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2019-06-21

Top 10 Things to Do in the Portuguese Historical Villages

Come and discover very small points on the world map, which not only belong to the oldest European frontier, but they have also forever changed the destiny of a country. 

Twelve Centenary Villages, scattered throughout central Portugal – welcome to the Historical Villages! Land of mesmerizing landscapes, deserted roads, ancestral rails and stunning castles, you now have the privilege of walking where conquerors walked, walking through some of Portugal's most impressive natural parks, or simply walking to the nearest restaurant and savoring years of wisdom. An unforgettable journey to explore history, traditions and the aromas of a territory so diverse, open to adventure! Do not miss the Top 10 of Portugal's Historical Villages:
 
1. Gastronomy
 
Get ready to sample the best delicacies and fantastic regional products! It is the tasting of the best of Portuguese gastronomy, washed down with the best wines. Main examples of regional products include kid, lamb, sausages and olive oils, typical of the central region of Portugal, which will always find in various recipes. A few examples are the Serra da Estrela cheese, which is considered the oldest and most recognized national cheese, the Serra da Lousã honey, the various wine options you can incorporate in the trip from sparkling wines to reds and cherries that you can find near the Cova da Beira.
 
2. Explore the ancient village of Idanha-a-Velha

One of the oldest of the set of the Historical Villages of Portugal, with a history that dates back to the 1st century BC. A space where Roman founded cities and later on an episcopal seat under Suevian and Visigothic rule, it is remarkable for the set of ruins it preserves, remains of these different eras. To visit you will find the Torre dos Templários (Templars Tower), also known as Torre de Menagem, unique vestige of the Castelo de Idanha-a-Velha (castle), built above the base of a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Venus, the Roman bridge on the Pônsul river, that once connected Mérida to Braga, and the Lagar de Varas (oil press) where it is still possible to see closely how the olive oil was produced. A unique place among the history of Portugal, with several vestiges of the great civilizations that preceded us, with opportunities to venture yourself in the slopes, in mountain biking style, or simply get lost in the beauty of this picturesque village.

3. Know the History and Monuments
 
Made of granite or schist, the Historical Villages preserve a rich history of conquest and battles, evidenced by the various monuments and legends that surround them. They are often distinguished in the distance by the haughty towers of their medieval castles, and they are also lined up along the border with Spain. Between Moors and Christians, Castilians and Portuguese, for many centuries, in a total of a 900-year-old history, there are many stories to discover. Among the castles, you will also find Renaissance churches, or Romantic ones as the Igreja Matriz Linhares da Beira (main church), which holds boards attributed to Grão Vasco, an important 16th-century painter. Among the many battles, there are also stories of courage, such as that of Princess Isabel, the bastard daughter of King D. Fernando exchanged in marriage to ensure peace with Spain, or fantastic stories such as the legend of the table with precious stones of Almeida Village, table that supposedly existed in the time of the Arabs and gave name to the village. These villages, from the center of Portugal, have many secrets and treasures.

4. Discover the "Village crib", Piódão

A place hidden from the world, with a dazzling architecture created in harmony with nature and surrounded by that same magnificent and pure landscape. Sometimes called "village crib”, by the way their houses are scattered along the hillside, nestled by the Açor mountain range. It was the springs and pastures of this mountain that attracted the Lusitanian shepherds years ago, a tradition that continues to this day, besides providing a beauty that is ready to be admired. The houses are built in traditional schist but they have roofs covered with slabs and doors and wooden windows painted in blue, which create a unique effect at night with artificial light.

5. Population
 
Known as people of great pride in their land and history, tenacious against the setbacks of wars and climate and above all cheerful and hospitable. The population of the historic villages was always considered small, and lived mainly thanks to agriculture, to their animals and crops, and local crafts. Nowadays, between fairs and pilgrimages and active tourism, there are other means of subsistence. Unfortunately, the departure of the young people to more urban cities in the coast in search of a better life and the aging of the population is leading to the extinction of some villages. But with the modernization of villages and more funds and employment opportunities, are perfects places to live in peace and tranquility. Enjoy each visit to a village to meet its inhabitants, who are knowledgeable of history and the surroundings, people with another look upon life, many of those who are happy to share any wisdom they may have.

6. Visit important places in the history of the defense of the Portuguese territory

Surrounded by imposing walls, and sometimes lost in legends, the village of Castelo Rodrigo was the scene of constant disputes between Portugal and the neighboring Reino de Leão and to this day maintains a characteristic medieval trait. During national history, there is no settlement that has been such a relevant place in Luso-Castelhanas relations, and in the defense of the Portuguese territory for so long in time, and where courage and loyalty stand out so much. Enjoy the ease of the land and the surrounding area to walk a bit, even visit the Reserva Natural da Faia Brava Brava (natural reserve). Do not forget to visit the cistern, the Igreja and the Convento of Santa Maria de Aguiar (church and convent), the clock tower, the 16th century pillory and the Igreja of Nossa Senhora de Rocamador (church), part of the route of pilgrims to Compostela.

7. Find Villages among granite boulders
 Discover adeias Between granite stones
Among granite boulders, you will find the village of Monsanto, which is set on a hill that imposes itself on most horizons. A tourist icon of the region, considered in some occasions as the most Portuguese village of Portugal. In the northeast of the Lands of Idanha, there are vestiges of the human presence from Palaeolithic, occupied by the Visigoths, to the Romans and Arabs. A visit to the Castle is essential, built by the Order of the Templars, located at the highest point of the hill, at 758 meters and complemented by two beautiful chapels. Enjoy walking or cycling through its narrow streets, admire the granite houses and get lost in this quiet and authentic environment before you go on your journey.

8. Enjoy the Parks and Natural Reserves
 
Nature is a crucial part of the Historical Villages not only for the history of the population, but also for the beauty they bestow upon them.  You should take advantage of the surroundings to visit some areas and green spaces during your visit. An excellent example is the Reserva Natural da Faia Brava (natural reserve), located in the Côa valley and inserted in the Special Protection Zone of the Côa valley. There are even some tours that allow you to connect the Historical Villages, walking along the ancient trails to reach this irresistible landscape. The rocky outcrops with granite cliffs and perfect crags are perfect for the nesting of rupicolous birds, and this is accompanied by the fact that it is a fantastic observation point for several birds, including the Griffon vulture, the Egyptian vulture (symbol of the Park) and the black stork, classified the area as IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas). Another example is the NaturparkTejo – Parque Natural do Tejo Internacional (Tejo Internacional Natural Park) that offers a gradual transition between the mountains of Central Portugal and the plains of the Alentejo, with deep valleys and the scenic beauty of the Tejo river. It is also a bird protection area, with more species that nest here, from black storks (symbol of the Park) to eagles and eagle owls. Here you can also find more active tourism such as hiking, climbing or canoeing and even mountain biking and bike trails that lead you to some historical villages.

9. Visit one of the best-preserved Villages, Sortelha
 
Considered one of the best-preserved villages, the Sortelha's urban and architectural physiognomy is protected by a defensive ring and a 16th century castle. The ring village, as it is known, makes it possible to travel to the the past centuries, between medieval graves and Renaissance churches, to the Manueline pillory. A stroll along the very irregular blocks, between stone houses on two floors, is Largo do Corro where a secular tree and fountain from medieval times or sixteenth-century stand, there you can relax. Do not miss the opportunity to visit this small village, that appears to be a part of a fairytale.

10. Explore the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral, Belmonte
 
With a wide view on the eastern slope of the Estrela mountain range, this surrounding landscape justifies its name (beautiful mount or mount beautiful). A sunny place implanted in the left bank of the Zêzere river, of good people, history of centuries and unique in Portugal. Do not miss out on the opportunity to cycle through the trails that connect you to other villages. Known as the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the navigator who officially discovered Brazil in the year 1500, it is still possible to experience these times of discovery, navigation without end in the Museu dos Descobrimentos (Museum of the Discoveries). It is also known for its Jewish population, a unique case in the peninsular territory of the permanence of the Hebrew culture and tradition since the beginning of the sixteenth century. Visit the Museu Judaico (Jewish Museum) where you can learn about the history of the last surviving Crypto-Jewish community in the country, or show up during the Kosher Festival and try out new flavors.

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