Schist Villages Tour
Suggested duration of stay: 7 nights
Type of tour: nature, historical, archaeological
Arrival: Lisbon International Airport
Transport: Hire a car
Portuguese schist villages. A sight to behold. Hidden in the mountains. Lost in time. Lost in the landscape. The stone cottages crumbling, roofs having collapsed long ago; weathered and reclaimed by nature. Ancient stories whispered by locals of villages abandoned long ago. Villages so remote with no connection to modern amenities. Powered by the sun and wind, water supplied by the mountain. An ancient way of living. Lost and forgotten, as the local elders passed away and the younger generation left to pursue work.
Schist - the stone used in the construction of the houses. It originates from the mountains. Different tones across the mountains in varying shades of reds and oranges. It can be seen in the construction of buildings and the paving of the narrow winding streets; streets that have something magical to embrace you at every turn. Blink and you may miss the connection to the mountain as the rocks blend into the colours of the natural landscape here.
27 villages spread across the central region – there are many delights for you to encounter. Each village is unique. In its stone, in its energy and in its natural breath-taking vistas.
These villages are being ‘found’ again. Reclaimed and brought back to life. The buildings being lovingly restored with ancient methods and materials. The mountain roads inaccessible for building materials means the ancient ways have been revived too. Hard graft and manual labour.
It is like stepping back in time. Stepping away from the modern world and witnessing tradition keep its foothold. The mountains invite nature lovers and adventurers. The communities are welcoming and keen to share their stories, traditions and crafts with seekers. If you are visiting from the city, you will be deafened by the silence. Astounded by the vistas. Exhilarated with the abundance of life here. Life like you have never known it.
Slower. Kinder. Gentler. Soothing. Nurturing.
What Is On Offer Here?
- River beaches
- Exploration of the mountains, rocks, forests, caves, waterfalls, rivers and dams
- Fauna and flora spotting
- Walking and biking trails
- Extreme sports: downhill biking, caving, canoeing, climbing, abseiling, rope slides, trail running
- Mountain exploration: jeep tours, motorbikes
- Crafts: engage in a local craft/creative workshop
- Stroll through the winding streets of the villages
- The story of abandoned and restored villages
- Chapels and churches, castles and fortresses
- Ancient roman ruins
- Exploration of the Rock Art Network
- Experience the Roman and Muslim influences
The Schist Villages Tour
Day 0: The Arrival
Drive from Lisboa Airport to Gondramaz: 2 hours
Accommodation: Mountain Whisper, Largo Do Leão, Gondramaz, Miranda do Corvo
Phone: +351 239 532 055
GPS: 40º03’43.0” N // 8º16’20.9” W
Duration: 2 nights.
Parking: in the village car-park.
Check-in: self-check in. Easy and effortless.
Driving in to Gondramaz over the mountain passes on our first night, we realised we were coming into somewhere very special. Forget parking outside your house. Parking here is in the village carpark, enough for a few cars. A walk down the winding, cobbled paths to Mountain Whisper. Not a place for your big suitcase. Leave that at home.
Gondramaz has small streets and quaint houses, surrounded by trees and vegetation in the valley below. Windmills are visible on the top of the mountains, taking advantage of the Atlantic winds.
Day 1: Jeep Tour of the Schist Villages
A Jeep Tour in the Serra da Lousa and Schist Villages, arranged by Margarida Amaral of Mountain Whisper.
Jeep Tour Stopping Points
The Castle of Lousa, located on the top of a hill and dating back to the 11th century. A medieval castle belonging to one of the first defensive lines created to control the southern accesses to Coimbra. With its spiral staircase and panoramic views of the mountains it was a great place to soak in the landscape.
A short stroll down the road, over the wooden walkways – which are a feat of engineering in themselves, you will find Priaia Fluvial da Senhora da Piedade in an enchanted valley, where the river meanders and has been transformed into natural pools. A natural River Beach. Families, couples and friends gather here to relax and cool off from the hot summer sun in the natural pool.
Our next stop was Candal Schist Village, with its natural swimming pool. It oozes charm and tranquillity. Houses positioned precariously on the mountain side; I wonder how they stay where they are! Candal is situated next to the National Road that connects Lousa to Castanheira de Pera. The houses closest to the road are painted white; a sign of wealth. Away from the roadside and as you meander up the cobbled streets, you find the traditional schist stone homes. Tiny little buildings, with even smaller windows; for the less wealthy. A quaint and quiet village. A few local people sitting in their gardens, watching the world go by.
A short drive away, Talasnal Schist Village. Stunningly beautiful. The schist rock colour here was more vibrant somehow. Alive almost. Exploring this village we found ‘A Taberna Restaurant’ that catered for vegan and vegetarian diners (very unexpected), a bar in an ‘animal basement’ and super friendly local people. There was a buzz of energy in the air here. We saw mountain bike and e-bike hire advertised as we walked into the village square.
The story of the animal basement. Houses in Portugal are built where the ground floor is used to keep the animals. The first floor is for human habitation. The heat rises from the animals, warming the living quarters above. The ground floor ceilings are low. Walking into the bar – the ceiling height and lack of light was noticeable – a stark reminder of tradition. Stepping out the back of the building and onto the veranda, light and panoramic views of the mountain and valley below hit your senses.
Our last stop was the biggest swing in the world, with the best views! The Swing of Lousa, Baloiço. Located on the top of the mountain and on the border between Leiria and Coimbra Districts. We couldn't restrict a quick swing before we headed off.
Then the drive back to Gondramaz Schist Village. We went the ‘scenic’ route down mountain sides and pathways that don’t see much traffic. Deserted, wild and rugged.
Today was a slice of heaven. It was like stepping back in time. The modern world hasn't taken over here. Tradition is retained. Panoramic green views. Old meets new, with old Schist houses renovated - oozing charm. No noise pollution. Clean air. No cars, buses, trains. Just people, pets and birdies. Bliss.
Day 2: Waterfall Walk and Pottery Throwing Class
After breakfast in the Mountain Whisper garden of wildlife and serenity, we ventured off on a walking trail from the centre of Gondramaz.
Wild flowers growing underneath our feet and surrounded by chestnut trees, we walked down the clearly marked walking route ‘Caminho do Xisto de Gondramaz’ or the Gondramaz Schist Walking Trail; a trail that takes you through 3 schist villages. Bring your hiking shoes for the trails. They are not suitable for trainers or flip-flops.
As well as the walking trails, there are off-road mountain bike routes. Downhill biking is a big thing here in Serra da Lousa, with people coming from all over the world to compete and experience the thrills from this exhilarating sport. Trail running is a big draw to the area too. Our guide said the terrain is rough and there are steep mountain sides, so jeeps and motorbikes love it here.
We had a gentle walk to the Gondramaz Waterfall before setting off to our next Schist Village, Cerdeira.
Drive from Gondramaz to Cerdeira: 40 minutes
Accommodation: Cerdeira – Home for Creativity, Lugar da Cerdeira, 3200-509 Lousã
Phone: +351 239 160 799
GPS: 40º15’38.64” N // 8º11’46.97” W
Duration: 1 night.
Parking: in the village car-park.
Check-in: at reception. We were shown to our cottage.
Driving into Cerdeira felt like we were leaving civilisation behind. A remote village that had been abandoned 35 years ago by all but 1 resident. It was reclaimed 9 years ago by an exceptional vision and woman - an artist. Now, it is a centre of creativity where people from around the world come to experience the creative classes on offer here, as well as the exceptional hiking and views.
This is the place to get your creative juices flowing, with sculptures and artwork disguised in the landscape.
On arrival we noticed the mountain side was steep, with houses perched in there. Completely engulfed by trees. Cut off from everything. We walked into the village (again, not a place for a big suitcase) and were greeted by smiley faces in reception.
Lunch was served for us at ‘Taberna das Artes’ before we were taken to a surprise pottery throwing class. We had a translator but the teacher was easy to understand and very patient with us! An amazing experience getting our hands (and clothes) dirty and laughing until our bellies hurt.
After the class, we went back to the cottage to relax before dinner was brought to the house for us; a real treat.
Sitting out on the eve of my 40th birthday on the terrace overlooking the mountain valley filled us with expansiveness of thought; incredulous with how the village had been lost and reclaimed. Evidence right in front of us of how the village had crumbled, the buildings collapsed and reclaimed by nature. The view from the terrace was absolutely stunning, and as the sun set in the valley below, the bats started to make an appearance. Flying out of the cottage roof above our heads to play and explore the terrain and sea of green that extends for miles and miles. I can’t even put it into words for you. I can say, serenity abounds here and you will feel deeply at peace the moment you sit down.
Day 3: Wood Fired Bread Making Workshop
We left Cerdeira early this morning to move to Ferraria de São João. A quiet village, more open and spacious in its landscape and village layout than Cerdeira and Gondramaz. A flatter landscape with fields of crops before the hills rise up in the distance.
Drive from Cerdeira to Ferraria de São João: 1 hour
Accommodation: Vale do Ninho – Nature Houses, Ferraria de São João, 3230-018 Penela
Phone: +351 919 048 373
GPS: 39º58’25.36 N // 8º19’36.32” W
Duration: 2 nights.
Parking: allocated space right outside the house.
Check-in: self-check in.
Our host at Vale do Ninho booked us onto a Wood Fired Bread Making workshop. The teacher, Fatima, spoke only in Portuguese. It was time for me to practise my language skills!
We were joined by a local elder, Lucinda, who was my angel in disguise - helping me hold the bowl whilst I did the vigorous kneading and a few younger local people, that helped us with translation.
Fatima asked if we wanted to put anything in the bread. Whilst we were waiting for the bread to prove and the wood fired oven to heat up to temperature, Pedro (our official translator) took us into the local village and knocked on doors.
Wandering the streets, we chatted about village life here. There are goat houses all around the village; most families keep goats and grow their own vegetables.
After a few attempts of knocking on doors, a lady in her late 60s answered the door. Pedro explained in Portuguese we were doing a bread making course in the village and we introduced ourselves. She introduced herself as Senhora Maria Cecilia. He asked if she had any ingredients we could use. Pedro didn't know her; she was a stranger to him.
She went into her outdoor pantry and came back with 2 onions, sprigs of parsley and oregano. She asked if we have olive oil and wanted to make sure we had everything we needed for our bread making extravaganza.
She was on holiday there, staying in her second home. She was kind, lovely and the sun shone from deep within her. A gorgeous encounter, typical of the Portuguese.
We had far too much bread to take home after the class, so we gifted it to the kind souls that crossed our path today.
There is such a sense of community here and much laughter and joy rings in the air.
We had a fresh lunch served for us in the garden of the Nature House before we headed out for the afternoon to explore the local area by car.
Day 4: Portuguese Walking Trail
Today we got our hiking shoes on! We took the walking trail from Pedra da Ferida to Loucainha, which takes in the Cascata da Pedra da Ferida (waterfall).
From Vale do Ninho, drive to here: 40.0128643 -8.3484533, then follow the signs to Pedra da Ferida. Sat Nav does not recognise the last bit of dirt track to the start of the walking route! The journey takes 20 minutes by car. There was plenty of parking where we started the trail.
You definitely need your hiking shoes for this one. Rated 4 out of 5 for difficulty, we scaled up rocks, we walked the plank, we walked next to many waterfalls and took SO many steps up.
This was our first taste of a Portuguese walking trail. The route was so easy to navigate, being very well marked out all the way.
3 hours of intense workout but we had so many laughs along the way and there were lots of interesting things to see and explore on the way.
The Cascata da Pedra da Ferida (waterfall) was a sight to see. Powerful, magnificent and majestic.
The end of the trail is marked by the Praia Fluvial da Loucainha – the Loucainha River Beach. Complete with diving board! And no, we did not. The water was freezing!
Conveniently located, we ended our walk with a glorious meal at ‘Xisto Restaurant’ which overlooks the Praia Fluvial da Loucainha. A very chilled end to the morning. Portuguese lunches last quite a while (1-2 hours), so relax and enjoy the experience.
The restaurant ordered us a taxi to get back to the car, which took around 15 minutes. The taxi driver was female and didn’t speak any English, so make sure you have a map of where the car is parked.
We had the afternoon free to explore so we had a drive out towards Serta. It had a good feeling in the centre; peaceful and relaxed vibe with not much traffic.
Day 5: Road Trip
Today was a public holiday in Portugal, Dia de Portugal or Portugal Day; the perfect day for a ROAD TRIP!
Checking out of Vale de Ninho we headed to our next and final stopping point, Villa Pedra.
Drive from Ferraria de São João to Costas-Pombalinho: 30 minutes
Accommodation: Villa Pedra Nature Houses, Rua do Rechio e Seladas, Cotas, 3130-092 Pombalinho
Phone: +351 910 731 194 // 917 216 470
GPS: 40º00’11.7” N // 8º29’10.2” W
Duration: 2 nights.
Parking: in Villa Pedra’s car park or on the road.
Check-in: met outside on arrival. We were shown to our villa and patiently guided around with lots of love and care.
Our Road Trip
Leaving Ferraria de São João, we drove through Penela, Rabacal, Germanelo, Conimbriga, Coimbra and landed at Cotas later in the day. It was a really lovely drive, with lots to see and places to stop off for a wander around.
Penela was one of my favourites, mainly because of the vibe and I have an obsession with soap-stones. These are used in the Calçadas or pavements in Portugal. Penela is a town with the traditional Calçadas. I love a town with soap stones! I know, I know, you think I am crackers. However, in my defence I studied Geology and have a fascination with rocks and gemstones. We pulled into what looked like Penela’s market carpark and I am greeted by a massive pile of them. Just in the car park. Anyway, enough about the soap stones.
We arrived when the outdoor market was on; there was a hive of activity and people wandering around the stalls. We had a wander up to Penela Castle, walking through the Town’s Gate and I fell in love with the castle’s great rock. This castle was fundamental in the Mondego defensive line. We made our way round the fortress walls and were overwhelmed at every turn by the views across the valley. I might have pretended to shoot an arrow or two out of the tiny slits… Leaving the castle, we wandered past the Saint Michael Church and around the narrow streets with low houses, taking more photos than is necessary of the soap stone pavements and cute little streets.
We drove through Rabacal, where there is a great Roman housing complex, then on to Germanelo. There is a castle here that we really wanted to see. There is little of it left now, just one wall. Driving up the road to it, we rounded the corner in the car, both looked at each other and said NO. The road became narrow and transformed into a treacherous track; one where cars do not survive. Definitely one for a jeep or motorbike! We abandoned that idea, turned the car around and moved swiftly on to visit Conimbriga.
Here we visited Conimbriga Ruinas e Museu Monografico, one of the largest roman settlements excavated in Portugal. It blew us away to be honest. It is detailed as Portugal's most significant Roman site, and I can see why. My favourite bits were the mosaics, the house of fountains (they actually work) and the amphitheatre. We explored the extensive ruins and walked on the roman roads – all of it well preserved, and had lunch in the picnic area. We didn’t get time to look in the museum but I can imagine it is packed full of artefacts excavated from the site. Apparently only around 20% of the total historical, urban area has been excavated. The remains certainly give a fascinating insight in to the life and culture during the Roman occupation of Portugal.
Next stop was Coimbra. Coimbra is famous for its University, the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe, which has become known as ‘the city of students’. We loved it. Vibrant, bustling and lots more soap stone pavements! There is beautiful architecture everywhere, live music being played in the streets and so much to look at. We wished we could have stayed here much longer, but we had to make a move.
Leaving Coimbra we headed to Cotas, to check in to Villa Pedra.
Day 6: Jeep Tour of the Serra do Sico
We had the morning off to go sort out our PCR-test for our return flight. We headed into the local town for this: Condeixa-a-Nova.
After lunch we were met by Afonso, to take us on a Jeep Tour of the Serra do Sico or Sico Mountains, arranged by Marta Gomes of Villa Pedra.
We had no idea what was in store for us but were pleasantly surprised!
Afonso drove us in and around the mountains, talking to us about the environment, flora and fauna, the geology and history of the area. He explained that Muslims conquered the Iberian peninsula. The Christians took control and the Muslims wanted to reclaim it. The Christians built castles and defences all across the area to protect the King in Coimbra, encompassing the Sico mountains and the Mondega river, which runs through Coimbra. He shared with us so many interesting facts and stories – too many for here.
Unbeknown to us, in and amongst the jeep tour, Afonso had arranged stopping points, where we experienced a couple of tours.
The first stopping point was in the Ansiao area - the Moinho de Vento da Melriça. 3 old windmills on the top of a very big hill. Two old men are restoring them. One of the windmills currently works, having being fully restored. They didn’t speak a word of English but thankfully our guide helped us out with translation. They let us look inside two of the windmills. And then the wind picked up and the sails started turning! That was an awesome experience.
The windmills were built to take advantage of the wind coming off the Atlantic, for breadmaking purposes. The windmills powered the grinding mechanism and were used to grind corn and grain, for the bread. To maximise the use of the wind, they had to turn the windmill on a stone circle to face the wind. We had a go and it was hard work! It involved using a wooden prop under the wheel to push it.
From the viewpoint at the top of the hill, we could see the roman settlement below, with the olive trees and vines typical of what would have been there at the time.
Reluctantly, we got back in the jeep to move on. Our next stop was at Complexo Monumental de Santiago da Guarda, a post roman empire villa in Ansiao. We had a tour and talk before we wandered around on our own. It has an incredible story. It was a rented house for years, with the old remains of the roman villa buried underneath the existing house. Can you imagine, renting a house and not knowing under your cellar are AMAZING roman floor mosaics, and stonework.
We then went off-roading in the jeep, down the steep mountain tracks. I can tell you, there were a few hairy moments...
Lastly, we visited the castle of Germanelo. The castle we attempted to visit yesterday in the car. Again, do not attempt to drive up here, unless you have a 4x4 jeep. The path is not suitable for cars. Jeep or walking only. Even though it only has one wall, oh my. The visit is worth it for the breath-taking panoramic views.
We headed back to Villa Pedra for our last night in Portugal. When it got dark, we went for a wander around the streets. Where there were no lights, we were treated to the sight of FIREFLYS. A special treat to end our magical trip.
Day 7: The Departure
Drive from Costas-Pombalinho to Lisboa Airport: 1 hour 40 minutes
VIDEO: 7 Day Schist Villages Tour, Portugal
Make sure you have YouTube subtitles switched ON!
- Self-check in made this really easy and convenient to access at any time of arrival.
- Stunningly beautiful renovation of a schist house. Old meets new here. Contemporary interior and facilities whilst retaining the character of the schist stone. Restored with precision and attention to detail.
- The house has a private terrace with BBQ facilities and access to a shared pool, with next door.
- Mountain views to die for, with trees up the mountainside and windmills on the top of the mountain.
- Breakfast is served in the peaceful garden (a shared space) looking onto the trees and vegetation of the valley below, with the sound of nature, birds and bugs.
- The locals are super friendly and stopped to talk to us whilst working their land.
- Organise tours, activities and trips to visit local attractions.
- Quaint little schist stone cottage. Small and cosy with an open fire place.
- Large terrace with table and chairs outside to soak in the breath-taking views of the mountain and valley.
- Isolated on top of a mountain. Engulfed by trees. Remote.
- Dinner was served in the cottage, with wine. Breakfast was given to us the night before in a wicker basket. Very good quality food.
Vale do Ninho
- Nature house, with a wood interior. Contemporary with a cabin style.
- Large sliding door leading onto the garden area and shared pool.
- Village feel, with views that go on for miles of a flatter landscape of fields.
- Exposed rocks on top of the surrounding hills.
- Donkeys and a pond with frogs at the bottom of the garden, as well as free-roaming cats and dogs.
- Mountain bike friendly.
- Organise local activities: bread and cheese making.
- Exceptional customer service; we were greeted on arrival and when we departed.
- Attention to detail in the house: a joyful mix of traditional features, modern contemporary elements, vintage décor, antique pieces of furniture and carefully collected pieces of art. Everywhere you look there is something interesting to see. Amazing pure solid slabs of polished rock make up the shower area and banister rail. We even had flower petals in the toilet! A very homely and comfortable place to rest.
- White walls with original stone features accentuated periodically.
- Small terrace upstairs, off the bedroom, with views across the mountains.
- Private gardens for each of the houses.
- Access to a communal pool.
- On arrival we were gifted a welcome basket, with bread, biscuits and jam, as well as a bottle of Villa Pedra wine.
- Dinner was served in the restaurant and house, presented with care and attention to detail for us.
- Fresh bread hanging outside the door every morning.
- Organise tours and trips to visit local attractions.
- GPS devices can be used to explore the local walking trails.
Towns/Cities of Interest
- Serra de Sico: historical, archaeological interest.
- Serra da Lousa: nature, walking, mountain biking, rural life, eco and sustainable living.
- Ferraria de Sao João
- Cotas - Pombalinho
Honestly, we were worried about being vegan and travelling in this area. The area is predominantly meat based, with goat being the main meat served and goats cheese being favoured over cow’s cheese. There are very few cows here.
Restaurants will accommodate but you will need to pre-book and let them know your dietary requirements.
The restaurant has a vegetarian and vegan option on the menu.
The arts restaurant prepared a delicious mushroom risotto for us, not on the menu.
Prepared a 3 course vegan meal for us, not on the menu.
All the accommodation were attentive to our needs, supplying us with alternative milks and breakfast options. They need to know in advance so make sure you tell them your dietary requirements when you book.
The meals that were prepared for us in the accommodation were great quality, fresh ingredients and packed with flavour.
Breakfast is served in the garden of the reception building, looking down into the mountain valley. There is one restaurant in Gondramaz but it isn’t open very much, and when it is it is booked out quickly. Reservation is essential. In Miranda do Corvo, there are a few restaurants. We decided to prepare our own evening meals in the accommodation. We had everything we needed there to cook a meal.
They prepared a vegan main course for us, served at the house. Because we had to leave early the next day, breakfast was given to us the night before in a basket.
Vale do Ninho
They prepared a fresh light lunch for us, served at the house. We prepared our own evening meal in the house. Again, it had everything we needed to cook. Breakfast was brought to us on the first day – enough to last the 2 days.
They prepared a purely delightful 3-course dinner for us on 2 evenings. One was served in the restaurant (we were given a guided tour before we settled in for dinner), the other served at the house and laid out for us very lovingly on the dining room table. Breakfast was in our house on arrival, enough for 2 days. Fresh bread was delivered (by a bread man) each morning at around 9am, and hung in a fabric bag on the door. This was a real treat!
We never felt unsafe in this area.
Everyone we encountered was super friendly, helpful and kind.
The locals we met were welcoming and curious.
No awkward moments, questions or feelings of unease.
It certainly helps to speak a little Portuguese in these remote villages, in taxis and with the locals.
At the attractions we visited, in shops – anything customer focused, people speak English.
They learn English in school from the age of 4-11.
Schist Villages Gallery
A Taberna Restaurant
Talasnal, 3200-120 Lousã
Phone: +351 918 212 523
GPS: 40º05’29.8” N // 8º13’33.4” W
Praia Fluvial da Louçainha, 3230-103 Espinhal
Phone: + 351 239 012 296
GPS: 40º01’34.2” N // 8º18’16.6” W
Wood Fired Bread Making: arranged by Vale do Ninho
Jeep Tour (Lousa and Schist Villages): arranged by Mountain Whisper
Jeep Tour (Sico): arranged by Villa Pedra
Pottery class: arranged by Cedeira
Places to Visit
Germanelo Castle: 40.0263° N // 8.4305° W
Pedestrian trail from Pedra da Ferida to Louçainha. Starting location: 40.0128643 -8.3484533
Conímbriga Monographic Museum
Conímbriga – Condeixa-a-Velha, 3150-220 Condeixa-a-Nova
GPS: 40º05’55.45” N // 8º29’24.72” W
Complexo Monumental de Santiago da Guarda
GPS: 39°56'52.86"N | 8°28'50.52"W
Moinho de Vento da Melriça
Museum of the Roman Villa of Rabaçal
GPS: 40º01’52.32” N // 8º27’14.76” W