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.
The Schist villages are founded throughout four different areas – Serra da Lousã, Açor, Zêzere, and Tejo-Ocreza. 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 of the villages were abandoned in the 20th century as jobs were scarce and there weren’t many tourists at the time. But thanks to a project between the Portuguese government and the European Union, in 2000, many of the villages were rebuilt and have been gradually repopulated. Repopulation also meant the reintroduction of traditions and conversation 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.
A quick 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 one time!
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 that you take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Lisbon.
The Best Time to Visit
The best time of year to visit truly depends on which activity you are wanting to get out of it. The February snowfall on the hilltops of the Serra da Estrela mountain differs significantly from the summer sun in July on top of a castle. If you didn’t know the 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!
Spring and autumn are best for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who love hiking or mountain biking. This is simply when the weather is perfect – not too hot and definitely not too cold.
Then there is the summer, which is filled with activities, like the Elementos à Solta – Art Meets Nature Festival – Cerdeira. This arts festival allows participants to take a pottery class, make tiles, and learn how to make ceramics.
Which Schist Villages to Explore
As mentioned previously there are 27 Schist villages to explore, among these are two 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 Shale (bookinxisto.com) which features accomodations, experiences, and some food tastings.
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).
Quick 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:
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 do 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, which is a cute cafe that contains 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 – located in the center with a pool
- Casa do Ti Toninho – located in the center with a pool
Penela & Ferraria de São João
Penela is 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 are able to explore Penela, do 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 primary draw. The village has a number of aspects that distinguish it from others: a magnificent cork oak forest, a Schist Trail, a mountain biking centre and many walking trails that you can discover.
Places to stay:
- Uxa Paraiso is an intimate Open Air Hotel, run almost almost singly 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 centre of Penela and has a more modern feel with air conditioning.
Excusions Around Schist Villages
Some excursions worth checking out for the more “adventurous travelers” include:
Situated in the Riberia de Alge which eventually flows into the Zêzere River within the district of Leiria, this natural reserve consists 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 but instead, why not pack a lunch or make a reservation at the delicious Varanda do Casal restaurant. After finishing your meal, make sure to g for a walk and be amazed at the diverse flora and fauna found there.
Located about 15km south of Coimbra lies one of the most expansive Roman archaelogical sites in mainland Portugal. Originally built by the Roman Emperor Augustus, these multicolored mosasics contain an amphitheatre, 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 are 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.
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).
Whilst there, do visit the Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Piedade, which consists of three chapels and makes the 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.
Opening hours: 10:30am – 17:30