You won't be dazzled by "must-see" monuments, although the historic core as a whole makes for an interesting walk. Vila Real is called a Royal Town because it contains many formerly aristocratic houses dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It's fun to poke your nose down the tiny offshoot streets, hoping to make discoveries. The main monuments are concentrated in and around Avenida Carvalho Araújo.
Chief among these is the Capela Nova (New Chapel), sometimes called the Capela dos Clérigos (Chapel of the Clergy) by the locals. It is the finest baroque monument in Vila Real. The architecture might have been the work of Nicolau Nasoni, the 18th-century master. It has a floral facade. The chapel lies 2 blocks east of the cathedral, Rua dos Combatentes da Grande Guerra, between Rua Direita and Rua 31 de Janeiro. It is open daily 10am to noon and 2 to 6pm. Admission is free.
Farther north is Igreja São Pedro (St. Peter's Church), at Largo de São Pedro, just off the main street. From 1528, though much altered over the ages, this church has an intriguing interior, with much baroque gilt carving and a chancel adorned with colorful tiles. Its main attraction, and reason enough for a visit, is the coffered ceiling of carved and gilded wood. It is open daily 8am to 8pm. Admission is free.
The Câmara Municipal (Town Hall), Avenida Carvalho Araújo (tel. 25/930-81-00), also merits a look. It has an Italian Renaissance-style stone staircase constructed in the early 1800s. In front is a lantern pillory. It is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5:30pm. Admission is free.
Although it's not open to the public, you can stop to admire the Casa de Diogo Cão, Av. Carvalho Araújo 19. This is the reputed birthplace of the navigator who discovered the Congo River in 1482. The exterior of the house was altered, and it now reflects 16th-century Renaissance style. Although the explorer visited the legendary King Manicongo, and the powerful monarch reportedly was baptized as a Christian, little is known about Cão. Dom João II concealed all records in the Torre do Tombo in Lisbon to keep the discoveries from the Castilians. The earthquake of 1755 destroyed the archives.
The greatest attraction in the area lies not in Vila Real, but 4km (2 1/2 miles) east of the city, on the N322 highway signposted to Sabrosa. The grapes of the original Mateus rosé wine were grown in vineyards here, and it is also home to the Casa de Mateus -- a perfect example of baroque architecture, with a stunning facade preceded by a "mirror" of water. This is the building pictured on the Mateus wine label. Dating from the first half of the 18th century, the main section of the manor house has a stunning balustraded staircase and a high-emblazoned pediment surrounded by allegorical statues. Sacheverell Sitwell called it "the most typical and the most fantastic country home in Portugal." The twin wings of the manor advance "lobsterlike," in Sitwell's words.
An ornamental stone balustrade guards the main courtyard, and lovely pinnacles crown the roof cornices. The architect is unknown, although some authorities claim it was the work of Nicolau Nasoni, who might have designed the Capela Nova .
The manor house and the gardens are open for tours (tel. 25/932-31-21; www.casademateus.com). The house contains heavy silk hangings, high wooden ceilings, paintings of bucolic scenes, and a tiny museum. You'll see vestments, Sèvres vases, and an 1817 edition of the Portuguese classic, The Lusiads, printed in Paris. The gardens are among the most beautiful in Europe, with a tunnel of cypress trees shading the path.
From March to September, the site is open daily 9am to 7pm; off-season, it's open daily 10am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm. A full guided tour costs 7€ per person. It's 4.50€ just to tour the gardens.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.