-the world as I see it
What better way to spend your Sunday than to stroll through a picturesque little hamlet perched up in the mountains and hike along the roughly hewn paths alongside, that afford brilliant views of lush green slopes, spray-painted with bright yellow flowers and graced by a stream of flowing water gurgling through the valley. I am talking about Piodao, a beautiful village that takes ‘rustic charm’ to an entirely new level. What makes this village so special is that all the houses here are built out of schist and topped with slate roofs, with the entrance doors painted a bright shade of blue. Situated closest to the city of Coimbra, there are several schist villages in Portugal scattered about the mountains, some of which are completely abandoned and others which chose to develop what they had by converting the locality into a tourist destination. Among the villages that went the latter way, Piodao is the best place to visit.
The village has very few inhabitants and many of the houses have been converted into holiday homes. There are marked hiking trails and biking paths to get to the scenic spots holed up in the mountains nearby. The only way of reaching Piodao is by car, as buses and trains don’t operate in the region. Although Portugal is blessed with some of the most splendid landscapes, captivating medieval villages and spots of great natural beauty, most of them are situated in the interior parts of the country which are not accessible by public transport. That is why the best way to see and appreciate the true beauty of Portugal is to plan a road-trip by car. If you plan to travel to Piodao, remember to fill up your car tank with enough gasoline to last you a long time as finding a petrol pump in the middle of vast mountain stretches is pretty much of a Herculean task. These mountains are home to wind farms that are responsible for generating a sizeable portion of Portugal’s wind energy.
Since it was past 2 pm by the time we got to the village, we headed straight for lunch. The chef at the restaurant recommended that we try the Chanfana and Maranhos de porco, the region’s specialty. Maranhos is a dish composed of rice, pig’s blood, sausage and lamb cooked in the lining of a pig’s stomach. Judging from the ingredients itself, I knew I wasn’t going to be a fan. Chanfana is made by cooking mutton in red wine. I preferred the chanfana to the maranhos although I didn’t enjoy either of the dishes very much. After lunch, we walked through the village along the narrow stone pathways. All cars have to be left at the parking lot near the entrance of the village as the streets are just pedestrian friendly. Some of the paths serve as a not-so-gentle reminder that you need to hit the gym as they are so narrow that you’ll probably get jammed in between the houses on either side if you aren’t a size zero. 😉
Except for certain parts in Greece and Portugal, schist is generally not used as a building material in Europe. Though schist is considerably strong and durable, it tends to chip away and if the mortar holding the stones is too dry, the stones may get dislodged. If you’re thinking that this would make the house collapse like a pack of cards, you are mistaken. These houses have been around for ages, so obviously the construction system works. Being a civil engineer, I couldn’t help but marvel at how the entire village of Piodao has been built using locally available materials obtained from the mountains of Serra do Açor. The use of schist as building material and simple wooden benches made by nailing a wooden plank to two tree logs makes you realize that simple constructions from these naturally available materials are any day more aesthetic and environment-friendly than towering concrete buildings. The shiny black slate roofs add to the character of the houses.
When you look at the village, what strikes you first is the fact that all the doors of the houses are painted blue- well, not all, but almost all. There’s always someone who refuses to conform to the rules, so don’t be surprised if you find a few brown doors somewhere along the way. Most of the doors have tiny crosses made out of twigs nailed to their lintels.
Talking about non-conformity, the bright white church sorely sticks out amidst the grey houses in the backdrop.
Once we had walked around the entire village, we went down to Foz de egua. The hike is about 55 minutes although we got diverted along the way by mistake and ended up walking along the concrete road, which made the walk an extra 20 minutes. I got a nice shot of Piodao from a distance along the way.
Foz de egua turned out to be an even better spot than Piodao with its stone archways and bridges over a crystal clear stream. At the top of the hill is a grotto dedicated to Mother Mary. It’s a nice and peaceful spot to relax after the trek up to the top.
Unknown to most Portuguese people themselves, this gem of a place is certainly one of Portugal’s better kept secrets. Before leaving, I picked up a souvenir from Piodao and now I am the proud owner of a pretty little schist house 😉