In this concentrate of natural beauty there are streams of clear waters and small and beautiful villages that deserve to be discovered, such as Piódão, Benfeita or Foz d’Égua. These are the best places to visit in Serra do Açor.
The Historical Village of Piódão, in Arganil, constitutes an architectural ensemble of rare beauty due to its natural setting, but also due to its antiquity, unity and state of preservation of the constructions, being called by many as “village crib” given its configuration that it spreads out along the hillside with the houses in schist and slate and the windows and doors painted in blue, in an amphitheater.
It fits in the typology of “Historical Villages”. It is known that the village of Piódão served as a shelter for many who sought to hide either for political reasons in more severe times, or for legal reasons. However, it was not only fugitives who sought her out. In the 19th century, Canon Manuel Fernandes Nogueira, founded a school that prepared students for entry to the seminary. Many boys from Beira Interior passed through the school between 1886 and 1906. The village’s history is lost in the night of time. Few are the vestiges that allow us to reconstruct history, however, the archaeological findings of Chãs d’Égua are an important testimony of the possible antiquity of the village.
2. Mata da Margaraça
The Mata da Margaraça, located in the heart of the Protected Area of the Serra do Açor, constitutes a rare testimony of spontaneous vegetation of mountainous landscape, an important Biogenetic Reserve, considered as the last stronghold of original vegetation in the Center of the Country. Covering 68 hectares, the Forest da Margaraça is an area worth getting to know for its freshness and biodiversity.
Oak, arbutus, hazel, cherry, honeysuckle, martagão, elm and heather (whose pollen gives the Serra do Açor honey such a characteristic taste), together with a high cover of mosses, lichens and fungi, are species in abundance that can be observed there. With regard to fauna, it is worth mentioning the goshawk, the owl of the bush, the hawk, the round-winged eagle, the black rook, the wood pigeon, the turtledove and the bullfinches that make Mata their home.
3. Foz d’Égua
The village of Foz D’Égua belongs to the parish of Piódão and with it shares the mystical beauty of the Serra do Açor. Characterized by its mountainous rural aspect, with typical schist and slate houses, surrounded by an almost pure nature, it is rich in fauna and flora species that find their natural habitat here.
In Foz D’Égua there is a river beach of great beauty, the meeting point of the Piódão river and the Chãs river, which run towards the Alvoco river and whose path is blocked by a dam creating a water mirror.
4. Vila Cova de Alva
Noble village, of exemplary dignity, marked by the size of its buildings and public spaces. The river Alva, which flows in the background, shines with clarity and freshness. The hills that surround and protect Vila Cova de Alva inhabit the surroundings, inviting you to take a walk in the soft shadows of its lush vegetation.
It is the Schist Village that has the largest monumental ensemble, namely because a religious order has established a convent there. Walk or rest in the public spaces of the village, cases of Largo da Igreja Matriz and Pelourinho, where two manor houses of the sec. XVII. Discover the many religious and civil monuments, such as the Solar dos Condes da Guarda, the Solar Abreu Mesquita, the Osório Cabrais building or Rua Quinhentista. But there is also the river Alva which, with its river beach, is a refreshing temptation on hot days.
It is between the village of Côja and the Protected Landscape of the Serra do Açor that is Benfeita, one of the 24 Schist Villages. Walk through its characteristic alleys and walkways, discover the Peace Tower, enjoy the Bathing Area and talk to the people of the village who will not hesitate to share stories, arts and traditions. Larger than its size, is the religiosity of its population: in addition to the Mother Church (18th century) you can find the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, the Chapel of Santa Rita and the Chapel of Senhor dos Passos. Further up, on a nearby hill, there is the Chapel of S. Bartolomeu, that of Senhora da Guia and that of Senhora das Necessidades.
Modest in construction, but witnesses to the faith of the people of the land, they were often built or improved as a promise to a saint, for a good harvest or matters of the heart. There are also countless souls, scattered along new and old paths, precious in their meanings, beautiful in their construction, waiting to be rediscovered.
Ancient village, nestled in a picturesque mountain shell, nestled over the River Ceira, near its source, between tall and gigantic quartzite boulders, whose configuration resembles ancient natural castles. Whoever wants to do mountain climbing and climb these cliffs can enjoy a unique show. The rehabilitation works of the village began in September 2003 and included, in addition to public spaces, private properties. The owners voluntarily demolished part of their properties and Fajão gained a more picturesque aura.
The village, a nursery for culture, has its own museum, named after Monsignor Nunes Pereira. The collection includes woodcuts, watercolors by Fajão and objects belonging to the history of the village (such as its first public telephone). But there is more to see and do in Fajão. From the typical community oven, to the public washroom, past the old primary school, from the times of the Estado Novo. The surrounding nature is also an ex-libris of the village. From there you can almost see the source of the Rio Ceira, a tributary of the Mondego.
7. Village of the Ten
A charming and laughing village, overlooking the River Alvôco. It all looks like a long viewpoint, with a privileged view of the surrounding mountains. Breathe in the fresh air, try to get to know its vast history and make sure you pass through every corner. The views from the viewpoint village conquer any visitor who appreciates the stunning landscapes of Serra da Estrela. Here, every house, every street and every square is a viewpoint. Built predominantly in granite, Aldeia das Dez has an impressive built heritage, with emphasis on the Igreja Matriz, whose interior is decorated with sumptuous gilt wood.
Many carvers and gilders lived in the village, which benefited the village with their works. The gilded carving of the Igreja Matriz is an example of this, together with sculptures and paintings that embellish the interior of the building. But the charms of the village go beyond that: they are also found in people and in the landscape. Those who cannot resist a good sweet can also find traditional cakes from the village, coscoréis and cavacas made in the style of Aldeia das Dez. Enjoy and also taste a jam or a medronho liqueur, whose fruit is abundant in the area.
8. Sobral de São Miguel
The village slogan “The heart of schist” is not innocent. This village will be one of the largest clusters of schist buildings in Portugal. However, the vast majority of buildings are plastered and painted predominantly in white. Shale is exported from here to the world, but the raw material does not stop there. Starting with gastronomic heritage – in the village you can try everything from sour cherry, to chorizo, sardine or cod, passing through honey and wood-fired bread – the village still has to offer a cultural and artistic heritage. Sobral de São Miguel also offers good walks. Whether through the streets and streets of the village, or following the course of Ribeira do Porsim.
The village has a wide range of new constructions, so we must guide our visit to the oldest nucleus. There the houses follow the more or less pronounced curves of the stream, rising as if on a staircase, up the slope. The streets are almost always parallel to the stream, being connected by countless steps with steps or by inclined alleys that try to circumvent the rooms. These are almost always juxtaposed, with no space for backyards. With two or three floors, the height of the buildings creates streets where, even during the day, the shade predominates.
9. Fraga da Pena
It is in the heart of Mata da Margaraça, inserted in the Protected Area of Serra do Açor, that Fraga da Pena is hidden, a privileged place to encounter nature. An idyllic setting where the water makes its way through the vegetation and the schist surface, and falls into a majestic waterfall over 20 meters.
An extraordinary natural wonder that remains untouched by man and where an impressive serenity reigns only interrupted by the sound of the water and the birds chirping. Originating by a geological accident, the waterfalls that hide among that floristic set of high interest, constitute a paradisiacal corner that stands out for its authenticity and freshness.
Inserted in a unique natural environment, in an authentic living postcard, the village of Avô has one of the richest river areas in the interior of the country. In the heart of the town, where the river Alva and the Pomares river, which form the particular island of Picoto, are located, the bathing area runs through the extensive and green valley offering numerous places for bathing. The Avô river beach (beach accessible to all) consists of two dams in the area surrounding the island, now with several newly opened pedestrian crossing points and a children’s pool fed with river water.
Under the single arch bridge of the century. XVIII, there is an area of large stones from the river from where you can dive or sunbathe. The leisure spaces are wide and with a lot of lawns with many shades of mimosas, willows and alders. The picnic park is at the top where you get a fantastic view over the river. Near the beach, which has been refurbished, you can visit the ruins of the old castle, the ruins of the Ermida de São Miguel, the Pelourinho of the century. XVI and the Mother Church of the century. XVII.
Vila de Côja, the seat of the parish and once the seat of the municipality, which was extinguished by decree in December 1853, is also called “A Princesa do Alva”, perhaps because it is located on the two banks of the River Alva at the confluence of Ribeira da Mata and duality that exists between water and the village.
Côja has great tourist potential alongside an ancestral historical and cultural heritage, had its first charter on September 12, 1260 assigned by D. Egas Fafes, bishop of Coimbra, and renovated by D. Manuel I, at the time of forals reform, having received the village “new letter” on September 12, 1514.
12. Chãs d’Égua
The villages of Foz and Chãs de Égua belong to the parish of Piódão and share with it the mystical beauty of the Serra do Açor. The villages are characterized by their mountainous rural aspect, with their typical schist and slate houses, surrounded by an almost pure nature, rich in species of fauna and flora that find their natural habitat here. For many years isolated, they are villages with remote origins and that survived the bad weather in community. For several years, however, the Real road that connected Coimbra to Covilhã was located at the top of this mountain.
Its origins are very distant, as confirmed by the five dozen rock paintings from Neolithic and Bronze Age that were discovered in the area of the village of Chãs d’Égua, which are considered by experts only as the “tip of the veil” of a wider and richer sanctuary. In fact, it is thought that the name of Chãs d’Égua itself will come from the time of Roman occupation, because mares were created here to be harnessed in sports and combat cars.