Portugal may be a small country on the edge of Europe but that doesn’t mean we have a diverse natural landscape!
Our little Iberian corner is certainly filled with a wide range biodiversity, climate and natural scenery ranging from the magnificent coastal cities to the deep and untouched wonders of our natural parks of the Interior, from our flat and quiet summery Alentejo landscapes to our breathtaking mountain ranges!
There are definitely a lot of natural marvels to explore in Portugal! However, in this week’s blog post, we’ll let you know what are the ‘7 Natural Wonders of Portugal’.
1. Portinho da Arrábida (Setúbal)
Portinho da Arrábida literally means “Little Port of Arrábida”.
The idyllic spot located in the Serra da Arrábida coastline, on the southern part of Tagus river and around 40 km south of Lisbon is home to some of the most paradisiacal beaches in Portugal.
With crystalline waters and beautiful shades of turquoise that allows one to observe the great variety of protected marine fauna that lives in this coastal area near the Pedra da Anicha zoological reserve.
What makes Portinho da Arrábida so special and such a picturesque postcard place is the perfect combination of crystal clean beaches with mountain views and a rich forest from the mountains of Serra da Arrábida.
2. Lagoa das Sete Cidades (São Miguel, Azores)
It’s no surprise that Lagoa das Sete Cidades (literally “Lagoon of the Seven Cities”) appears on my natural wonders lists and it’s often a top pick for Portuguese folk and travelers alike.
Located in the island of São Miguel in Azores, this extraordinary natural landscape is composed of two lakes nestled in the insular volcanic land that results in such a phenomenon of nature with one of the lakes emerald green and the other sapphire blue.
Such a mesmerizing place even has a local legend explaining the unique colors of the lakes: a green-eyed princess falls in love with a young shepherd with deep-blue eyes. A romance that was frowned upon by both families and ends up in a heartbreaking separation. This forbidden love results in the unstoppable weeping of the lovers who gave shape and color to these immense lakes; hence one is known as the Blue Lake and the other as the Green Lake, due to the color of the eyes of one and the other.
As part of the island’s climate, Lagoa das Setes Cidades is extremely humid and thus creating an excellent habitat for such rich and abundant vegetation and biodiversity that will absolutely take your breath away.
3. Volcanic landscape of Pico Island (Azores)
Still in the Azores archipelago, we have Pico Island.
Azores stands in great part in volcanic territory that marks most of its landscape and which the local population calls “lajidos” or “terras de biscoito” (“biscuit lands”) forms the landscape of vine cultivation, declared a World Heritage Site since 2004 and starring the immense volcanic cone of the Pico mountain that has been dormant for almost three centuries. Its main crater houses a lava cone, the Piquinho, and one of the largest lava tubes to visit in the world, the Gruta das Torres, five kilometers long embellished by various types of lava stalactites and stalagmites and striated walls.
It’s the highest point in Portugal and a beacon for trans-Atlantic ships and other seafaring vessels crossing the high seas.
Standing tall and proud, Pico is in fact the top of the world’s largest and mostly underwater mountain range known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which measures 16,100 km long and 805 km wide.
4. Laurissilva Forest (Madeira)
Another mid-Atlantic marvel composes this list. This time the Laurissilva Forest in Madeira Island.
The term “Laurissilva” comes from two Latin words Laurus (Laurel) and Silva (Forest). This forest classified by UNESCO as a natural World Heritage site since 1999 is a unique botanical relic, this ecosystem is considered one of the most important and characteristic of the Madeira archipelago. A subtropical humid forest that occupies about 15,000 hectares and that was formed 20 million years ago.
What makes Laurissilva so special is that it is a relic of the forest that once thrived across southern Europe and North Africa, but which disappeared as the last ice age ended and the regional climate became hotter and drier. Madeira’s mild, subtropical climate and isolation preserved the laurel forest as it became extinct elsewhere.
About 90 percent of the forest is believed to be old growth, primary forest, and contains a unique suite of plants and animals, including many endemic species such as the Madeiran long-toed pigeon’.
5. Mira d’Aire Caves (Porto de Mós)
One of the most spectacular entries on this list is the Mira de Aire caves, located near Fátima in Serra de Aire e Candeeiros.
Discovered in 1947, the caves constitute one of the most important underground systems of the Calcário Estremenho Massif and the largest system of visiting caves in the country, with an 11km extension of which only 600m can be visited by descending a whooping 683 steps.
The caves are an underground fantasy of stalactites and stalagmites, columns, lakes and different formations that invite you to travel to the center of the Earth. The most interesting cavities are the Great Hall and the Red Room, whose reddish tone on its walls is due to iron oxide. At the end of the gallery is the Great Lake, which collects the waters of the Río Negro.
6. Ria Formosa (Algarve)
From the deep caves in the Center, we now take a long step to the beautiful Algarve in the South.
Classified as a Natural Park in 1987, Ria Formosa covers around 18,400 hectares and is composed by a system of 5 barrier islands and 2 peninsulas - the Peninsula of Ancão, the Barreta Island, the Culatra Island, the Island of Armona, the Island of Tavira, Cabanas Island and, finally, the Peninsula of Cacela - , that communicate with the sea through five natural and mobile inlets, which causes the landscape to constantly change due to to the continuous movement of winds, currents and tides.
Essentially, it is a lagoon separated from the sea by a coastal dune system and an important wintering ground for birds from northern and central Europe.
It’s, indeed, a paradise for bird watchers as Ria Formosa is one of the most important areas for aquatic birds in Portugal, hosting on a regular basis more than 20,000 birds during the wintering period. The area is also very important as a stop-over point in the migration routes between Europe and Africa and it provides shelter for rare species in Portugal such as the Purple Swamphen, the symbol of this Natural Park and for other emblematic species like the colorful flamingos.
7. Peneda-Gerês National Park (Viana do Castelo, Braga and Vila Real districts)
One of the many impressive and breathtaking Natural parks in Portugal, Peneda-Gerês is truly a wonder with its lush green forest, crystal clear waterfalls, creeks and streams.
This extensive park of 71,000 hectares expands throughout the three different Portuguese districts and borders the Spanish Serra do Xurés and it’s the oldest Natural park in Portugal.
Peneda-Gerês is truly a wonder that has still so much to explore! One of the most interesting peculiarities of this natural reserve is its convoluted geography, which has led to the secular isolation of the area and, with it, the preservation of the idiosyncrasies of this very rural area, where they continue to live as before in small villages.
Gerês truly is a sanctuary for nature and heaven on earth to those who love to bird-watch, explore the botanical wonders of the mountains and have a glimpse of the wildlife. You might even manage to spot a roebuck (the Park’s symbol) or the glorious Iberian wolf.
Among other animals you might see in the protected area are the typically small wild horses (the Garrano ponies) that run free in the mountains, a breed of cattle named the Barrosã, Castro Laboreiro dogs who guard herds of sheep. Small villages still form a special deep rooted and harmonious bond with Nature and some locals today move only the cattle around from valleys and low altitudes in winter, the highest places in summer, according to the availability of pasture.
Hope this article was helpful, any questions you might have feel free to contact us! We are always available at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you need any assistance ;)