This Lesser-Known City In Portugal Is An Enchanting Destination With Unmatched Views

If you've spoken to any fellow travel enthusiast who has recently journeyed to Portugal, chances are they've emphasized two things: the stunning beauty of the country and the crowds. Of course, some spots are touristy for a reason. In our humble opinion, it's worth it to brave the crowds to experience the absolute magic of the palaces in Sintra. (After all, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason). Portugal is one of the best European countries for retirees, and itineraries for trips here often comprise well-known locations like Lisbon, Douro Valley, Porto, and the Algarve region. 

Don't get us wrong — all those areas are worth visiting. But although Portugal is a small country, it's full of hidden gems and lesser-known cities with incredible beauty and culture. And you won't find packed crowds or long lines everywhere you turn, which is a major bonus in our book. Case in point: the village of Ferreira do Zêzere. Located in the Santarém District, it's just an hour-and-a-half drive from Lisbon, so it's the perfect place to head after you've embraced what Portugal's capital city has to offer.

Enjoy the history and the architecture

Portugal has a rich history, and Ferreira do Zêzere is no exception. The city's historic center is the perfect place to wander narrow cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed houses adorned with colorful flowers. The main square, Jardim da Praça Dias Ferreira, is a gorgeous garden surrounded by cafés and shops. Visit the Igreja Matriz. The building dates back to the 13th century, and its altar is the burial site of D. João de Sousa, an influential commander of Ferreira village. Inside, you'll find sculptures, paintings, and gilded wood carvings. 

Take a 15-minute drive from Ferreira do Zêzere to the village of Dornes, home to the iconic Templar Tower. After the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the tower was rebuilt uniquely, with five sides, and it originally served as a defense for the Tejo Valley. Today, you can climb to the top of the Templar Tower and be treated to an amazing panoramic view of the Zêzere Valley. "If you're in the area, Dornes is a mandatory stop," wrote one reviewer on TripAdvisor, who referred to it as a "secret" in Central Portugal. "The Templar tower (now home to a church bell!) overlooks the river and surrounding area, allowing for magnificent views."

Get out on the water and indulge in traditional Portuguese cuisine

Ferreira do Zêzere is situated near Castelo do Bode, the second-largest lake in Portugal. It offers a wide array of water activities, such as swimming, kayaking, raft tours, wakeboarding, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, and speedboat tours. The area's local companies offer rentals and guided tours, so you can experience the natural beauty of the region from your perspective of choice.

We don't know about you, but being out on the water certainly works up our appetite. Or maybe it's just an excuse to indulge in more of Portugal's delicious food — vacation calories don't count, after all. Either way, you won't want to miss out on the culinary scene in Ferreira do Zêzere. Sample traditional Portuguese dishes at the town's restaurants. Seafood, particularly bacalhau (salted codfish), is a staple in every coastal Portuguese town, and don't miss the opportunity to try regional specialties like leitão (suckling pig) and caldo verde (green soup). And don't forget the wine! The best-reviewed restaurants in Ferreira do Zêzere include Tojal DouroCafe Solar da CruzCafé Snack-bar Saavedra, Aba Da Fonte, and Grelha do Zezere.