Set in northeastern region of Portugal, near the border with Spain, along the Douro River Valley is the town of Freixo-de-Espada-á-Cinta.
Freixo’s mouthful of a name translates as “ash-tree of the sword of the belt” and supposedly refers to Dom Dinis hacking at a nearby tree as he announced the founding of the town. Hidden in the folds of the undulating Douro mountains, the town was once considered so remote that prisoners who had been granted an amnesty were allowed to settle here in obscurity. It doesn’t feel quite so isolated any more, with a new town straddling one side of the main through-road (N221), and a small, surviving old town on the other, dominated by a surprisingly grand Igreja Matriz with a retábulo of paintings attributed to Viseu artist Grão Vasco. There’s also a mighty keep, which affords great views from its bell tower, while beneath lies the town’s spectacularly sited cemetery. Follow the signs (“praia fluvial”) 4 km east out of town, down a series of hairpin bends on the banks of the Rio Douro, and you’ll end up at the local river beach and swimming spot.
There are various versions and legends associated with town name. Of all the examples,Espada na Cinta de um Freixo - freixo in this context refers to the ash tree, a Portuguese derivative of fraxinus, although the rest of the name is lost in legend. One legend says that the settlement of Freixo was established by a nobleman names Feijão, who died in 977, cousin of São Rosendo, whose heraldry included both an ash tree and belted-sword, to which the community received its name. Another legend suggests that the name was derived from a nobleman named Espadacinta; after a battle with Arabs along the margins of the River Douro, he arrived in this territory, and tired, he rested in the shadow of a large ash tree, where he hung his sword. This perpetuated the name for the settlement, which soon became known as Freixo de Espadacinta. A similar story recounts that it was King D. Dinis who, fatigued from his battles with his illegitimate son (Afonso Sanches), and traveling through the wilderness of Freixo, he rested under the shadow of the ash tree, where he laid down his broadsword.The King fell asleep, and after a dream, declared that the village would be known as Freixo de Espada à Cinta. Today, near the Matriz Church, which once pertained to the medieval castle, exists an old ash tree, which is accepted by the local residents as the fabled tree.