Visit This Underrated Southern European Destination For Stunning Hiking Adventures

The medieval village of Sistelo sits atop a terraced green and gold hillside 75 miles north of the famed foodie destination, Porto. For those searching for the trifecta of cultural authenticity, stunning scenery, and abundant walking trails, it's an ideal destination. The picturesque enclave — considered one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal in the villages category — is dotted with centuries-old granaries and mills and traditional granite houses. Time seems frozen here. It's the kind of place where you meet friendly locals in the café, begin talking, and suddenly realize half the day is over.

With a population of nearly 200, tiny Sistelo is Portuguese culture at its purest. It's also in one of the most beautiful areas in the country, with dense forests, crystal-clear streams and rivers, and a striking mosaic of terraces. Earning Sistelo the nickname of "Little Portuguese Tibet," the terraces represent the efforts of generations of inhabitants, who sculpted the formidable hills into irrigated platforms to graze their animals and grow grain. The terraces and other spectacular landscape features provide quite a backdrop for hikes around the village. From short strolls to strenuous uphill climbs, the Sistelo area has walks for every kind of hiker.

Sistelo hiking overview

The best place to start walking is right smack dab in the middle of the village. Stroll down Sistelo's cobblestone streets to see its traditional cottages and granaries. Check out the Castelo do Sistelo, the revivalist castle and former home of the town's first visconte, Manuel A. Goncalves Roque. Stop for lunch or a galão — coffee with foamed milk, Portuguese style — at the Solar do Visconde, which boasts wonderful views of the surrounding foothills from its patio. 

For a more strenuous adventure, take a hiking trail from town into the hills or down to the river. There are many to choose from, so you can pick the one that best matches your schedule and fitness level. One popular option is the challenging Brandas do Sistelo Trail, a 6-mile, 3.5-hour round trip from Sistelo. This steep and rugged trail departs from the village and travels through a wonderland of landscapes, eventually reaching a pine forest high above the town. The views of the terraces are truly dazzling as you gain elevation on this trail.

Hikes along the Vez River

If you prefer being near the water, another hiking option from Sistelo is the Ecovia do Vez, which runs parallel to the Vez River and connects Sistelo with several other villages. This hike involves mostly flat and easy walking on an unpaved path with some wooden footbridges. The full length of the trail is around 25 miles, but you can do shorter sections of the trail if you're not up to taking on the whole distance. 

The stretch of the Ecovia do Vez between Sistelo and Vilalia is approximately 7 miles. This section is charming, with several waterfalls, a few rapids, and a number of river beaches where you can take refreshing plunges into the inviting water. There are a few different ways to do this trail. You can power through it in the morning and get on with the rest of your travels. Alternatively, you can spend the entire day wandering from one swimming hole to another — a delicious way to spend a hot summer day in Portugal. 

If you start the hike in Sistelo, this stretch of trail ends at the medieval bridge of Vilela, which has four perfectly round arches and is an important historical site. From here, you can take a taxi back to your car in Sistelo or continue to the next village.