Monsaraz village, Alentejo, Portugal, viewed from the castle

I know that many of you enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle of cities to explore picturesque villages and I’ve shared many of my favourite villages in Portugal with you over the years. In anticipation of a public vote on the best villages in Portugal, I decided to round up seven of the best for you from all around the country.

Since 2007, there have been various 7 Wonders of Portugal contests centered around specific themes such as beaches and Portuguese food. This year, it’s the turn of Portuguese villages.

Update, September 2017: The winners have now been announced so I’ve added them to the 7 categories below. Two of my choices are winners!

  • Remote Villages: Piodão
  • Villages In Protected Areas: Rio de Onór
  • Monumental Villages: Monsaraz
  • Seaside Villages: Fajã dos Cubres
  • Authentic Villages: Castelo Rodrigo
  • Rural Villages: Sistelo
  • Riverside Villages: Dornes

As I write, there are 7 pre-finalists listed in each category and voting starts on 9th July 2017. The winning villages will be announced on 3rd September in one of the prettiest villages in Central Portugal, i.e. Piodão.

Looking through the list, I see several familiar names and others places I’ve yet to visit. Much as I’m tempted to organise my preferences by these same categories, I find that 3 of my all-time favourite villages fall into the same group so I’ll stick with sharing the shortlisted villages that I’ve enjoyed visiting the most.

1. Monsaraz, Alentejo (winner!)

Perimiter defence walls, Monsaraz
Perimeter defence walls, Monsaraz

Monsaraz is a prime example of a medieval village that has been brought back to life through tourism in a good way. It’s one of the finalists in the Monumental Villages category, possibly because it’s considered to be an open-air museum and possibly because of its castle.

Whatever the reason, with cobbled streets, whitewashed buildings, ancient archways and stunning views over the Alentejo plains and Alqueva reservoir, the photo opportunities in Monsaraz are endless.

Enter the walled village via an arched gateway and explore its walls, castle, shops and art galleries. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés where you can sample Alentejan cuisine and wines.

Read more about Monsaraz, including suggestions for where to stay, in this article.

If you don’t have your own transport, there are guided tours from Lisbon area or Faro which include half a day in Évora. Click for more details:

2. Monsanto, Central Portugal

Granite and views, Monsanto
Granite and views, Monsanto

I always get the names Monsaraz mixed up with Monsanto. If you’re planning to visit either village, make sure you don’t confuse them as they are miles apart and completely different.

I’m not at all surprised to see Monsanto as a Monumental Village finalist. Once again, the ancient settlement is crowned by the ruins of a castle with views of the surrounding plains. The most striking thing about Monsanto, however, is its gigantic granite boulders, many of which form the walls of cottages.

See more photos and find out how to visit Monsanto in this post.

3. Lindoso, Peneda-Gerês National Park

Lindoso castle, Peneda Gerês National Park
Lindoso castle, Peneda Gerês National Park

Located in the far north of Portugal, within the country’s only national park, Lindoso also has a castle, evidence of a turbulent and powerful history. It’s also renowned for it’s remarkable set of 54 stone grain stores (espigueiros), which are grouped around a community threshing area.

Lindoso is also one of the five gateways to the Peneda-Gerês National Park so has the benefit of a visitor’s centre where you can get information about walks in the area. It’s location and appeal have earned it a place in the final for the Villages in Protected Areas category.

It’s also one of the mountain villages used as a base for this 1-week self-guided hiking holiday in the Peneda-Gerês.

4. Fajã dos Cubres, São Jorge Island, Azores (winner!)

Fajã dos Cubres, São Jorge island, Azores. Photography © Julie Dawn Fox
Fajã dos Cubres, São Jorge island, Azores

I was thrilled to see Fajã dos Cubres in the finals for the Seaside Village category. I discovered this seriously remote and utterly beautiful village on the best walk that Dori and I did in São Jorge. It’s where I dream of spending a few days with nothing but a book, walking shoes and a swimming costume. Well, besides some bread, wine and cheese perhaps. And my camera.

The closest accommodation is 3 km away in Fajã da Caldeirade Santo Cristo, which has a volcanic lake with calm water that’s perfect for swimming.

5. Curral das Freiras, Madeira Island

Curral das Freiras nestled in mountains. One of 3 easy walks in Madeira, Portugal
Curral das Freiras

Before I bring you back to mainland Portugal, let’s take a look at Curral das Freiras, aka Nun’s Valley. In the Remote Villages category, it’s actually much easier to get to than Fajã dos Cubres (there are buses from Funchal). Nuns based on the coast of Madeira eventually got tired of fleeing to this hidden crater valley to escape from pirates and the like so they settled here centuries ago.

Mike and I walked down to the village along a steep zig-zagging path from the viewing terrace at Eira do Serrado but there are also organised tours to help you get to Curral das Freiras.

6. Alte, Algarve

Ceramics workshop, Alte, Loulé, Algarve, Portugal.
Ceramics workshop, Alte, Loulé, Algarve, Portugal.

The village of Alte, tucked away in the hillsides of the Central Algarve, is one of many possible day trips in the Algarve.

Known for its esparto grass weaving and ceramics, the quiet cobbled streets and riverside picnic area make a pleasant change of scenery from the coastal towns. As well as quaint cottages and unexpected artworks dotted throughout the village streets, Alte’s parish church boasts a wonderful Manueline doorway.

7. Cerdeira, Central Portugal

Cerdeira schist village, Central Portugal
Cerdeira schist village, Central Portugal

One of the highlights of the central region of Portugal is its network of Schist Villages. The ones in the Lousã Mountains are particularly attractive, especially Cerdeira, a finalist in the Authentic Villages category. Now that it’s connected to the N236 by a tarmac road, it’s fairly easy to visit, assuming you have transport.

Houses in this mountain village are made almost entirely from slabs of rust-coloured slate that blend in with the forested hillside. I love just wandering around the tiny village, especially during the Art Meets Nature outdoor art exhibition.

Some of the cottages have been renovated to provide self-catering accommodation and the owners have gone to great lengths to create itineraries for day trips from Cerdeira so you could use it as a base for exploring this part of Central Portugal. Click to see available holiday cottages in Cerdeira.

Since each of these villages stand a chance of winning a place in the 7 Wonders of Portugal – Villages edition, I’ll be keeping an eye on the results and will update this post if any are indeed top of their group – done 🙂

In the meantime, feel free to share your favourite Portuguese village in the comments below or explore the others that I’ve written about on my blog over the years.

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And pin these for others to enjoy:

7 Delightfully Picturesque Villages To Visit In Portugal
7 Delightfully Picturesque Villages To Visit In Portugal


Lovely Village. 7 Delightfully Picturesque Villages To Visit In Portugal
7 Delightfully Picturesque Villages To Visit In Portugal

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  1. Im keen to rent a camper van what is your comment

  2. We went on our first Portugues road trip this year and I can’t wait to go back. Your blog has been great for tips Julie. I was sad to see so many of the places we travelled to be affected by the fires. Hoping things go back to normal soon

    1. Author

      Hi Christiane,glad you enjoyed your trip. It will take a year or so for the greenery to reappear any several more to hide the effects of the fires but it will get better. It must be soul destroying to be surrounded by such devastation day in day out though.

  3. All I can say is you are opening up new windows for us of beautiful Portugal, Thank you.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, Tony 🙂

  4. I can’t argue with the nomination for Alte, Julie, and I agree that Monsaraz is a beauty (even though I only saw it in the rain 🙂 ) I still haven’t seen as much of the central and northern areas as I’d like. Maybe next year, when we’re finally planning to make the move abroad.

    1. Author

      Oooh! How exciting that you’re taking the plunge, although if you’re moving to Tavira, you certainly know what to expect by now.

  5. And I only know one – Monsanto! There are so many beautiful and quaint villages….a difficult choice.

    1. Author

      I know, Sami. I agonised over this selection as there are so many I could have included. Never fear, I shall continue to slowly but surely showcase pretty Portuguese villages to the world 🙂

  6. I am just back from the Algarve area . Monchique, Alvor, Carvoiero, Algor Seco, Ferragudo and Padralva are quaint and cute villages that should be included in the category picturesque .


    1. Author

      Diana, thanks for your suggestions. There are hundreds of Portuguese villages that could fall into that category. I went with just seven in keeping with the 7 Wonders theme 🙂

  7. I love these competitions mainly because they show the side of Portugal not seen by many tourists .I have been coming to Portugal since the late 50:s and only knew 2 of the competition villages I look forward to the result and now have a target to aim for to see asap.thank you

    1. Author

      Exactly, Michael. There are lots of villages among the 49 nominations that I have yet to discover.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.