The underrated little village in the mountains nicknamed ‘Portuguese Tibet’

A tiny village hidden among the mountains of north Portugal is labelled the “Portuguese Tibet” for its distinctive terraced grain fields.

Sistelo, found 90 minutes by car from Porto and near the Penada Geres National Park, the village has just 300 residents and some of the most beautiful views around. The surrounding hills have been shaped by farming, with rows of grains – mostly corn – creating a step-like effect similar to rice fields in east Asia.

European Best Destinations said of Sistelo: “If you like hiking in nature, Sistelo is the destination for you.” Walkways snake around the mountains in and around the village – with some more difficult than others.

The delightful cobbled streets of the village are full of character. Made from traditional granite, the houses are interspersed with mills and granaries for the corn and other grains harvested from the surroundings.

Over the years the mountainside has been turned into an eco-sustainable location for agriculture and livestock. From the top of the mountain, the village looks like a puzzle piece, slotting perfectly in, travellers say.

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On the outskirts of the Peneda-Gerês National Park, in Arcos de Valdevez, Viana do Castelo, is a perfect walkway between lakes and green terraces, dense forest and historic landmarks. While another walk, “Brandas de Sistelo”, is an 11-kilometer trail starting in the village and passing through some of the most beautiful natural spots of the region.

And it has strong cultural heritage, with Sistelo Castle – built in the 19th century by the first Viscount of Sistelo – visible from within the village and while walking around the mountainside. It is a protected area, classified as one of Portugal’s national monuments and cultural landscapes.

The municipality of Arcos de Valdevez and Ecovia do Vez, where the Sistelo Footbridge is located, are also part of the World Biosphere Reserve. They are even defined by UNESCO as living laboratories for the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems and species.

Visiting in summer is highly recommended, as the views are at their best and the walkways are well-protected by trees, staving off potential sunburn.

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Along the trail you can also see some of the most iconic spots in the region. These include the Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos Chapel and the Chapels of Santo António, São João Evangelista, Senhora dos Remédios and Senhora do Carmo.

From there, you can climb to the viewpoint of Chã da Armada and admire the panoramic view, and at the end of the walkway there is the Sistelo Lunch Park.

Accommodation is limited within the village itself, so it is recommended to book one of the adorable B&Bs that are available well in advance. Another option is to stay in places on the outskirts of the village – such as Monção, Melgaço or Arcos de Valdevez.

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