Portugal City Travel Guide: Castelo Branco
Castelo Branco (lit. "White Castle"), 50km south of Covilhã, is the prosperous provincial capital of the Beira Baixa region of central Portugal.
Castelo Branco, with a population of over 35,000, is a pleasant place in its own right to spend a couple of days and to use as a base for visiting the picturesque villages of Monsanto and Idanha-a-Velha along with the stunning nature and wildlife of the Parque Natural do Tejo Internacional.
Castelo Branco was settled during the Roman period and later the Knights Templars, based in Tomar, built the city walls and a small castle in the 12th century.
As a frontier town, close to Spain, Castelo Branco has lost some of its historical heritage in border conflict but there remains a core of medieval streets to explore.
The Paço Episcopal (Bishop's Palace) is an 18th century building now housing the excellent Museu de Francisco Tavares Proença Júnior, which exhibits local archaeological finds along with the main collection of colchas. These are beautifully embroidered quilts and bedspreads, first brought back to Portugal from its trading territories in India and Macau in China during the Age of Discovery, that spawned a local industry.
The adjacent Jardim do Paço Episcopal (Garden of the Bishop's Palace), is a lovely 18th century Baroque space of clipped, boxed hedges and two staircases lined with heroic statues. One staircase has figures of the Apostles, the other monarchs of Portugal, including three rather smaller than the rest: Philip I, II and III of Spain. A sixty-year period of domination from 1580-1640 still a cause of resentment.
The former Castelo of the Templars is now largely a ruin but there are stupendous views from the garden that now occupies the space.
If you have a hire car venture out to Vila Velha de Rodão on the River Tagus (Tejo), where there are great views from the restored Castelo de Rodão over the river gorge here known as the Portas do Rodão.
Monsanto was voted the nation's "most Portuguese" village during the Salazar era and is again best reached by rental car rather than infrequent bus. The village, located high on a hill over the surrounding plain, seems to rise out of huge granite boulders and there are the eerie remains of a castle and church. The village is at the centre of a number of long distance hiking trails.
Idanha-a-Velha was formally a Roman settlement, Igaeditâina, then occupied by Visigoths, Moors and Templars, now it is a sleepy hamlet with evocative ruins from these civilizations including the remains of Roman walls, a Roman bridge and the Lagar de Varas, an old medieval olive press.
Castelo Branco Tourist Office
Castelo Branco Tourist Office.
Av. de Nuno Alvares, 30
Tel. 272 330 339.
Getting to Castelo Branco
Castelo Branco's train station is located 500m from the centre of the town and has links to Covilhã (1 hour; 1 hour 20 minutes) and Lisbon (around 3 hours) via Entroncamento (requiring a change here with local trains) or direct to Gare do Oriente in 2 hours, 50 minutes.
The N23 highway heads to Castelo Branco off the A23/E1 highway to Lisbon.
Castelo Branco has bus connections to Covilhã (1 hour), Guarda (1 hour, 40-45 minutes), Lisbon with ten departures daily (3 hours, 45 minutes), Coimbra (2-3 hours), Monsanto (1 hour, 30 minutes), Penamacor (1 hour, 20 minutes), and Viseu (2 hours, 40 minutes).
Connections to Salamanca in Spain with onward connections to Madrid leave from Guarda.
Castelo Branco has a number of centrally located places to stay including the recommended Horta D'Alva, the 4-star Hotel Rainha D. Amélia, the Imperio do Rei and the 4-star TRYP Colina Do Castelo Hotel.
See here for a full listing of hotel accommodation in Castelo Branco.
Imperio do Rei, Rua dos Prazeres, nº 20, 6000-209 Castelo Branco, Portugal.
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There are a number of good cafes and restaurants to enjoy the local food in Castelo Branco. Try Praça Velha on Praça Luis de Camões, Frei Papinhas on Rua dos Prazares or O Jardim on Rua da Figueira.
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Most of the hotels in Castelo Branco have their own WiFi.
The average high June temperatures for Portugal is between 22 degrees Centigrade and 26 degrees Centigrade. Summer temperatures in Castel Branco are some of the hottest in the country.
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