I completely fell in love with Lapa dos Dinheiros, one of the five mountain villages in the heart of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park of Portugal. It’s a very small village but with some surprising gems, and surrounded by the beauty of central Portugal.
Visiting the Historic Village of Piodão
My visit to Lapa dos Dinheiros actually starts with a stop in Piodão, one of the 12 historic villages of Portugal. It’s mostly constructed from schist, very similar to Gondramaz and the other schist villages of central Portugal.
Piodão was first recorded in 1527 and was possibly used as a safe haven for condemned criminals. It’s considerably larger than other schist villages, but that’s not saying much when there are only about 120 inhabitants. It’s also the only historic village that doesn’t have a castle, which is understandable considering the mountainous terrain.
We wandered up and down the streets for a little while, and then I captured some great drone footage. There was a restaurant in town, but their ratings on Google were horrible. Instead, we picked up some honey and a magnet from one of the souvenir shops before moving on. We were on a tight schedule after all.
Foz de Égua is only a couple miles north of Piodão. We parked at a spot by the river, which seemed the best point to get photos from. The tiny village is located on the confluence of two rivers, with just a few schist cottages along the banks. The little homes look like they could be right out of a fantasy movie.
The Mountain Village of Lapa dos Dinheiros, Portugal
There are six Mountain Villages in Portugal, all in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. They are Lapa dos Dinheiros, Loriga, Alvoco da Serra, Valezim and Cabeça. These are different from the schist villages and the historic villages. The schist villages are almost entirely made from schist, and the historic villages are much older and (except for Piodão) have castles.
Lapa dos Dinheiros is located on the western side of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. The legend of the town goes back over 700 years to when King Denis of Portugal proclaimed the settlement would be called “the money of Lapa” because of the delicious dinner he was served by the first inhabitant, Mr. Lapa.
Arriving in the village a little before 2 p.m., we checked into the Casas da Lapa hotel, took a tour of our accommodations, and then met up with our guide from Aldeias de Montanha (Mountain Villages).
Hiking and Spelunking in Serra de Estrela
Our guide took us out to Praia Fluvial de Lapa dos Dinheiros and Buraco da Moura (Moura’s Hole) where we met up with a local forest ranger. Praia Fluvial (river beach) is a manmade swimming area on the Caniça River. There’s a food shack for the summer months and several small waterfalls you can hike to.
Most of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) is covered with large granite formations. Moura’s Hole is a particularly large granite cave network just outside Lapa dos Dinheiros. The caves are full of bats and very large spiders. Vanesa had no intention of going in, but I love spelunking, so I followed the ranger down into the depths of the cave network. It’s nowhere near as big as the caves in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, but still fun to explore.
After spelunking, the ranger took us around the forest, pointing out ancient trees, new invasive species (such as the birch), and other interesting flora. I love nature, and it just made me fall in love with central Portugal that much more. Unfortunately, as it was the middle of January, it was a bit cold to go swimming in the river beach. At least I got some great drone footage of the waterfalls.
Spa Treatment at Casas da Lapa – Nature & Spa Hotel
We got back to the hotel just as the sun was setting. The view from our suite’s patio was wonderful, but we didn’t have long to enjoy it. We cleaned up after our hike and then went down for our spa treatments. Casas da Lapa has a resident masseuse and a pool room complete with sauna and Turkish bath.
There was only one masseuse that day, so Vanesa and I took turns. She got the first massage, and I went to spend my time in the pool and sauna, alternating between laps and sweating. As Covid restrictions had yet to be relaxed, the Turkish bath was closed, but I didn’t mind.
The massage was wonderful. It was more of a relaxation massage than an authentic Thai massage, which I prefer, but the masseuse was very skilled. Before the massages, Vanesa and I both filled in surveys for what we wanted to achieve. With that, the masseuse put together a batch of aromatherapy essential oils for each of us. Surprisingly, it was the first time I’d had such an experience.
Casas da Lapa Dinner and Breakfast
If my week in Portugal had taught me anything so far, it’s that Portuguese food is mostly locally sourced, organic, and incredibly delicious. Meals at Casas da Lapa were no exception. As it was low season, there was only one other couple dining with us, so almost a private dining experience.
There’s no set menu for dinner as it changes every night, and it’s a five-course meal! First course was a homemade bread selection, organic olive oil and beet hummus. The appetizer was a fried ball of cod. The soup was cream of carrots with greens.
There were three main courses to choose from – fish, meat and vegetarian. I had fish – grilled trout, mashed potatoes and mountain cheese, and Vanesa went with meat – duck with chestnut puree and vegetables. Finally, dessert was red fruit bavaroise with whipped cream and red wine teriyaki sauce, all served with house wine.
I really couldn’t find fault with any of the dishes. Everything was perfectly cooked with the best ingredients. Once again, I was amazed at how fresh the produce was. The service was impeccable too, with the waiter describing each course as it came.
Breakfast was similarly impressive, and it was presented like a British afternoon tea. On the top tier were pastries – brownies and pata de natas (obviously). On the middle tier were a selection of fresh cheeses and deli meats. On the bottom tier was an omelet surrounded by bacon and local sausages. On the table were bowls of fresh fruit, fresh-baked bread, marmalades, mini pancakes. juice and coffee. We tried to finish everything and failed.
Co-Working in Lapa dos Dinheiros
After breakfast, our guide from Aldeias de Montanha met up with us again, this time to take us on a tour of Lapa dos Dinheiros and Loriga. Just a little ways down the hill from the hotel is a new co-working/cooperative center, set up for the community.
We were given a tour just before they officially opened. The place is beautiful, and perfect for locals, expats, hikers and travelers. There’s a full kitchen and bathrooms, a lounge area with a great view, a conference room, and a proper co-working room with plenty of desks and outlets.
I was absolutely blown away when I checked the wi-fi speed. 450 Mbps down and 216 Mbps up! That’s well over 10x what I get with the hardline at home in Edinburgh. The only other place in the world I’ve seen those speeds just for a co-working space is in Romania.
Lunch in Loriga
As far as villages in central Portugal go, Loriga is a decent size with a population of over 1,000. There has been a village at that location since the time of the Romans, although I didn’t see a lot of Roman architecture walking around (as you sometimes find in the Mediterranean region).
Our guide first took us up the mountain across the valley from Loriga for a great view. I can’t say that Loriga was particularly impressive; I found all the towns and villages across central Portugal just amazing, and the ones with castles or Roman ruins even more so, despite the sere landscapes in the heart of winter.
A little ways closer to the village is another “beach” along the river. Essentially, it’s a series of pools you can swim, with some boulders nearby for sunbathing. It looked tantalizing, except it was still January and not exactly the temperature to go swimming.
Our guide took us on a wander around Loriga, pointing out old and new buildings, the countless churches and chapels, and explaining what life was like in the village. Eventually, we made our way to Cantinho da Serra for lunch. It was a beautiful little cafe with a very short menu – always a good sign.
The meal was simple, starting with the usual high-quality cheeses, summer sausage and olives. The main course was a pork and sausage “stew” with a side of fries. Dessert was mousse for myself and flan for Vanesa. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of pork (although some countries like Germany and Thailand serve it in delicious ways), but the quality of ingredients was fantastic.
Visiting the Mountain Villages of Portugal
Just like the schist villages, there’s no public transportation to the mountain villages in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. You would need to rent a car to drive in, or perhaps consider using Blablacar for ridesharing.
Casas da Lapa is the only hotel in Lapa dos Dinheiros, as well as a couple of guesthouses and just one Airbnb. I would definitely recommend staying at Casas da Lapa, but you could also stay in Loriga. That village has a couple of hotels, countless guesthouses and Airbnbs, and even Loriga Hostel if you’re on a budget.
Again, similar to the schist villages, you could just spend a single day in Lapa dos Dinheiros and the other mountain villages, or you could spend a week exploring, hiking, and relaxing. There’s plenty of nature to explore, endless trails to hike, and even the nearby burel factories on the north side of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. However you plan to visit, I would certainly recommend putting the mountain villages on your itinerary when visiting central Portugal.
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
Disclaimer: My endless thanks to Center of Portugal, Casas da Lapa and Mountain Villages for inviting me to these amazing locations. As always, my views and opinions are completely my own.
This post may contain affiliate links. These links help give me the wherewithal to continue traveling at no additional cost to you. For more information, click here.