When you ask a holidaymaker what image Portugal conjures up in their mind, there are a good number who will describe the wonderful golf courses and beautiful sandy beaches. Whilst these are modern iconic images of this delightful country they only describe the current main source of tourism and for the more discerning traveler, there are some fantastic historic villages to explore that are the very fabric of the rich heritage that shaped the Portuguese people.
Many of these villages were strategic defenses against attack from their enemies in days gone by, but now it can be your turn to conquer the historic villages of Portugal! Here are some of the places you should consider when planning your Portugal holidays.
If you want to see a village that preserves many of its original medieval features then Sortelha is a fascinating village to visit. Standing in the shadow of a castle set on a rocky outcrop, the rustic architecture all around you makes you feel instantly like you have stepped back in time. The village of Sortelha used to form part of the strategically important defensive line of frontier castles that were mainly constructed on Castro sites accredited to ancient Iberian civilizations. This charming village gives you a real feel of what it was like to live in medieval times and you are almost transported back in time as you wander among the granite houses that blend into the rocky terrain.
From the town of Castelo Rodrigo, you can see the Douro Valley and as far as Spain but the beauty of this village belies it’s less than peaceful past and it is very hard to imagine such troubled times when you are met with the moving image of Santiago Matamoros in the church of the Reclamation.
The village bears the scars of territorial dispute and a dynastic crisis that dates back to the 1300s and once again suffered great upheaval in the 16th century, all of which can be discovered when you explore the history of the place during your visit. The town is also a recognized resting place for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela and St Francis of Assisi is believed to have spent a night here during his pilgrimage to the saint’s tomb.
The village of Monsanto is widely recognized by the Portuguese people as the most traditional village and finest example of Portuguese ways and customs to be found anywhere in the country. Perched high on a cliff, it is an iconic place not just for the historical and aesthetic appeal of the village but also for important geographical reasons, as it marks out the spot where the north meets the south.
Formed in the 12th century, the settlement was donated to the Order of the Templars, whose master ordered the castle to be rebuilt. The result today is that you are met with probably one of the most interesting landscapes to be found anywhere in Portugal and when you see giant granite boulders used as walls for the houses and roofs made out of a single block of stone, you get a real sense of the history of Portugal and also understand why the houses here are said to be made of only one tile.
It is a great feeling to conquer the challenge of a beautifully manicured golf course in Portugal but it can be reasonably argued that you have not seen the true Portugal until you have conquered the challenge of taking in as many of these historic villages as possible during your next visit.