By Mehdy Ghannad
Braga is the oldest and third largest city in all of Portugal, after Lisbon and Porto. The Portuguese have a saying, "You party in Lisbon, you work in Porto, and you pray in Braga." The reason for this is that the city is synonymous for having a plethora of Archbishops and is one of the oldest Christian cities in the world. However, Braga is greatly trying to shed this image greatly, and was actually awarded the European Youth Capital for 2012. What does that mean for the city? Well, there has been a lot of development in the nightlife area with a large growth of bars, restaurants, and cafes popping up all over the city all due to the increase of this said youth population.
I was only able to spend a few days in Braga, dodging the unfortunate weather, but when the rain stopped for a few hours and the sun peeked out through the clouds, the people started pouring out into the streets. Braga has many attractions to visit, such as the Bom Jesus do Monte, meaning “Good Jesus of the Mountain;" be ready to climb 381 feet up the baroque influenced stairway to catch the spectacular views of the city. Also, there is an elevator that is moved by water!
Other attractions to visit include the Estadio AXA, where the local Braga football (soccer) team plays, which is an engineering and architectural masterpiece, carved into the Monte Castro quarry. Architectural and engineering students from all over Europe come to visit and study this great display of architectural genius that cost 128 million euro to make. Steel cables are attached to each side of the stadium which are used as extra support; this is a tribute to the similar ways in which the Incas built their bridges. Also, this is a very unconventional stadium, as there is no seating behind each goal. The architect, Eduardo Souto de Moura, insisted that this is the proper way to watch a football match.
After taking in the aforementioned attractions on the outskirts of the city, I spent the rest of my time in Braga walking through history. The Roman emperor Augustus originally built the city and his mark can be greatly seen as you walk through the streets. Since then, there have been many different occupants of Braga that have also left their influence and charm visible in the city. However, Braga is also known for its shopping! This means that fans of fashion can hit the pedestrian only streets and shop to their hearts' content, where all the high fashion brands can be found.
Once again, Braga was named the European Youth Capital this year, so one does have to mention something about the nightlife. There are many bars, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs to choose from, but here is how I spent one of my evenings:
My first stop was Brac Resturante, for some appetizers and cocktails. The prices are a little more expensive then a budget minded person would want to spend, but the food and atmosphere are exceptional. I enjoyed a Mojito with a few appetizers such as Octopus Carpaccio, shrimp skewers, and a sausage dish that was mixed with broccoli that had a Cornish hen egg on top. While you are waiting for your appetizers, I strongly suggest you observe the local artwork on the wall or better yet, explore the old Roman houses that were excavated located in the back of the restaurant. How cool is that!
The next step was to get dinner, which included a 15-minute walk to Velhos Tempos Taberna to have the regional cuisine of duck rice. This rustic and affordable restaurant has an open kitchen where you can actually view your food being made, if you wish. Once again you must try the duck rice as people of the Minho region are said to be masters of it. Duck rice with a vinho verde (green wine) is definitely the way to go. Soups are also very tasty in this region as well!
It was now time for another cocktail and I was told to go to a bar called Espaço Quatorze (Space 14). The bar gets its name from the street address, just off of the main square, Praça da República. The owner, Eduardo, will ask you a few questions, based on what you just ate or previously drank, and will whip up a custom cocktail to keep you in the same flow. People of all ages can be found at 14, and this is actually a great spot for the later hours of the night.
Our last stop was a bar called, Subura where the 20 something crowd hangs out, but if you are not a fan of smoke I would stay away from this place. However on any given night you can find someone grabbing an acoustic guitar off of the wall and playing and singing. There is nothing like an organic acoustic outing.
Finally, I stumbled back to lay my dreary head down after a night of cocktails, wine, and extravagant and flavorful foods at Braga POP Hostel. Braga Pop Hostel is definitely a cozy spot and the owner Helena is extremely helpful and takes pride in letting people know the hot spots of the city. It is clean, modern, simple, and offers free WiFi, a nice breakfast with home made yogurt, and tea throughout the day. The many windows also offer great views of the surrounding area and bring in a lot of natural lighting. I did not get a chance to visit the local park as my stay in Braga was short and limited by the rain, but Helena from the hostel can help you organize a half a day trip to Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres.
Definitely make your way up north to Braga the next time you find yourself in Portugal.