Portugal is an increasingly fashionable destination. But most people, when they visit Portugal, are limited to choosing Lisbon, Porto, Madeira or the Algarve as their main holiday destination. However, Portugal has much more to offer. Inland, far from the major tourist destinations, there are small villages that look like they come out of a fairy tale. Shale villages, whitewashed villages, stone villages … in the mountains, in the valleys, by the rivers or near the sea, the villages of Portugal are a small treasure to be discovered. Discover the most beautiful small villages of Portugal.
Engraved into the slope of a great steep elevation, Monsanto rises suddenly and proudly with its granite houses which simultaneously stand out and are swollen by the rocks. The village, which was considered the most Portuguese village of the country in 1938, still preserves the traditional outline of Beira villages. This place has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. At the foot of the mountain, traces of a hill fort and a bath complex, probably built during Roman times, were discovered.
The village was conquered by King Afonso Henriques and was given by the King to the Knights Templar who built its first castle. The crown tried to increase the population of the village which was steep and difficult to reach and, throughout the Middle Ages, Monsanto was an important regional trade centre.
During the following ages, the village progressively lost its importance and its population gradually decreased, although its use as an impregnable defensive station in the area was kept until the 19th century. However, Monsanto never lost its medieval village aura and that is probably its most striking feature. You should explore its narrow alleys, surrounded by stone houses carved into the rocks and their green gardens as you climb towards the top of the woods. Enter the castle doors, admire its grandeur, go through its walls and stop to admire the wonderful views which surround it.
Buried deep in the Serra do Açor (a protected landscape area), which is full of breathtaking views, springs and pastureland, the historical village of Piódão is reminiscent of a crib because of the harmonious way in which its houses are arranged in the form of an amphitheatre. At night, when the village´s lights are turned on, this picture is particularly magnificent.
The distinctive feature of this mountain village with its narrow winding streets is schist, a stone found in great abundance in the region and used to build the houses and pavements, forming a large patch of uniform colour, interrupted by the vivid blue of the windows or doors of some houses. This note of dissonant colour owes its origin to a practical consideration, for it is said that the only shop in the village had nothing but blue paint to sell, and in view of the village´s isolation it was not easy for people to travel anywhere else. It has in fact been this isolation and the difficulties in travelling elsewhere that have helped to preserve many of the characteristics of this ancient village intact.
Amongst the group of small two-storey houses, the one building that particularly stands out is the parish church dedicated to Our Lady of the Conception, which is whitewashed and supported by some rather peculiar cylindrical buttresses. It was built by the local population in the early 19th century, with their gold and money. A historical village that has never actually played a major part in the History of Portugal, Piódão has become famous more recently because of its scenographic setting in the heart of the Serra do Açor. Such beauty is more than sufficient reason for visiting the village.
Built upon a granite massif near Serra de Opa, Sortelha is a small village which has kept its medieval outline. Its houses, surrounded by the walls of the majestic castle, follow the irregularities of the land. The place where it was established, which was difficult to reach, made the defence against enemy attacks easier and it has always shown clear advantages for military strategies. That is why it has been inhabited since the Neolithic.
After its first castreja town, it was occupied by the Romans, the Visigoths and the Arabs until, after the Christian Reconquista, because of its proximity to the Kingdom of Castile, King Sancho I considered essential to repopulate it. King Sancho II, who in 1228 had granted it the charter, ordered a castle to be built on top of an impressive granite highland. Later, the keep and the alcazaba were reinforced by the oval walls which still protect the town houses, probably built by order of King D. Dinis.
The venturous King Manuel renovated the charter and ordered a pelourinho to be built at the bottom of the fortification at a time when the town was slowly expanding outside the walls. Sortelha still keeps its medieval legacy, its houses spread like a granite amphitheatre nestled between the walls, shadowed by the high silhouette of the keep, a memory from the first histories of Portugal.
This extremely beautiful mediaeval town has succeeded in preserving its own distinctive characteristics over the centuries. Walking through the streets of Monsaraz is like going back in time, for it is a truly unique place where one can find all the peace and tranquillity that have been forgotten by the modern era.
The most immediate visual impression in the town is that of the whitewash and schist of its houses and buildings. Every year, throughout the month of July, Monsaraz becomes an open-air museum, affording visitors the opportunity to get to know more about the customs and habits used in the production of Alentejo handicraft, appreciate the delights of the regional cuisine and enjoy the various cultural events that are held there, including music, theatre, dance and art exhibitions.
As far as the town’s architectural heritage is concerned, the highlights are the mediaeval castle and keep, the former court building (built between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries) and the parish church of Nossa Senhora da Lagoa (dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries).
The delightful town of Óbidos, with white houses adorned with bougainvilleas and honeysuckle was captured from the Moors by the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, in 1148. D. Dinis later presented it to his wife, Queen Santa Isabel. From then until 1883, the town of Óbidos and the surrounding land was always the property of the queens of Portugal. Visiting Óbidos and touring its streets is a unique experience.
Encircled by a ring of medieval walls and crowned by the Moorish castle rebuilt by D. Dinis, which is now a pousada, Óbidos is one of the most perfect examples of our medieval fortress. It s in olden times, the town is entered through the southern gate of Santa Maria, embellished with eighteenth-century azulejo decoration. Inside the walls, which at sunset take on a golden colouring, one can sense a cheerful medieval ambience of winding streets, old whitewashed houses bordered with blue or yellow, Manueline embrasures and windows, reminding us that King D. Manuel I (sixteenth century) carried out major works here, and masses of colourful flowers and plants.
Be sure to visit the Igreja Matriz de Santa Maria (Parish Church of Santa Maria), the pretty Capela de São Martinho (Chapel of S. Martinho) and, outside the town walls, the Igreja do Senhor da Pedra (Church of the Senhor da Pedra). Among the events that take place every year in Óbidos, the most important are the Holy Week Festivities (recreating the steps on the Way of the Cross), the Ancient Music Festival in October and, for the more gluttinous, the International Chocolate festival in March, which includes an international competition in which the recipes are judged by an international jury of experts.