The Natural Park of Serra de Sao Mamede is a beautiful area of rocky, tree-covered hills, separating valleys which all have a character of their own. It has ancient castles situated on spectacular rocky heights, and it has the history and remains of Roman occupation, Moorish domination and border conflict between Portugal and Spain.
In more recent times the maze of small roads and tracks were used by smugglers to carry coffee and leather goods illicitly between the two countries.
Farming here has always been on a small scale, suggesting hard work and self-sufficiency in the past, and there are still relics of old ways, with mules pulling ploughs and carts, older women doing their laundry at their local fonts, and shepherds moving their bell-wearing sheep and goats between grazings. At the same time access to wifi and mobile phone signals is easily available.
Apart from the numerous oak trees, fruit and nut trees grow in abundance - chestnuts, walnuts, hazel nuts, oranges, lemons and clementines, figs, grapes and of course, olive trees, all fruiting in season. Spring flowers are super-abundant and colourful, with spring arriving early, and in autumn there are wild mushrooms to be found.
This is a superb area for walkers and bird-watchers. There are many old cobbled tracks and roads interlinking valleys, fields and communities, so that short or long routes can be planned away from all traffic, going into places with beautiful views, secluded valleys and even views of the habitat of eagles and vultures. There are so many walks to be found, it may be said that there is one for every day of the year!
There are small local towns and villages with their own seasonal festivals where in-comers are welcome, and bigger annual festivals, such as the Chestnut festival in November and the music festival in July, in the magnificent castle village of Marvao. This castle is an orientation guide as it can be seen, higher than anywhere else, from a thousand different points in the surrounding area.
The phrase "a hidden gem" is often overused - but it certainly is an apt description of this area, which whilst welcoming in-comers, as yet retains its own life and character largely unaffected by tourism.