LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Vizela

Spa hotels, cobbled squares and cosy football grounds

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

Spa tourism brings most visitors to sleepy Vizela, allowing them to spend relaxing weekends at hotel retreats by the town’s meandering namesake river. Few realise that way past the opposite end of this five-parish municipality, backed by woodland that extends towards Guimarães, a stadium has been staging top-class football since 2021.

In fact, Futebol Clube de Vizela have not only been in existence since 1939, the Vizelenses have reached the Primeira before, for one short season in 1984-85, and reached the quarter-finals of the Portuguese Cup twice that decade.

By 1989, FC Vizela had acquired a modern stadium, a 6,000-capacity ground of natural turf that filled out three years later for the visit of nearest rivals Guimarães in the Portuguese Cup. The ground had initially been established by Agostinho de Lima soon after the club’s foundation. A man of means by no means, de Lima had done what any sensible lottery winner would do, which is to spend all his winnings on his local football club.

For decades, Vizela played regional football at the Campo Agostinho de Lima, before rising to the Third Division in the 1960s and Second in the 1980s. The new-build Estádio do Futebol Clube de Vizela was opened with a friendly match against Boavisa in front of the Secretary of State for Sports.

This time, the patrons were local entrepreneurs of this relatively affluent part of Portugal – for a community of barely 25,000 people, Vizela has a mall, no few restaurants and that cluster of four-star hotels down by pretty parkland in the south of town.

This is São João de Caldas de Vizela, the largest of the five parishes of Vizela, in the furthest reaches of Braga District, tucked just inside Spain. Even if this relatively little-known football outpost loses its top-flight status – one that was maintained in 2022 and 2023, at least – Vizela’s place in Portuguese soccer history is assured. In October 2021, a few months after the Vizelenses had achieved promotion, the Estádio do Futebol Clube de Vizela staged its first, and so far only, international.

Portugal’s U-21 side, recent European finalists, put 11 past Liechtenstein, a record, including nine in the first half alone. Commentators were swift to praise the Vizela public, who filled the ground close to its capacity with a healthy attendance of 5,239, and who witnessed a hat-trick from later Benfica and World Cup star Gonçalo Ramos.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

The nearest airport to Vizela is Porto, 48km (30miles) west. 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 regional train destination Guimarães takes 1hr to reach Vizela (single €3.20).

Vizela station is north of the town centre, which extends for less than kilometre on and off the main road of Rua Dr Abilio Torres. The main features and attractions are south, towards the river; the stadium is a steep trek north-east.

Regional buses overseen by Ave Mobilidade trundle around Vizela but there’s no local service as such. For a taxi, call Táxis Gomes (+351 968 010 653), based the other side of the main road from the main square.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Terrace cafés and restaurants line the main square of Praça da República, the most football-friendly being Café Lameira, with shirts on the wall and blue Vizela scarves over the façade.

The liveliest is Bar 71, a popular local spot where beer is as much in focus as food. For local dishes, round the corner on Rua Ferreira Caldas, the traditional Restaurante Águia D’Ouro and the more modern Mercearia both serve regional cuisine.

Back on Rua Dr Abilio Torres near the main square, the Cervejaria Universal is the town’s main brewpub, with a TV. Further up at No.351, the Casa das Francesinhas offers more than just the local doorstep sandwiches it’s named after. A large white tap of Erdinger dispenses large glasses of Bavarian beer, in a cool, bare-brick interior attractive in summer.

The local branch of the FC Porto fan club, the Casa do FC Porto (Rua Ferreira Caldas 32), doesn’t run a regular bar but is handy place to watch the game when FCP are playing.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and town centre

Turismo Vizela has an accommodation database.

The main hotel in town, the Bienestar Termas de Vizela fills a historic building with 65 four-star rooms, a pool and spa, attracting discerning guests from Braga, Guimarães and Porto.

Across the main road, the more modest Hotel Termas Vizela provides an affordable home from home for those here for the spa. Services include free transport to and from the train station, while a decent restaurant serves octopus rice and lamb roasted in a wood-fired oven.

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