Although Lisbon and Porto are both stunning cities, the magic of Portugal cannot be reduced to them only. Besides nearly 20 schist villages, that are some of the best-kept secrets of the country, there are still 12 more villages officially known as "historical villages" of Portugal ("aldeias históricas," in Portuguese), strategically dotted nearby the border with Spain. These are spread around three regions of Central Portugal (Coimbra, Castelo Branco, and Guarda) and are off the beaten path destinations that promise a perfect and calm weekend in a fairytale looking environment.
Today, less than 300 people live in Almeida, a village situated a few kilometers from the Spanish border, in a vast high plain where winters are cold, and summers are warm. Nevertheless, the landscape with the Côa River in the background is breathtaking, and Almeida is worth visiting at any time of the year. Historians say that the village got its name after the high plain itself - "al mêda" means "the table" in Arabic, and this is precisely how the high plain looks like here. Almeida is unique because of its 12-pointed-star shaped wall, which made it famous and important fortifications in the Napoleonic wars. Nowadays, in Almeida, you will feel like the time has stopped, or at least pretty much slowed down. For an authentic visit, after walking around its walls, you can join the locals at "Casa da Amelinha" (1883) and taste excellent homemade "ginjinha", visit the Church of Misericórdia (from the 17th century) with its triumphal arch, and end your day in "termas" - a modern thermal complex.
Just 20 kilometers away from Almeida, there is another historical village - Castelo Rodrigo, with its medieval charm and currently 50 inhabitants inside the walls. This unique village is known for its incredibly tranquil atmosphere. Great work has been done during the restoration that made sure the place kept its authenticity and stunning views over hundreds of olive trees and vineyards. At the entrance, there is a small gourmet shop offering flavored almond tasting, including liquor and wine. Both local accommodation facilities and a few gift shops are perfectly blended into the village. Although the entire place can be visited easily in 30 minutes, there's a special vibe inside its walls that makes people wander around its cobbled streets for much longer than that.
Almeida and Castelo Rodrigo are just two out of 12 historical pearls of Portugal. For a real off the beaten track experience, take them and other ones into consideration when visiting the country. During half an hour inside their walls, you can learn a lot about the history of the Iberian peninsula, but also feel the authentic warm hospitality of their inhabitants.
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