Historic frontier post where CR7 won his first cap

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

The castle atop the badge worn by Grupo Desportivo de Chaves represents a frontier city fought over since Roman times, and which now sits a few kilometres inside the Spanish border. Opened just after the club was founded in 1949, the Estádio Municipal Engenheiro Manuel Branco Teixeira sits outside a stern, imposing municipality which has featured in Portugal’s top flight on 18 occasions as of 2023.

The result of an amalgamation of Flávia Sport Clube and Atlético Clube Flavienese, GD Chaves had their heyday in the 1980s, when they finished in the higher rungs of the Primeira and even qualified for Europe.

Benefitting from an extra slot granted to Portugal in the wake of the Heysel disaster, Chaves ventured to Ceaușescu’s Romania to take on Universitatea Craiova, then headed to Budapest to face Honvéd, the UEFA Cup fixtures bringing Eastern European opposition to this historic corner of Portugal.

Chaves has even staged a full international, a seemingly meaningless friendly with Kazakhstan before the 2003-04 season. It was here, at half-time, that an 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo came on for Luís Figo to earn his first cap, a week after signing for Manchester United. 

Few in the 8,000 crowd that day would have realised that the walk-on part would be the first of 200+ appearances for the Lusitanians.

As for GD Chaves, the Flavienses flipped between the top and second tiers for many years until, bizarrely just after a run to the Portuguese Cup final, the club nearly blipped off the radar entirely. 

Defeat to Porto carried attractive prize money of a quarter of a million euros, and yet Chaves still contrived to sink to near insolvency until the arrival of Francisco Carvalho. Second husband of pop singer Ágata, Carvalho used his music connections to raise the funds to save his local club, who climbed back up the hard way.

Promotion in 2016 meant the first top-flight season for Chaves this century, although few travelling supporters would thank Carvalho for his efforts, this being the longest trip for a league fixture you can make from Lisbon without overseas trips to Madeira or the Azores.

Visiting neutrals have a range of hotels to choose from and a 2,000-year-old Roman bridge to admire from the terrace of a decent sports bar and restaurant.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Porto Airport is 148km (92 miles) west of Chaves. Porto metro takes you direct to Campanhã on purple line E (€2.25 single from zone 4, every 20-30mins, 35min journey time).

From there, a regular Rede Expressos regional bus takes 2hrs 20mins to reach Chaves, cheapest seats €3.95 online.

Buses pull into the roundabout surrounding the Monumento aos Combatentes da Grande Guerra, a stop called Monumento by a large supermarket. This is halfway between the city centre and the stadium to the north-east. There are no local buses as such, only regional ones overseen by Alto Tâmega e Barroso, which link Chaves to destinations such as Vila Real 90 minutes away.

Taxis Chaves (+351 932 200 200) serves the town and accepts credit cards.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Bars line the street Travessa Cándido dos Reis, parallel to Praça General Silveira, the main square with the Chaves selfie sign, but they’re a bit too trendy for their own good and not particularly football-friendly.

Nearby on Rua Santo António, Café Sport keeps bar hours, serving coffees and pastries from early in the morning, then bottles of Super Bock as the day takes its course. There’s a TV inside but most prefer to sit on the wide terrace over the day’s sports paper.

Towards the river, Burguesia picks up on the trend for burgers but also pours quality German beers and features a screen inside.

Nearby, also overlooking Trajan’s Roman bridge, Sétima is the best spot in town, a convivial bar/restaurant done out in old ads and posters for sport-related films, a TV and pool table, with a large terrace right over the river. There’s a full menu, decent kitchen, regular beers, and little reason to leave once you get settled in.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

The regional tourist office Alto Tâmega e Barroso has a section on Chaves with an accommodation database.

Chaves is a popular weekend spa destination, guests nipping over the border from Spain to take advantage of cheaper prices in Portugal. Prime destination is the Premium Chaves Aquae Flaviae, its panoramic outdoor pool surrounded by the slopes of Trâs-os-Montes and access to the thermal spa alongside.

Also with its own pool open between May and October, the Forte São Francisco Hotel Chaves is built around a former convent from the 1600s, its two buildings linked by a tunnel. High walls offer privacy in the centre of town. The hotel has also sponsored GD Chaves in recent seasons.

Gleaming with contemporary style, with its own spa area and heated pool, Castelo is named after the medieval fortress it overlooks. Also nearby, the mid-range Petrus includes breakfast with its wallet-friendly rates. Also in the town’s historic hub, the ibis Styles Chaves fills a 1920s’ building with bright rooms. Note the Roman remains under glass in the breakfast area.

Finally, to stay near the stadium, Residencial São Neutel provides simple but comfortable lodgings, very affordable and ideal after an evening game.