In the Beira Alta region of central Portugal, Tondela is a peaceful town nestled among pine-clad mountains by the Dão River.
The town grew rapidly in the 1700s and has since then been home to a large number of Baroque townhouses, one of which is now a neat museum in the area.
ACERT in Tondela is a cultural venue that makes the big city proud, and there’s always something interesting going on in its galleries and auditoriums.
But most of your itinerary will be spent in the countryside, along peaceful greenways to Viseu or Caramulo.
This was once a 20th-century wellness town filled with Art Deco buildings from its glory days.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Tondela:
1. Karamulo Museum
The city’s trump card is a fleet of limousines, precious art and a plethora of miniatures and vintage toys.
Car enthusiasts will be drawn to the car fleet, which includes some rare cars such as the private Cadillac and armoured Mercedes of autocratic leader António de Oliveira Salazar.
The art gallery houses works by the likes of Salvador Dali, Picasso and Vieira da Silva, while one of the large exhibits is a set of four Tournai tapestries.
These were woven in the 1500s and show Portugal’s epoch-making voyages in the Age of Navigation.
2. Attractions in Tondera
The old center of Tondela is a small network of cobblestone streets around the town hall.
Many of the townhouses were built in the 1600s and 1700s, when Tondela graduated from a small group of farms into a local government and business center.
You can get out of the car and spend an hour or two in the streets and sleepy squares.
An attraction that will tell you a lot about the town is the Fonte da Seria on Avenida Tomaz Ribeiro, an 18th-century fountain designed to solve the water shortage of Tondera and with a Baroque with royal coat of arms style pediment.
The shackles in front of the town hall are a symbol of the town’s autonomy, where criminals were punished in public hundreds of years ago.
If you’re wondering how all the museum’s precious and priceless objects came to be in this mountain village in the Portuguese countryside, the story goes back to the 1920s.
Doctor Jerónimo Lacerda (a friend of Salazar’s) turned Caramulo into a sanatorium, treating wealthy people with tuberculosis.
There are a total of 19 sanatoriums, carefully arranged on the mountainside to receive the best sunlight.
These are in Art Deco style, and many of the buildings are still here, along with staff cabins from the same period.
Caramulo was a cutting-edge model village at the time, with its own electricity grid and services such as sewage, running water and garbage collection, which were not available anywhere else in Portugal.
4. Ecopista Do Dão
The 49-kilometer Dão railway line runs through Tondela, following the route of the river of the same name, from Viseu to Santa Comba Dão.
The track was laid in 1890, and after it closed in 1988, the circuit reopened as a paved cycle and walking track through the blissful Highland countryside.
You’ll cross the river on an old industrial bridge and cross a wooded hillside covered with chestnut trees, cork oaks, as well as orchards and vineyards.
Some stations on the line are now crumbling, while others were refurbished and reopened as restaurants and cafes when the Ecopista was completed in 2011.
5. Museu Terras de Besteiros
Within the noble confines of the Solar Casa de Sant’Ana estate, this museum tells about the culture, past and present of the parish of Terras de Besteiros.
The permanent collection is spread over two floors, the lower floor tells the story of human development in this part of Portugal since prehistory.
There are examples of prehistoric rock art and tools, as well as later Roman handicrafts and medieval devotional art.
Upstairs, the museum’s ethnological theme shows rural life in Terras de Besteiros before industrialization: you’ll browse the musical instrument displays of basketry, flax cultivation and local black pottery.
6. Capela de Nossa Senhora do Campo
This chapel dates back to the 1400s and was built after the Marian apparition in Terras de Besteiros.
The building that now appears was built in 1616 and is commemorated by a plaque above the pediment on the portal.
The shrine Nossa Senhora do Campo (Our Lady of the Fields) has a large following and is constantly growing, so new decorations and accessories were installed in the following centuries.
The church’s marble-effect altars and frescoes are in ostentatious Rococo style from the 1700s, while Mary’s polychrome limestone images date back to the 1600s.
7. Serra do Caramulo
In Caramulo, you have to go out and see more of the mountainous landscape around the village, which you can walk, bike or ride.
Serra do Caramulo is a granite and schist mountain range with a light-colored heather and epic boulders growing on its highest peak.
There are walking trails within the range that show you the strangest granite formations, waterfalls, prehistoric dolmens, citrus groves along the route first charted by the Romans.
There are also some lovely villages in the mountains, such as Fornelo do Monte and Covas, which were frozen in time for isolation.
8. Cabeço da Neve
You don’t have to trek for hours to reach this lookout in Serra do Caramulo: you can drive along winding mountain roads to the top of natural balconies almost 1,000 meters above sea level.
Park your car, climb the granite boulders, and enjoy the mountain views.
The slope drops abruptly below Cabeço da Neve and you’ll see the white spots of the village embroidered in the valley hundreds of meters below.
Sharp descents are suitable for paragliders and ultralights, you can contact ASA Livre, the paraglider club in Caramulo, for a one-time tandem flight.
Even a rural town like Tondela has a vibrant cultural center like ACERT, which shows Portugal’s love of art. The acronym stands for Associação Cultural e Recreativa de Tondela, a theatre, cinema, live music, photography and fine arts space jointly funded by the government and a non-profit theatre company.
There are three stages, one of which is a modern amphitheater with 480 seats for open-air shows and film screenings in summer.
There is also a bar with live musicians booked for smaller audiences.
If you like any of these, please visit their website for the schedule when you arrive.
10. Parque Urbano de Tondela
While the town’s city park isn’t a hugely popular attraction, it offers everything for a morning run.
Younger kids will also be excited about the new adventure playground.
In summer, sporting events are shown on the big screens, and there are movies in the park at night.
At any other time, it’s a place for a stress-free, aimless stroll, with plenty of foliage and a constant view of the mountains.
The region’s capital was inhabited long before the Roman invasion and has always been a large cultural center.
Portugal’s most respected Renaissance painter, Grão Vasco was born and started his career in Viseu, where his works take center stage in art museums.
It is a beautiful seminary that shares a square on the highest point of the city with the cathedral and a marvelous baroque church.
The Cathedral is a must-see in Viseu, featuring centuries of architecture from Gothic to Mannerist.
There’s a lot to admire inside, but the Manueline ribbed vault really deserves a mention.
12. Caramulo Motorfestival
With its winding mountain roads and museums packed with vintage cars, Caramulo is a logical choice for a vintage car and motorcycle festival organized in part by the museum.
This takes place during the second weekend of September, with rallies, motorcades and vintage car shows.
Enthusiasts from all over Portugal and even abroad gather in Calamulo this weekend for what may be the biggest event on the Tondela Candela.
In the evening there are aerobatics, a children’s playground and live music.
13. Dao Wine Region
Tondela is a useful starting point for wine lovers, as it has a large number of wine estates producing mainly red wines under the Dão DOC. There are three wineries in this municipality alone: Quinta da Sernada, Quinta das Camelias and Quinta da Reguenga.
All three invite you to look around, chat with vintners about growing and making wine, and of course tastings.
In the past, hot continental climates and prolonged maceration produced red wines with high tannins and full-bodied white wines.
This is still the case for a lot of Dão wines, but new technologies are changing the image of the region.
Red wines tend to be lighter these days, while white wines are fresher.
14. Molelos Pottery
If you’re looking for souvenirs, the village of Molelos has something very different.
Artisans have been making pottery with an attractive black sheen for as long as anyone can remember.
In the past, this was achieved by burying the finished bowl, vase or jar in a pit with smoked charcoal, giving it a black finish.
Today, they can achieve the same effect simply by using an oven and produce a wide variety of ornaments, from candlesticks to teapots to decorative plates with arabesques.
15. Typical cuisine
The same wood-fired oven that bakes the charming black clay pottery in Molelos is used to make some traditional dishes.
Classics are roast veal and roast goat with roast potatoes, and rice with goat.
Cured sausages like alheira, morcela and chouriço are delicious hot or cold.
Dão and the numerous streams gushing from the Serra de Carmulo are a constant source of trout and other freshwater fish, which can be fried, grilled or grilled.
If you need something to take home Caramulo honey is so good that it has earned the title of “O Oura da Montanha”, “Gold in the Mountains”.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Tondela, Portugal
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