Paço Ducal

Alto Alentejo

The equestrian statue of Joao IV and Palace Square (Terreiro Do Paco) of the Ducal Palace of Vila Vicosa (Paco Ducal). Portugal, 17th century.

Getty Images/DeAgostini

The dukes of Bragança built their palace in the early 16th century when the fourth duke, Dom Jaime, grew tired of his uncomfortable hilltop castle. The wealthy family, originally from Bragança in Trás-os-Montes, settled in Vila Viçosa in the 15th century. After the eighth duke became king in 1640, it changed from a permanent residence to just another royal palace, but the family maintained a special fondness for it and Dom João IV and his successors continued to visit.

The palace’s best furniture went to Lisbon after Dom João IV ascended the throne, and some went on to Brazil after the royal family fled there in 1807, but there are still some stunning pieces on display, such as a huge 16th-century Persian rug in the Dukes Hall. Lots of royal portraits put into context the interesting background of the royal family.

The private apartments hold a ghostly fascination – toiletries, knick-knacks and clothes of Dom Carlos and his wife Marie-Amélia are laid out as if the royal couple were about to return (Dom Carlos left one morning in 1908 and was assassinated in Lisbon that afternoon).

A Portuguese-speaking guide leads the compulsory hour-long tours. English tours are offered at 11am on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Other parts of the Ducal Palace, including the 16th-century cloister, house more museums containing specific collections and with separate admission fees (armoury/coach collection/Chinese porcelain/treasury €3/3/2.50/2.50).