Surely Sabugal isn’t the first place that comes to your mind when thinking about a trip to Portugal. Probably not even a trip through central Portugal, yet it’s a destination with plenty of things to offer. It has ruins for the adventurous traveler to explore, a natural reserve for nature lovers, one of the most beautiful historic villages in the country for those who love rustic destinations, several castles spread all over the municipality to the culture geeks and many river beaches to refresh… for everyone.
Things to do in Sabugal
#1 Explore Sabugal Castle
Sabugal Castle is a fortress of the 13th or 14th century built on the top of the hill overlooking and controlling both the Coa river and the city of Sabugal. It’s known as the castle of the 5 corners (“Castelo das 5 Quinas”) due to the unique format of its keep. Combined with the height (more than 20 meters), the 5 corners of the keep make this castle truly unforgettable.
Considered by many one of the most beautiful castles in Portugal, Sabugal Castle is the main attraction in the city of Sabugal. Due to its dominant location, the castle is visible from anywhere in Sabugal and offers beautiful views from the walls and the keep. It’s possible to climb and explore the interior of the 5 corners keep.
This castle is also famous for being the setting of one of the most famous legends in Portugal’s history – the miracle of the roses. Queen Elizabeth of Portugal was very devoted and charitable. One day she was taking bread to the poor when she was caught by the king who asked what she was carrying. She answered, “It’s roses, sir, it’s roses”. As it was winter, the king asked to see them, and when she opened the bag, the bread had turned into roses.
#2 Relax by the Coa river in Devesa beach
Devesa beach is a lovely river beach on the Coa River, located in the city of Sabugal. In fact, you can see it from the castle walls and keep. This is a typical river beach with a small dike holding the water and creating an almost natural pool. Due to its central location, it’s popular among locals when the Summer heat comes.
With a long stretch of grass on both sides of the river, this is a big beach. One of our favorite things about this beach is that it has lots of trees and shadows to protect us from the sun. As usual, in these beaches, the water is really cold, yet that’s a good thing, we want cold water to make up for the high temperatures that the region has during summer.
It has a small cafe offering food, drinks and ice creams, lifeguards and picnic tables making it a nice destination to relax cool down for a few hours.
#3 Explore the medieval center of Sabugal
Sabugal is a small city, but it has a lovely traditional medieval center with very some beautiful old buildings, narrow streets, and alleys. The area around the castle is possibly the most interesting with a big square and several rustic houses around it. We suggest you leave the car in one of the car parks and walk around as it’s much easier and more fun.
Some of the buildings to keep an eye for while roaming in Sabugal are the Jew Memory center, the bell tower and old gate, Saint John’s Church, and the museum of Sabugal.
#4 Visit the historic village of Sortelha
Sortelha probably deserves a post on its own as it’s one of the most beautiful small and ancient villages in Portugal. With features and architecture unchanged, it’s considered one of the best-preserved medieval villages in Portugal. Walking around Sortelha is like going back in time, or walking into a movie scene of the 16th century.
Differently to many small villages in Portugal, Sortelha was a relevant city for centuries – mostly because of its location, making it essential for the defense of the Portuguese borders.
Despite there are signs of human ocupation earlier, the development of Sortelha increased after the “Reconquista” when D. Sancho I decided to repopulate the area and later D. Sancho II built the castle. It had later improvement in the XVI century and played a role in the restauration and peninsular wars.
Today, the importance of Sortelha can be seen on its many landmarks, like the Manueline Pillory, the old city hall, and prison, or some of the several famous houses (Governador, Arabian, and Falcons). All of this makes a wonderful destination to explore.
Finally, we need to mention the natural setting where Sortelha developed. This unusual village was built between boulders and rocks, with houses, city walls, and the castle built on top, behind or beside the stones. It’s really a fairy tale place. Some of these rocks are famous for their unusual format like the old lady’s head (cabeça da velha), or the eternal kissing stones (rochas do beijo eterno).
#5 Explore the other historic villages of Sabugal
One exciting curiosity about Sabugal is that it was created from 5 different medieval towns. Besides the already mentioned Sabugal and Sortelha, Alfaiates, Vila do Boi and Vilar Maior were notable border towns with defensive structures.
We have already explored Sortelha and Sabugal, as they are the most relevant and well preserved, but all five medieval towns are well worth a visit. Each one has valuable attractions, particularly for history buffs. Alfaites has an old keep and a nice lookout; Vila do Touro was a templar town with a castle and several examples of Manueline windows; and Vilar Maior has an ancient Leonese castle, a Portuguese keep, a Museum, and even rock engravings.
#6 Go to the ruins of Termas de Água Radium
Termas de Água Radium was a five-star hotel, Spa, and thermal water resort near Sortelha that opened in the 1920s and closed after the WW2. The water from that spring was considered the most radioactive in the world, which was considered a good thing at the time. Obviously, after discovering the real effects of radioactivity things changed very quickly.
After the 1950s the hotel was completely abandoned. However, the building is still astonishing – entirely built with stones and resembling a castle, with battlements and all. The cool thing is that you can freely visit it and walk around the ruins, only imagining how lavish it would be in the 20s and 30s of the last century. We truly enjoyed our time there, but it’s both a shame and wonder seeing such a lovely building in ruins.
#7 Go to Serra da Malcata Natural Reserve
Serra da Malcata Natural Reserve is one of Portugal’s most secluded areas. It has virtually no human presence making it an area where nature can evolve without much interference. This reserve is widely known for being one of the last regions where it was possible to find the Iberian Lynx, though there aren’t sights for decades. There are special conservation projects that want to reintroduce them gradually, but it still hasn’t been done.
So, seeing the lynx isn’t a possibility, but there are plenty of other cool things to do in Malcata Reserve. There are several pedestrian and BTT trails to follow; you can rest in the beautiful river beach of Meimão, and there are lots of water activities to do in the Meimoa reservoir. Finally, you can try to see one of the many other animals in the reserve, like foxes, otters, wildcats, boar, deers, black storks, Montagu’s harriers, Northern goshawks, Azure-winged magpies and Rufous-tailed scrub robins and many others.
#8 Search for the spring of the Coa River
The Coa valley, close to its mouth, is a UNESCO heritage site and worldwide famous for the paleolithic engravings. This curious small river rises about 130km south in Serra das Mesas, next to Malcata, close to the borders with Spain. The area close to its spring is beautiful and discovering it is a wonderful soft adventure activity. There’s also a short trail with lots of info, for those who have time and enjoy hiking.
The easy way to reach the spring is to drive to “Estação de Biodiversidade de Foios”, park there, and then walk about 600 meters to the spring. Note that the road that leads there is paved, so if google maps tell you to use an unpaved road, choose an alternative route (it happens, believe me…). The hard way is to leave the car in the village of Foios, and hike from there. It’s about 30 to 40 minutes of hiking upwards the mountain. We have done this, it’s not that hard, but until you reach the “Nascente do Coa Sign” it doesn’t have much see either.
#9 Refresh yourself in the beach of Malcata
The small village of Malcata, close to the reserve has a very pleasant beach in the reservoir of the Sabugal Dam on the Coa River. This is a typical lake beach with a floating pool and diving board. It’s fun and refreshing, as the water is usually quite cold, even during summer.
The beach has two small sandy areas for those who can’t conceive a beach without sand, but it also has much larget grassy area, with trees and shades to escape the extremely hot summer sun of the interior of Portugal. As the reservoir lake is pretty big you can also practice water sports like kayaking, SUP, and canoeing.
#10 Indulge your carnivourous self in restaurant Ze Nabeiro
During our last trip to Sabugal and Serra da Malcata we discovered a very interesting restaurant, both because of the quality of the food and because its concept. At the entrance of the restaurant you see and that says, “Carne Assada, pão e vinho” which means “roasted meat, bread and wine” and that’s what Ze Nabeiro is all about. They basically have one dish “roasted meat” and typically don’t serve siders, only bread, and (tomato, lettuce, and onion) salad.
Ze Nabeiro is all about the meat, and how it’s perfectly roasted. They serve, pork belly, piglet, lamb, and beef, and they will keep serving you until you say you are done. You can eat as much or as little as you want. So simple, and so good! Why? Because the meat has high quality, it’s well prepared and cooked perfectly. All four types of meat are good, but the lamb is something extraordinary – one of the best we have ever eaten.
Where to stay in Sabugal?
We are pleased to help you choose a place to stay in Sabugal. In our opinion, there are three main options. You can stay in Sabugal, in Sortelha, or close to the Malcata reserve. Below you will find one lodging option for each of these 3 areas for you to stay.
Stay in Sabugal
In Sabugal, the best option is Hospedaria Robalo. It’s right in the center of Sabugal, so you can easily visit everything in town on foot. The rooms are modern and comfortable while the breakfast is delicious. It has a very high rating and excellent value for money. Check here for prices and availability.
Stay in Sortelha
Sortelha is another nice place to stay when visiting Sabugal as it is arguably the most touristic place in the region. As we said above, the whole village is marvelous, and staying there for at least one night will give you a different perspective of it. If you want to experience this, our suggestion is “O Cantinho da Ana“. Their rating in booking is superb and there’s a reason for it. Have a look at it yourself.
Stay in the Malcata Reserve
Just to be clear, you can’t actually stay inside the reserve, because as far as we know, there are no lodging options there. But it’s possible to stay very close. And, by very close, we mean, on the Meimão river beach, which is the border of the nature sanctuary.
Meimão (actually in Penamacor, not Sabugal) has a beautiful leisure area by the Meimoa dam with a restaurant/bar, beach, pools, and several bungalows to rent. These are very nice, with a small kitchen, two rooms and very affordable. Location and comfort are excellent, so if you want to stay close to the reserve and the beach, this is the place to stay. Have a look!
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