Inland Portugal: Centuries-Old Fortresses, National Parks and Rural Villages

After a few days in Lisbon and Tomar, we longed to discover rural Portugal. Its small cobbled-streets hilltop villages with ruined houses and fortresses and their elderly locals. I wasn’t hoping too much on the latter... Unfortunately, my efforts in trying to say a few more words than just “Alo” and “Obrigado” were received with blank looks. I quickly gave up speaking the linguo once realising that many people in their 50s and 60s could speak French (c.f. I am French)! Back in the 50s and 60s, many young Portuguese in their early twenties left the country to find work in France and Germany where the economy was booming.

The lush green landscapes reminded us of our home countries; France and England. We’d been in Morocco for so long that we’d forgotten about woods and forests. In the midst of all this, small villages erected on craggy hills still exist. Their ruined preserved fortresses proof of their 100s year plus history and once strong enclave with villagers going about their business.

Idanha-a-Vella and Monsanto were some of the picturesque villages I’d read about in our guide book. Walks around the villages brought us in time. It was quiet even though we just about avoided a coach load of tourists in Idanha. Monsanto looked the most touristy of the two, was it because it was sunny and a few more souls, including locals, were out? It probably was for its opened cafe/bar, where we sat at the terrace with a panoramic view of the village and the valley below.

Idanha-a-Velha's walls.

A walkway around the walls has been built to enjoy the views and explore some of the ruins.

The restored 16th C. church, the "Cathedral" is built on the ruins of the first Visigothic church built on the Iberian Peninsula.

Some of the Roman excavations dates as far back as a few centuries AD.

Could I fit in?...

Looks like what could have been an old Roman road.

A nice way back from the river.

The whole site.

Marrocos House, the ornate building belongs to a wealthy family. A shame that it seems abandoned.

Better view of Marrocos House. You can see windows broken, what a shame.

Our camp for the night, off the N332 between Idanha-a-Velha & Medelim. It was quiet and beautiful.

Next day, up to Monsanto's ruined castle... Right to the very top of the village.

Quite an amazing view at the top... But, not sure Jamie's happy!

The wall was huge and well preserved.

Quite vertiginous.

Inside, a small chapel.

Quite a view!

Back down, village's life's going on.

Some of the streets and buildings transport you back in time.

Panoramic terrace at the nice and friendly Taverna Lusitana in the heart of the village of Monsanto.

Back down the road, I had to take a picture of these huge boulders!

Next was our first Portuguese National Park: Serra Da Estrela. Who would have thought that not only you could find snowy peaks in Portugal, but that white powder could still be found in large amounts beginning of April? We were up to Portugal’s ski resort; Torre at 1993m. A resort’s quite a big word for what was only a ski-lift, a big 1980’s-looking shop where you could buy everything from local food to warm Winter clothing and a cafeteria (shut in low season). It had been a bank holiday weekend, many cars were still parked and others just arriving like us to enjoy the last hour of sunlight left. Torre became our free camping spot for the night (click on the Torre link to read our brief review of the wild camping spot under Portugal, number 5) - once everybody had gone, the place was even more beautiful; white blanketed mountains and hills all around.

En route to Torre, we could tell we weren't too far by now...

Who would have thought such a big amount of snow could be spotted in April in Portugal?!

Jamo's still in shorts! What a true Yorkshire man :)

Just a blanket of snow for miles.

The lift was shut when we arrived, but had been working all day.

The small ski run.

The shop/cafeteria building can be seen on the right-hand side.

The colours in the sky were just starting to be beautiful then.

Portugal was a great cycling country. One of our best routes was in Serra Da Estrela, a 17km-bike ride from Prados to Linhares. I had read about Linhares’ ruined castle and thought that exploring it on bike would be even better, weather permitted. The castle, like the ones in Monsanto didn’t have much left. We made it just before the shop, housed in one of the two remaining towers, closed its doors and were invited to walk up the top to the bell, but we couldn’t see out – it was all shut unfortunately. It didn’t matter if the castles weren’t grand and majestic, there’s something eery and beautiful to be able to trample on what might once have been a strong fief. We were drawn by Portugal’s magic.

A beautiful stop down from Torre on the N338, Vale Glaciario Do Zezere in Serra Da Estrela.

Just a beautiful view.

The day after, riding from Prados to Linhares on 8 April 2014. Linhares' castle can just be seen high up in the background.

Cobbled streets and crosses.

Inside the fortress, a walkway has been built linking up the two remaining towers.

A small beautiful ground.

Looking over the village.

And the valley.

Looking over the square and centre of the village.

Time for some sannies!

Church of Linhares, originally Roman, it was rebuilt in the 17th century.

An example of the many crosses dotted around Portuguese villages, town and cities.

Back in Prado, a little bit sweatier than when we started, ready to have a coffee at the tiny local bar.

Getting ready to eat out, a shower in the wild before the sun goes down...!

...Unfortunately, our plan to eat out got out of the window as O Albertino in Folgosinho only opens until 7pm during the week, what a shame :(

A good example of one of the finest Portuguese art - Azulejo (painted ceramic tiles).

Before the Douro National Park, we stretched our legs around pretty Castelo Rodrigo. Unlike many of the prettiest villages we’d seen, a great amount of work, time and money had been spent here on preserving the whole village; from its narrow cobbled stone alleyways to its stone houses and shops. Castelo Rodrigo has obviously been lucky in getting the financial resources it needed for a “refreshment”, but lost a little of its authenticity. It may have been for its pristine looks or was it for the £2 euro fee (1 euro each) to visit its ruined fortress that some of its charms had vaporised (all the other ruined fortresses had been free to roam)?

The entrance to the village of Castelo Rodrigo.

A quick look around the organic product shop and cafe/bar, "Sabores do Castelo".

Inside the ruins.

As other villages, a walkway's been built to walk around the walls.

A great view across the valley.
View of the ruins from the back.

The doors are even smaller than me! Who would have thought?!

Quite labyrinthine.

Another great cycling loop was in the Douro National Park, our next stop. We’d managed to plug in Izzy the Motorhome, fill in the water tank and empty our chemical toilets at the Aire, “Area de Servicio” de Freixo de Espada a Cinta, a couple of nights before and so, luckily, were able to wild camp on the edge of the small village, Duas Igrejas (click on the link to read our brief review of the free camping spot under "Portugal", bullet 6). We followed as much as we could an abandoned railway track going through rough paths and fields, passing disused train stations from Duas Igrejas to Sendim and back. We did have to get off our bikes a few times, but it didn’t matter. Our cycling journey was too exciting to be bogged down by minor glitches.

Local people are and have been trying for years now to get the route transformed as a “via verde” which would rejuvenate the local area, help residents exercise a little more and attract much needed tourists to the region. If there’d be a place we’d love to settle and build a campsite, we thought this would be it...

A little detour before Duas Igrejas, Barragem de Bemposta.

Quite an incredible view.

A walk around Duas Igrejas..

Lead us to its abandoned station and its railway turntable.

What was once a cute little station.

Some of the Azulejo art adorning the outer walls of the building.

An abandoned building.

Along the main road and centre of the village, the playground, which probably had seen better days...

Two statues showing the local traditional dance.

The next day, time for our bike ride following/trying to follow the abandoned railway line between Duas Igrejas-Sendim and back.

The cows looked intrigued to see some cyclists...

Checking our route in the centre of the village (Duas Igrejas).

A small abandoned train station between Duas Igrejas and Sendim.

In a state of disrepair...

A lot of fields and farmland all the way to Sendim.

A nice lunch spot in the centre of Sendim.

Its abandoned station was a bit of a way out of the centre. It's being renovated by private owners.

Some Azulejo art displayed on the outer part of the building.

Quite a big project to be taken on.

As the old railway track was full of stones, we managed to follow it from a field track running parallel & cycled on Rd221 back to Duas Igrejas.

Not a bad view from our free camping spot (where we started our bike ride) on the outer edge of Duas Igrejas!

We fell in love with Montesinho National Park; more tiny, quiet and craggy villages still holding on by a few bricks and mortar. It also helped that we found the best campsite in Portugal right in the midst of it, camping Cepo Verde (click on the link to read our brief review). A friendly and welcoming family-run campsite with terraced and green pitches, a lovely restaurant and views on the valley. From here, we stayed put for a couple of nights enjoying our surroundings and the food.

Camping Cepo Verde's main reception (right-hand side) and restaurant (on the left-hand side).

View of the terraced grassed and tree-shaded pitches from the restaurant.

A bike ride from the campsite to the village of Paramio and back.

A nice lunch spot to eat our packed sandwiches.

... And Prince-biscuit too!

A beautifully preserved church in one the villages we cycled by.

It almost looks like the trees are frozen.

Peneda-Geres was without a doubt the most visited National Park. It didn’t help that we crossed it in Easter. We didn’t stop until we reached the Peneda side really, but the views were spectacular and the atmosphere almost mystical and eery in parts. At one point, mist enveloped us as the evening was drawing in until lunch the next day. It was a nice way to finish our visit of Portugal via a National Park. Lindoso with its well-preserved field of 17th and 18th centuries old "horreos" (Portuguese word for old granaries) and the church of Nuestra Senhora Da Peneda with its staired chemin de croix were our highlights.

Jamie at the entrance of Lindoso castle.

It was built in the 13th century to defend the Parish against Spanish insurgencies.

Jamo's feeling like a little boy...

Lindoso's field of old "horreos" (Portuguese name), granaries.

If one didn't know what they were, one could think they'd be tombs especially since each one bear a cross.

The ornamental cross at the entrance.

Our overnight spot for the night (18 April).  Off the EN202 towards Adrao, not far from Sojao. It's 7pm and very foggy!

19 April, 11am. Still very foggy! Jamie can just about be seen on the road in the background.

Going down the "Chemin de Croix" of the church of Nuestra Senora Da Peneda.

Each little "buildings" by the side of the staircase displays a scene of the crucifixion.

The church of Nuestra Senora Da Peneda.

It got more foggy once we left!


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