Presentation of the destination
Set amidst the greenery of the Montesinho National Park, this tiny forest village is a wonderful base from which to explore the natural beauty of Portugal. It was once the site of a Roman tin and gold mine, but now is home to less than 300 people. Franca is located right near the border of Portugal and Spain, in the northeast corner of Portugal. The nearest large town is Braganca. Wander through parochial streets of ancient tumbledown stone houses, see the old chapel Nossa Senhora de Ponte with its twin bells, discover the crystal clear waters of the Sabor River and stumble across the ruins of an old water mill. Surrounded by rolling green hillsides and idyllic countryside scenes, exploring Franca is like stepping back to a simpler time. The intention of the Montesinho National Park was to preserve the culture of the forest villages and their integration with the natural surroundings. The village is near Sierra Montesinho mountain ranges, which is part of the National Park. The park provides a protected area for creatures such as the Iberian wolf, wild boar, roe deer, otters and plentiful bird species. Enjoy the scenery of the Montesinho National Park on horseback on a trail ride through the countryside.
Points of interests / things to see
Discover the medieval history of Braganca, a city built around a 12th century citadel, located on the outskirts of the forests of Montesinho National Park. The historic centre is encircled by a fortress wall. Wander through the citadel’s Romanesque architecture taking in the excellent views from the battlement patrol path. Enter the museum in the keep to see relics from the Spanish and Napoleonic wars. Learn about the city’s religious history at the 18th Century Santa Maria Church, the 16th century Se Cathedral, and the Santa Clara Convent. Santa Maria’s roof features beautiful paintings showing the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. In the Abbot of Bacal Museum you can see the archaeological finds excavated in the city which date back as far as the Iron Age. The cultural life of the people who have lived here over the years is displayed through material culture. See furniture, tools and art from throughout Braganca’s history. Enjoy the regional cuisine in Braganca’s restaurants. Rustic game meats such as rabbit, goat, pork and pheasant are complimented by locally grown olive oil and chestnuts and hand-made breads. Wine is also produced locally and in some restaurants the house wine is literally made in house!
Make a day trip to the incredible site of prehistoric rock art in the valley of the Coa River just over 1.5 hours drive from Franca. The artworks, carved into stones around the valley are thought to be about 20,000 years old, and depict horses, cows and human figures. During the Neolithic era more artworks were added featuring abstract figures and geometric patterns. There are even later works added by people between the 17th and 20th centuries depicting modern methods of transport. The valley is a huge open air art museum. The art is preserved by the Coa Museum organisation, which runs lectures and tours around the many sites. For an extra special visit why not take a night tour with an archaeologist-trained guide. At night the artworks can be viewed with bright lights and are more visible than in the harsher light of the sun. The modern Coa Museum itself stands high on a hilltop overlooking the Coa River near the Vila Nova de Foz Côa. Discover four storeys of photography, stone art exhibits and modern artworks in dialogue with the Palaeolithic art. Enjoy the tastes of Portugal and a glass of wine with stunning views over the valley in the museum’s restaurant. http://www.arte-coa.pt/
This incredible national park encompasses mountain ranges, wildflower covered hillsides, tiny villages isolated from the world, and oak and chestnut forests. Challenge yourself on day long circular hikes, discover an old Roman bridge on a hike outside the village Gimonde or go fishing in the rivers and streams. The park is one of the largest in Portugal, spread out over 750 square kilometres (466 square miles) from just north of Braganca right up to the border with Spain. It is home to many endemic creatures such as the Roe deer, Iberian Wolf and lynx, wild boars, otters and foxes. It’s also very popular with birdwatchers. Keep an eye out for the Spanish Imperial Eagle! The people in the villages and hamlets here have historically relied on agriculture, with shared fields and resources. Although there are not only about 8000 people living in the national park, you’ll still see plenty of sheep! Guest houses and self-contained accommodation in historic buildings within the villages and hamlets provide a cosy place to spend the evenings after a long day of hiking or trail riding. Sample some of the local produce in the guest houses and Gimonde restaurant.
Get to know the unique cultures which sprang up in the isolated villages in the mountainous regions of north east Portugal. The ethnographic museum located in the village of Salselas gives insight into man’s relationship with nature and the changes to cultures during the transition between agricultural to industrialised society. Wander through themed exhibits that give insight into how agriculture has been conducted in the villages over the centuries. You’ll learn about the generations old techniques in wine, bread and olive oil production. See the tools used by tradesmen such as blacksmiths, potters, tailers and shoemakers, and wander through a recreation of village kitchens and workrooms. Farming tools and a set of oxen pulling a cart give an understanding of the hard work that went into this lifestyle. There are also exhibits relating to religion and spirituality in the villages, as well as temporary exhibits of art depicting the rural areas of Portugal. If you’re looking for a unique souvenir, you can buy traditional handicrafts in the museum. The village of Salselas is just over a half hour drive south of Braganca. Top off your visit to the village with a trip to the beautiful Azibo Lake where you can enjoy the natural surroundings while canoeing, sailing or windsurfing. http://museururaldesalselas.blogspot.com.au/
This museum in Braganca is dedicated to the festival culture of the rural villages and towns in the region. Three storeys of festival masks and costumes are on display here, from the Winter Carnival and festivals from the Tras-os-Montes, Lazarim and Zamora districts. The Winter Festival traditions of the Braganca area dates back to Celtic times. Caretos, masked and costumed boys and young men, take over their villages with boisterous tricks and courtship, often culminating in a ball or dance held with the young women of the area. Their colourful ruffled costumes were traditionally made of wool, and the masks of leather or wood, but in the museum you’ll see them made of everything, from costumes of strips of fabric to masks woven from natural fibres and walnut wood. Other festivals involve scaring the devil out of the village, satirical marriages and comedic social criticism made in good humour by masked groups. Most end with a village party. You can take guided tours of the museum or even attend a mask-making workshop. Why not time your visit to coincide with one of the festivals, and see the costumed Caretos in action! A festival calendar is available on the museum’s website. http://museudamascara.cm-braganca.pt
Enjoy the natural beauty of the Montesinho National Park on a trail ride through the countryside organised by the Centro Hipico de Franca. The school caters for beginners as well as advanced riders, to organise your adventure. The centre, which has been running since the late 1980s, is located 15 kilometres (9 miles) north east of Franca amongst forest, hills and streams. You can also hire mountain bikes from the centre for use on the trails in the area. After your ride you can relax in the cosy bar or on the outdoor terrace. Arrange your horse-riding trip with Centro Hipico De Franca in advance to ensure they can cater for your specific level. The centre offers free internet access. http://www.centrohipicofranca.com/en
If you are visiting around Christmas time, it’s worth paying a visit to Franca’s neighbouring village, Aveleda, where an unusual festival takes place on December 25th and 26th. At the Caretos de Aveleda (Boy’s Party) you’ll see masked figures dressed in fantastical outfits of colourful fabric ribbons roaming the streets performing comedies and humorous social criticisms of unwanted behaviours in the village. A huge lunch and dance is held by the boys of the village for the girls as well as anyone else who wants to join in. For those exploring the area by mountain bike, or on hikes Aveleda is a pretty example of a Montesinho village.
The culture of this village on the border of Spain and Portugal is so unique that the town has a ‘Land of Miranda’ Museum. Discover the origins of the stick dances and bagpipe music used in the Festas de Santa Barbara in spring, the Mirandese language, and the pastoral life of the region in the museum, located in the impressive 17th century town hall. The pretty town on the Rio Duero also features a 16th century cathedral wherein you’ll see a statue of a local legend, a boy who rallied the spirits of Portuguese troops under siege by Spaniards. Several accommodations and restaurants are located in the little village.
Wander the rooms of an 18th century palace discovering Stone Age, Celtic and Roman history in the Braganca region. The museum, which came about through the Abbot of Bacal’s interest in regional history and ethnography, houses a large number of religious artworks in many styles, as well as historic coins, jewellery and furniture. Don’t miss the carved stone pigs from the Stone Age, and 15th century painting “Virgin with a Boy”. The museum is open between 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Friday and 10am to 6pm on weekends. You’ll find it on Rue Abilio Beca in Braganca.
Vacation rentals in França (Bragança)
How to get there ?
Fly in to Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport in Porto, a three hour drive away. Hire a car at the airport if you are keen to explore the regional attractions and activities as they are spread out and it may be difficult to find a taxi in the rural areas. You can also fly domestically from Lisbon to Braganca’s small airport. Braganca does not have a train station, but regular busses run to the town from other major cities and regional towns. From Porto it’s four hours and from Lisbon it’s an eight hour train ride to Braganca. Once you’re in Braganca it’s easy to explore the town on foot, exploring the historic buildings, medieval citadel and museums. Plenty of cycle paths run through and around Braganca and through the Montesinho National Park. From Braganca to Franca it’s just under 20 minutes’ drive or a 3.5 hour hike. You can also cycle to the small village to take advantage of the mountain biking trails further in to the Montesinho National Park. Numerous hiking trails of varying lengths run through the park and there are several just outside Braganca and Gimonde. Most of the villages in the national park are also accessible by car.
França city hall
Hotels in França (Bragança)