12. Jun, 2017

Monção by the Minho river, North of Portugal

My father was born in Monção by the Minho river and in front of another small and fortified Spanish town: Salvaterra do Miño. His great grandfather was a Galician from a small village called As Neves around 10km from Salvaterra do Miño. He was a cattle trader that used to carry out his business between Monção and the neighboring Galician villages. Due to his life of border crossing activities between the two countries,  to carry out his business, he had a wife in Monçao and another one in As Neves. From these two known relationships he had 5 sons in Monção and 3 daughters in As Neves. A long time ago my father introduced me to some of the Galician blood relatives, but due to my long absence from the area I sadly lost the contact with them. About 8 years ago I recovered the family house ( where my father was born) and reconstructed it. Since then I’ve been enjoying the summer holidays at my house in Monçao. This area is  full of small charming farm houses rected from big blocks of stone, from the nearbu quarries, most of them fortified, and with a peaceful atmosphere. Today, I’m going to describe Monçao’s, its favorite dishes and Alvarinho wine.

This fortified village on the bank of the River Minho, home to spas and the Alvarinho wine, was once the backdrop to the many battles between the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile. Its Sueve name Orosion was translated to Latin as Mons Sanctus that subsequently evolved into the Portuguese Monção. In 1291, Portuguese king Afonso III granted it a royal charter and in 1306, king Dinis ordered the construction of the old defensive castle. Its walls still welcome the visitor. Looking out over the river Minho, with its appealing terraces and belvederes, such as the Neris esplanade, it would be hard to imagine that this was the scene of ferocious combat in the battles between the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile. Not to mention that such combat would draw out the great bravery of three women: Deuladeu Martins, Mariana de Lencastre and Helena Peres. Now, memories of the good and the bad are relived in the charming popular traditions of the Coca Festival, celebrated every year on Corpus Christi Thursday.

“Deu la Deu” is a local legend dating back to 1368 (aprox.), when Monçao which facing a sieged by the  Castilian army. The story says that at that time, there was almost no food resources on both sides and Monçao couldn’t keep its gates closed any longer or they would starve. Nevertheless  Deu-la-Deu Martins (supposedly the wife of the towns major) ordered the hungry inhabitants to gather all the flour they had left (not much) and baked as much bread loafs as they could. Once they had baked all the bread loafs, she went to the top of the walls and threw the fresh bread to the Castilian army, shouting: “Deu la deu”,( meaning “God gave them”) and “if you want more, let us know”. The Castilian soldiers, thinking that the town of Monçao still had enough resources lost faith and fled. While there is no certain evidence on this, there are several statues in Monçao and it is portrayed at the towns’ coat of arms.

This old village, which does not have many international tourists, besides the neighbors from the nearby Galician villages, has an attractive old stretch where lie the remains of its 14th century fortresses, which guarded the river from high up. However, the big lure of the city is its Vinho verde de Alvarinho (Alvarinho green wine) and the modern spa centre known as Termas de Monção (Monção Baths). On the Praça Deu-la-Deu Square there is a beautiful fountain crowned by the namesake statue with the hand on its chest, gazing with desire to the cafés; while in the North end is the Senhora da Vista bastion, which offers views toward Spain. Nearby stands the Capela da Misericórdia Chapel, with a coffered ceiling roof with painted cherubs. Walking in easterly direction through the Rua da Glória Street, we will reach the beautiful little (Parish Church), with Romanesque origin. In this church Deu-la-Deu is buried to rest. 

The spa of Monção situated close to the border with Galicia, at the northernmost edge of the Minho region, in the midst of a leafy park by the side of the Minho river, the spa exudes peace, quiet and freedom. The spa is located 700 metres from the center of Monção, known since 1726, this spa is located in a beautiful park (Parque das Caldas), by the Minho River, bordering Spain. The resort is equipped with the latest technologies in hydrotherapy, which optimizes the use of mineral resources and medical supplies to treat bronchitis, rheumatism and respiratory tract infections in a setting of great natural beauty, in the heart of the demarcated Vinho Verde region, where Alvarinho, one of the world´s truly unique wines, is produced. Equipped with some of the most modern facilities in the country, this spa resort is surrounded by lush green vegetation, making it impossible to resist the desire to stroll amongst the centuries-old trees that are to be found there. An ideal place for enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation the thermal springs have a large aquatic area with jacuzzis, tiny waterfalls and a children's swimming area. In addition to dips in the warm springs, a wide variety of spa treatments are available,. Open all year. 

A mainstay of the Minho region, Alvarinho provides the steely structure to most Vinho Verde white wines while being the personality and predominant grape in those examples emanating specifically from Monção. Its zesty acid, bright citrus and green apple flavors, and refreshing personality make it a superb seafood wine. The albarinho is a variety of white grapes from Galicia (Spain) and northern Portugal (alvarinho), as well as wines made with this grape variety, especially in the wines of the Rías Baixas Denomination of Origin.The fact of the Monção Region is in a prime location with a soil and a special microclimate favorable to the cultivation of the vine, is the main reason that led to the production of nectar as "Alvarinho" that is imposed on the range of wines domestic and foreign Only in Monção and Melgaço, the "Alvarinho" wine presents conditions of marked distinction. Here it manifests qualities that distinguish perfectly and easily natural reasons microclimate and soil made this region the cradle of Alvarinho.  White variety of high quality, is the most noble grape varieties of the demarcated Vinho Verde Region, is recommended in the Monção Region and Melgaço caste as its own for the production of wine with designation of origin Alvarinho. The Alvarinho is white, small bunch, low berry yield, which does not have as much juice as other becoming being this the secret of their concentration, density and its high price in the final product. Each producer also gives the wine a personal touch that contributes to greater diversity in the universe of Alvarinho wines. The Alvarinho wine is like a white wine, fresh taste of lemon color and delicate aroma, has a refined character, which makes it one of the best wines in the world.

On the outskirts, there is the Church of Longos Vales, a rare example of Romanic architecture, and the impressive Palace of Brejoeira, where the famous lightly sparkling Alvarinho wine is produced. This completes the heritage of Monção. This monumental palace is situated in the modest population of Pinheiros (Monção) and was classified a National Monument in the year 1919. It is a neoclassical palace, built according to the plans of the architect Carlos Amarante.In the interior one can see several rooms decorated in neoclassical style. Surrounding the palace is the Quinta da Brejoeira, composed of 30 hectares, of which 18 are dedicated to the Alvarinho vineyard; 8 are of forest and about 1 is covered by magnificent gardens with centenarian trees. Brejoeira Palace Alvarinhois a light, fresh and aromatic wine, which although young - was subjected to a bottle stage of at least 6 months. It reveals a brilliant color, straw, with citrus reflections, with intense aroma. When young it has aromas and flavors of quince and floral nuances, gaining with bottle time an almond character, with a complex, harmonious and persistent flavor. 

Some of the most important festivities in this city are the Feira do Alvarinho (Alvarinho Fair), celebrated for five days at the end of May with music, folklore dances and plenty food and drink; the Festa do Corpo de Deus, which is the biggest festivity in Monção and takes place the ninth Thursday after Easter; and the Festa da Nossa Senhora das Dores, a big festivity celebrated for five days on the third week of August, headed by a procession.