers, there was this almost Spahns Ranch hippie vibe to the walled town, albeit predominantly male and without the acid at least in the late afternoon, but it was like the local residents were waiting around fixing to don Pan costumes and play their lyres and flutes and initiate the newcomers at any moment or chase women up the walls while wearing masks. Perhaps they were, it was the equinox and all and this is a part of the Iberian peninsula known for practicing Pagan rituals.
We were divided on our opinions. I liked both the lunch and the old town. Melissa thought the town was too edgy and the lunch overpriced. We usually are aligned on these things. Agree to disagree and live in harmony. So…. We left the citadel and headed down into the “new city” (established between the 14th and 16th centuries) for some toothpaste, wine and to scout out our restaurant for dinner. The new city has a lively vibe in the day but was pretty sleepy on a mid week night in September.
We stayed at the Pousada on the hill overlooking the old and new towns and sipped vinho verde from our previous excursions while we watched the sun set, sending a late afternoon glow on the citadel and city below. As we listened to the dogs of Bragança sing their equinox songs, bid adieu to another day and raise their choruses of barks and cries warning their friends of the coming rain.
Dinner at Rosina’s in the new city did not disappoint. Far from it. This nondescript find in the heart of Bragança, steps from the Se, was worth breaking away from our balcony overlooking the city. Homemade pasta capped with homemade pistachio ice cream rounded out a great day of exploring the north before turning for home. Melissa loved our experience at Rosina’s which we strongly recommend and as the rain lightly fell as we climbed the stairs back to the Pousada all in this beautiful and crazy world seemed just slightly better.