Located in the center of Portugal, the Schist villages (Aldeias do Xisto) are one of Portugal’s hidden secrets. This network of villages includes 27 schist villages and many river beaches that spread through 21 municipalities.
If you didn’t already know, schist is a type of rock, and these 27 slate villages were all built in the 12/13th century using schist metamorphic rocks that were found throughout the region.
We can divide villages in four regional clusters:
- Lousã Mountains – The biggest and most important with 12 villages
- Açor Mountains – The most northern core with 5 villages
- Zêzere River – these 6 villages are located along the Zezere river
- Tejo-Ocreza – the most southern ones with 4 villages
The areas are sometimes referred to as the place where the “secrets of Portugal are kept.” This is because stepping into one of these villages instantly takes you back in time.
Unfortunately, many villages were abandoned in the 20th century as jobs were scarce and there weren’t many tourists around then. But thanks to a project launched in 2000 between the Portuguese government and the European Union, many of the villages were rebuilt and have been gradually repopulated. Repopulation also meant the reintroduction of traditions and conservation efforts. Many of today’s village residents have set up food or ecotourism businesses that focus on preserving traditional crafts, farming, and schist construction methods.
Insider tip: the villages are quite popular for nature and hiking enthusisaits. For a list of hiking trails, visit Home » My Xisto Trails
In this post, we are exploring the schist villages in Central Portugal. Remember that it is almost impossible to see them all at once, so make sure to figure out what you want to see and do, and choose the appropriate village.
How To Get To The Schist Villages
The villages themselves are located around a 2 to 2.5 hours drive from Lisbon. The best option would be taking a car, as public transportation is almost nonexistent in the area. You could possibly save money by taking the train to Coimbra and then driving, but it’s really just a preference.
It is strongly recommended that you spend a weekend at one of the schist villages as a day trip wouldn’t be enough time for you to really explore and immerse yourself in the schist village experience. If you are in Lisbon, we recommend you look at our Ultimate Guide to Lisbon.
The Best Time to Visit
The best time of year to visit the Schist villages really depends on what you’d like to do and what you’d like to see. The February snowfall on the hilltops of the Serra da Estrela mountain differs significantly from the summer sun in July hiking on one of the many trails in the region. So let’s take a look at each of the seasons.
s u m m e r
Summer (July-August) is a beautiful time in Central Portugal. The temperatures in the summer range between the mid 20°Cs (high 60°Fs) all the way to the high 30°Cs (100°F). The days are long, and the evenings are nice and warm. Rain is also almost nonexistent. Summer is also the perfect time to explore hiking trails, swim underneath waterfalls, and visit the many river beaches around the region.
a u t u m n // s p r i n g
Unlike many other European cities, the temperature in Portugal, especially in this region, during the spring and autumn is mild.
In March, expect gray skies and rainfall all the way through April. However, the weather will get warmer as the flowers bloom. May and June temperatures can range from 22°C (72°F) on the high end and 13°C(55°F) on the lower end. Temperatures do drop during the evenings and at night, so make sure to pack a sweater (or two) if you come during this time.
In the autumn season, September is one of the best times to visit Portugal if you still want to experience beautiful weather without the crowds and the high season prices. September is still a summer month; however, as the months go by, the temperature also does get colder.
Spring and autumn are best for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who love hiking or mountain biking. During this time the weather is perfect as it is not too hot and not too cold.
The best months to visit are April-June and September-October, also known as the shoulder seasons.
w i n t e r
Winter is cold in Portugal. The days can still be quite mild. However, the nights are the coldest. Temperatures during this time can drop to 0°C (32°F), while daytime temperatures can be as high as 20°C (68°F). Winter is also the rainy season in Portugal. Nevertheless, winter can still be a magical time in the Xisto villages. We’ll let the Aldeias de Xisto website paint the picture for you; winter paints the landscapes white, where the mist mingles with the smoke from the fireplaces that cozy up the houses, creating a magical and fantastic atmosphere.
Insider tip: Serra da Estrela is one of the only places in Portugal where you can see snow. As a result, this can be a truly magical experience!
No matter the season, there are plenty of things to do in the Schist villages, whether you are looking for art and culture, gastronomy, outdoor activities or something a little more leisurely.
Which Schist Villages to Explore
There are 27 Schist villages to explore. Among these are three more popular villages that are often frequented by tourists: Piodão, Penela, and Talasnal. If you are looking to book accommodations in any of the villages, make sure to check out Book in Xisto(bookinxisto.com), which features accommodations, experiences, and some food tastings.
Location (Serra da Lousã): Piadao is located 300km from Lisbon, 197 km from Porto, and 95 km from Coimbra. This particular Schist village is nestled in the Serra do Açor on the steep escarpment, with a mesh-like layout. The village is the perfect jumping off point to explore the mountain.
Nestled in the valley of Serra do Açor, this picturesque village is a must-see as it might be the most beautiful village of them all.
An interesting fact is that until 1970, the only way to get around was by foot or horseback. The center of the village contains a museum, the Mother Church with two chapels (Chapel of St. Peter and Chapel of Souls), plus a couple of restaurants that are all a great choice. Both O Fontinha and O Solar dos Pachecos are nice options. If you go during the summer, make sure to take a dip in the Piscina Fluvial (river beach).
Insider Tip: After leaving Piodão, it’s worth making a quick stop in Foz d’Égua which is located roughly 10 minutes driving (or one-hour hiking) from Piodão. There isn’t an official parking station so you could try at the Bar Da Foz. Take a swim in the river beach and get lost roaming around the little, hobbit-like houses. There’s a suspension bridge that connects both sides and a beautiful altar with a church at the top of the village.
Places to stay:
- Casa da Padaria – Inspired by the local architecture, Casa da Padaria (literally, the Bakery House) is located in the Açor mountains in the historic village of Piódão,
- Hotel Inatel (****)- INATEL Piódão is a contemporary building located right in the heart of this schist village.
Location (Serra da Lousã): Talasnal is located 218km from Lisbon, 166 km from Porto, and 40 km from Coimbra. The village is located on the western slope of the Lousã Mountain, in the river basin of the Ribeira de São João. It lies 12 km from Lousã.
Along the curved path that leads to Talasnal, you will find a miradouro (viewpoint) overlooking the village and a wood-planked sign on the side of the road that reads: “Mountains of Love” or “Talasnal Montanhas de Amor” that eventually leads to the town. It also makes for a cute photo op, but be careful with oncoming traffic.
Talasnal is probably one of the most famous villages within the Lousã region. It is one of the villages that took full advantage of the restoration period. As a result, many of the homes and buildings have updated appliances inside.
Upon entering the town, you have a wonderful restaurant on the left called Taberna Talasnal that attracts tourists and passing hikers. On the right, you have Casa da Eira, a cute cafe with local desserts, jams, teas, and snacks. Then in the center is a water well that is still used today.
The best restaurant in the village is called Ti Lena, but be sure to make a reservation. After finishing your meal, pop into Bar O Curral and try a licor de bolota (acorn liquor) or try a liquor from their assortment of over a hundred types.
Places to stay:
- Casa do Ti Tote (****) – This particular accomodation offers an outdoor swimming pool, a garden and a terrace, as well as free WiFi and views of the village in Talasnal. This garden view property is 2.6 km from Lousã.
- Casa do Ti Toninho (***) – Boasting city views, Casa do Ti Toninho features accommodation with a balcony. It features a terrace, mountain views and free WiFi throughout the property.
Ferraria de São João (& Penela)
Location (Serra da Lousã): Ferraria de São João is located 183km from Lisbon, 161 km from Porto, and 35 km from Lousã. The village is located in the southern part of the Serra da Lousã, known locally as the Serra do Espinhal, also called the Serra de São João.
Penela is a town of around 6,000 inhabitants built around Penela Castle, which protected Coimbra (once Portugal’s capital) during the Reconquista—the period when Christian military forces wrested control of Iberia back from the Moors, who conquered the region in the 8th century. If you can explore Penela, take a stroll around the town and explore the castle at sunset to enjoy idyllic views.
About 15 kilometers (9 miles) southeast of Penela is Ferraria de São João, a village of around 40 residents on the southern edge of the Serra de Lousã. In Ferraria de São João, ruralness and active tourism are the main attraction. The village has a number of aspects that distinguish it from others: a magnificent cork oak forest, a Schist Trail, a mountain biking center, and many walking trails you can discover.
Places to stay:
- Uxa Paraiso is an intimate Open Air Hotel, run almost single handily by Julien Coste. Uxa Paraiso has different tents and cabins you can choose from and hosts a working farm, some farm animals, a vineyard, and an infinity pool.
- Castel – Creative Living would be a wise choice for large groups. It is located in the center of Penela and has a more modern feel with air conditioning.
Insider tip: When visiting the schist villages, try all of the local cheese and be sure to order chanfana, which is a typical goat stew from the region!
Excursions Around Schist Villages
Some excursions worth checking out for the more “adventurous travelers” include:
Fragas de São Simão
Situated in the Riberia de Alge, which eventually flows into the Zêzere River within the district of Leiria, Fragas de São Simão is natural reserve that is made up of hiking routes, a river beach, a passage of wooden steps, and a miradouro.
Be warned, the water is still quite cold even in summer but it can be incredibly refreshing—especially after a long hike. Drive first to the Miradouro, park for free down below, and then follow the walking path to the river beach. There’s a small cafe at the bottom. Another option is to make a reservation at the delicious Varanda do Casal restaurant. After finishing your meal, make sure to go for a walk and be amazed at the diverse flora and fauna found there.
Ruinas de Conimbriga
Located about 15km south of Coimbra lies one of mainland Portugal’s most expansive Roman archaeological sites. Originally built by the Roman Emperor Augustus, these multicolored mosaics contain an amphitheater, two houses, a spa, two forums, a square, and a temple.
Excavations didn’t technically begin until the 19th century, and the ruins definitely have a Pompeii feel to them. The Ruinas de Conimbriga is worth checking out if you are curious about the previous Roman influence in Portugal.
Opening hours: 10h00 – 19h00. Admission fee from Monday – Saturday, Sundays are free.
Castelo da Lousa
The famous Portuguese poet Jose Saramago described this castle as, “landscapetically, one of the most beautiful things in Portugal,” and he wasn’t wrong. Built in the end of the 11th century, the Castelo da Lousa served as the defensive lines to protect Coimbra/Central Portugal from the Moors. The area was re-occupied by the Moors for a short period of time until it was reconquered again by the Portuguese in 1151 (simultaneously during the time when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal from 1139 – 1260).
While visting, visit the Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Piedade, made up of three chapels and is perfect viewpoint. Make a reservation in advance at the restaurant O Burgo, swim in the river beach and visit the famous Baloiço do Borgo (which is a romantic swing set nestled in front of a waterfall).