The undulated valleys and dramatic, forested mountainscapes of Central Portugal quietly guard a modest and timeless beauty. Sleepy villages, waiting to be discovered, reachable by winding rustic roads, nestle into a landscape laced with idyllic river spots and spectacular panoramic viewpoints. There truly is a sense that time slows here, and that life continues as it always has, with a simple elegance that is all but forgotten in so much of the developed world. The best way to enjoy the region is to find a parallel calm within ourselves, and connect with our inquisitive nature. It's time to explore!
The village of Folques perfectly exhibits this quintessential Portuguese charm. A mixed palette of natural stone, white washed walls gleaming in the sunshine, and terracotta roof tiles define the rural Portuguese aesthetic, framed by climbing flowers, with delicate wisteria and the bright orange trumpet blossoms of campsis in the spring, followed by the vivid pink of overflowing bougainvillea in the summer months. Quaint cobbled streets meander, offering narrow passages into hidden corners of village life.
Folques sits in the hills above the historic town of Arganil, where conveniences such as supermarkets, bars and restaurants can be found, and quests for delicious Portuguese pastries accompanied by strong espresso are bound to be met with success!
One of the greatest prides of the area is the abundance of spectacular river beaches, or praias fluviais. Some are not so far from the beaten path, with friendly signposts and amenities, while others must be discovered by word of mouth. One particularly notable gem nearby is Poço da Cesta. Take a 17 minute drive from Folques to the village of Casal Novo. The praia fluvial is signposted within the village and asks only a 300m walk. Keep in mind that there are no amenities to be found which, for the spirited holiday maker, serves as a perfect cue to pack a picnic alongside your swimwear and towels!
Poço da Cesta translates literally as “basket well”, which stimulates the imagination of what lives must have passed by this ancient location of natural grace. Explore gushing waterfalls and crystal clear pools, with striking rock formations, surrounded with flurries of textured greenery. Although relatively remote, this is a prized location so keep in mind that parking is limited. Earlier in the season you might just have the place to yourself, but once the summer heat arrives and others dream of a dip in the cooling waters at Poço da Cesta, we recommend heading up in the morning for a picturesque brunch, and leaving at lunch time as others begin to trickle in.
Sitting proudly as a guardian, above Arganil, Folques and the surrounding area, sits another treasure that is easy to miss – hiding in plain sight! A pilgrimage to the Santuário do Mont’Alto, an ancient church at a spectacular vantage point some 615m above sea level, is well worth the effort.
This historic shrine has surveyed the area from above since its original construction by Francisco Pires in 1521, and offers utterly breathtaking panoramic views. The Santuário do Mont’Alto sits only 2km above Folques, asking a short ride in the car, or an invigoratingly steep walk with increasingly spectacular sights to power you upwards! Each August 15th brings the Festa de Nossa Senhora do Mont’Alto, a religious festival up on this special spot, where you can witness traditional Portuguese dress, music and ceremony. At other times of the year, the Santuário do Mont’Alto remains largely absented by tourists and is a perfect place to enjoy peaceful reflection with an awe-inspiring view of the surrounding landscape.
A fun place to cool off on a hot day is the praia fluvial, Cascalheira, just outside the village of Secarias, a short 7km from Folques. As you pass through Secarias, keep an eye out for some truly rural yarn-bombing, as a huge old tree by the road side has been wearing a lovingly maintained, brightly crocheted jacket for many years!
The river beach itself is signposted from the main road, with ample parking. You can choose to stay close to the road, where many of the locals visit in the summer months, with a barbecue area, picnic tables, toilets and even pedalos, under the shade of substantially majestic trees that line the river bank. A stroll along the waterway will lead to quieter tracks where you are likely to discover local fisherman enjoying a leisurely afternoon, and the hum of chirping crickets and swooping birds diving for insects. A summer cafe opens at Cascalheira during warmer months and, on the opposite bank, the restaurant Gota d'Agua serves wonderful Portuguese cuisine. An afternoon of swimming certainly works up an appetite!