Serra de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park is a protected area with almost 40.000 hectares located in the central part of the country, in the region of Beira Litoral.
Inside the park there are some small towns with a laidback atmosphere, where tourism has been growing in a slow and sustainable way, promoting and preserving the natural and cultural heritage.
The drive from Lisboa takes about 1h and from Porto 2h, making it a great destination for a long weekend or even a base camp for some longer holidays. The surrounding area also has many points of interest, which we’ll write about in more detail.
Natural Landscapes and Geological Sites
As the name suggests this natural park comprises two hilltops - Aire and Candeeiros and also two plains - Santo António and São Mamede. Most of the park’s soil is limestone that dates back to the Jurassic period, which makes it one of the coolest places across the country for geology fans.
Being a permeable stone, limestone is sculpted by the water generating absolutely amazing natural masterpieces, both on the surface and below it. In fact, there are over 1500 caves inside the park and some can be visited. The ones in Mira de Aire were considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal, but there are others that also deserve a visit, such as Grutas de Santo António, Gruta de Alvados and Algar do Pena.
For those unwilling to venture underground, there are traces of dinosaur footprints and marine fossils with over 150 million years.
To really take in the mix of landscapes we recommend doing short road trips and venturing through some of the marked hiking trails. The latter allow you to reach areas that aren’t accessible driving and the views along the way will surely pay off the drops of sweat.
Monuments and Historical Sites
As we mentioned before, Serra de Aire e Candeeiros is a great place to be based at in order to explore the surrounding territory, which gathers a handful of interesting places to visit.
Inside the park there aren’t many historical sites, apart from the “palace-like” castle in Porto de Mós and the remains of the roman road in Alqueidão da Serra. Both are located in the northern tip of the park. However, within a 15 to 30 minute drive there are many places worth mentioning.
Only 15 minutes driving from Porto de Mós lies the incredible Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória, most commonly addressed as Mosteiro da Batalha. It was built during the 14th century to celebrate the unlikely victory of the Portuguese troops against the ones led by our Spanish neighbours. Its construction took over 200 years and that’s why the architecture is a mix of different periods. Mosteiro de Alcobaça is another iconic monument nearby, which was the first only-gothic construction in Portugal and it’s where the tombs of D. Pedro and D. Inês can be found (the symbol of a tragic love story). Both these monasteries are UNESCO World Heritage and strolling inside almost feels like travelling back in time.
Fátima is another interesting place to visit as it’s one of the most important religious sites in Portugal, where thousands of pilgrims gather every year around the sanctuary.
The local gastronomy is another plus and can be considered a reward after an active day exploring the park. Here the typical dishes are a synonym of heartwarming food and the main proteins of choice are pork, lamb and codfish. Of course a meal starts with appetisers, such as charcuterie, cheese and bread. Our favourite main dish is panela de forno, which translates to “oven pot” since it’s literally a pot filled with meats that are cooked inside the oven.
All these dishes can be seasoned with the local salt that comes from the marshes in Rio Maior, a small village in the southermost tip of the park. They are the only ones located inland and the salty water is drained from a well.
To end a meal on a sweet note there are some local desserts, such as bolos de Mós and papas de São Carolo. Both have a generous amount of sugar, but when on holidays who’s counting calories?
Beautiful Beaches and Great Waves for Surfing
If the weather is nice and warm and you feel like enjoying the sea breeze, Nazaré is only 25 min. driving from Porto de Mós. This coastal town is mostly famous for the giant waves that brave surfers try to ride every Winter. However, there are other reasons to visit, such as the fishermen town vibe, the cute historical centre and the mind-blowing panoramic views from the lighthouse. Apart from these you can hop on a boat trip to spot dolphins, taste de delicious local fish and seafood or just stock on vitamin D at the beach.
If Serra de Aire e Candeeiros seems like a good plan, drop us an e-mail and we'd be thrilled to help you plan an escape.
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