Casa de Mateus

Top choice in Trás-os-Montes

Vila Real, Portugal - 13 August 2019: Reflection of villa in front of entrance of Mateus Palace in Vila Real, Portugal; Shutterstock ID 1541661125; your: Bridget Brown; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial; full: POI Image Update

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Famously depicted on bottles of Mateus rosé, the 18th-century Casa de Mateus is one of Portugal’s great baroque masterpieces – probably the work of Italian-born architect Nicolau Nasoni. Guided tours of the mansion (in English, French, Spanish and German) take you through the main quarters, which combine rusticity with restrained grandeur.

The palace's granite wings shelter a lichen-encrusted forecourt dominated by an ornate stairway and guarded by rooftop statues. Surrounding the palace is a fantasy of a garden, with tiny boxwood hedges, prim statues and a fragrant cypress tunnel that’s blissfully cool on even the hottest days. (Don’t miss the fanciful 5m-tall curved ladders used to prune the tunnel’s exterior branches!)

Inside, the library contains one of the first illustrated editions of Luís Vaz de Camões’ Os Lusíadas, Portugal’s most important epic poem, while another room houses an unintentionally droll collection of religious bric-a-brac, including three dozen macabre relics bought from the Vatican in the 18th century: a bit of holy fingernail, a saintly set of eyeballs, and the inevitable piece of the true cross – each with the Vatican’s proof of authenticity.

Near the guided tour starting point, the palace's adega (wine cellar) offers tastings of three locally produced ports (€5) or five DOP Douro wines (€4). Especially interesting is the Alvarelhão, which is essentially the same fine rosé originally bottled by Mateus in the 1940s.

The palace is 3.5km east of the town centre. Take Urbanos de Vila Real ( bus 1 (€1.50, 15 minutes) towards the university (UTAD). It leaves from the Tribunal stop in Praça Luís de Camões, just north of the turismo, roughly half-hourly between 7.45am and 8.30pm, with fewer buses on weekends. Ask for ‘Mateus’ and the driver will set you down about 250m from the palace (if you don’t ask, he may not stop).