The Cistercian Order to the south of the river Douro
Beginning its trajectory in Spain, the river Douro crosses Portugal from east to west, flowing into the Atlantic, next to the city of Oporto. Until construction of the railway in the 19th century, the river served as the region's main access route, filled with "rabelo" boats that transported products from the interior to the coast, including the most famous product of them all, Port wine. The entire Douro valley, due to its incomparable beauty, was listed as a world Heritage site by UNESCO, as a unique example of age-old human culture.
The river’s left bank was one of the main sites of election for an important series of Cistercian abbeys, huge landholdings and permanent settlements, including rich manor houses that managed a wide array of resources, taking advantage of the local salt and fish caught from the sea, controlling fishing and river rights, vineyards and fields dedicated to cereal crops and also exploiting iron mines and metallurgical workshops.
As we journey from the coast up the river, we begin by visiting the Monastery of São Pedro and São Paulo de Arouca. Then continuing our journey, towards Lamego, a village that is very rich in historical monuments, and in whose environs we find the majority of the Cistercian monasteries, we begin by visiting the monastery of São João de Taroucao - the first to be founded in Portuguese territory. The monastery of Santa Maria de Salzedas, a few kilometres away, is the next stop in this pilgrimage to the Cistercian Order. On the way, we may also visit the Bridge of Ucanha, a mediaeval construction that marks one of the entrances into the monastery's enclosed grounds.
Further north, not far from the town of Tabuaço and benefiting from proximity with the River Távora, that flows into the Douro, we discover the monastery of São Pedro das Águias. To the south, near to Moimenta da Beira and Sernancelhe, we visit the monasteries of Nossa Senhora da Purificação de Moimenta da Beira and of Nossa Senhora da Assunção de Tabosa, which are examples of feminine Cistercian communities.
The last stage in this itinerary dedicated to Cistercian order, takes us to Portugal's eastern border, in Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, in order to visit the monastery of Santa Maria de Aguiar, next to the historical village of Castelo Rodrigo.
And since it's on our way, why not stop in Penedono -- the location of one of Portugal's most original castles, and in Marialva - another historical village topped by an impressive castle, which was an important military outpost in the Middle Ages.