Thursday 30 July 2015

Dreaming in the trees in Portugal

... in Trás-os-Montes (Behind the Mountains), Portugal's most remote and isolated region, in the north-east just below the Spanish border, with an unusual and unique history.

Jewish families came here to hide from the horrors of the Inquisition, but long before that it was inhabited for centuries by Celtic people, like Galicia and Asturias in northern Spain.

Strange dialects and pagan rituals live on here. I much prefer these northern regions of Portugal to the heavily trafficked sunny southern Algarve.

And what could be better than a room in the trees? At Pedras Salgadas these eco-treehouses of wood and slate on delicate stilts are perfectly designed to disappear into the local forest.

This region is called the Terra Fria for its harsh winters, but it has ancient thermal hot springs (the nearest town, Chaves, was called Aquae Flaeviae by the Romans for the caldas that pour out of the earth here at 73°C) and these have been revived here.

We happened to coincide with one of those pagan festivals appropriated by the Catholic church. The Festa do São João, ostensibly a celebration of a patron-saint, still involves an archaic courtship-ritual custom of hitting the object of one's desire with garlic flowers or a plastic hammer in the course of some heavy partying and mandatory fireworks (see here), in a weird mishmash of traditions ...

but more importantly, involves the grilling of sardines on an outdoor fire on a midsummer night, with some rustic bread and vinho verde, a tradition (see here) from my childhood that made me inordinately happy

before heading back to my floating bed in the tree tops

Trás-os-Montes, Portugal  June 2015
Day 4, Iberian road trip


  1. Karen, this Iberian road trip grows more and more marvelous with each stop.

    I remember beautiful posts you've previously shown us from Portugal, with lovely city views. However, these photographs of a magical place with tree houses, and no a blue and white tile to be seen, have introduced me to a new beauty.

    Thank you so much also to letting us know a bit about the history of this area and the very amusing festival appropriating many influences. The food alone sets the celebration atmosphere in motion.


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