12 HISTORIC VILLAGES OF CENTRAL PORTUGAL

Almeida | Belmonte | Castelo Mendo | Castelo Novo | Castelo Rodrigo | Idanha-a-Velha | Linhares da Beira | Marialva | Monsanto | Piódão | Sortelha | Trancoso

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| 01

ALMEIDA

This fascinating town overlooks the Cõa river and is close to the border with Spain. Almeida is a fine example of a distinctive fortress style devised by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. These 17-Century ramparts replace the original defensive walls destroyed during the War of Restoration. Humans have taken advantage of Almeida's prime strategic location since antiquity. Almeida has been in the firing line throughout Portugal's history leaving a lasting legacy in the town's architecture and psyche.

Access to the town is through one of three gated portals. Inside the walls, the cobbled medieval streets are well preserved and lined with granite houses interspersed with quaint squares. In the Praça do Liberdade you will find the old town hall. The town has an insightful military museum housed within the former barracks. In the centre, there are the remains of the old castle. It was blown to smithereens during the French siege of 1810. During the last weekend of August, the town stages a re-enactment of the Siege of Almeida. The festival lasts for three days. Following the mock battles, the public socialises with soldiers from Portugal, France, Spain and UK.

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Almeida

| 02

BELMONTE

The young river Zêzere flows through the Cova da Beira valley. Overlooking is the small town of Belmonte. Often neglected by tourists and tourist guides, Belmonte is overflowing with charm, tradition and history. Belmonte's position on the eastern slopes of the Serra da Estrela mountain is the source of the town's name "Bella Monte, or beautiful hill". The skeleton of a 13th-century castle occupies Belmonte's highest point, a reminder that things were not always so sleepy and peaceful here.

Below the southern end of the castle walls, within the maze of narrow streets, is the Jewish Quarter. Belmonte was traditionally home to the largest community of Jews on the whole Iberian peninsular and the oldest synagogue dating back to the 13th century. The old town is a pleasure to walk around, the narrow streets, Beira-style stone houses and old-worldly charm. Points of interest are signposted with carved wooden plaques. At the heart of the old town is the Largo do Pelourinho square dominated on one side by the 15th-century old town hall. Belmonte was included in Portugal's Historic Villages (Aldeias Históricas de Portugal) programme in 2003. They intend to restore, rehabilitate and promote a chosen group of ancient villages/human settlements within the Beiras region.

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Belmonte

WHAT IS THE HISTORIC VILLAGES OF PORTUGAL PROGRAMME?

The Historic villages of Portugal (Programa de Aldeias Históricas) is a restoration programme started in 1991 and encompasses twelve small, yet statically important, ancient villages within the Beira Interior region of Central Portugal. Each settlement involved in the project has, in some way, played a pivotal role in the creation and defence of Portugal throughout history. Originally encompassing ten villages the programme has since been extended to twelve and includes: Almeida, Belmonte, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Novo, Castelo Rodrigo, Idanha-a-Velha, Linhares da Beira, Marialva, Monsanto, Piodão, Sortelha and Trancoso.

Ironically it was peacetime that brought these splendid villages into decline. The regional economy collapsed and the young moved to more urban areas where the way of life is more prosperous and easy. Little by little buildings emptied, populations became older and the villages began to crumble. Since its inauguration the Programa de Aldeias Históricas restoration scheme has not only restored the physical aspects of the villages but also improved public access, and transport, encouraging tourism and thus reanimating the life of these historical homesteads. Today the old people who remained here rub shoulders with visitors eager to witness a living snapshot into the past.

| 03

CASTELO MENDO

In this ancient village, there are Manueline houses found within the narrow medieval streets that lead uphill to the skeletal remains of the Castle. Humans have been building fortresses on this vantage point since the Bronze Age and evidence of Roman occupation has also been unearthed. The current defensive walls date back to the 12th Century and played a climactic role in defending Portugal against her age-old foes. Following the signing of the Treaty of Alcanizes and Portugal's borders being permanently established, Castelo Mendo lost its importance and its long decline began.

Entrance into the ramparts is through one of six gatehouses, the main one is flanked by two stone pigs that date back to before Roman times. The houses are all constructed from the local granite and sit on two storeys, the lower floor was used to house livestock. So much of the village lies in ruins, including two churches that are missing their roofs, a testament to the turbulent history of the area. Recently renovation work has begun with the aim to restore the village's most prominent features. Visitors who venture here enjoy a trip back to a different era. Find a hotel deal in Castelo Mendo ►

Castelo Mendo

| 04

CASTELO NOVO

Perched on the Serra da Gardunha hillside is the time-worn village of Castelo Novo which dates back to the early days of Portugal's independence. The lands around the villages were gifted to the Templar Knights to man the castle and defend the area from the Moors, who were eager to reconquer the region. The village sprung up around the perimeter of the castle walls and its ancient serpentine streets meander their way upwards. Hidden away within the labyrinth of medieval streets are charming small squares, one of which, the Largo da Bica, is where the Town Hall resides and has several curious aspects, most particularly an 18th-century Baroque fountain. In the centre of the square is an impressive pillory (Pelourinho). Find a hotel deal in Castelo Novo ►

Castelo Novo

| 05

CASTELO RODRIGO

The origins of Castelo Rodrigo pre-date Portugal. King Alfonso IX of Léon constructed the castle to protect the lands recently wrestled from the Moors in the early 1200s. Later, Castelo Rodrigo was constantly fought over between León and Portugal. The village found itself embroiled in the politics of both countries on many occasions and bears the scars left by the constant disputes.

Today within its medieval ramparts old houses can be found. Here too, you can see narrow cobbled streets (largely pedestrianised), a clock tower, a cistern and a Manueline Pelourinho. Another point of interest is the 12th century Igreja do Reclamador church and its statue of St James. Castelo Rodrigo stands on a former route taken by pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela. On the opposite peak to Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo is the Serra da Marofa. Standing on the summit is a massive replica of Christ the King statue. Find a hotel deal in Castelo Rodrigo ►

Castelo Rodrigo

| 06

IDANHA-A-VELHA

This small picturesque village contains an extraordinary cluster of ruins of great archaeological importance. The foundations of Idanha-a-Velha lie over a Roman City (1st century BC). Vestiges from Roman times still exist, the remains of a temple sit under the Templar's Tower and at the nearby river the Roman bridge is still in use. King Afonso III of León took the Idanha-a-Velha from the moors and it was inaugurated into the County of Portugal (Condado Portucalense). When Portugal's first King came to the area the village was awarded to the Knights Templar.

Today Idanha-a-Velha still bears witness to the turbulent history the village endured. The ramparts, with their small towers and gatehouse, encompass the medieval settlement inside. The Sé or Cathedral dates from the Visigothic period and outside stands the ruins of the bishop’s palace and an even earlier Roman house. Here too is a restored olive-oil press that uses two huge tree trunks.

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Idanha-a-Velha

TOP TOURS

Private Tour to Portugal's Shale Historic Villages with Lunch

Private Tour to Portugal's Shale Historic Villages with Lunch

The mountain province of Beira Baixa is known for its spectacular scenery, forested valley, rivers, and quaint villages. Renting a car and driving on unfamiliar mountain roads can be a daunting experience for a first-time visitor, so avoid the stress by opting for a private tour instead. Discover ancient villages you likely wouldn’t find alone, find out about the region’s history, and enjoy having a picnic-style lunch included.
• Enjoy the luxury of having a private driver for the day
• A tasty picnic lunch is included
• Incredible views of Beira Baixa mountains and villages
• Great for history and architecture fans
• See Castelo Novo Historical Site

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Full-Day Portuguese Historical Villages Tour

Full-Day Portuguese Historical Villages Tour

Steep yourself into the rich history of Aldeias on this full-day historical tour. Immerse in Northern Portugal’s storied villages with the help of a knowledgeable bi-lingual guide. Visit Celorico da Beira and Linhares da Beira, where your guide will illuminate their culture for you. Learn about Rome’s influence on the stone architecture and paved roads and also see the Castle of Linhares and the equally stunning Church of Santa Maria. This is a great opportunity for any history buff or intrepid traveller.
• A full-day historical tour of Aldeias
• Learn about the origins of Portugal
• Discover quaint stone houses and winding country roads
• Get to know the culture of this charming place
• See the Castle of Linhares and Church of Santa Maria.

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Portugal Historical Villages - Private Tour

Portugal Historical Villages - Private Tour

Take the opportunity to discover the most impressive historic villages within Portugal. Visit this treasure inside Portugal, so well preserved. Untouched natural and historical beauty that will leave you breathless. Get into contact with the local people and find out how Portuguese people really are. Enjoy this tour on luxury private transportation at your own pace.
• Choose from various Lisbon pick-up points
• Belmonte
• Sortelha

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| 07

LINHARES DA BEIRA

Situated on the western slopes of the Serra da Estrela, Linhares da Beira is a 12th-century medieval village boasting unequalled architectural and artistic diversity. Simple granite houses stand side by side with manor-houses still displaying signs of their ancient nobility. At an elevation of 800 metres stands the town's imposing castle. Rebuilt in the 13th century by 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 the land around. The parish church, originally Romanesque, was rebuilt in the 17th century. It has three valuable wood paintings attributed to the great Portuguese master painter Vasco Fernandes (Grão Vasco). Wandering around the streets of this museum village the visitor is transported back to another epoch. Find a hotel deal in Linhares da Beira ►

Linhares da Beira

| 08

MARIALVA

Take a step back in time and visit this attractive Beira town. Marialva is perched on a summit over the remains of a settlement that pre-dates Roman occupancy. Successive peoples settled here, the Visigoths and the Arabs, before falling into the hands of Christian armies in 1063. Following Portugal's independence, the fortifications were rebuilt and strengthened. The village of Marialva grew around the castle and attained wealth and importance in the region. More peaceful times saw a decline in the town and modern munitions made the Castle irrelevant. Much of the medieval village, buildings and streets, still exist in varying states of preservation. Along with visiting the castle and the ruins of the old ramparts, look out for the São Tiago Church, Nossa Senhora dos Passos Chapel, the court, the prison and the Roman city of Civitas Aravorum. Find a hotel deal in Marialva ►

Marialva

| 09

MONSANTO

Carved out of the living rock the village Monsanto looms over the landscape below. Once considered the most “Portuguese“ of Portugal’s villages, the area has been settled since Palaeolithic times. Ruins of a Roman township stand at the foot of the Monsanto mountain. The Templar Knights were awarded the village following its liberation from the Moors. It was from this period the first castle and stone defences were constructed. The need to protect Portugal’s newly won borders precipitated the reason for Monsanto to exist. Albeit the tough terrain, the associated village thrived as a trading post. Nothing seems to have changed since its heyday in medieval times. The steep, narrow streets have maintained much of their original features, such as granite buildings that utilise the giant boulders that inhabit the hilltop.

Getting to the castle involves a brisk stroll up the hillside but your efforts will be well rewarded by the vistas that await you at the top. Carved blocks seem to mingle seamlessly with the bedrock and exposed rocky outcrops. The castle's Romanesque chapel, Capela de São Miguel, is missing a roof and the stone coffins that surround it are missing their inhabitants. Monsanto is unique in Portugal, if not the world. Not only is it a snapshot in time, the whole village seems to blend into its surroundings.

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Monsanto

| 10

PIÓDÃO

Piódão is ensconced on the slopes of the Serra do Açor mountain range and its jumble of tightly packed houses blending into the landscape. The main building material is the distinctive schist that makes up the bedrock in the region. One striking feature of each building is blue-coloured doors and window frames. According to local legend, blue coloured gloss paint was the only item available in the village store. One structure does stand out however, the parish church dedicated to Our Lady of the Conception, which is whitewashed and supported by some rather peculiar cylindrical buttresses. It was built and paid for by the residents of Piódão in the early 19th century.

The village's isolation has helped to preserve much of the original age-old features, as well as being the perfect hide-away for outlaws fleeing the authorities. Its believed that one of the murderers of D. Inês de Castro went into hiding here, thus escaping the wrath of D. Pedro I (14th century). Today Piódão serves as a base camp for hikers keen to explore the rugged beauty of the Serra do Açor. Find a hotel deal in Piódão ►

Piódão

| 11

SORTELHA

Crowned by a castle at an elevation of 760 metres Sortelha retains its medieval layout and much of its original buildings. The structure is built from granite blocks hewn out of the landscape surrounding the village. Sortelha is part of a line of defences that protected early Portugal from Moorish counterattacks. The small hamlet is still encased within grey stone ramparts. Entrance is attained through a Gothic gateway, over which there is a balcony through which all kinds of projectiles were thrown at assailants. At the entrance of the gateway is an elegant pillory, surmounted by an armillary sphere, the symbol of D. Manuel I. Here too there's a 14th-Century church with an arabesque ceiling and an interesting wood-carved Baroque altar. Hikers come here to enjoy the wonderful terrain and walk the Roman road once used by pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela.
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Sortelha

| 12

TRANCOSO

Perched upon its vantage point on a plateau 900 metres high, the pretty town of Trancoso has stood sentinel over the surrounding landscape for millennia. Its strategic location has been exploited by all the various peoples who have occupied this area. The history of Trancoso mirrors that of Portugal itself. Much of the medieval town is preserved behind 13th-century ramparts encompassing a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets lined with stone houses, shady squares, old churches, defence towers and a castle with 10th-century origins. It was in Trancoso Dom Dinis married his 12-year-old bride, Isabel of Aragon, in 1282. He later gave her the town as a gift.

Trancoso's castle has occupied the high ground on the northeast end of town since the 10th century and was the focus of many disputes between Christian and Muslim armies during the Reconquista, changing hands many times. In 1139 it was peminately conquered by Afonso Henriques. Within the courtyard there's a cistern, a well and the ruins of an old 16th-century chapel.

The existing outer walls date from between 1248 and 1325 AD. There are three main entrances though the bulwarks; the Portas d'el Rei, Portas do Prado and Porta do Carvalho, plus two secondary gates; Porta da Traição and Olhinho do Sol. The Portas d'El Rei and Portas do Prado gates are flanked by two mighty towers. Despite some demolition that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries, most of the perimeter walls are well preserved. In 1921 Trancoso was classified as a National Monument.

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Trancoso