Monção fortifications over Minho
 

 

 




Monção, Valença & Melgaço - Portuguese Minho River Towns

Aerial view of Monção

Monção, aerial view of the main "square" (plenty of sidewalk cafes) and old quarter. The central piazza / plaza is often taken up with events and music festivals during the summer months; you can actually see a temporary stage one side in the above photo. There is another similar piazza / plaza out of sight to the right, plus the commercial quarter (court, banks, shops, post office, etc.). The large health club is just beyond sight at the top of the photo. The four excellent supermarkets are on the outskirts of the town, on the main approach roads from Valença and the Spanish road crossing bridge.

Moncao (Monção), Valenca (Valença) & Melgaco (Melgaço) are on the furthest northern Portuguese border with Spain and each are historic fortified towns sitting on and above the River / Rio Minho (Rio Miño); the property for sale on this web site is in a suburb of Monção. The area was, for many years during Fascist rule, a contraband area where tobacco was smuggled in from Spain and local people were smuggled out to work mostly in France where wages / opportunities were then much better. As a consequence, the second language of most people over 30 years old is French (plus Spanish of course, which is very similar to Portuguese). To this day many Portuguese families from this region work in France as skilled artisans (builders, carpenters, etc.) and simply come back to their homes here during the holiday seasons (July / August and Christmas / New Year). During the holiday seasons there are a large number of festivals and houses which have been locked up for months, suddenly have residents again; the local markets and roads suddenly become very busy.

These people are called "Emigrants" as they spend more time in France than they do Portugal. The fact everyone here has emigrants in their family makes the local people very friendly towards foreigners who move to the area. Although very few speak English, although schools now are teaching it as the second language, this is generally not a problem; most professional people speak English. The area was once very poor, especially under the Fascist Government which was deposed in 1974 as their system was one of local land owners and uneducated subservient farm workers providing an agricultural economy; you still see old men and women collecting their pensions in the Post Office signing for their money with a thumb print, because they can no sign their own name, because the Fascists did not educate them. A certain element of the Old Portugal with its nepotism, collusion and corruption still exists of course but foreigners can take comfort from the fact all people here avoid conflict when they can and Portugal's Constitution fully incorporates all European Union law. Speaking of laws, smoking is rampant here and across the border but smoking in public places such as restaurants was outlawed here January 1st 2008; although many outdoor restaurants exist if you like to partake. Speaking of restaurants, an excellent one is located at Ponte de Mouro called "Pedro Macau", just 10 minutes drive away from the villa.

Ponte de Mouro

If French people enjoy extra friendliness here because of the number of locals who live and work in France, then the British gain from their Anglo-Portuguese Alliance first signed in 1373 and is still in effect to this day. The military and economic alliance was mostly formed to counter the might of Castile (Spain) and was cemented by the wedding of King Pedro I of Portugal to Philippa, daughter to the Duke of Lancaster who held a claim to the crown of Castile; their wedding was arranged by proxy between the Portuguese king and English Duke in 1387 at Ponte de Mouro, about half way between Monção and Melgaço. Monção's history actually goes back to Roman times with many villas and viaducts remaining to this day, plus it was an important stopping and crossing point for medieval pilgrim's "Saint James Path" coming up from Braga to Santiago de Compostela, which was once the third most important Roman Catholic shrine in the world. The local church chimes here sound like fine grandfather clocks striking the hour; we have two within earshot of our home and in the evening, sat with a glass of wine in the rocking chair on the front porch while looking at the amazing skies we get here, it is very difficult not to feel very spiritual.

Recently, an increasing number of Immigrants, Portuguese from other areas, Spanish and other foreigners have been migrating to the area, with the consequence of both facilities and house prices increasing dramatically. The Spanish especially are regular house buyers in the area as prices are around 7% lower on the Portuguese side of the river.

Monção Portugal

Monção is a quiet peaceful town which has long outgrown its original fortified / walled settlement area. Many apartments have and continue to spring up just outside the town centre, especially towards the south and west where the rive bridge crossing into Spain is located. The villa is located just west of Monção town in a village which soon is to be incorporated into the council area proper. The village is referred to locally as the "Hollywood of Monção" due to the number of perceived wealthy people who live there; of course they have Hollywood confused with Beverly Hills. Monção has the highest land and real estate prices in the area due to having such an attractive town center, being popular with affluent Spanish, the proximity to several large commercial centers (in Spain) and strict building restrictions.

Monção town centre

Monção town centre is very evocative with its old buildings and "cobbled" (cubos granite squares) side streets. There are two main squares with cafes and restaurants around each with many narrow side streets running off it with tiny terraced houses, plus the embattlements over the river of course. In town there is a main Post Office, several banks, many diverse shops (the fishing shop sells the best range of greeting cards, the stationary shop you can buy your car tax disc renewal from); it is like stepping back 60 years or more in time in some of them. There is a library, the court house / civil building and soon there will be a cinema again. Several very cozy restaurants exist just off the main square serving area specialties such as Bacalhau (seasoned cod fish cakes), lampreia (lamprey), trout, churrasqueira (grilled / BBQ's meat) and more. On the main road out of Monção is one of the busiest restaurants in the area, serving both take-away and sit down customers, a Brazilian churrasqueira with legendary BBQ's chicken and pork ribs.

Moncao offices and side street

Monção has a weekly market on Thursdays (normally) which is very useful for cheap clothes, hand made old fashioned hard and garden ware and plants (a typical 2 meter bare root fruit tree costs 3.5 Euros, and vendors sell small vegetable plants for transplanting at next to nothing). One section of the market is given to local women who sell their own produce, such as chickens (alive), ducks, turkeys, eggs, vegetables, flowers, etc. In season, you can expect to pay 1 Euro per kilo for fresh peas and beans from these ladies. Another section which is open for most other days has a fish market section (fresh tuna steaks cost around 5 euros per kilo and Atlantic mussels around 2 euros a kilo). A number of butcher shops also frequent this area and sell prime beef nouveau for under 6 euros a kilo.

In addition, Monção now has no fewer than 4 supermarkets, 3 of them quite large and selling home electronics and clothes as well as food and house wares. Between them and the supermarkets easily accessible in Spain, the range and quality of goods is exceptional, plus very low in price in comparison with other European countries. With a range of boutiques around town, Monção is very much the fashionable town of this area.

Valença Portugal

Valenca's Fortifications

Valença to the West of Monção is larger, but perhaps less fashionable. Like Monção it still has its original fortified old town which attracts a lot of day trippers from Spain looking for Portuguese linen and Bacalhau (fish cakes). Valença is home to the regions linen (shop) industry and a large number of shops sell a wide range of cotton goods, including some of the finest cotton sheets you can find anywhere. Valença still has a dual level (upper road, lower train) bridge that crosses into Spain, but is now also served by the main Iberian motorway bridge crossing. The train system is to be completely uprated soon as the new high speed Portuguese service links up with Spain and the rest of Europe; when this happens, very fast express trains will take people from Valença down to Lisbon in just a couple of hours, which will have yet another dramatic effect on house / land prices in this area. The existing local train service is something to try at least once as it runs along the river and coast from Viana do Castelo (Portugal) the area capital to Vigo in Spain.

Valenca Market

Valença has a very large market every Wednesday (normally) which is both a curiosity and a bargain hunters paradise. Many stall holders sell excess production and discontinued lines from some of the biggest names in high street branding, such as River Island, but at a fraction of the cost. In addition wine making equipment, spirit stills (yes, we thought they were illegal as well), all manner of animals, a huge range of plants, an incredible range of housewares including hand made Portuguese items, can be bought here at low prices. Coach loads of Spanish bargain hunters and Immigrants make this market hard to park near and walk around in the summer holiday months.

Valenca Old Town Centre

Melgaço Portugal

Melgaço is the smallest and most Eastward of the three towns, it is also the sleepiest; apart from a few border villages a little further on, Melgaço is the farthest flung corner of Portugal. In winter, snow regularly falls and settles on mountains that separate it from Spain, although there are two border / river crossing points. A number of especially good restaurants in this town make it a favorite with Spanish diners coming over the border in the evening for a meal; fresh trout, mountain beef and pork, including the local delicacy of marinated pigs ears are firm favorites, and a meal is unlikely to cost more than 20 Euros per person; one of the most renowned restaurants is Adega do Sossego (click the name on their web site to access their other pages).

The town centre with a large square and cafes is a very relaxing place to walk around, plus the region's Alvarinho wine museum and showroom is located here. Melgaço makes a good base from which to explore the nearby mountains and Peneda-Gerês National Park, plus some of the best salmon and trout fishing in Europe is found here.

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