Would you like to discover a genuine Portugal where you can admire amazing landscapes, visit the most beautiful cave in Portugal and explore walking routes in the middle of the nature? In this article, I’m going to show you the beautiful Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park.
Though located near other points of interest for tourists such as Alcobaça Monastery, Batalha Monastery, Fátima, Nazaré and Óbidos, very few people visiting the Centre of Portugal know this wonderful place.
With a total area of 35 000 hectares, Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park was created in 1979, covering over two thirds of Estremadura‘s limestone massif, the biggest limestone area in Portugal.
The park is composed of two mountain regions (of which the park was named after) and of the plateaus of Santo António and São Mamede.
While you hike through the park you’ll notice several stone walls, known as chouços, used to divide the properties and to gather the cattle. You’ll also come across with some small huts that the shepherds used to protect themselves against bad weather.
Aside from the beautiful landscapes, you’ll discover some of the 1 500 incredible caves hidden throughout the park.
Here are the places you can’t miss in Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park
Rio Maior Salt Pans
With eight centuries of history, Rio Maior salt pans, also known as Fonte da Bica salt pans, are considered as a feat of nature because the sea is 30 km away.
The water used to fill up the salt pans comes from a 8,95-metre deep pit and it is 7 times saltier than sea water.
After evaporating the water (a process that takes three to six days, depending on the heat), the salt is left to dry for 60 hours. Then, the salt is transported in bags on a wheelbarrow or on the workers’s shoulders to the machine that will take it to the cooperative.
The salt pans are active from May to September, the time of the year when heat helps the evaporation process.
When you get to the salt pans, you can walk through the paving stone alleys, surrounded by wooden shacks where people used to store salt. Nowadays, these shacks are used to sell salt, souvenirs and some were even converted into bars or restaurants.
- GPS: 39°21’52.3″N 8°56’40.0″W
Porto de Mós Castle
Conquered from the Moors in 1148 by the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, Porto de Mós Castle had a significant role in the Christian reconquest and, years later, in the Battle of Aljubarrota, the battle that finally put an end to Spanish claims over the Portuguese throne.
In the 15th century, the castle was transformed into a residential palace by order of D. Afonso. After his death in 1459, the palace was abandoned and partially destroyed during the 1755 earthquake.
The castle was restored several times from 1936 to 1999 and this allowed the castle to return to its former glory.
- Check the opening hours and ticket prices her
- GPS: 39° 36′ 12″ N 08° 49′ 08″ W
Located in Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park, Fórnea is a unique geological formation that resembles a natural amphitheatre. This phenomenon derives from the depression caused by the erosion made over millions of years.
With a diametre of 500 metres and 205 metres high, Fórnea will make you feel like an insect!
To visit this beautiful natural place, you can drive your car there (the upper part) or you can hike through the 2 km walking route that starts in the small village of Alcaria (Café da Bica).
How to visitFórnea?
By car: go to the small village of Chão das Pias (GPS: 39 ° 33’15.7 “N 8 ° 48’33.7” W) and leave your car in the small parking lot next to the road. Then, follow the path over the parking lot for 400 metres.
On foot: walk for 2 km from the small village of Alcaria (GPS: 39 ° 34’08.3 “N 8 ° 47’40.2” W) and, when you realize it, you’ll be able to see the bottom of Fórnea. On your way to the top you’ll see a stream and a waterfall (in the winter) and the Cova da Velha cave – here you can admire the river spring.
Mira de Aire Caves
Found in 1947, Mira de Aire caves were elected in 2010 as one of the 7 natural wonders of Portugal. It is a complex of rare beauty that stretches for 11 km but you can only visit the first 600 metres, climbing down 683 steps at a depth of 110 metres.
Don’t be afraid, by the end of the visit you won’t have to climb up those 683 steps – there will be an elevator waiting for you that will take you back to surface.
- Address: Av. Dr. Luciano Justo Ramos nº470, Mira de Aire
Olhos d’Água – Alviela Spring
Olhos d’Água spring is one of the most important in Portugal. Since 1880 it has been one of the main water supplies for the region of Lisbon, thanks to Alviela Aqueduct.
The water from this spring comes from the rain falling on the plateau of Santo António and then flows through a complex network of underground galleries that form hundreds of tunnels or caves.
There, you’ll find the river beach of Olhos d’Água, a bar/restaurant, a campsite and the Centre Ciência Viva do Alviela – Carsoscópio, where you can better understand the geological phenomena that characterize this region.
You can also go on a hike through a 2 km walking route – this way you will discover the true beauty surrounding Olhos d’Água spring.
- GPS: 39°26’36.6″N 8°42’38.3″W
Dinosaur Footprints in Vale de Meios
Found in the early 2000s in one of the many quarries in the park, these dinosaur footprints will make you go back in time, about 175 million years of history of our planet Earth.
According to scientists, the footprints belonged to dinosaurs measuring between 2 and 3 metres and walking 6 km/h.
- GPS: 39°27’27.9″N 8°49’15.8″W
Algar do Pena Cave
Algar do Pena cave was discovered in 1985 while dismantling a quarry. It is composed of a vertical pit with 35 metres that will take you to a giant hall of 125 000 m3 where you can gaze one of the most amazing underground landscapes you have ever seen.
Unlike Mira de Aire caves, here you’ll have to book your visit so you can fully admire this incredible cave – a unique experience, no doubt.
Booking: Tel.: +351 243 400 630 | Mobile: +351 966 599 867 | E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- GPS: 39°27’58.1″N 8°48’22.5″W
You can find Alcaned castle just outside Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park. Of Roman foundation, this castle was conquered from the Moors in 1091 but only a few years later the Christians acquired this castle, during the great conquest of Santarém and Lisbon.
In 1531 an earthquake destroyed the castle and it was only in 1941 that the castle was rebuilt.
Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park is a paradise for walking route lovers. There are over 16 routes (spanning between 2 and 15 km) that will allow you to discover the wonders of this beautiful park.
Click here to access the guide with all the information necessary to go on a hike on one or more walking routes.
Above, I’ve showed you the places you can’t miss when visiting Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park. However, if you still have time, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the secluded chapel of Nossa Senhora das Neves (GPS: 39°30’05.8″N 8°53’45.7″W), the Arco da Memória (GPS: 39°30’05.8″N 8°53’45.7″W) and Arrimal Lagoons (GPS: 39°29’58.3″N 8°52’16.4″W)
Where to sleep if you’re going to visit Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park
Located in the small village of Alcanede, next to Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park, Meio Country House is in a 4 hectar old villa of which its name, Quinta da Ponte, derives from the Roman bridge still active and that crosses the local river.
The place where you’ll spend the night was recently restored but kept its history untouched. It can accommodate up to 14 people (7 rooms with private bathroom).
Aside from the bedrooms, you can also go to the living room, the kitchen (that you’ll have to share if you only book one room), the terrace and, if you need to work, you’ll find some dedicated areas and even a training room.
After having visited the park, you can relax or do one of the several activities that Meio Country House offers.
You’ll have the opportunity to see in real time how goat cheese is made, how to bake homemade bread and local delicacies, get to know the local liqueurs and you can even go on a guided tour to Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park.
In addition to the most quiet and relaxing place, you’ll have a warm welcome by Isabel and Michael.
How much is a night in Meio Country House?
If you want to book the whole house (14 people) the price is around 220€ per night.
If you want to book a room with a private bathroom and access to the rest of the house, the price is on average 50€ per night.
The price range of the activities goes from 10€ to 45€ per person.
Do you want to have a quiet and relaxing holidays and visit the most amazing places?
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- Alcanede – a place to stay if you’re visiting Óbidos, Alcobaça and Tomar