Plenty to Braga about in Portugal

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Source: www.theguardian.com/

 

It’s a sleepy, ancient city, but also brimming with a modern, youthful energy. Check out Braga, the loveliest city in Portugal you’ve never heard of.

Given that Braga has almost four dozen places of worship, it’s easy to see why the Baroque city, one of Portugal’s oldest, has a reputation as a staid, ecclesiastical destination. Each Easter, pious throngs flock here for the city’s Semana Santa, and most visitors who end up in a place that barely registers on the global radar are here to tour the churches on a day trip from Porto, an hour away.

Thanks to a large student population and a steady influx of young Portuguese, Braga has some lively cultural offerings, an eclectic vibe, a mellow – mostly underground – bar scene, and the bonus of outdoor adventure on the doorstep thanks to its close proximity to Peneda-Gerês national park.

Thanks to a large student population and a steady influx of young Portuguese, Braga has some lively cultural offerings, an eclectic vibe, a mellow – mostly underground – bar scene, and the bonus of outdoor adventure on the doorstep thanks to its close proximity to Peneda-Gerês national park.

There’s contemporary photography in the Museu da Imagem, which spans two historic buildings: one from the 19th century and a tower from the 14th that was part of the original city wall, and innovative design at the Chapel Tree of Life (open to the public Fridays at 5pm) within the centuries-old seminary of São Pedro and São Paulo. This slatted structure, constructed solely of wood (with no nails or hinges), is suffused with light and evokes the serenity of the nearby forests while providing a singular example of the power of modern architecture.

Another hub of art and cultural activities is Livraria Centésima Página (centesima.com), a popular bookshop behind an 18th-century facade, with a lush garden that seems to have attracted most of the pushchair-wielding mothers of the city. Like many venues in Braga, it multi-tasks – as a coffee bar, exhibition space, workshop and art gallery.

Braga’s noticeably unhurried pace of life accelerates after dark, especially in the downtown area. The city’s sense of intimacy and compact size make it easy to bar hop – and it offers a more inviting prospect than trying to negotiate Porto’s vast urban sprawl.
Even here, among the modish Braga haunts, history is everywhere. At Restaurante Brac, you can sip crafted cocktails beneath contemporary paintings with a view of medieval ruins. The menu focuses on classic Portuguese ingredients, but nudges them into the 21st century with dishes such as octopus carpaccio with olive-caper vinaigrette.

A 10-minute stroll away, Quatorze transforms from a daytime, by-appointment art gallery into a night-time bar and music venue, often with themed events fusing music, food and film from a specific destination. In many towns this would be the preserve of the millenials but here people of all ages, from twentysomethings to over-50s, mingle easily. Like many university towns, Braga has a creative energy that that brings together all sorts of people, transcending age, class and lifestyle. Rather than being stuck in the past, it continues to adapt and thrive, looking to the future with a new-found sense of optimism.

 

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