Built from dark stone and located in the heart of the country, Portugal’s mountain villages have witnessed more than 900 years of Portuguese history. While these villages are amazingly peaceful places to visit today, they have not always been so tranquil.
Perched high on the region’s rolling hilltops, the villages played a crucial role in protecting the surrounding lands. Their vantage point made it nearly impossible for would-be invaders to approach undetected. Over the centuries, Moors and Christians, Spaniards and Portuguese, have all tried to take the villages for themselves and each village has its own thrilling tale to tell. One well known story is in the village of Almeida where in the 19th century, the people held off the French in their formidable fortress for 17 days.
Whether you want to experience Portugal’s breath-taking landscapes, its historic fortresses, or the warmth of its people, the villages offer it all.
Iconic Piodão: When visitors enter Piodão, they can’t help but notice how the unique, arching layout of the homes seems to blend into the landscape. The delightful, orderly streets are lined with houses built of schist, or slate. These stone houses are anything but drab, though. Many are accented by deep blue windows and doors. This iconic color is said to have originated from the village’s isolation. There was one shop in town – and it only stocked blue paint.
It was also isolation that preserved the historic characteristics of Piodão as they are today. The tiny, whitewashed parish church dedicated to N.S. da Conceição, stands out among the small two-story houses with its unusual cylindrical buttresses. Built in the early nineteenth century, the villagers paid for the construction with their own money and gold.
Saving the Villages of schist in Lousã
In an effort to restore the many long-abandoned “schist villages” of the Lousã Mountains in the Centro Region, a conservation and resettlement program has been launched by the Portuguese government and European Union.
The program is reviving the traditional techniques of slate construction and has recruited local workers skilled in this specialized method to restore the houses.
Each village project has followed an architectonical plan that includes not only the private houses, but also public spaces that serve several purposes, such as the public wash-houses and agricultural threshing floors.
Both seasonal and year-round residents have moved in to revive the ghost towns and are welcoming visitors. Tourists will find restored accommodation, outdoor activities and shops that sell local products.
The development and restoration of these villages has adopted a sustainable strategy that restores both human occupation and promotes a balanced ecosystem. Portugal and the EU are encouraging the growth of cork, chestnut and oak trees, considered fundamental for the economic future in the “Serra da Lousã.”
A National treasure
Portugal’s historic network of a dozen shale villages sees about 1,000 visitors each year. The network offers inns, rustic restaurants, lots of activities and outdoor adventure. The Aldeias de Xisto network also features a chain of stores stocked with locally-made items.
Aldeias do Xisto - Centro de Portugal
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