When I recently posted pictures of my hike in the Serra da Lousã on social media, it kinda blew up among my Lisbon expat and nomad friend circle. My DMs were full of people wanting to know everything about it.
Where was this place? How do you get there? And how is this in Portugal?!
Of course, I was happy to share — and given the response, I knew I should also spill the beans about this hidden gem in Portugal here!
With its stone houses, fern fields, and mossy trails, the Serra da Lousã feels a bit different from other parts of the country. At times, I felt like I was walking through a Medieval fantasy world.
What probably helped is that I visited on a misty day, which made the landscapes look a little more ethereal than it would on a sunny day — though the area is clearly beautiful under any circumstances.
Located close to the city of Coimbra, the Lousã mountain ridge is part of a larger range running through central Portugal and which is filled with castles, characterful villages, and hiking trails.
The houses in this region are built using layers of brown and grey schist rocks, lending the villages a different character compared to the whitewashed houses with colored window sills that are more typically found in Portugal.
Thanks to getting significantly more annual rainfall than the southern parts of Portugal, the nature is also especially green and lush. Precipitation in the Serra is about four to five times that of the Alentejo wine country south of Lisbon, for example.
There are 27 of these Schist Villages (Aldeias do Xisto) scattered throughout the valleys of Lousã and Açor. You can find a lot more information about the villages and walking trails on the official website which was set up to promote the region. Not all of the pages are available in English, so you may want to browse the Portuguese version and auto-translate the pages using Google Translate.
The fact that even (foreign) residents don’t know about this area shows it’s one of Portugal’s best-kept secrets!
I’ll briefly mention the two parts where I had the chance to visit and do some hiking.
Serra da Lousa hike (PR2)
I walked the circular Serra da Lousã hike marked as PR2. It takes about 3 ⅕ hours and starts and ends at the Castle of Lousã. Most of the trail is well-marked and pretty easy to follow, though at one point I did get a bit lost and may have taken a wrong (and terribly steep) shortcut, so you may want to download the route map to your phone. Just click on ‘Ver maps, contactos en mais informacao’ here.
The hike goes around the valley and stops in two schist villages. Almost all of the route consists of narrow forest paths, occasionally intersecting with small creeks or waterfalls.
The cute hilltop town of Talasnal, which is about halfway through, makes for a great pitstop for food and drink.
How to get there: this hike is possibly the most accessible in the area and can be reached both by car and public transportation. It’s easiest by car: simply punch in ‘Castelo da Lousã’ into your GPS navigation and park somewhere near the castle. Here you’ll also find information boards and trail signs.
By public transportation, it’s a bit more involved but not impossible. First take the train to Coimbra, then catch a 50-minute bus to the town of Lousã. From the town, you’ll first have to hike up to Castelo da Lousã where the trailheads are, which should take about 40 minutes.
Zêzere river hikes (PR2)
Further to the south of Serra da Lousã, I also did some hikes around the Zêzere river. The nearest town, Pedrógão Grande, was badly affected in the 2017 forest fires, but the natural forests that the trails run through were luckily spared.
One amazing 2-hour hike — also marked as PR 2 — starts in the cute town of Pedrógão Pequeno, goes down a cobblestone road lined by moss-covered walls, and into a river valley. You pass by the granite stone Philippine Bridge, which is over 400 years old and is at the site of an ancient Roman road. The trail goes through a mysterious tunnel, then back up the canyon cliffs for some wonderful vistas.
How to get there: this part of the region is easiest to reach using your own transportation, though Pedrógão Grande does also have a bus station and a path connecting to the PR2 trail.
More about the Schist Villages
Not knowing what to expect, I had dedicated only a couple of days to this trip. I now feel like I only nibbled at the edges of this region, so I’m determined to come back and explore it a lot more.
Apart from day hikes or day trips, I think it’s perfect for a multi-day road trip or a multi-day trek through the region, while staying in different schist villages along the way.
Besides hiking, the area is also promoted for other activities like mountain biking and kayaking. Near the Zêzere river are a number of river beaches where you can relax. And you can find cute and affordable rural B&Bs all over the place; I managed to book a lovely country house for just 25 Eur a night.
The official website is a great source for further information, though as I mentioned not all pages are translated into English, so it’s worth browsing the Portuguese website using auto-translate.
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