A natural beauty

Piodão1Usually, when thinking of architecture, we tend to think of big buildings, whether modern or old. The way I see it, however, credit should also be given to more “popular” types of architecture, using natural materials – like stone!

piodão4Today I’m bringing you a few snapshots of one of the most famous schist villages from Central Portugal, the village of Piodão.

piodão2Located close to the Serra da Estrela region, Piodão is one of a total of 27 schist villages in the heart of the country. In a place with an abbundance of schist as well as zigs and zags, ups and downs, what do you build your houses with? Why, schist, of course!

piodão3Getting to know these villages is very much worth the trouble of getting away from the city and maybe even getting lost on your way back because the GPS isn’t working and it’s a rainy night and you can’t see s**t. Not that it ever happened to me! This is also the part of the country where you’ll find some of the most beautiful river beaches.


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Under your feet

gruta da moeda_4Most people visiting Portugal will want to see the monuments, cities, towns and villages, besides the landscapes. But… did you know Portugal also has caves? In fact, Portugal has lots of caves, but plenty of them can’t be visited because they’re not, well, easy to access.

gruta da moeda_1In the area of Serra de Aire e Candeeiros (not far from Lisbon and close to Fátima) there are several caves that you can visit. Today I’m bringing you some images from Grutas da Moeda (literally, “caves of the coin”).

gruta da moeda_2These caves were discovered in 1971, when two hunters were chasing a fox. The fox eventually hid in a hole in the ground, which they found out to be an entrance to a cave. The two men explored that entrance for almost two months, discovering some of the galleries that you can visit today. gruta da moeda_6The part that you can now visit is about 350 meters long (not very long, but there’s plenty to see!) and there’s a constant temperature of 18ºC all year round.

gruta da moeda_5Obviously, like with so many other places in Portugal, there’s a legend about these caves. Many, many years ago, a wealthy man was passing by the area and he carried with him a bag heavy with coins. A band of thieves tried to rob the man and, in the struggle, he ended up falling down a hole in the ground (the cave, as you probably guessed), taking with him the bag of coins.

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Enjoy!  🙂

The website: http://www.beyondlisbon.pt/

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Strange things in strange places (part 4)

altar3Roadtrips can be surprising.

As we were driving along a road in the Trás-os-Montes region, in the north of Portugal, I thought I saw a sign mentioning an “altar of sacrifices”.

Wait. What? Go back.

Yep, it does say “altar of sacrifices”.


I couldn’t find much on this site, I have to say. I’m not an archaeologist but I can’t see anything resembling an altar of any kind. Still, it is strange (to say the least) and probably stranger still is the casual sign by the side of the road.


Known as “altar of sacrifices” or “Pias dos Mouros” these are two parallel rectangular structures, which were dug on granite. The smaller one is about 2 meters long by 0,55 meters wide, while the bigger one is roughly 2,47 meters long by 0,60 meters wide.


On the sides you can see several carved stone steps. As far as I know no real archaeological exacavation has ever been carried out on this site, but it is believed to have been built previously to the arrival of the Romans to what is, today, Portuguese territory.

Its true purpose and origin? Still a mystery… But it only goes to show that sometimes fascinating things can be where we least expect them!

Enjoy!  🙂

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A long, long time ago…

mezio1Before Portugal even existed there were people already living here. Obvious, right? Those people built huge stone monuments, some of which made their way to our day and age more or less intact.


Today I’m bringing you a couple of examples you can find in the Peneda-Gerês region, particularly in the area called Mezio (near Soajo).


Not much is known about them, but they’re thought to be approximately 5000 years old. You can find examples of this type of pre-historic monument all over the country, but mostly in the north and in Alentejo (as far as I know).


Truth be told, they’re not always easy to find, even when they’re mentioned in maps and hiking trails. Sometimes you’ll just have some obscure reference to a dolmen in a particular area and little more information besides that.


But who doesn’t love exploring around a bit? 😉

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Simple pleasures


I already mentioned Ponte da Barca on the blog before, but I couldn’t skip the opportunity of bringing it up again. I mean, look at those trees.


Sometimes you really don’t need an incredible work of art or a fancy resort to enjoy being somewhere. Sometimes the colors of the sky and the trees are just right and Nature creates a perfect paiting.


Or maybe it’s just the way a boat fits a reflection – almost perfectly.


Or noticing an unexpected rower.


Trivia tidbit of the day: Remember when I told you about Santo António? His mother was born in Ponte da Barca, no less!

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Strange things in strange places (part 3)

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The definition of strange is, obviously, a relative one. I keep being surprised by things which, to me, are puzzling – sanctuaries are one of them – and I’m fully aware that what I think of as “strange” clearly wasn’t so to whoever built them.

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Can you see two little white peaks in the upper third of the photo? That’s where the sanctuary is!

In previous posts dedicated to this category I’ve mentioned a small sanctuary on top of a small hill in Gerês and a church on the beach. Today I bring you a sanctuary in a village right in the mountainous region of Peneda, part of the Peneda-Gerês National Park. This is the kind of thing that might get us thinking “why would anyone want to build a sanctuary in such a remote area?”. It’s worth remembering that this area, although scarcely populated today, wasn’t always so.

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Anyway, enough chitchat. 🙂

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The construction of the sanctuary of Senhora da Peneda started in the late 18th century and ended roughly 100 years later. There’s a main structure, which resembles the Bom Jesus sanctuary in Braga and then there are small chapels depicting scenes of the life of Christ – one of them, it seems, was paid for by the negus of Ethiopia! There’s also a small hotel, in what used to be lodgings for the pilgrims visiting the sanctuary.

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Like so many similar sanctuaries this one has a legend. In August 1220, so the story goes, Our Lady of Peneda appeared before a young shepherd girl and told her to ask the people of a nearby village to construct a chapel in her honor. When the girl told her parents about this they gave her no credit, thinking she was only a child and had probably made it up. The next day Our Lady of Peneda appeared again in the same place and told the girl that, since nobody believed her, she should go to another village where there was a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She should tell the inhabitants of the place to bring the woman to her presence. The girl did as she was told and, lo and behold, as soon as the woman came near the image of Our Lady of Peneda she was free from her illness!

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As a side note I’d like to add that this is a place where you might just come across a few cows grazing – yes, in a sanctuary!

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And if life gives you stones…


You use them! 🙂

As promised on my previous post today I will tell you about a specific type of architecture, let’s call it “folk architecture”.

Meet the espigueiros, built with stone (and sometimes a mix of stone and wood) and which have been, for centuries, allowing people in the Minho region to keep their corn dry and safe from rodents. Although they’re usually found in Minho you can also spot them in other parts of North and even Central Portugal. They’re a great example of how humans can survive and thrive in harsh conditions.

In a place where stone seems to be the most common construction material people came up with a way of protecting their crops using, well, stone! The espigueiros are used mainly to keep corn, but they’ve been around since before the Discoveries (probably since before the Middle Ages, actually).


Here’s the deal, in a nutshell: Corn is harvested in Autumn and must be left to dry during the Winter, ie, when it’s cold and damp. These structures have vertical cuts on the side walls, making it possible for corn to dry without without letting mice get in to take a nibble. They also have different types of “marks” (usually on the locks), so the owners will know which espigueiro belongs to which family.

These particular examples of espigueiro can be seen near the castle of Lindoso and some of them were built in the 18th and 19th centuries!

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A castle on the limit


Recently, I got to spend a few days in the Minho region, in the North of Portugal and let me tell that although this is a relatively small part of the country, it is packed with history and things to do and see.

You know when you look at a map and think that a small place will have nothing to see and no stories to tell? Don’t let yourself be fooled! Minho is packed with history and beautiful landscapes, making it a mix of brain and beauty! Old churches, monasteries and manor houses seem to pop up everywhere – besides pre-historic remains and landscapes that make you go “wow”.

Today I bring you a castle from Lindoso, a town located very very close to the border with Spain, in the area of the Peneda-Gerês National Park, which offers jaw-dropping views of the surrounding area, including the river Lima. This castle, classified as a national monument in 1910, is not big or of very intricate design but it served its purpose of defending the border. It was built in the 13th century and, like so many other fortifications, it went through some modernisation work throughout the times.

Near the castle you can also admire a different type of architecture, which will be topic of the next post. Let’s call it… a system that allows you to keep your corn dry and safe from rodents! 🙂 Stay tuned!

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Building bridges


First post of the year and anniversary post as well – today is the blog’s second birthday! Yay!

This past year was incredibly busy and it seemed to go by in a flash. I met great people, explored new places and learned a lot. There’s a website in the making and an increased presence in social media, besides a never ending bucket list for travel destinations and experiences in Portugal. I’d like to thank everyone who stops by, whether you’re fellow bloggers or interested in knowing more about Portugal – you rock! 😉

For today’s post I’m bringing you a bridge – but not just any bridge.

You can find this bridge in Castro Laboreiro, a town very very close to the border with Spain and in the area of the Peneda-Gerês National Park.
Castro Laboreiro is the kind of place that is older than you think might be possible and has a ton of history. Still, you risk missing out on a lot of things if you don’t pay attention. This bridge, for example, can be found by the side of the road and you may not actually notice it. Not much is known about it but, like many bridges in the region, it probably dates back to the time of the Roman empire. Can you imagine how many thousands of feet walked on it?

The surrounding area (which I’ll show in future posts) looks like it came straight from a scene from The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, with breathtaking views of mountains and valleys.


I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful 2015 with plenty of travel and good times! 🙂

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Little place, big history

cabo são vicente

Can you see it? Can you see that tiny white spot in the distance?

Remember when I told you about Sagres, the “holy promontory”? Well, that white spot is the lighthouse of the Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente) as seen from Sagres.

This bit of land is, surprisingly enough, full of stories as well as history.

According to legend (and some history) Cabo de São Vicente, much like Sagres, was considered sacred in the Neolithic period. Later, ancient Greeks would come to call it Ophiussa, meaning “Land of Serpents” (although some claim that the name extended to much of today’s Portuguese territory) and Strabo mentions the existence, in the area, of a temple dedicated to Hercules.

In the 16th century this little bit of land suffered attacks from French and Dutch pirates and even from Francis Drake. Most of the buildings that existed in the area were destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, so there’s not much left from that time that would let us know how the whole thing looked back then.

Trivia tidbit of the day: Lisbon’s coat of arms has, among other things, a ship and two ravens. Legend has it that two ravens guarded the dead body of the martyr St. Vincent until it could be found by his folllowers. When his body was taken to the cape which now has his name, a shrine was built over his grave – being guarded at all times by flocks of ravens. This caused the Arab geographer Al-Idrisi to call it “church of the raven”. In 1173 Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, had the body exhumed and brought by ship to Lisbon. The ship was guarded by (you guessed it!) two ravens.

Enjoy! 🙂

Oh, before I forget, there’s a surprise on the way! 😉

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