Chaves is a small, attractive city in the historical region of Trás-os-Montes and one of the oldest cities in Portugal. With a population of about 18,000, it is the seat of a municipality containing many small villages, and having a population of about 40,000. Considered a border town, the center is located 10 km south of the Spanish border and 22 km south of Verín, Spain. It is the second most populous city of the district of Vila Real. The district capital, Vila Real, is 60 km south on the A24 toll-free motorway. Aquæ Flaviæ, Waters of Flavius, was the Roman name for this town, since the Romans build baths for the hot water here. Through linguistic change across the centuries Flaviae became Chaves.
Chaves is located in a fertile valley, surrounded by hills. Summers can be quite hot with temperatures over 35 lasting a week at a time. Summer nights are usually mild with average temperatures of 15º. Warm weather extends almost into November. Winter has average daytime temperatures of 10º in January. Frost is common as well as a valley fog that often doesn't lift for days. Spring often brings windy and changing weather, so you'd better bring a jacket or an umbrella with you. Daytime temperatures average 15º in March but can reach as high as 20º.
The easiest way to reach Chaves by plane is by arriving at Oporto airport, and then catching a bus or taking the highway to Chaves. By car the journey takes about one hour and a half from Porto. There are several major airlines flying to Oporto, including TAP, Brussels Airlines, Iberia, Air France, British Airways, Air Europa, and Lufthansa to name a few. In addition the airport is well served by low-cost airlines including Easy Jet, Ryanair, Transavia, Eurowings, Luxair, Monarch, Wizz Air Hungary, and Vueling.
Currently there is no train service. The nearest train station in Portuguese territory is in Régua, on the Douro River. There is the possibility of taking the train from Madrid to Ourense (an hour from Chaves by car). There are 10 trains a day from Madrid and the fares vary from 28.50 to 47.50 euros. Travel time is 4h.30 min. One can also get off the same train in the small town--really a village--of A Gudiña, located 32 kms. east of Verín. There are three trains a day that stop at A Gudiña; times are 13.05, 15.00, and 18.50. Travel time is 3hr30min and fares vary from 27.60 to 46.00 euros. From A Gudiña one would have to take the bus to Verín-30 minutes--and then a taxi or local bus to Chaves. This would probably only be a viable option if someone from Chaves came to pick you up.
There are three routes to Chaves on toll roads. The E1, A7, and A24 toll road (150 km.) passes close to Guimarães. The toll is 11.85.
The A41, A42, and A11 (154 km.) passes near Paços de Ferrreira and Felgueiras and connects to the A7 near Guimarães. The toll is roughly the same.
The A4 and A24 (162 km.) passes near Amarante and Vila Real. The toll is 9.45. The latter is perhaps the most scenic since it crosses scencic Marão mountain by way of a 7 kilometer tunnel and then crosses one of the longest bridges (2.79 kms.) in Iberia near Vila Real. It is well worth the extra time.
On the Spanish side, there are free highways from Madrid to the Portuguese border at Vila Verde da Raia, a village that is part of the municipality of Chaves. The travel time is 4h33 from Barajas Airport for 468 kilometers with a toll for the Guadarrama tunnel, which can be avoided by leaving the highway at Guadarrama and rejoining it at Adanero.
There are two bus companies that connect Chaves with Porto. Rodonorte has 7 buses a day with a travel time of two hours and forty minutes. Viação do Tâmega has 6 buses a day with fares of 13.80. From Madrid to Verín Avanzabus  has three buses a day, 10:00, 14:30, and 23:55 with fares of 32.00 euros. Travel times are 5:45min. From Verín you can reach Chaves by taxi or by local bus.
Chaves is a very walkable city, with the major sites accessible on foot. There are also many inexpensive taxis located at taxi stands and a public bus service, Transportes Urbanos de Chaves, or TUC. Fares are 0.90 with ten tickets costing 7.00 euros. Buses are rather infrequent and do not run on weekends or after 19.00. Bicycles can be rented at Run e Bike , located at Rua D.Afonso III nº50 5400-027, Chaves.
Chaves Castle and the Medieval quarter
When Chaves was recaptured from the Moors in 1160 it was fortified to protect the Tâmega valley from the Spanish stronghold of Verín, 27 km. furthr up the same valley. The castle keep, an imposing battlemented tower, and a section of the outer wall are all that remain of the medieval castle built by King Dinis. Surrounded by a pretty and well kept garden, with colorful flower borders, the keep is now used to house a modest military museum housing guns and armour together with information on the Portuguese experience in World War I. There is a superb view of the town and valley from the battlements.
North of the castle is the old quarter of Chaves, dating back to medieval times. The original walls are now long gone but one can get a feeling of life from a bygone era in the narrow streets with overhanging wooden balconies. The main street, now pedestrianized, is Rua Direita, or Direct Street, which once ran from the east wall to the west wall. Now some of the old houses have been converted into bars and small restaurants. In an open square, the Praça de Camões, lies the city hall, with a statue of the Duke of Bragança in front. On the south side is a museum containing artifacts from the Roman period. East of it is the baroque Igreja da Misericordia. It is worth visiting for its fine and extensive tiles depicting scenes from the Bible and the life of Christ. There is a Manueline pillory in the center of the square. On the east end is the parish church of Santa Maria Maior, which has gone through several periods of construction, beginning with the Romanesque.
The Roman Bridge
There are vestiges of the Roman occupation in several areas of the town. Recently, in front of the courthouse, just west of the Roman Bridge a project was completed enclosing termal baths that had been discovered while excavations were being carried out to build a new parking garage. The site is awaiting the long-awaited public opening. Rumors are that the engineers had not taken into consideration that the hot steam would cloud up the glass that the public would use for viewing the baths below.
A short distance to the east is the often photographed Roman Bridge, erected during the reign of Trajan. Two columns can be seen in the middle. They are stout cylindrical columns with details of the honours bestowed by the emperor on local governors or generals clearly legible on them. They were also milestones indicating distances to the important settlements of Astorga in Spanish Leon and Braga. The bridge has been closed to vehicle traffic so tourists can loiter at their own east. On the other side of the bridge is the neighborhood of Madalena with a cluster of rather run-down buildings and several butcher shops and agriculture equipment shops. Chaves is still a land of farmers and there are many shops catering to their needs. With its back to the river is another church, São João de Deus, which has an ornate rooftop, seen only at a distance. The interior is disappointingf and probably not worth a visit from an artistic point of view.
Forte São Francisco
In the seventeenth century the government embarked on the building of forts to protect the northern border against foreign invasion, which at the time meant Spain. It had to fortify itself, garrison the nearby hilltops, in order to keep them from being occupied by enemy artillery. The first to be considered was the hill of Pedisqueira, where there was a Franciscan convent. Decided during the final phase of the Portuguese Restoration War (1640-1668), to build a fort according to the modern concepts of military engineering. This fort played an important role in the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal in 1807 when it was captured by Marshall Soult and then retaken when a light garrison was left to guard it. It was also the scene of several pro-royalist revolts in the early eighteenth century and later in 1910.
Today the old fort has been converted into a four star hotel, Hotel Forte São Francisco. Vistors can enter the grounds and visit the original chapel of what was once a convent before the construction of the fort.
The fort is based on the Vauban system, with a four-pointed star, each one serving as a lookout tower. The walls are all of granite, with about one meter of thickness. The height varies according to the slope of the terrain, but the maximum point has 20 meters. The main entrance faces the south, with a drawbridge over the moat that no longer exists. There are other gates, to the east and west. To go inside we follow a tunnel that leads to the center of the fort. Inside, besides the old church of São Francisco, where for three centuries lay the sarcophagus of the first Duke of Bragança, there are other buildings which have been artistically converted into hotel rooms. These had served the army as barracks for many years, and later were used to lodge families that had returned from the Portuguese colonies when these got their independence in the 1970s. A visit to the fort is well worth it, if not to stay in the hotel, but only to walk around the outside walls and contemplate the impressive view of Chaves.
Museu de Arte Contemporâneo de Nadir Afonso This is a multi-million euro building designed by renowned Portuguese architect Siza Viera, which contains the works of Nadir Afonso, (December 4, 1920 – December 11, 2013) who was a Portuguese geometric abstractionist painter. Nadir Afonso produced mainly paintings and serigraphs. His preferred materials were acrylic paint on canvas (bigger works), and gouache on paper (smaller works, often studies for bigger works). His best-known and most distinctive work is the Cities series, each painting usually representing a city from anywhere in the world. Afonso was born in Chaves.
The museum is located on the west bank of the Tâmega River and sits on pillars to protect it from the periodic river floods.
São Neutel Fort
This is another fort dating from the seventeenth century (1664-1668) and completed the defense bulwark against a possible attack from Spain. It has a quadrangular shape, adapted to the terrain, with bulwarks on the ends. Built in the Vauban style it is protected by a dry moat and by a second defensive line.
Access to the fort is made through a solid stone bridge, which connects the outer wall to the weapons door. The walls, of granite, are a meter thick and have a height that varies from seven to ten meters.
Although impressive from the outside the fort is still military property and the public is not allowed inside.
There is a Casino on the western outskirts of the town near the A24 tollroad. It is run by the Sol Verde group and offers shows with dinner included. The restaurant has an Executive menu for 15.00 euros. The casino includes a hotel, the Hotel Casino Chaves, which has an indoor pool and a gym.
Feira dos Santos Chaves is famous in the north for its annual fair, which takes place around November 1, All Saints Day. Once an agricultural fair for the villagers who came down out of the hills to buy farm equipment, animals, or to stock up on provisions, all that has long since been replaced by fun fair rides, and a slew of stands selling everything from African handicrafts to umbrellas and socks. Many of the stands are now operated by assorted South Americans with Indian features, Africans, and the ever present gypsies. Roulettes appear on every corner selling churros and farturas (fat churros with cream inside). For three days traffic is blocked off in the center and it is difficult to drive around town.
Feira Medieval (Medieval Fair) Like many medieval fairs there are traditional foods and drink, a lot of bagpipe music, and jesters. This takes place in September.
Festa dos Povos (Festival of the Peoples) This is a festival celebrating the Roman heritage of Chaves. There are gladiators and belly dancers, together with dozens of stalls selling "Roman" products. This takes place from 19 August to 22 August.
Festa dos Sabores (Festival of Tastes) This takes place in February and consists of stalls selling different breads, hams, smoked meats, honey, and cheeses from the region.
Typical purchases in Chaves are local hams, which are actually not produced in Chaves, but in outlying villages, and the popular pastel de Chaves, a fried pastry with ground meat and herbs inside. Since Chaves was not a center of convents there are no traditional sweets nor are there any local cheeses. The entire region is famous for its smoked meats.
At last count there were over 60 restaurants in Chaves, many of them with two or three tables catering to tradesmen. Prices are quite reasonable when compared to other countries farther to the north. One can easily eat for less than 10 euros and there are some dishes being offered for less than five. Drinks, including wine and beer, are one half or less the price of countries like France or the Netherlands. In general prices are about 25% less than Spain. Another factor that makes your restaurant bill a lot lower is that tips are rarely left, unless service was something special.
Some prices from Numbeo :
Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant 5.50€ Range 5.00-6.50
Meal for 2 People, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course 25.00€ Range 12.00-30.00
McMeal at McDonalds (or Equivalent Combo Meal) 5.15€ Range 4.50-6.00
Domestic Beer (0.5 liter draught) 1.35€ Range 1.00-1.50
Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle) 1.35€ Range 1.50-2.00
Cappuccino (regular) 1.00€ Range 0.90-1.20
Coke/Pepsi (0.33 liter bottle) 1.13€ Range 0.90-1.50
Water (0.33 liter bottle) 0.76 €
Restaurant Pensão Flávia: traditional Portuguese food with the catch that the customer decides how much he wants to pay. Travessa Candido dos Reis, 12 | 5400-154 +351 961 693 890
McDonald's: R. Dom Afonso Duque de Bragança 1, 5400-323 Chaves. In the south entrance of the town in front of the E.Leclerk Supermarket.
Restaurante Pizzaria Tres Cozinhas: Viaduto Raposeira, Chaves 5400-484. Italian, Portuguese, and Pizzaria. Hard to find, but near the hospital.
Tomate Azul: Av. Xavier Teixeira, Chaves 5400-569. Located near the traffic circle called O Monumento, near the old cemetery. Sandwiches, especially "francesinhas".
Cave da Picanha: Edificio Brasilia Avenida Dom Afonso de Braganca. In front of the E.Leclerk Supermarket. They specialize in grilled meats in the Brazilian style. Very reasonable. Price range: 10.00 to 15.00 euros.
Restaurante Chinês Jing Hua: Rua do Sol. Located near the spa. Economical. Price range: 10.00 to 15.00 euros.
Piu Piu: on the highway leading out of town towards Vidago. They specialize in grilled chicken. Price range: 7.00 to 10.00 euros.
O Miradouro: out of town on the Valpaços road, overlooking the city. The price range is 10.00 to 20.00. Worth it for the view.
O Príncipe: next to the abovementioned Tomate Azul. Seafood is the specialty here. Price range: 10.00 to 20.00 euros.
Restaurante O Lavrador: Avenida Dom João I, near the E.Leclerk supermarket. Portuguese cuisine specializing in grilled meats and codfish.
A Talha: Rua Tenente Ferreira da Silva N 6 8, Chaves 5400-24. On the road leading from town to the Casino. Specializing in grilled meats.
Quinta da Cera: Rua Quinta da Cera 23, Chaves 5400-583. Hard to find, behind apartment blocks. Portuguese food.
Restaurante Carvalho: Jardim do Tabolado | Bloco 4, Chaves. Located near the spa in a block of cafés and bars. Once the best restaurant in town, now considered average. Portuguese food.
There are at least 25 bars in Chaves. The most popular with the younger crowd are:
1/4 Escuro Rua de Santa Maria, 68, Chaves Small dimensions, located on a narrow street in the old section of the town. It has a young clientele and an energetic ambience on weekends.
Amiça Bar Largo Monumento aos Combatentes da Grande Guerra, Chaves Modern space with a musical selection that goes from pop-rock to alternative music. It is one of the most popular places in the Chaves night life.
Bar dos Claustros Forte de São Francisco Relaxing and quiet space, located inside Forte de São Francisco.
Casa de Chá Shiva Bar Rua de Santa Maria, 32 Indian themed bar, where you can taste different teas from all over the world and other exotic drinks. A more selected clientele with a decoration that invokes Hinduism. There are shows with belly dancing.
There are dozens of cafés in the town. Portuguese love to meet their friends in a café and workers will stop at their favorite café two or even three times a day. With the price of a coffee being 0.55 it is no wonder that people can afford to have so many. Many of these cafés are also bakeries or snack bars. While many of these cafés might not get more than fifty customers in a day the most popular are:
Biquinho Doce several locations around the town. High quality pastry at reasonable prices.
Pão quente da Raposeira Two locations around town. Quality and decor not as good as Biquinho Doce but usually full.
Momentos Carbela Chaves Now with two locations. Attractive decor and high-quality pastry.
Mister Doce Located in the center on the plaza called Jardim do Bacalhau. Good quality, with tables outside.
La Gaillardise This café and bakery opened in January 2017. It is on the street popularly known as the Rua da Muralha, just south of the Chaves Castle. Run by a French couple who are trying to bring a bit of international elegance to Chaves. Baguettes, croissantes, and pains à raisin.
Chaves has a lot of hotels for such a small town. At last count there were 23 listed on Booking.com. There are others that are too small to appear.
Hotel Kátia Just a 5-minute walk to the Chaves thermal springs, Hotel Kátia offers modern rooms with air conditioning and flat-screen TV. Guests can benefit from the Wi-Fi available in public areas. In winter doubles go for €42.00 with breakfast included.
Hotel Florinda Located in Chaves’ old town, Florinda is a 7-minute walk from the Roman Trajano Bridge over the Tâmega River. This pet-friendly B&B offers an on-site restaurant serving regional cuisine. Doubles go for €35.00 with breakfast included.
Hotel Termas Hotel Termas is located in Chaves, just 450 m from the Chaves Thermal Spa and 150 m from the Tâmega riverside area. The Chaves Casino is 5 km from the unit. Doubles go for €35.00 with breakfast included
Albergaria Borges The 3-star Hotel Albergaria Borges provides modern accommodation in Chaves, just 1.5 km from the city. It offers a restaurant on site and is less than a 5-minute drive from Caldas de Chaves Thermal Spa. Doubles go for €42.00 in winter with breakfast included.
The Hotel Casino Chaves
Hotel Casino Chaves features an in-house casino with table games and 300 slot machines, a restaurant with views of the mountains and 3 bars. The hotel is a 5-minute drive from the town centre. Doubles go for €63.00 in winter with breakfast included.
Forte de São Francisco Hotel
Located in an historic 17th-century building, and listed as a National Monument. It offers a 15 000 m² garden with an outdoor pool. Doubles go for €60.00 in winter with breakfast included.
Chaves, like most of the small cities in Portugal, is extremely safe. There is really no area of town that would be considered dangerous at night. Homicide is very rare, with one occurring about once every five years, and even then they usually involve family members. Muggings are almost non-existent. The most common crime in town is breaking and entry into shops and some pickpocketing, especially during the huge celebration of the Feira dos Santos, which takes place at the end of October and beginning of November.
For those using Chaves as a base to explore the area there are several interesting towns and sites nearby.
Nineteen kilometers south of Chaves on N2, but belonging to the same municipality, is the small town of Vidago, which has a five star hotel--the Vidago Palace Hotel  set in attractive gardens, together with a spa and 18 hole golf course .
Verín , 29 kilometers away, is the closest Spanish town. Much smaller than Chaves, it is famous for Monterrey Castle, which sits on a hill overlooking the town. The castle has been restored and has a museum explaining the history of the region. Many people from Chaves go to Verín for shopping or to eat octopus in the traditional restaurants. Carnival  here is one of the most original in Spain with the Cigarrón, masked figures running through the streets brandishing whips and making an interesting sound caused by cow bells tied to their waists. Everything has a medieval air, with little influence from the Brazilian-style carnival, which has become popular in other Spanish and Portuguese cities.
Taking N103, 14 kms. from Chaves, this small castle ruin is worth a stop and walk around. The castle was built in 1273 and once was surrounded by a village of 300 inhabitants. By the eighteenth century the castle had fallen into ruin and the village had disappeared.