Route of Historic Villages
8 days trip. 4 days of walking. Accommodation in hotels.
Made of granite or shale, they shield stories of wars, conquests and old traditions.
They are located in the centre of the country and can be seen from far away because of the tall towers of their medieval castles. Nowadays they are peaceful and quiet, and their streets and houses still keep the most genuine of Portugal’s features: the authenticity of its people and a 900 year old proud History.
But it wasn’t always like this. Built on the top of mountains and hills, from their towers and walls watch was kept over the surrounding land. That is why they are so strategically located along the border. Kings and landlords knew that this was the only way they could get some quiet rest.
However, they were wrong! Moors, Christians, Castilians and Portuguese, they all tried to conquer these lands and that is why each one of these villages has some very ancient tale to tell.
You will find many reasons to be conquered by our Historic Villages. And it won’t be just because of their heritage and history. Here, you will be able to enjoy some of Portugal’s most magnificent landscapes and feel surrounded by its natural warmth.
1: Arival to Lisbon
Overnight: Hotel 4*
Today is the day to fly from your hometown to Lisbon. If you’re flying from Europe or Asia, it is likely that you arrive on the same day you have departed. If you’re flying from the American continent, you’ll probably have to leave a day earlier, because most connections flights from the United States and Brazil take place during the night.
Once you arrive in Lisbon, take a taxi to your hotel. The rest of the day is free.
Built over the centuries upon the right bank of the estuary of the river Tagus («Tejo»), the capital of Portugal grew around lovely hills and enjoys an outstanding geographic condition, which makes it a destination of choice. The exceptional light of the city, which has been the delight of writers, photographers and filmmakers; the numerous white houses that climb up the steep hills with their ochre roofs; the polychromic nature of the tiles that decorate the facades and the tortuous streets of the old quarters offer it the peculiar atmosphere of a city where Northern Europe meets South Mediterranean.
The long history of Lisbon, which has always been a destination of choice for commercial trade with ancient people of merchants and sailors, starts as Phoenician Alis-Ubbo, to become, in the second century, the roman Felicita Julia Olisipo; the Arab Aschbouna in the eighth century; a Portuguese city in the year of 1147, when it was conquered by D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, and, finally, the country’s capital in 1255.
Walking through the typical areas, travelling by tram through the old quarters, going up or down the hills in centuries’ old elevators, on a boat along the river, or even on the metro, which is nowadays a real underground museum of Portuguese contemporary art, all means are good to discover the fascinating cultural diversity that Lisbon has to offer.
To the west, on the way to Tejo’s mouth, visit the area of Belém, with its beautiful gardens and majestic monuments which have been elected UNESCO’s World Heritage – this is the Lisbon of the Discoveries era.
Out of the capital’s reconstruction right after the earthquake in 1755, a different city emerged, with the symmetrical and linear outline typical of the Enlightenment period, wide open to the river. That is Lisbon’s downtown («Baixa de Lisboa»), an area full of traditional shops. In Chiado, a highly seductive quarter, the bourgeois charm of nineteenth century Lisbon still lingers on. The «Parque das Nações» (Nation’s Park) offers many leisure options, including the «Oceanário» (Aquarium).
At night, in the old quarters of Lisbon you’ll still hear the voices of Fado, while the younger generations get together in the fashionable bars of Docas, near the river, or Bairro Alto, next to Chiado.
This is the Lisbon you can discover on the day of arrival, or... maybe you want to leave it for another occasion.
2: Lisbon - Monfortinho
Overnight: Hotel 4*
Meals: Breakfast - Picnic - Dinner
In the morning, the Guide will meet the group at 8:30am. After checking out, we will start our trip to the inland, all the way to the village of Salvaterra do Extremo, where our hiking begins. This village, located near the border with Spain and dating from very old times, was originally a stronghold used by the Romans and the Arabs. Upon its ruins, D. Afonso Henriques ordered the construction of a castle and, later on, D. Sancho II assigned it, in 1229, its charter. From its distant past, it preserves only as testimony a pillory, for its castle and fortress are long gone.
The whole village has a special charm. People are kind and friendly; along the streets, we’ll find such little wonders as the house of Sardões (lizards), the moon-shaped well, Casa da Câmara and its bell tower, the typical houses made of shale, the storks in the belfry, and the interesting cylindrical sties made of granite.
The hiking trail is about 11 km long (6,8 miles) and includes different types of terrain, namely ancient Roman roads, beaten earth tracks and a snippet of tar.
At the end of the day, we’ll head towards Monfortinho, where we’ll be lodged for two nights.
3: Monfortinho - Idanha-a-velha - Monsanto - Penha Garcia - Monfortinho
Overnight: Hotel 4*
Meals: Breakfast - Dinner
Today we are going to walk through the villages of streak. We’ll leave early to Idanha-a-Velha, a small village successively occupied by a myriad of different people who bequeathed to it a valuable historical heritage.
Those who visit the village nowadays and contemplate its peaceful pace will find it difficult to imagine that they are actually standing on the ancient and prosperous Roman Civitas Igaeditanorum, on the great peninsular road from Emerita (Mérida) to Braccara (Braga). Later on, Egitânia became a bishopric during the era of Visigoths (6th to 7th centuries), and it was responsible for coining gold coins for almost all Visigoth kings, from Recaredo to Rodrigo. Over the centuries, it became the Muslim Idânia (8th to 12th centuries) and attained great importance and wealth, becoming almost as rich as Lisbon.
It bore witness to the struggles between Christians and Muslims during the first century of Portuguese nationality, when D. Afonso Henriques donated it to the Order of the Templars to be repopulated. Over time, and along with the displacement of military strategic positioning, it gradually lost its grandeur. But it did not lose its atmosphere of times past. Those who walk there usually feel as if they’re visiting an open air museum, where great civilizations still breathe through the remains they’ve left behind.
Embedded in this rich History of times past, we will start our hike towards the village of Monsanto. The trail is about 8km (4,9 miles) long and it is done in beaten path track, gradually climbing all the way up to Portugal’s «most Portuguese» village.
Monsanto is located in high cliffs, where both geography and climate mark the transition between North and South, and as Portugal’s «most Portuguese» village, it keeps intact the deep roots of Portuguese culture.
It is said that here people resisted for seven long years to the siege imposed by the Romans in the second century B.C., and this deed is still celebrated today in the «Festa das Cruzes» (Feast of the Crosses) which the village celebrates every year on the 3rd of May.
The village has to offer some of the most interesting human landscapes that can be found in Portugal. The cluster of houses has grown on the slopes taking advantage of the huge rocks of granite that are used for the walls, and in some cases one single rock has been used to make the roof.
Some palaces with coats of arms, portals in «Manuelino» style and the house where doctor and writer Fernando Namora lived and found inspiration for the novel «Retalhos da Vida de Um Médico» all add an extra interest to the walk through the narrow streets. Among the houses, the Torre de Lucano (16th century) is an obvious highlight, with its silver cock on top, a trophy assigned to Monsanto in a contest organized in 1938, when it was considered the most Portuguese of all Portuguese villages.
The difficult ascent to the castle (about 3 hours) is rewarded by one of the most stunning viewpoints of the region. In this old bastion of war, the brave knights of the Christian Reconquest were buried under excavated rocks.
After an invigorating lunch, we’ll have time to walk around the village, to contemplate and photograph the magnificent features of the location.
From here, we’ll start the return to Monfortinho, stopping along the way in the village of Penha Garcia for a brief hike (2km, approximately 1.2 miles).
Considered by many the «Nativity Scene» of the Beira, Penha Garcia is located on the slopes of the hill with the same name, a branch of the Serra da Malcata on the right bank of the river Pônsul.
This is a very old village, inhabited since the Neolithic; it was a Lusitanian «castro» (a hill fort) and also a Roman village. After the Reconquest, D. Afonso III assigned it a charter letter and donated Penha Garcia to the Order of Santiago, which became responsible for the fortification of the area. That did not happen and D. Dinis withdrew from that Order, in favour of the Order of the Temple and, later on, of the Order of Christ. It was a «couto» (a piece of land immune to taxes and royal privileges) of the kingdom until the eighteenth century and a county seat until the 6th November 1836.
From the castle, built by the Templars upon the Roman «Castro», there are only remains of the well preserved walls. From here, you can enjoy a view of the Raiana grassland, the dam and Feitoso valley, which you will never forget.
The labyrinthine streets among the small houses of shale are covered in flowers. The Pillory from D. Sebastião’s reign, the cannon lying on the doorsteps, the Church where the sculpture made of limestone of Nossa Senhora do Leite (Our Lady of Milk, from 1469) is kept, the homemade bread and the olive oil cakes («bicas), these are only some of the attractions you’ll find in this beautiful parish.
The rocks of the Serra de Penha Garcia are a true oasis for palaeontologists, geologists and nature lovers for it is very easy to find there numerous marine fossils.
At the end of the afternoon, we’ll return to Monfortinho for another night at the hotel. Dinner will be served at the hotel and the rest of the time you can just enjoy and relax.
4: Monfortinho - Sortelha - Belmonte - Linhares da Beira - Penhas Douradas
Overnight: Hotel rural
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
We will leave Monfortinho after a refreshing night's rest and an excellent breakfast taken with beautiful views of the hotel garden. Our first destination is the village Sortelha. Explore Sortelha and continue to Belmonte. Visit this old jewish town and continue the trip to Linhares da Beira in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. After exploring this beautiful village we continue to Penhas Douradas, on the central high plains of Estrela mountain. We will spend two nights here.
About Sortelha: Surmounted by a castle built on a formidable crag at an altitude of 760 metres, Sortelha still retains its mediaeval appearance intact through the architecture of its rural granite houses. Sortelha had therefore part of an important line of defence formed from a series of castles built on the borders of the territory, most of which were either erected or reconstructed on the earlier hill forts of ancient Iberian civilisations. The village´s name derives from the nature of its terrain, being surrounded by rocky escarpments in the shape of a ring (sortija, in Castilian), its walls also having been built in a circular fashion. The entrance to the village is through a Gothic gateway, over which there is a balcony (Pilate´s balcony), with machicolations through which all kinds of projectiles were thrown at assailants. Before entering, you should note the beautiful pillory, surmounted by an armillary sphere, the symbol of D. Manuel I, and the building that once served as the town hall, both dating from the time of this king. On the post of another gate, facing westwards, two grooves have been cut into the stone to represent measures of length (the larger one is a vara [1.1 metres] and the smaller one is a côvado [0.66 metres]), used as measuring aids by mediaeval traders, at a time when the systems of measurement were not yet standardised. The 14th-century parish church has an interesting Spanish-Arab ceiling, whilst the carved and gilded woodwork of the high altar was added in the Baroque period. The great charm of this village is its evocation of a mediaeval atmosphere, with all the houses having been built of granite and generally consisting of just one storey. Their foundations have been built into the rock and follow the topography of the terrain. Another more modern village has grown beyond the walls, unfortunately displaying architectural styles that have little or nothing to do with the traditional roots of this region.
About Belmonte: All roads in this ancient settlement - its first charter was granted by king Sancho I in 1199- lead up to the hilltop granite castle. A document dated 1258 describes the construction: the lofty donjon, walls, bulwarks and the noble residence. Breaking this austere design, on the western wall, there is a fine twinned Manueline window finished with the symbols of Manuel, the armillary sphere and the shield of the Cabral family with its two goats. The family's most famous son is undoubtedly Pedro Álvares Cabral. Discovering Brazil in 1500, he had been born in Belmonte in 1467. Next to the castle, there is the small, Roman-gothic church dedicated to St. James. Inside, a granite statue of Piety is impressive for its crude beauty, fitting well into the harmonious simplicity of this church. A church annex houses the Cabral pantheon although the remains of Pedro Ávares Cabral are to be found in the Church of Graça, in Santarém. An important Jewish community settled in Belmonte, substantially increasing in size when the Catholic Monarchs of Spain issued a decree ordering the expulsion of all Jews in 1492, with the king of Portugal following suit in 1496. During this period, many Jews originating from Spain settled in towns and villages close to the border, such as Belmonte. Their houses are located, as was the rule, beyond the castle walls in the Bairro de Marrocos (Morocco Neighbourhood). There, it is possible to make out, engraved in stone by the sides of the doors, the resident´s professions with scissors depicting the tailor, for instance. Belmonte retains much of the medieval atmosphere of times when the Jewish community would have to practice its prayers, traditions and customs in secrecy even if Belmonte is now more than proud to be home to the Bet Eliahu synagogue.
#About Linhares da Beira/# Situated on the western slopes of the Serra da Estrela, Linhares da Beira was originally a Lusitanian hill fort. In fact, the Montes Hermínios (this was the Lusitanian name for the Serra da Estrela), with its pastureland and abundant water supply and enjoying the protective shelter of the mountains, was one of the regions inhabited by this Iberian tribe, from whom many Portuguese people believe themselves to be descended. Flax (linho in Portuguese), which in the old days was one of the most important crops in the region, lay at the root of the name Linhares, which literally means flax fields. The remains of a Roman road close to Videmonte and the discovery of milestones on the right bank of the River Mondego suggest that the Roman road connecting Viseu to Guarda passed through here. Later invaded by Visigoths and Muslims, who recognised its ideal strategic position for watching over the surrounding region, Linhares became definitively Portuguese in the time of D. Afonso Henriques, who gave it its first charter in 1169. Peace, however, was not yet definitive. In 1189, troops from León and Castile invaded the region, pillaging and setting fire to the surrounding villages, whilst preparing to capture the castle of Celorico. Linhares came to the defence of Celorico and, finding itself encircled at the rear, the enemy´s army took flight as fast as it could. Tradition has it that all this took place on a night when there was a new moon and that this is why the coat of arms of Linhares bears a crescent and five stars. A walk through the village gives the impression of a charming whole, in which the simple granite houses stand side by side with manor-houses still displaying signs of their ancient nobility. If you look closely, you can still see many 16th-century windows. The parish church, originally Romanesque but rebuilt in the 17th century, has three valuable wood paintings attributed to the great Portuguese master painter Vasco Fernandes (Grão Vasco). A rustic tribune standing over a bench around a stone table is a unique example of the mediaeval forum, from where community decisions were announced to the local population. This is where the arms of the ancient town are displayed. Next to this stands the 16th-century granite pillory, surmounted by an armillary sphere. Standing proudly above the whole village is the sturdy castle that follows the geology of the terrain by being built on an enormous rock. From this viewpoint, at a height of more than 800 metres, one of the spurs of the Serra da Estrela can be seen, as well as the valley along which the River Mondego flows. Rebuilt in the 13th century by the king D. Dinis, most probably on the ruins of a Moorish fortification, it was part of the front-line defences of the Beira region and the best place for surveying all movements around. The city skyline is crowned by the impressive castle that traces the curve of the land over a huge rock outcrop and further serving as a fantastic viewpoint. Two large crenellated towers can be seen at the corners of the perimeter wall, one facing east and the other facing west.
#About Serra da Estrela Natural Park/# The Serra da Estrela Natural Park is the largest protected area in Portugal, located in the central mountainous massif, in a high plateau that inclines towards the North-East, cut across by rivers and streams that have their source here such as the Mondego and Zêzere. The landscape is marked by rocky outcrops, boulders and crags, several of which resemble human forms that have given rise to popular names such as "head of the old woman " and the "Pitchers" (fat, thin and flat), that may be admired as visitors hike along the many existing pedestrian trails. Given that this is the highest peak in mainland Portugal, it is also one of the zones with the highest levels of precipitation, with abundant snow in the winter, enabling winter sports to be practised. The "ice crystal" was the symbol chosen by the Natural Park, in allusion to its climactic characteristics and the glacial origin of this mountain range, as can be seen in the valleys of Zêzere and Unhais, large gaping holes in the mountain side and around 25 natural lagoons. Extensive flocks of sheep can be found here in the pasture land, tended by the Serra da Estrela dogs - a breed of stocky dogs that are highly resistant to low temperatures. Sheep’s milk is used to produce the region's most characteristic product -- the renowned Queijo da Serra cheese, that is produced on an artisanal basis following ancestral techniques that use cardosins as a curdling agent. Make sure you try some of this yellow buttery cheese, between two slices of regional bread. If you want to take some with you, you'll find it on sale at any time of the year, although the most varied offer is in the market fairs held in various parts of the region in the months of February and March.
5: Hike in Penhas Douradas region
Overnight: Hotel rural
Meals: Breakfast - Picnic - Dinner
We’ll leave the hotel around 8:30am, with our hiking boots on, prepared for the ups and downs of the route that will take us from the diversified landscape of Penhas Douradas to the dam of Vale do Rocim.
We’ll stop along the way for a picnic and then we’ll continue our journey to the hotel, where we’ll arrive at the beginning of the afternoon.
For those that enjoy some action, the hotel provides kayaks and mountain bikes that can be used freely and independently, depending upon weather conditions and equipment availability. The rest of the day is free.
6: Penhas Douradas - Piodão - Lousã
Overnight: Hotel 4*
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Today we leave Serra da Estrela behind, starting our route towards the small town of Lousã. En route, we will visit the village of Piódão. The village is shaped as a nativity scene, with its houses harmoniously displayed as an amphitheatre, easily blending in the landscape.
Entirely made of shale, houses and streets form a beautiful single shape, interrupted only by the strong blue of the doors and windows of some of the houses. It is said that this jarring note of colour finds its origins in the fact that the village’s single shop had only blue paint for sale and, given the isolation of this location, it was not easy for people to travel to other places.
It was, in fact, this isolation that preserved the singular features of this ancient village. Within the set of small houses, with no more than two floors, the delightful church dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Conceição clearly stands out, with its white facades and its cylindrical buttresses, which the inhabitants erected at the beginning of the nineteenth century with their own gold and money.
Given its location at the bottom of the hill, Piódão was once an ideal shelter for the outlaws running away from justice, and it is said that it was probably here that one of the men responsible for the murder of D. Inês de Castro escaped from the anger of D. Pedro.
We’ll reach our destination, Lousã, in the middle of the afternoon. There is accommodation at a local hotel and the rest of the time is free.
7: Lousã - Lisbon
Overnight: Hotel 4*
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Around 8:30am, we’ll leave once again with our hiking boots on. This time we’ll hike on the magnificent trail of the Serra da Lousã, passing through villages lost in time.
Our hike starts at the Castle of Arouce, on the west slope of Serra da Lousã.
The narrow trail, moulded by the passage of the mountain people over the centuries, winds up the hill. Here and there, you’ll be able to see through the dense vegetation the castle on top of what looks like an unreachable cliff.
In the village of Talasnal, we’ll wander through the small streets of winding sidewalks, along the shade of the houses made of shale, where you can drink the fresh water straight from the fountain or just sit back and relax, contemplating the landscape and silence around you.
We’ll continue our journey through a beaten path track, crossing the bridge over the creek, and «guarded» by the chestnut trees of the hill, we’ll climb towards Casal Novo for our last «urban» walk.
From there, we’ll walk all the way down the woods, where mimosas are abundant, until we catch a glimpse of a Calvary that offers the best view upon the valley and the Castle which was once the scene of many battles between Christians and Moors.
We’ll proceed through the terraces of the ancient farms, nowadays turned into gardens, to reach the end of this sort route. Before lunch, the bravest will have the opportunity of bathing in the very fresh waters of river swimming pools.
Return to Lisbon at the end of the day.
8: Departure from Lisbon
The day is free. Those with return flight scheduled for this day should be at the airport at least two hours before the time scheduled for departure (Europe) or three hours (Intercontinental flights).
|Dates & Prices|
Single supplement : 330,00 €
Travelling bag (avoid hard suitcases);
Hat or cap;
Backpack (20 to 30 lt. approximately);
Waterproof backpack cover;
Sunscreen SPF 30+;
Headlamp with substitute lamp or flashlight (optional);
Walking sticks (optional);
Thermal underwear (if you’re travelling during Autumn/Winter);
Polar fleece 100 and 200 (if you’re travelling during Autumn/Winter);
Raincoat or anorak gore-tex or similar (if you’re travelling during Autumn/Winter);
Waterproof pants (if you’re travelling during Autumn/Winter);
Gloves and woollen hat (if you’re travelling during Autumn/Winter);