Vila Real is situated in the North-East Interior of Portugal and stands at an average altitude of 460 metres above sea level, on the right bank of the River Corgo, tributary of the River Douro. It is located 85 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean (West), 18 kilometres from the Douro (South) and 65 kilometres from the nearest international border – with the Spanish region of Galicia (North). The city is the capital of a province called Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (translates to Behind the Mountains and Upper Douro Valley), and lies between two rivers, the Cabril and the Corgo, whose deep gorges and steep cliffs give the area both beauty and grandeur. It nestles between the mountains of the Marão and Alvão ranges, on whose peaks snow can often be seen in the cold season. During the winter, the temperate continental climate can push temperatures below zero to a minimum of (-5ºC), while in summer the weather can be extremely hot (+37ºC). The city has a population of around 50 000 and is essentially a centre for commercial, agricultural and service activities.
The origins of Vila Real are lost in time, but we know that the area was already inhabited in the Palaeolithic period, and there is evidence of both Celt-Iberian and Roman settlements (pagan sanctuary of Panóias). During the Barbarian and Arab invasions the region was abandoned. In the 12th century peoples gradually began to settle, but it was only in 1289 that King D. Dinis presented the city with its charter.
Financially and culturally, the region around Vila Real reflects both the economic development of its wine sector, with the production of highly appreciated red wines and the world renowned Port wine; as well as that of what is known as the "Cold Land" (Terra Fria). The economy is mostly based on livestock, forestry and natural resources, which are the region's greatest source of wealth – the rivers and wind generate electricity for the whole country, the geology provides spring, mineral and heated spa waters of the highest quality, and there are enormous reserves of granite and other ornamental rocks and minerals to be quarried. The Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro region possesses some of the most spectacular scenery in Portugal, with extensive vineyards and impressive country residences that can be found in the valleys of the Douro and its tributaries – which together constitute the Port Wine Demarcated Region, recognized as World Heritage in 2001.
The natural beauty and contrasts of an unpolluted landscape – fertile verdant lowlands, lofty mountains, terraced valleys, olive and almond groves, deep forests, majestic rivers and gushing streams – all infuse the region with a charm, grace and peacefulness that leave no visitor unmoved. It is a region that combines centuries-old traditions – historical and archaeological heritage, traditional handcrafts and folklore, as well as varied and appetising cuisine – and an openness that encapsulates both the traditional hospitality of the region and its willingness to adapt to the challenges of today. All this endows the region with great tourist potential, and a privileged environment for pursuing academic studies.