Our first two weeks in Portugal were spent in Algarve and Alentejo. Returning to Portugal from our stint in Extremadura, we were in yet another of Portugal’s regions, Beira. It felt very different. Alentejo was fairly flat riding with few houses between the stunningly white, bright villages. You really can’t say any of that about Beira.
As far as the riding goes, well, it’s hilly, even mountainous, sometimes steep, though the climbs aren’t super long. Certainly the rain added to the challenge. The reward is the villages, more than the scenery. The Portuguese tourism folks put out information about 12 Aldeias Históricas (Historic Villages) in this region. We visited three of these. There’s also heaps of information on the internet about the Aldeias do Xisto (Schist Villages). Some are incredibly picturesque.
One thing to keep in mind is that many villages do not even have a market, and some of the back roads are pretty slow going.
When we arrived in Zebreira and smelled the grilled chicken, we bought one, sat down in the park, and washed it down with beer and churros.
We chose paved roads to arrive at our first “historical village”, Idanha-a-Velha. There we ran into a family of four from Évora on mountain bikes. They were excited to see other cyclists, as were we.
The most interesting historical thing in Idanha-a-Velha were the stepping stones across the creek. Ferda walked across the stones while I pushed the bikes through the shallow water. There was a bridge 400m downstream, but that’s not nearly as fun, is it?
I’m definitely glad we ran into Teresa and Filip because they insisted we really must go to Monsanto. Intimidated by the climb, Ferda was trying to convince me to skip it. When she first saw the mountain from afar, she joked that we must be heading to the top of that! In the end, yes, we did.
We locked our bikes at the square in Relva and walked through the granite village of Monsanto all the way up to the castle on the summit.
Please, if you’re in this region, do not skip Monsanto. The climb wasn’t hard — much easier than what we had in store for the following days.
Our next stop was Paúl where, wow, did we ever luck out. Looking for a place to stay inside, I entered a cafe and met Antonio Serra whose English is definitely better than my Portuguese. Sónia, the owner of one hotel, was on holiday, and the second hotel, Hospedaria Plazeres, has been closed for a couple years. Serra (as he’s known), with help from his boss, his client Baltazar, and his friend Filipe managed to get us in touch with Irene who has a house to rent in Paúl. That wasn’t even half the luck. We arrived in Paúl just hours before the annual Procissão dos Penitentes. Last year it poured rain, but the weather was perfect this year. The procession is Friday at midnight ~nine days before Easter. Here’s Serra getting ready:
In medieval times lepers came into the village at night to steal food. Thinking the lepers were bringing sickness to the village, the villagers would scare them away. The procession remembers this and also the suffering of Jesus Christ. I don’t have photos because they turn off the streetlights so it’s dark. The participants, dressed in white shrouds, walk through the narrow streets, chanting at times, carrying crosses and ladders, and dragging chains. It was eerie, and they did a wonderful job.
From Paúl we entered one of Portugal’s schist regions, and the climbing started for real, about 2000m over the next 50km. Baltazar had recommended the route via Sobral:
and Filip said we must not miss Foz d’Egua:
Like I said, the scenery was good but not incredible.
The star of the region is Piódão, counting as both uma aldeia histórica and uma aldeia do xisto.
We camped a bit above the village and made it over the pass the next morning. However, the road stayed up high for a long time. We watched the black clouds coming over the ridge and were soon engulfed in fog and rain. We were very happy to find a covered roadside chapel where we took shelter and pulled out the stove to make some hot tea.
The rain stopped (temporarily), and the clouds lifted. There are many roads down from these mountains. We choose what turned out to be a picturesque route via Relva Velha, Enxudro, and Sardal.
Way back in Vila Viçosa a motorcyclist had talked to us about all the “river beaches” (praias fluviais) in this part of Portugal. I’m sure they’re quite popular in the hot summer. The only one we visited was in Arganil where we spent a comfortable night:
Now we’re renting a caravan for a few nights at a campground in Penacova. It’s fun to watch it rain when you have a roof over your head!
I suppose I can’t write a blog about Portugal without an azulejo photograph. It was in Pombeiro da Beira where I saw the ATM machine set in azulejos, but I had to delete many photos from that day because of water on the camera lens. Here’s a more classic azulejo, transporting the cork harvest.