Vila Real

The reason to visit Vila Real, the capital of the province of Trás-os-Montes and birthplace of Diogo Cão (the explorer who discovered the Congo River in 1482), is for the Baroque Mateus Palace, 4km (2.5 miles) east of the town. Described by Sacheverell Sitwell as "the most fantastic country house in Portugal", it has been made famous worldwide for being featured on the label of Mateus Rosé wine and it is well worth a visit for a glimpse into the lives of the Portuguese aristocracy.

Built in 1745, it is considered a perfect example of baroque architecture, with an impressive façade made up of beautiful pinnacles on the roof and an ornate balustraded stairway, all reflecting on a pond in front of it.

Behind it is a delightful garden, Mateus Palace Gardens among the most beautiful in Europe, with box hedges, statues, and a spectacular cedar tunnel about 35m (115ft) long.

There are guided tours of the palace's interior, beginning at the entrance hall, with its carved chestnut ceiling and 18th-century furniture, leading into the Four Seasons Room which takes its name from its large 18th century paintings, and the Blue Room that features Chinese porcelain. Mateus Palace entrance The neighboring Dining Room contains stunning Portuguese china and silver, and the Four Corners Room has Indo-Portuguese furniture.

The town itself has a few buildings of interest, including an Italian Renaissance building on the town's main street, Avenida Carvalho Araujo, that is where Diogo Cão was born.

Vila Real Town

Hall Nearby is the 19th century Town Hall building, with a lantern pillory in front.

The town's cathedral, once part of a 15th century Dominican monastery, has a simple 15th century exterior, while farther north is the town's finest church, the Baroque São Pedro Church, with a ceiling of carved and gilded wood and a chancel adorned with colorful tiles. Also worth a look is the beautiful baroque chapel Capela Nova (also known as "Clérigos"), attributed to Nicolau Nazoni who also worked on Mateus Palace.

A stop at the tourism office is worth it if only to take a look at its Manueline windows.