A unique ecosystem of villages

It is not often that an ecosystem is defined by a rock, but this might just be one of those rare examples. Aldeias de Xisto, or Schist Villages, are 27 small villages located in the mountains of Lousã and Açor, in the center of Portugal. They virtually managed to avoid extinction due to migration and nowadays offer a whole range of activities to both national and international visitors. An exciting fresh and new prospect for your vacations in Portugal.

This set of villages gets its name from the material used to build the houses: schist, a rock made from several different minerals, which confer a distinctive look to any building. This is the most common and available mineral in the region, which is why it became such a widely used construction material. At a time when vacation packages to Portugal were rare, during the mid-20th century, there was the danger that these villages would simply become deserted due to the continued exodus of young people to the cities. Luckily there has been interest in maintaining this heritage and preserving its accompanying lifestyle, which rests on a close contact with nature and a slow pace of living. Not a bad option for anyone traveling in Portugal.

There are several lodging options in these villages, ranging from camping to a more comfortable stay at a B&B. But possibly the most appealing feature of the region is the fact that it has managed to make a wide range of activities available catering to almost everyone’s tastes and preferences.

Sports enthusiasts who travel to Portugal will find here the opportunity to use their mountain bikes, do some canoeing, sharpen their rock climbing skills or try trail running. For those looking for something even slightly edgier, cave exploring might prove to be the ideal outlet. But vacationing in the area is also interesting for those who may consider museums more enticing; there is an Ecomuseum with live animals portraying the traditions of the schist area. The Casa das Tecedeiras (Weaver’s House) near Fundão, also offers a window into a way of life that nearly vanished without a trace. This region has numerous natural and man-made monuments available to visitors so you’re unlikely to find yourself idle… unless you want to.

For seasonal summer travelers visiting Portugal, there is an extra treat awaiting: this region prides itself of having the best river beaches of the Center of the country, some even waving the Blue Flag on its shores.

Finally, as it’s nearly always the case in Portugal, gastronomy is a serious contender when it comes to attracting tourists. If the words roasted lamb, home-made bread, cod or "tiborna" (freshly-baked bread soaked in olive oil and sprinkled with sugar or salt) activate your taste buds, that’s probably a sign you should visit this region during your upcoming trip to Portugal.

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