Monsanto to Piódão – discover the 12 historic villages of Portugal

When we think about visiting Portugal, the first places that come to mind are: Lisbon, Porto and Algarve, but, as you know, Portugal is much more than these three places. In this article you’ll discover villages like Monsanto, located in Central Portugal, secluded villages but with an extraordinary beauty.

These villages are unique with their peculiarities; each is one of a kind and with a story to tell. Believe me, you will want to see them all!

Here are the 12 historic villages of Portugal:

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1. Monsanto

Located on a medieval hill, Monsanto is a small and charming village with about 1160 inhabitants (2001).

Monsanto has retained its authenticity and, in 1938, was elected as the most Portuguese village in Portugal. One of its characteristics is that some granite houses were built between the rocks; these rocks are sometimes the walls or even the ceilings of the houses which is very unusual.

D. Afonso Henriques, the first Portuguese king, conquered Monsanto from the Moors and, right after that, he gave the village to the Knights Templar. They rebuilt the castle that once belonged to the Romans.

After many years, Monsanto lost part of its population and importance – this strengthened its typical side that is known today.

During your visit, don’t miss the opportunity of going to the restaurant Petiscos & Granitos – it is located inside the rocks which is amazing.

Before you leave the village, go to the top of the hill to admire the castle and its walls and gaze at the amazing landscape of plains and mountains.

  • GPS: 40°02’22.9″N 7°06’51.2″W

2. Sortelha

Located next to Opa moutain range, Sortelha presents a beautiful castle built on a rocky location, 760 metres above sea level. You’ll see the village’s medieval authenticity in every rustic granite house there.

The village was occupied by the Romans, Visigoths and Moors up until the Christian Reconquest. It was D. Sancho II that ordered the construction of the castle in 1228 and King D. Dinis built the oval walls that still protect the village today.

Sortelha was built in a way that would prevent the enemies’ fast attacks, this way the inhabitants would have time to protect themselves.

This beautiful village still preserves the Portuguese history, its medieval inheritance and the granite houses inside the walls.

During your visit, don’t forget to go to the old Misericórdia Hospital, the Misericórdia Church, the Via Sacra, the chapels of São Sebastião and Santiago, the solariums, the parish church devoted to Nossa Senhora das Neves, and two unique rocks: “stone of the Kiss” and “Head of the Old Woman” (“Pedra do Beijo” and “Cabeça da Velha”).

In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful villages in Portugal! Aside from the village you’ll have the opportunity to admire the amazing landscape.

  • GPS: 40°19’45.7″N 7°12’52.5″W

3. Castelo Rodrigo

Located in Guarda district, Castelo Rodrigo is a historic village that kept its medieval architecture. It was conquered from the Moors in the 11th century by the Kingdom of León (Spain) and became part of the Portuguese territory in 1297 with the Treaty of Alcanices.

During your visit to Castelo Rodrigo go to the ruins of the palace of Cristóvão de Moura, the old walls, the parish church and the medieval pelourinho.

  • GPS: 40°52’37.6″N 6°57’47.1″W

4. Trancoso

Trancoso is a Portuguese city since 2004 and here you’ll relive some of the history of this country. Due to its proximity to the border, Trancoso was the place where war was waged while Portugal became an independent nation.

Trancoso still has today walls protecting the city (historic centre) where Christians and Jews lived. This city is part of the historic villages of Portugal because it kept its historic centre intact.

When you visit this city lose yourself along the narrow streets of the historic centre and don’t forget to visit the castle, the walls and its gates.

  • GPS: 40°46’43.2″N 7°20’56.7″W

5. Almeida

Almeida is a small village located next to the border with Spain. This is one of the most fortified villages in Portugal.

This village maintains inside its walls several buildings of military nature and its civil architecture is of rare beauty.

For centuries, Almeida was a theatre of war – the Portuguese fought the Spanish in the Restoration War in the 17th century and then, almost two centuries later, the French. That is why Almeida has so many stories to tell.

  • GPS: 40°43’26.1″N 6°54’16.9″W

6. Belmonte

Located in the centre of Cova da Beira, Belmonte is the home town of Pedro Álvares Cabral (the Portuguese navigator that “discovered” Brazil). This village has a beautiful landscape and you can even see Serra da Estrela 9 km away.

Once you’re there don’t forget to visit the castle of Belmonte, the Tower of Centum Cellas, the churches of São Tiago and Santa Maria, and the Jewish quarter (Rua Direita and Fonte da Rosa), where you’ll find the synagogue and the small but beautiful granite houses.

  • GPS: 40°21’33.9″N 7°20’55.0″W

7. Idanha-a-Velha

Located next to Pônsul river, Idanha-a-Velha is an authentic gem that will amaze you with its beauty. This village was founded in the 1st century B.C. by the Romans. The Romans lost this land to the Visigoths in the 6th century, then came the Moors in 713 and finally the Christians in the 12th century.

While you’re in Idanha-a-Velha, you should visit the community oven, the Lagar das Varas, the Tower of the Templars, the chapels of São Dâmaso, Santo Espírito and São Sebastião, the archaelogical site of Egitânia, the Roman bridge over Pônsul river, the cathedral and its baptistery and the Episcopal Palace.

  • GPS: 39°59’52.0″N 7°08’40.1″W

8. Marialva

Just 7 km from Meda you’ll find  Marialva, a small historic village that will take you to the beginning of the Portuguese nation. Inhabited by the Lusitanians, Romans and Arabs, it was finally conquered by D. Fernando in 1063.

Marialva is a unique village with its streets and buildings that have lasted throughout time. While you’re there you should visit the castle and the ruins of the old fortress, São Tiago Church, Nossa Senhora dos Passos Chapel, the court, the prison and the Roman city of Civitas Aravorum.

  • GPS: 40°54’52.2″N 7°13’54.9″W

9. Castelo Mendo

Built on a hill during the Roman era, Castelo Mendo is part of the historic villages of Portugal. It is surrounded by walls that were erected centuries ago to protect the village from the enemies.

The walls had 8 towers that were destroyed during the earthquake of 1755 but the 5 gates are still there: the gates of the village, of the guard, of the sun, of traitors and of D.Sancho.

During your visit you should take a look at the ruins of Santa Maria do Castelo Church, admire the São Vicente Church (13th century), the pelourinho and the houses dating from many years ago.

  • GPS: 40°35’39.5″N 6°56’55.3″W

10. Castelo Novo

Hidden behind the walls, as many of the historic villages, Castelo Novo has many narrow streets that will take you to the castle.

In the centre of the village you’ll find the old town hall with its arches and the beautiful D. João V fountain.

Facing the town hall you can admire the Manueline pelourinho and a little bit further you’ll see the parish church built in the 18th century in honour of Nossa Senhora da Graça.

In addition to these places, you can visit the castle, admire the beautiful houses and fountains as well as the Roman road.

  • GPS: 40°04’40.5″N 7°29’48.4″W

11. Linhares da Beira

Located in the Serra da Estrela Nature ParkLinhares da Beira is a 12th century medieval village with beautiful granite houses.

While visiting this village, you can admire the Gothic castle, two churches, a pelourinho and beautiful houses in a Manueline style.

  • GPS: 40°32’27.4″N 7°27’41.5″W

12. Piódão

Located in the Açor mountains, Piódão village is surrounded by an astonishing landscape, grasslands and springs.

This village is often described as a nativity set because of the way houses are arranged. Among these houses, it’s easy to discover the main church devoted to Nossa Senhora da Conceição.

  • GPS: 40°13’45.2″N 7°49’30.9″W

In what order should you visit the 12 historic villages of Portugal?

If you’re coming from Coimbra, then I suggest you start in Piódão and then Linhares da Beira, Trancoso, Marialva, Castelo Rodrigo, Almeida, Castelo Mendo, Belmonte, Sortelha, Monsanto, Idanha-a-Velha e Castelo Novo.

Click on the map to access Google Maps

If you’re coming from Castelo Branco, then start your visit in Castelo Novo, Piódão and then follow the previous itinerary.

If you’re coming from Vilar Formoso (the border with Spain) begin in Castelo Mendo, Belmonte and then follow the first itinerary.

If you visit three villages per day, you’ll need four days to discover all the 12 historic villages of Portugal.

If you don’t have the time to visit the 12 villages then my suggestion is that you visit the villages of Sortelha, Monsanto and Piódão.

For further information and to see the map of each village, visit this site.

Are you going to visit Monsanto or other of the Portuguese historic villages? Then don’t hesitate to book your hotel room, your car or the best activities by clicking the links below. This way you are helping me in the development of my blog and I’ll be able to offer you free tips and travel guides so that you can better prepare your visit to Portugal. Thank you!

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