Portugal is booming right now. For far too long it sat in the shadows of more famous European siblings, but today it’s fully stepped into its own dazzling sunshine, drawing tourists in the millions to the coastal cities of Lisbon and Porto to be wowed by the multicultural vibes, historic architecture, and fantastic cuisine (port wine and egg tarts, anyone?).
But while the cities are being swarmed, the interior of the country largely remains a quiet paradise of rolling hillsides dotted with quaint hamlets, constructed in traditional styles and full of art, culture, and history. But there are some that rise above the pack, like these 10 most beautiful villages in Portugal.
Near Portugal’s border with Spain, a mountain of granite rises from the landscape like a battleship. Perched along its uppermost reaches and surrounded by 13th-century walls sits the medieval town of Marvão.
Deemed so beautiful and of such historic relevance that it was featured in the New York Times travel book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”, Marvão was hugely important in the Middle Ages for its defensive location.
Today, evidence of its military past is found in the walls and old castle, with the main village consisting of immaculate, white-washed houses topped with red-tiled roofs and wrought-iron balconies, cut through by cobblestoned streets.
Its close location to Spain means there’s a heavy Spanish, Moorish, and Jewish influence with the religious architecture. The top-of-the-world views are unparalleled as well.
Dubbed “The Most Portuguese Village in Portugal”, even the picturesque traditional stone and red-roofed houses pale in comparison to the town’s unique bedrock: Monsanto is literally built around and on a giant heap of moss-covered boulders. Houses and streets curve to fit around behemoth rocks, and in some cases, the boulders form part of walls, ceilings, and doorways.
Wander the steep cobblestone avenues for surprise views of the rock-houses before eventually finding yourself at the top of the hill, where the remains of a partially-destroyed Templar castle offer panoramic countryside views.
Since ancient times, the hilltop that Monsanto is perched on has been a key strategic defense location; together with eleven other villages around the country, Monsanto was instrumental in helping defend the country from invaders.
The village can be explored on just a day trip, but as it’s a roughly three-hour drive from Porto or Lisbon, make it an overnighter by staying at one of the quaint bed-and-breakfasts and enjoying a nice dinner on the scenic terrace at Petiscos & Granitos.
Nestled into the natural amphitheater of a terraced hillside in the enchanting Serra do Açor region, the tightly-clustered houses of Piódão have existed since medieval times relatively undisturbed by the outside world thanks to the region’s isolation.
Nearly all the houses and streets are made from schist, a dark-grey stone commonly found in the surrounding countryside. This makes the uniform-grey village stand out against the lush green. The only note of dissonance comes from the white-washed church of Our Lady of Conception and the occasional blue-painted door or windowpane.
An ideal town for wandering and climbing the stairways to admire the craftsmanship of the stone houses, you can also go on walks through the terraces to other smaller villages like Foz de Égua, a smattering of hillside stone houses and a schist bridge spanning a babbling brook that looks like a place out of Middle Earth.