Far in the east of central Portugal near the Spanish border is a hidden gem recently voted as the best tiny home in the world. It was my utmost pleasure to spend a night at Casa no Castanheiro — House of the Chestnuts for my final night in Portugal.
Visiting Eastern Portugal
Most tourists head to Lisbon, Porto, Madiera, or perhaps Albufeira when visiting Portugal. But there are some other hidden gems, especially in central Portugal. You can find some really interesting places the further east you go into the mountains and wilderness. Near the town of Mêda and the historic village of Marialva is a tiny home unlike any other. In fact, it was named the best tiny home in the world.
Driving through central Portugal is fascinating. Closer to the coast, there’s a village every few miles. Then you get up into the mountains, first Aire and Candeeiros Mountains Natural Park and then Serra da Estrela Nature Park. There are plenty of schist villages, historic villages, and mountain villages on the way, many of which should be explored in their own right. But you really start to get the feeling of remoteness.
There’s not a lot of public transportation in this part of Portugal, or most of Portugal for that matter, so you’ll want to rent a car. Get ready to spend a bit on all the toll highways, unless you want to take the longer rural routes. On the other hand, you could always try your luck with Blablacar.
Casa no Castanheiro
Casa no Castanheiro, or House in the Chestnut Tree, could not be more of an ideal scene as the best tiny home. The owner is clear that it’s the house in the chestnut tree, not just at the tree, as the house integrates into the tree. While the house fits the definition of a tiny home, it doesn’t feel small. It’s a very open floor plan, with separate small rooms for the toilet and shower.
The house has a distinct charm in its simplicity. On the left side of the house is a soft, queen-size bed. Above that is a loft with another bed for kids or friends. In the center of the home is the kitchen with a sink, induction stove, dishes, a coffee maker, and other basic amenities. Across from the kitchen is a desk for working — although there’s not a lot of internet, and a wood-burning fire — essential during our visit in January. To the right are the separate toilet and shower rooms, with a high-pressure rain shower — my favorite.
The structure has a sight chevron shape. A large chestnut tree grows inside the chevron’s bend and spreads its branches above. The house is made of simple construction materials — plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), and cork. In other words, everything harmonizes with nature rather than being ornate. Best of all, half the home has floor-to-ceiling windows to look out at the landscape.
An Evening Under the Stars
Vanesa and I arrived at Casa no Castanheiro not long before sunset. We were lost for nearly an hour trying to find the location, as the house isn’t on Google Maps, and the coordinates we received didn’t pinpoint the driveway perfectly. The owner prefers the house to be kept off the grid, adding to the feel of seclusion and serenity.
The driveway, with deep rivulets from the recent rains, was a bit much for our Toyota Corolla rental. As such, we parked at the bottom of the driveway and brought our bags up to the house, just a short walk up the hill. We had a code to get in the front door, and everything was quite inviting. It had been a long drive from Belmonte, we were ready for dinner.
Our closest (and probably only option within many miles) was Sete e Meio restaurant in Mêda, a few miles to the north. They served basic Portuguese food. We had steak and potatoes for dinner, and rice pudding for dessert. In rural Portugal, meals are rather cheap. Of course, this is also a Mediterranean country. We were the first guests there, and the next guests arrived just as we were leaving.
Before we went back to the tiny home, we made a detour to Marialva to get some drone shots of the castle at night. Of course, there wasn’t a lot of lighting, but the dusting of snow around the centuries-old ruins was surreal. Despite a few guesthouses in the village, there were no signs of life, and we shortly made our way home. Of course, with a cloudless sky, we had to lay outside and look at the stars…until we got too cold and had to go inside to get cozy by the wood-burning iron fireplace.
Breakfast at Casa no Castanheiro
The next morning shortly after we awoke, we heard a Jeep making its way up the driveway, able to traverse the ruts better than our car. The owner, João Mendes Ribeiro, arrived with his dog and a large wicker chest containing our breakfast. We chatted with him for several minutes learning about his inspiration for the house, why he built it so remote, and how long it had been there. This was before it won an award as the best tiny home.
After our chat, Vanesa and I opened the hamper to find a breathtaking breakfast spread. Here’s what the card inside said:
Fresh orange juice, fresh raspberries and blackberries Valeflor juice, coffee, milk, eggs, fresh cheese (cow) with tomato, oregano and homemade croutons, sheep cheese, ham, butter, local wheat bread, small chestnut bread (homemade), homemade granola, Greek yogurt, honey, pollen, Valeflor white plum jam (homemade), fruit of the season, Valeflor (tangerines), fruit (strawberries, pineapple, mango), Valeflor zucchini and nuts cake (homemade).
Suffice to say, every item was the best quality, but also just the right size portion so we were able to finish everything without feeling overly full at the end. As with most of the places we ate at in Edinburgh, I loved how nearly everything is from just a few miles of us. In the case of Casa no Castanheiro, most of the ingredients come from the Valeflor region where the tiny home is located.
Voted the Best Tiny Home in the World
Casa no Castanheiro was certainly one of the best tiny homes I’ve ever stayed at. I’ll admit it was quite remote with not a lot to do nearby, other than visiting the historic Marialva village and Viseu a bit further away. Instead, the best part of the tiny home is the homeliness and the incredible hospitality of the host. This is the kind of place you visit if you want to get truly off the grid and just appreciate nature.
Tiny homes are definitely some of the best accommodations I’ve found around the world, both as a traveler and as places I would want to stay at for longer. For many years, I’ve created conceptual designs for my own tiny home, both as a stand-alone small house and as a mobile house built into a van or truck. What João built is right along with what I imagine as the perfect tiny home.
Shortly after I stayed at Casa no Castanheiro, I heard the house had been short-listed as the best tiny home in the world by Dezeen, the world’s most influential architecture, interiors, and design magazine. Technically, the tiny home didn’t win the magazine’s top pick, but it was the public vote winner for the small building of the year, and that’s good enough for me!
Marialva – Historical Village and Castle
The historic villages of Portugal are twelve villages located mostly in the eastern provinces of Central Portugal, not far from the border to Spain (the oldest continual border in Europe). The history of these villages dates back to antiquity and they have followed the ebb and flow of civilization over the millennia. They have ancient castles, fortifications, churches, and jails. The feeling I got walking through the streets is something I’ve rarely experienced anywhere else in the world.
During my week in Central Portugal, I managed to visit four of the historic villages. I spent an afternoon in Belmonte and then made a detour to see Sortelha not far away. When I was I was exploring Gondramaz and the other schist villages, I also hiked up through Piodao. Piodao is interesting as it appears to be a schist village, but it’s classified as a historic village, even though it doesn’t have a castle as the rest do.
Unfortunately, I made it to Marialva late at night after dinner. As this was mid-January, the town was all but abandoned. But just like Obidos and many other places I’ve visited in my travels, exploring the town only at night had its own magical quality. I just look forward to going back someday to see things in the daylight, and hopefully even stay in one of the beautiful stone B&Bs. Of course, if I’m ever back in that part of Portugal, I’d want to stay at Casa no Castanheiro again.
Finding the Best Tiny Home
Getting to Casa no Castanheiro is no easy feat. The closest city is Viseu, which is already pretty remote. From Porto, Valeflor is about 150 miles east and will take over 2 hours to drive using the toll highways. You can avoid the tolls, but that will add half an hour to your drive. Again, there’s no public transport, so you’ll need to rent a car to get there.
If you’re looking for an incredible tiny home in general, make sure to consider all the facts. Design and facilities usually come first, but there’s also surrounding scenery, relative location, and nearby activities. Some people might not consider Casa no Castanheiro the best tiny home due to a couple of those factors, but I thought everything was perfect.
Nowadays, tiny homes can be found in the form of glamping pods, detached guest houses, treehouses, yurts, etc. Some are ultra-minimalistic, while others put attention on details and facilities. Whatever you’re looking for, a tiny home is a great option when traveling. Ditch the TV hotel room for relaxation in wilderness, and hope to get a homemade breakfast delivered by the farmer and his dog.
Here are some more articles about Portugal to plan your trip with.
- 9 Amazing Things to Do in Obidos for Your Itinerary
- A Day at the Convent of Christ in Tomar, Portugal
- Discovering the Schist Villages of Portugal with Mountain Whisperer
- Travel Advice: Finding the Best Accommodations in Santa Cruz, Portugal
- Follow in my Footsteps: Fish, Funiculars and 100-Foot Waves in Nazaré
- 24 Hours in Peniche – The Best European Surfing Town
- Follow in My Footsteps: The Santa Cruz that isn’t on Google Maps
- Spa Treatments and Co-Working in Lapa dos Dinheiros, Portugal
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