Some of you might be avid independent hikers, but some of you prefer to have things nicely scheduled and get some local assistance. There’s no way to tell who is right. If you belong to the second group, we suggest considering We Love Small Hotels as your choice when planning an outdoors trip in Portugal.
WLSH is an aspiring initiative of locals who love nature, history and genuine local life, and decided to combine it with friendly, cozy and stylish hotels which will eventually become your base when indulging in the hiking tours.
Once you choose a hotel (or more of them if you stay in Portugal for some time), you will be able to match it with tours that will suit you best (walking, biking, bird watching, food & wine, romance or family).
The whole package also includes a welcome at the airport, where a representative of We Love Small Hotels will provide you all necessary information and GPS devices.
The tours are self-guided (apart from bird watching). We did all three hikes with the app as we found it pretty easy to follow. Bonus of the app: there’s no rush to follow a group or your guide and you can have a break whenever you like.
You’ll be able to pick the length of a tour depending on your needs and fitness level, as there are shorter and longer variations of some tours.
All the tours have been designed by the team of We Love Small Hotels and they are constantly working to make them even better and more interesting. Well, seeing the joy and dedication to their work in the hotel in Penafiel, which is part of the company, we’re confident they’ll keep following their ambitions.
In the following article, we’ll share with you some stories, tips and maps of the trails, and suggest hiking paths with some useful information about the outdoors in Portugal.
Thick milky mist was covering the sleepy forest that morning, when we headed up to Serra da Lousã (Lousã Mountain). Starting the trekking path was like entering a mysterious realm where you don’t really know what is hidden under the white layers of fog.
These secretive feelings disappeared once we hiked up to the forest, with a bright sun peeking from behind high pine and eucalyptus trees. Suddenly, all the terrain was clearly visible. A dry river that used to flow across the forest and a random local man walking his hyperactive puppy appeared together, surrounded by fragile purple bellflowers.
The path to the top of Lousã Mountain is not dramatically steep, but there are some parts in the forest where you’ll start to breathe faster, and your muscles will be challenged, too.
Most of the route goes through a forest, which is a big relief especially in hot summer, and a couple of fountains with spring water can literally save you when you need some refreshment along the way.
Interesting places to stop around Lousã Mountain
The 11th-century Castle of Lousã
Apart from the beautiful views you get while following the path, you can find a few special spots where not so many hikers arrive. Our favourite was Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Piedade, a shrine above river pools with a quirky statue of Jesus in one of the chapels. You don’t see a holy person twisted into painful position carrying the cross with a smile on His face every day.
One of the chapels of Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Piedade
The Lousã Mountain path is worth taking mainly for the ancient schist villages scattered among the hills in the forest, as they are almost invisible from below the mountain. Schist is an ancient building material, that has recently become very popular to make trendy thin plates made of layers of rocks.
The left-right dilemma
The most famous, but also the most heavily reconstructed schist village, is Talasnal. It was abandoned in the 1950s during a mass exodus from the countryside, but it is coming back to life thanks to wealthy locals and foreigners who renovated some of the houses and started renting them out.
Most of the schist houses attached to the renovated ones are still empty. Walking between the rocky walls, heavy wooden doors and windows that won’t allow you to look inside will make you wonder what lies beyond.
In the village, you’ll find a “bar” with souvenirs; a very modest shop with local home made delicacies and handcrafted goods.
View of Casal Novo
To experience an immensely quiet atmosphere, where the past triumphs over the present, make sure to visit the villages of Casal Novo, Catarredor or Vaqueirinho and Chiqueiro, where local shepherds still live.
The hike we did was 11.53 km long and it took us 5.5 hours to complete it.
Maximum altitude: 538 m.
Download the full map of hiking in Lousã.
1. Bring sturdy hiking shoes with you. There are a few parts where the trail gets really rocky.
2. In summer, snakes love to sunbath on hot stones near trails, so be aware of your steps when hiking there.
3. If you want to cool down, bring swimwear. You can take a dip in one of the river pools you’ll pass on your way around Lousã Mountain.
How to get to Lousã
Take a train from Lisbon (Santa Apolonia station) to Coimbra B (station for high-speed trains). From there take a regional train to Coimbra A (station for regional trains in the center of town). When you exit the Coimbra A train station, cross the road on your right (direction of the river) and take a bus to Lousã. The whole journey from Lisbon to Lousã takes about 2.5 hours.
Where to stay in Lousã
If you want to immerse yourself in local history, you can do so at the Palácio da Lousã boutique hotel. It’s an 18th-century palace with stylish décor, spacious rooms, outdoor swimming pool and international cuisine served in an impressive dining room.
The hotel holds a remarkable place in history. Here Marechal Massena, a commander of the Napoleonic troops, was getting ready for his dinner when he found out they were being attacked. He fled immediately, leaving his dinner for his enemy, Duke of Wellington.
In Palácio da Lousã, the first local newspaper was also published.
The hotel serves special honey produced from local pollen. You can buy it together with other natural products (teas, bee pollen) at the reception.
Palácio da Lousã offers something far more original than the usual tours provided by hotels. This year they are creating a special event, a guided walk of Shinrin-Yoku, which is a healing technique of traditional Japanese medicine that was developed in the 1980’s.
Visiting Penafiel was like watching a short documentary about rural landscapes. Whispering women arranging flowers before Sunday Mass, a bashful man pulling his cart overloaded with hay, vineyards with no fence, folk music blowing from a distance, women hanging the laundry briskly so they can run away from the hot sun.
This is a section of the walking path in Penafiel, a municipality located only 39 km from Porto in Portugal.
Passing through villages of Galegos, Alvite, Santo Ilos, we were immersed in local life. We observed life around us, talking to farmers, vendors and house wives. We stopped at a random house asking for a bit of drinking water because our bottles had been empty for a long time.
A walk in Penafiel is not a typical hike in nature. Although you’ll enter a few eucalyptus forests there, it’s much more about getting to know local life in Portugal and interacting with locals. If this is your way of exploring places, you’ll find what you look for in Penafiel.
Interesting places to see in Penafiel
Monastery of the Saviour of Paço de Sousa: one of those Romanesque churches where you wish you could stay longer. There are ancient stone pillars that lived through a millennium of history, as they seemingly haven’t been restored at all.
The monastery origin dates back to the 10th century and it used to serve as a Benedictine Monastery later in the 11 th century. The impressive portal is just the beginning of a series of architectural treasures the monastery offers (three interconnected chapels, the tomb of Egas Moniz, the diaphragms-arches.)
The monastery of the Saviour of Paco de Sousa is also one of 21 monuments on the Romanesque Route.
Castro de Monte Mozinho or Cidade Morta de Penfield (Penafiel Dead City) is an important Celtic hill fort that used to be a three wall lines strategic defensive spot. On an area of 22 ha, you can walk among round-shaped (Celtic tradition) and rectangular or square (Roman tradition) ruins of houses. The first bricks were put into the basement in the first century AD!
The hike we did was 14.4 km long and it took us 4.5 hours to complete it.
Maximum altitude: 416 m.
Download the full map of hiking in Penafiel.
1. The path is not marked currently, so make sure to get a GPS/ mobile with offline navigation with you.
2. There is about 800 m of the path, where you’ll need to walk along a road with no pavement. Watch the cars while walking here.
3. There are no water springs on the path, so make sure to bring enough water with you or buy your supplies in one of the villages on the way.
How to get to Penafiel
There’s a direct train from Porto. The journey takes around 45 minutes.
Where to stay in Penafiel
To start your rural landscape experience right from the heart of Penafiel, we suggest staying overnight with the fabulous Vinha family of Solar Egas Moniz hotel.
The rooms are very bright and stylish, with a cozy lounge and fireplace. There’s an outdoor swimming pool with comfortable blankets and sitting bags outside.
The hotel is a family run business in true sense. The Vinhas care about their guests with love and respect everyone’s needs. Do you need some advice about transport or local shops? Ask them. Do you have a travel story to share? Talk to enthusiastic Iva. Do you fancy having some local wine? The owner of the hotel will be glad to join you. And if you wonder where all these fresh ingredients for your breakfast/dinner come from, say thanks to Iva’s mother.
Disclosure: Our hiking experience in Portugal was possible with the help of We Love Small Hotels who kindly hosted us in Lousã and Penafiel. Our opinions, sweaty backs and foreheadsare are our own.
Text: Ivana Greslikova
Photos: Gianni Bianchini
Ivana and Gianni are full-time travellers who run Nomad is Beautiful travel blog.