Caldas Group on 3-Day Visit to Border Country

The purpose of our early May visit was the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, however, we wanted to extend the trip to include Foz Coa, Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo.

Foz Coa was our first stop and we commenced with a guided tour of the new Museum situated overlooking the River Douro. The museum is a must in order to fully appreciate the actual prehistoric rock art along the River Coa. During the afternoon our group was escorted on a field trip by excellent guides from Castelo Melhor to the Coa river at Penascosa which is a 6 km drive in their 4x4 vehicles. This site has been the place of many rock engravings and the guides show the best and most complete. The scenery around the Coa valley was lovely and the spring flowers, bird life and sunshine just added to the experience of this special place. Later we paid a short visit to the medieval hill top castle village of Castelo Rodrigo before staying the night in the adjacent town.

Next day we continued on to the fortified town of Almeida where we had a guided tour of the Museum set into the castle walls where the people used to hide during the great sieges that occurred in the town’s history. The visit extended into the old town enclosed within the walls and into the new CEAMA Centre where we saw a short film about the architecture of the fortifications.

After lunch we continued via Aldea del Obispo, the site of the fortification of Fuerte de la Concepcion, and then on to Fuentes de Onoro. Here we had another guide to fully explain the 3-day battle that occurred exactly 200 years ago. The visit started in the village centre, near the church where most of the hand to hand fighting occurred. Later we moved to nearby Paco Velho to understand the terrain for the French Cavalry charges that tried to divide the British troops and bypass the village. Our guide was very enthusiastic which enabled us to fully appreciate the background and actions of this critical battle on the Portuguese/Spanish border. Finally, we finished the day in Ciudad Rodrigo were we had a lovely hotel in the old town, by the cathedral which took the brunt of the cannons from Wellingtons siege of the town in January 1812.

On the final morning of our visit we had time to appreciate this lovely town and walked the 1,5km around the walls to understand the siege positions and the storming of the town. Our return journey was planned to follow initially the other castle villages in the area and to stop at Freineda to visit Wellington’s HQ from May 1810 to November 1812. Here we were very fortunate to meet the owner of the property, which was the HQ. He showed us the interior which is now retained in its near original condition and houses a small private collection of Peninsula War memorabilia. We continued our journey through remote schist villages down to Sabugal and on to Sortelha where we made our final stop and had the opportunity to walk up to this isolated medieval village topped by a fortified tower which appeared to be of Arabic origins. This village is also in the book of the Loveliest Villages in Portugal and clearly lives up to its description.