Sortelha is one of the most beautiful and ancient Portuguese towns, having maintained its urban and architectural appearance unchanged from the Renaissance to the present day. Visiting the streets and alleys, enclosed by a defensive wall, and guarded by a towering castle from the 13th century, allows visitors to travel to distant centuries, walk among the medieval tombs, next to the Manueline pillory and in front of the Renaissance church.
Our history your time
A border town established during medieval times, with a charter granted in 1228, Sortelha only lost this status in the 19th century with the administrative reorganisation carried out by the liberal state. Referred to in the oldest documentation as Pena Sortelha, its rock castle was built at the beginning of the 13th century, forming a small citadel of 670 m2, accessible from the outside through a small opening facing south, known as the “Door of Betrayal”. The castle was reinforced by an independent Keep, common in the oldest Romanesque castles. The construction of the wall lines which surrounded the town goes back to the mid-13th century, that is, before the castle’s construction, erected between the ravine and cliffs, without needing towers. The “chemin de ronde” (walkway) was accessed by stairs built with protruding slabs, almost all of them operating in a precarious direction (to the left). As is common in medieval castles, there are few gates in the Sortelha walls, as these were the weakest points in its defence. To the east we have the Town Gate, rebuilt at a later time on the interior elevation, on which numerous initials have been carved in the masonry. They are the stonemasons’ marks, very common during the 13th and 14th centuries. At that time, masons were paid by the piece, not by the day, and these marks were a way of accounting for their work. On the opposite side of the wall opens the New Gate, also called the Sun or Covilhã Gate. And a few meters to the north is the so-called False Gate, which it is not, because false gates led to dead ends. Two standard measures: the cubit (67 cm/3 hands) and the pole (110 cm/5 hands) were carved into the right side of the New Gate’s frame. They were used to standardise the measurements of the cloths sold at the fair. In the 14th century the Beam Tower was built, on the western side of the wall, to better protect the existing Gates (New and False) and control the land in the direction of Covilhã. Its name is derived from the beams that burned at its top to communicate with the other castles through smoke signals.
The houses we are able to visit today inside the town walls are some of the most well-preserved in our country and demonstrate the characteristics of 16th century Sortelha houses and alleys. During that century, many of the houses were expanded by adding another floor, some with door and window frames with bevelled angles, while others applied lintels decorated with an ogee (pointed arch, formed by two convex and two concave curves), such as the one from one of the windows at the beginning of Rua da Fonte. Also common in Sortelha, are lateral corbels, which would serve to place flowerpots. A main street joins both the east and west gates, called Rua Direita (“Right”), which is not on the right and is directly between both exits. Some of these houses were expanded during the 16th and 17th centuries with the construction of exterior staircases, some with porches, which lead to a second floor, contrasting with medieval dwellings, which primarily consisted of one floor. If you enter through the Town Gate, you will see one of these porched houses, House One, facing Corro Square. In this first square, a centenary nettle tree (Celtis australis) greets the visitor, while at the end of the square there is a medieval diving fountain, which is currently closed. Further up, the Town Hall is a sober construction from the 16th century, located in a square, granting access to the Castle and where, during the same century, the pillory was built. If you cross Sortelha and leave through the New Gate, you will see the vestiges of the medieval cobblestone walkway and the ruins of the Church of Mercy. Also known as the Church of Santa Rita or São João, it was built at the beginning of the 14th century. The church has an extensive necropolis (cemetery) associated with it, from which some of the 133 identified rock graves are visible. Nearby is the chapel of Santiago, built in the 16th century, originally with a door leading to the path, but currently accessible only through the cemetery.
Among the simple houses of traditional architecture, some houses stand out because more elaborate details have been added to their façade, corresponding to the unique social identity of their owner, among them: the Scribe’s House, the Parish Priest’s House, the Governor’s House and the Judge’s House.
What to see
Castle and walls
In 1209, some residential and military structures already existed here, the latter with extensive visual control of the valley. In the Middle Ages, the difficulties of repopulating the area resulted in the royal attribution of charters. This guaranteed the defence of the border under pressure from the Kingdom of León, which held the extensive bayou of the fortified village of Sabugal. The charter was granted in 1228 by King Sancho II, when the castle, or citadel, was built. The latter corresponds to a Romanesque-Gothic rock castle, which underwent occasional interventions during the Manueline period, while the walls, somewhat prior to the castle, were built using two strong parallel walls as frames, between which the space was filled with large stones and gravel. The citadel, located on the southern edge of the walled perimeter, has a keep in the centre of the enclosure. With a square plan, it is solid up to the door and has three arrow slits. A curiosity is that the board game, nine men’s morris, is carved on the slab at the base of the tower. There is also a cistern inside the castle. Access to the interior of the castle is through a door with a basket-handle arch, partly excavated in the outcrop. On top of it, and as defensive reinforcement, there is a walkway with machicolations and, beside it, the royal weapons of King Manuel I with armillary spheres can be seen. Also worth mentioning here are the troneiras (circular openings in the battlement to support bombards, a piece of light artillery). This walkway is popularly called the “Pilate’s Balcony”. The walled perimeter of the village has an irregular oval outline. In several places, the wall rests directly on the rocky outcrop and does not have merlons, contrary to what should occur in a castle, with only those in the keep having been preserved. It has four entrances connecting it to the outside: the Town Gate or Municipal Gate, the New Gate, the False Gate and the small Betrayal Gate, located in the castle. In addition to the Keep, there is another tower, the Beam Tower, with a square floor plan, devoid of openings. Among the castle's particularities, the absence of merlons on the walls, and the “pole” and “cubit” (standard measures) carved in the New Gate are noteworthy. These ancient medieval measurements, the cubit (67 cm/3 hands) and the pole (110 cm/5 hands) were carved here so that everyone visiting the fair would use the same standard measurement. During the Modern Period (17th-18th centuries), the outskirts of the walled village began to develop, initially along the path to Sabugal. Later, the village spread out along the slopes and moved away from the walls. It developed relatively far from the walled nucleus and still retains some manor houses. Napoleonic troops passed through Sortelha and dynamited part of the castle wall, following the battles they waged there. Thus, from the Corro Square, facing the Town Gate, it is possible to see, to the left of it, a part of the recently reconstructed wall. The Castle has been classified as a National Monument since 1910 and this ancient village was recently included in the Historical Villages of Portugal programme.
Old Town Hall
The building housing the Old Town Hall and Prison is located in the Pillory Square and its construction dates back to the 16th century, considering the Manueline weapons and the dating of the pillory. The building has two floors, the lower floor being the jail, where the original latrine has been preserved, and the upper floor being the Town Hall. The floor plan, of great simplicity, has two compartments per floor. The openings are made with straight lintels without a protruding frame. Interestingly, the lower floor incorporates the city wall into its structure. In 1855, with the extinction of the municipality of Sortelha, the building was transformed into a primary school, recently closed. Currently, it is used as the offices of the Sortelha Parish Council.
It is said that one night, a host of Moors surrounded the fortress of Sortelha, to take back that strategic site. In the castle were the mayor, his wife and their daughter, a beautiful maiden. - "What a beautiful man!" she exclaimed, following him with her eyes - "What a beautiful woman!" thought the Moor from the top of the walls. From that moment, neither one nor the other could stop thinking about meeting. Therefore, the Moorish leader promised freedom to a Christian prisoner, with the conditions he imposed: - "I will speak alone with the maiden and you will open the door for her." The girl's mother, who was said to be a witch, realised that something was afoot that night. The lovers were by the walls, kissing. - “Damn you! I curse you and turn you to stone!” - shouted the sorceress. And the two lovers, embracing, lips to lips, were turned to stone. And so they remained, forever.
Bracejo (Brachypodium phoenicoides) is a filiform plant which grows in clumps, in dry terrain at medium altitude levels. They are a very popular food for ruminants, especially cattle. Since ancient times, it has been used for weaving. Bracejo grows wild in the countryside and is collected by artisans for use as a raw material. With the help of a needle and raffia, the bracejo is weaved into the most varied objects for domestic and decorative use, namely, mats, baskets, various bases and whatever the imagination can create. It is also still commonly used for brooms.
The Old Woman’s Head
In this region with a treeless and rugged landscape, bizarre-looking granite formations abound, which, shaped by wind and rain, acquire curious appearances with fanciful connotations decorating and brightening the scenery surrounding Sortelha. Many of them have suggestive names, and others are associated with some local legends. In Sortelha, the famous “Old Woman’s Head” stands out because of its appearance, reminiscent of a face aged by time.
The medieval walkway preserved from the New Gate, on the outside of the walls, crosses the complex which includes the Old Hospital and Church of Mercy, passing through the Chapel of Santiago, extending over a section approximately 300 m long and 5 m wide . The paving of this section was carried out with regular granite stones and probably similar to those identified along Rua Direita.
Casa da Cerca Aldeia Histórica de Sortelha
Casa do Zé – AL
Casa do Zé has four rooms that can accommodate a total of 10 people. Three suites are available (rooms with double bed and private bathroom) plus a room with two bunk beds to accommodate 4 guests, also with a private / independent bathroom. Our house also has a reception room to welcome you, a living room with a fireplace, TV and video games, a nice lounge where breakfast is served in a self-service buffet. Outside the house, a leisure space was built, with barbecue, table for meals, small bar, spacious and pleasant garden, where there is a swimming pool equipped with a mimosa service house (bathroom and shower). Our cyclist guests have a space where they can wash or repair their bikes, equipped with all the tools and equipment for that purpose. As well as having a space where you can store your bikes in total and guaranteed safety. Hence our designation and recognition certified as a Bike space. A friendly space and specially prepared to welcome bicycle lovers and others passionate about a closer contact with rural life, countryside, sports and nature activities.
Carya Tallaya – Casas de Campo
A very welcoming family atmosphere that makes you feel at home in enchanting surroundings. This innovative rural tourism project entices you and wins you over at first glance. Here, where the rustic and contemporary go hand in hand, you will enjoy an invigorating return to your origins and relish in a stay and experiences where comfort and wellbeing are the words of the day. Four traditional, sophisticated, adorable houses (three with two bedrooms and one with one bedroom), a vegetable garden, a black pool with sun loungers and a guest area with a porch and fireplace (perfect for socialising) are some of the main attractions. Add to these the landscape, tours and a vast historical heritage (close to five historical villages, Rota dos Cinco Castelos and Reserva Natural da Malcata). Come and celebrate love and life in this piece of paradise called Carya Tallaya - Casas de Campo.
What to do
Just Go – Actividades de Animação Turística
A JUST GO é uma Empresa de Animação especializada em atividades turísticas no território da Beira interior. Situados no coração da cidade da Guarda, planeamos com pormenor os programas de maneira a que cada experiência seja única e inesquecível. Tudo é pensado com profissionalismo e responsabilidade.
Por estarmos inseridos numa região com grande potencialidade, conseguimos proporcionar experiências diversificadas, a quem nos procura, desde: provas gastronómicas, provas de vinhos, roteiros pelo Vale Glaciar do Zêzere, Gravuras Rupestres, Tour de Kayak, Sunsets, Miradouros, Tours pelas Aldeias Históricas e pelas aldeias Medievais de Portugal, manhãs com o pastor ou trilhos de caminhos com bicicleta elétrica, entre outras.
TRY PORTUGAL – Adventure, Nature & Culture
TRY PORTUGAL promotes personalized programs and experiences of active and cultural tourism, exploring the Natural, Historical and Cultural heritage of the country. All programs in autonomy or with guides are created to guarantee experiences of gastronomy & wines, culture & traditions. We highlight the interior regions that are still unknown to most travelers, through thematic vacation programs, the provision of tourist services, and the organization of sports & cultural events. Services: Thematic tours, active tourism programs, guided tours, organization of cultural and sporting events. Our tours are designed to include one or more of the following activities that are available in the region: Walking & Hiking - Mountain & Road Cycling - Water trails activities - Air activities- Horseback Riding – Rock Climbing – Wellness & Yoga Retreats - Ecotourism - Geo-tourism - Cultural & Historical Tourism - Creative Residences - Impact Tourism & Volunteering COME TRY PORTUGAL!
Adventure and nature trips
We are a registered tour operating company and we base our activity on the values of legal compliance, nature protection and sustainability. We operate according to the Portuguese legislation and we hold a special accreditation from the Institute of Nature Conservation and Forests allowing us to drive inside Nature Parks and other protected areas (where permitted)- We are members of the Natural.pt brand (www.natural.pt), reserved for companies who adhere to the programme. Following the recent pandemic we got our Clean & Safe seal from the Tourism Authority signifying our compliance with the official health requirements for the prevention and control of infections. Our trips are much more than just going from A to B and we distinguish ourselves for having a higher purpose: the knowledge and promotion of the historical, cultural and environmental heritage of Portugal, so that in the end our guests will have lots of stories to tell. In each new journey through some of the most beautiful and remotest places in mainland Portugal, we discover a unique, authentic and truly surprising country with a sense of adventure and discovery that enriches us as human beings. Our offer is based on a personalised service with tailor-made trips meeting the personal interests of our guests. We are constantly exploring and spending countless days on the ground in contact with the local people and organisations in search for the best places of interest and the best routes. As a result of this research, we have acquired a deep knowledge of the whole country which allows us to give our guests a renewed level of novelty and differentiation in each event. During our events we privilege the contact with nature in a legal and responsible manner, with the aim to reduce the impact of our passage, by working with official entities and other environmental organisations. Every year we plant many autoctonous trees in an effort to make Dream Overland a carbon-neutral company, an action that our customers can support and partake in. With our trips we contribute to the social cohesion and economic sustainability of local communities, through the knowledge and promotion of their traditions, handicrafts, produce and local heritage.
Beltour – Turismo e Eventos
Portugal A2Z Walking & Biking
Powered since 2006 by your passion for travel, Portugal A2Z Walking & Biking was created to offer you authentic experiences and unforgettable memories in the most exclusive places in Portugal, taking you to the most historic places and wild landscapes. The perfect example of this is our holidays in the Historical Villages. Each one more surprising than the one before, prepare to cross mesmerizing landscapes, going through some of the most impressive Portuguese natural regions like the Côa Valley, with their cave paintings, the Estrela Mountain Range, with the highest peak in continental Portugal, or Faia Brava, the first private conservation area in Portugal. And at the end of each day, explore another village, each with a different story to discover, between castles and walls, between taverns and gourmet restaurants, between centuries-old traditions and the latest inspirations. Dare yourself to wear the shoes of the great conquerors who fought for the oldest European border while restoring your body and mind with pure air and breathtaking views.