Amarante – One of Portugal’s Most Beautiful Small Towns

Written By Becky Gillespie

Amarante, located in the Tâmega e Sousa region of northern Portugal and set against the Serra de Marvão, is a town rich in history and culture. Known for its picturesque setting, it sits on the banks of the Tâmega River and its narrow streets are lined with 17th-century houses with wooden balconies.

Dating back to the 4th century BC and originally named Turdetanos, it was renamed in honor of Governor Amarantus. Dating back to the 4th century BC, this town has witnessed numerous invaders and visitors alike. The beautiful surroundings and lush vineyards were a true inspiration for poets like Teixeira de Pascoes and painters like Amadeo de Souza Cardoso.

Amarante is also a hub for traditional Portuguese gastronomy and wine, particularly Vinho Verde, and is also famous for its religious significance, specifically the São Gonçalo Church and Monastery, a holy site that dates back to the 16th century. Conventual sweets are a real treat here served in various forms including…one in the shape of a phallus.

The first weekend of every June, Amarante celebrates São Gonçalo with a festive procession that attracts visitors from across Portugal. Things get more than a little suggestive during the festival when young and unmarried couples exchange provocative phallic-shaped cakes (known as bolos de São Gonçalo), which symbolize their passion and love.

The town’s gorgeous bridge, Ponte de São Gonçalo, played a major role in the Napoleonic invasions and is one of the most beautiful sites in the city. With an interesting blend of religious, historical, and natural beauty, Amarante is a must-visit destination in northern Portugal.

Where Is Amarante in Portugal?

Amarante is located approximately 58 kilometers away from Porto. It can be easily reached by a short bus ride of around 1 hour from Porto, 1 hour and 20 minutes from Braga, or Guimarāes (50 minutes).

From Porto, Amarante can be reached by car in around 45 minutes, making it an accessible destination for those looking to explore beyond Porto’s city limits. For travelers coming from Lisbon, Amarante lies about 350 kilometers away, which translates to around a 3-hour and 45-minute drive, offering a scenic journey through Portugal​​.

The closest airport to Amarante is in Porto, providing a convenient gateway for international visitors to this charming town. For those considering flying into Lisbon for better flight options or prices, the capital city is also a viable option, albeit a bit farther, yet still accessible for a beautiful road trip to Amarante.

What to Do in Amarante

Along the banks of the Tâmega River, Amarante is a charming town that appeals to visitors with its picturesque bridges, beautifully preserved 17th-century buildings, and peaceful river views. One can’t miss the São Gonçalo Church with its baroque architecture and the Sāo Gonçalo Bridge that leads to its doors.

Amarante is also an interesting stop for food lovers. If you want to get cheeky, you can try a phallic cake which is served all year round and has made the town famous. The tradition that sparked this phallic cake tradition has its roots in an ancient pagan ritual of fertility.

The town is famous for its sweet treat, the “papos de anjo” (angel’s double-chins), a must-try for anyone with a sweet tooth. Dining by the river provides a memorable experience with the flowing river and the Sāo Gonçalo Bridge in the background adding to the romantic atmosphere.

If you’re looking for adventure, Amarante does not disappoint. The surrounding area is ideal for outdoor activities including hiking, canoeing, and golf. The Amarante Water Park promises a day full of fun for families or those simply looking to cool off.

Meanwhile, the Marão Mountains nearby beckon hikers with their beautiful views and challenging trails. With its blend of culture, cuisine, and adventure, Amarante is a destination that offers something for everyone.

Lu Gar Lu, Ponte de São Gonçalo, Amarante, Flickr

3 Best Tours & Experiences in Amarante

Douro Valley: Wine Tour with Lunch, Tastings, and a River Cruise

Embark on a captivating journey from Porto through the Douro Valley, starting with a  coffee break in Amarante to admire its church, convent, and pastry shops. Visit two wine estates, one in Sabrosa for a guided tour, tasting, and a wine-paired lunch with vineyard views, and another renowned estate in the afternoon for more wine exploration. The tour includes a photo stop at São Cristovão viewpoint, a scenic river cruise from Pinhão, and a return to Porto via the picturesque N222.

Book a river cruise along the Douro including lunch and a stop in Amarante

2. Inside Amarante

Discover the charm of Amarante, a northern Portuguese town renowned for its rich musical traditions. Let a local expert escort you to key historical landmarks, including the Sao Gonçalo Church and the Sao Gonçalo Bridge. Delve into the storied past marked by Roman and French occupations. Stroll by the serene Tamega River and enjoy peaceful park scenery. Drop by the Amadeo de Souza Cardoso Museum, which you’re welcome to revisit post-tour. Enjoy a leisurely guided walk through Amarante sipping coffee or tea.

Go on a walking tour of Amarante

3. Wine Safari in the Vinho Verde Region

Begin your adventure in Porto in a classic Land Rover bound for Amarante, the heart of the Vinho Verde wine region. Known for its crisp and refreshing wines, this area is especially popular during the summer months. Following a brief coffee break, venture through the gorgeous scenery to a vineyard where you’ll sample three distinct wines. Relax and enjoy a carefully prepared picnic featuring top-notch, local produce amidst the vineyard’s picturesque setting.

Go on a wine safari in the Vinho Verde region with a stop in Amarante

Things to Do in Amarante

1. Walk over the Ponte de Sāo Gonçalo and explore the Sāo Gonçalo Church

The Ponte de São Gonçalo and the Igreja de São Gonçalo are central to Amarante’s identity and history. The original Ponte de São Gonçalo bridge was constructed in the 13th century but was destroyed by a flood in 1763.

A new bridge made of granite was erected in its place in 1790. This bridge became a battleground during the Peninsula War in 1809, when Portuguese and French forces clashed. Today, a commemorative plaque at the bridge’s southeastern end honors the memory of this battle.

Nearby, the São Gonçalo Church and Convent is undoubtedly the crown jewel of Amarante. Standing out with its impressive red dome, it is prominently visible against the town’s skyline and boasts a strategic position above the bridge. Started by Dom João III in 1540, the construction spanned over four decades.

Adjacent to the monastery, a splendid Mannerist portal adorned with tall niches showcases granite statues from the 17th century. Foreground figures include St. Francis and St. Domingos de Gusmão, while St. Gonçalo, St. Peter the Martyr, and St. Thomas Aquinas grace the background, all under the watchful eye of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Iglesia de San Pedro de Amarante, albolm911, Flickr

Atop this ensemble sits the royal emblem. São Gonçalo, the town’s guardian saint known for helping single women with finding husbands, has his limestone sarcophagus within the monastery. Legend has it that touching the tomb could bring marriage more quickly.

Over time, the saint’s effigy has been smoothed by countless hopefuls seeking love. Additionally, the church’s interior houses the Santa Rita Cássia chapel, featuring a gold-leafed wooden altar and an exquisite 18th-century organ, upheld by three golden, bearded mythological figures.

Ponte de São Gonçalo, Vítor Ribeiro, Flickr

2. Relax at the Parque Florestal de Amarante

The Parque Florestal is a beautiful escape within the city and offers a verdant landscape ideal for relaxation and recreation. This park, with its well-maintained trails, is perfect for a leisurely walk, jog, or picnic. It has a peaceful ambiance and is a favorite spot for nature lovers and families. The playgrounds and open spaces are particularly popular among children.

Parque Florestal, Amarante, nmmacedo, Flickr

3. Enjoy a wine tasting tour in the Vinho Verde region

Amarante lies in the heart of the Vinho Verde wine region known for its unique green wines. Visitors can try a number of wine tastings to explore local vineyards and learn about the wine-making process. These tours often include visits to historic wineries and often include a boat cruise in the world-famous Douro Valley.

White wine, Iva Mananquil, Flickr

4. Experience the thrill of water sports on the Tâmega River and cool off at Amarante Water Park

The Tâmega River, with its clear waters and natural beauty, is an ideal spot for water sports enthusiasts. Activities like kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding are popular here, offering a fun and adventurous way to explore the river’s surroundings. The river’s varying currents cater to both beginners and experienced adventurers, making it a great destination for a day of aquatic fun.

The Amarante Water Park is a 15-minute drive from the center of Amarante. You will find various types of water slides along with toboggans and swimming pools for adults and children.

Amarante Water Park, Ana Matias, Flickr

5. Discover the art of Amarante at the Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso Museum

Dedicated to the renowned Portuguese painter Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, this museum showcases an impressive collection of his works, along with pieces by other contemporary artists.

Located in a historic building, the museum caters to lovers of both art and architecture. Its exhibitions provide insight into the modernist movement in Portugal and Amarante’s contribution to the arts. Please note that the museum is closed for lunch every day from 12:30 pm – 2 pm, with admission closing at 12:00 pm for the break.

Untitled (c.1913) – Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, Pedro Ribeiro Simões, Flickr

Where to Eat in Amarante

Amarante offers a diverse and rich culinary landscape that reflects the town’s deep cultural heritage and its location in the fertile Douro region. Visitors to Amarante can indulge in various dining experiences, from traditional Portuguese cuisine, showcasing local specialties such as Vinho Verde and succulent meats, to more international offerings such as pizza.

The town’s charming riverside provides a gorgeous backdrop to its array of eateries, ranging from cozy, family-run taverns to upscale, gourmet restaurants. This variety ensures that Amarante caters to all tastes and preferences, making it a gastronomic destination worth exploring. Don’t miss its unique local conventual sweets and, if you dare, one of its phallic pastries.

Here are our 5 favorite restaurants in Amarante.

1. Casa Herédio

Casa Herédio stands out as a restaurant with one of Amarante’s most beautiful locations with fantastic views of the Tâmega River. The main courses here are not very big and are served tapas style.

Try the queijo no forno or the suckling pig sandwich. There are balcony seats facing either the church and the square or the river and both options really capture the feeling of the town while you are enjoying delicious food. Wash it all down with a glass of Vinho Verde, which this region is famous for. Lunch on the weekends can get crowded so please try to arrive early or book ahead. 

Expect to spend around €50 for a meal for two, but the exceptional location and service justify the price.

2. Taberna do Coelho

Taberna do Coelho is a quick 7-minute drive from the center of Amarante and the standout dish here by far is the cabrito assado no forno (oven-roasted goat). Feijoada is another favorite, which is a stew of beans with beef and pork.

Dishes are served in traditional clay cookware and meat is usually roasted along with potatoes, a Portuguese classic. Keep in mind that Taberna do Coelho is only open Friday, Saturday, and to Sunday until lunchtime so plan accordingly if you’d like to visit this charming restaurant. A meal for two here averages about €60.

3. Pobre Telo

Despite the name, this restaurant offers a rich dining experience with easy parking nearby and another gorgeous location where the elegant and the rustic merge. You will feel like royalty when you walk through these doors and your stomach will feel the same as you treat it to traditional Portuguese served with flair.

Try the octopus, cod, and veal steak. Be sure to finish off your meal with traditional sweets from Amarante (see the next two places on our list). Service can sometimes be a little slow, but relaxing in this sumptuous environment makes up for the wait. Prices are higher (around €75 for two), but the culinary experience is unparalleled.

4. Confeitaria da Ponte

Confeitaria da Ponte, near the iconic São Gonçalo Bridge, is the perfect spot for a casual meal or a refreshing drink. Known for its friendly atmosphere, it serves a wide range of snacks, sandwiches, pastries, and excellent coffee. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the scenic view of the Tâmega River. Take the opportunity here to try local sweets such as the Papos de Anjo (translated as “angel’s double-chin), a traditional Portuguese conventual sweet made from whipped egg yolks, baked, and then boiled in sugar syrup.

You can also find Lérias, small sweets made from egg yolks, almonds, and sugar. Finally, look for the Brisas do Tâmega, stuffed with almond kernels and egg jam. So much goodness in one charming place. Depending on how many sweets you go for, you may end up spending as much as €10 per person if you also add in a coffee.

Sweets from Amarante, Photo by Becky Gillespie

5. Doçaria Mário

Sweets, sweets, and more sweets. If Confeitaria da Ponte isn’t enough for you, make another sugar stop at Doçaria Mario. With lovely wooden interiors and an incredible view of the river including a generous terrace, time slows down to the pace of the river here and you may find yourself ordering a second coffee as you forget about the busy life in Portugal’s larger cities.

The previously mentioned Confeitaria da Ponte is a common stop for tour groups coming through the area so you may want to come here to avoid the crowds. Prices here are a bit high and you can expect to pay about €10 per person here with coffee, but you may find that it’s worth it for the exquisite location.

Getting around in Amarante

Renting a car in Amarante offers flexibility to explore this picturesque city and its surroundings. Amarante is less congested than Porto or Braga, making driving enjoyable.

Prices vary, starting from approximately 20 euros per day, depending on the car model and rental duration. Booking in advance online can secure better deals and ensure availability. Amarante’s roads are well-maintained, offering a smooth driving experience through its scenic landscapes.

Once in Amarante, a car allows easy access to local attractions such as the São Gonçalo Church and the Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso Museum. Parking is readily available in the city center and near major tourist spots. For those planning to explore the Douro Valley or the smaller towns in the region, a car is invaluable for flexibility and convenience.

Rent a Car in Porto

If you are staying near Porto in northern Portugal, then you can book this tour to the Douro Valley that stops in Amarante on the way for €89.10. This tour gives you a more premium small group option that includes visits to two prestigious wine estates paired with a 3-course lunch starting at €130. There is also another tour of Amarante itself exploring the art and gastronomy for €75.

Final Thoughts

Amarante, Portugal, captivated me from my very first visit, which I first visited on a tour of the Douro Valley. From the moment I emerged from the car, I marveled at the beauty of the city and how it had preserved its historic charm. Except for the tourists who get dropped off for 30-minute stops on their Douro Valley tours, the town is still relatively undiscovered by tourists. 

The city’s compact size makes it perfect for visiting its historic sites or quickly disappearing into the leafy parks beyond its center or the Marão Mountains beyond. Its narrow streets, flanked by traditional houses and cafes, lead to delightful discoveries at every turn. Amarante’s culinary scene is a celebration of Portuguese cuisine, with local pastries and wines that are a must-try for any visitor.

The best time to visit Amarante for a first-timer is the first weekend in June for the Festival of São Gonçalo, one of Portugal’s most bizarre and colorful festivals. This is when young and unmarried couples exchange phallic-shaped cakes known as Bolos de Sāo Gonçalo. Some of these cakes sold in the market stalls can reach up to one foot in length (most impressive indeed).

The scene is unique, featuring phallus-shaped flags and church group parades. Local grandmothers sell home-baked willy cakes in various sizes. When the clock strikes midnight on the second day of the festival, the people of Amarante are treated to a spectacular fireworks display.

Phallic cake from Amarante, Will Richards, Flickr

In conclusion, Amarante is a destination that deserves more than a fleeting visit. If you’re drawn to places where arriving feels like stepping back in time to a place with its own distinct culture surrounded by nature, Amarante will surely enchant you.

If you would like to check out some other towns nearby, visit Porto, Braga, or Guimarāes.

⬇️Please share your favorite activities and things to do in Amarante in the comments below ⬇️

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