A short hop from both the Atlantic Coast and Porto, Lourosa is a little town in the north of Portugal. Lourosa gets a lot of day-trippers for its zoo, which is the country’s only attraction dedicated entirely to birdlife. The countryside abounds with cork oak trees, and springing from this natural wealth was the Corticeira Amorim, the world leader in cork production for 130 years.
There’s a museum for the company’s 20th-century owner in Santa Maria, with whimsical cork sculptures and more depth about t this very Portuguese industry. You can also go back in time at Santa Maria da Feira’s imperious medieval castle or hit the coast where the hollow waves at Espingo are the stuff of surfing dreams.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lourosa:
1. Zoo Lourosa
Portugal’s only ornithological park is the star attraction in Lourosa.
Kept in extensive and humane habitats are more than 500 birds from 150 different species, both native and exotic.
In their ranks are flamingos, ostriches, emus, peacocks, owls, storks, macaws, pelicans, kookaburras, toucans, the list goes on, and numbers birdlife from five continents.
In a few of the enclosures you’ll find yourself in the middle of the habitat, and can watch the birds from wooden huts.
There are flight demonstrations and feeding shows for the pelicans, and you’ll also get the opportunity to hand-feed the flamingos.
2. Santa Maria da Feira
In the same municipality, you have to plan a trip down to Santa Maria da Feira’s castle, one of Portugal’s most complete pieces of military heritage.
Some of the Reconquista’s bloodiest fighting happened at this site, when for 200 years it was on the front between the County of Portugal to the North and the Islamic Caliphate and Emirate in the south.
Later, in the 12th century, the castle was the scene of a struggle between future King of Portugal Afonso Henriques and his mother, Queen Teresa.
The castle was manned for 500 years, and was constantly improved to meet the needs of the counts who controlled it.
We’re left with a chronology of defensive architecture that is almost unmatched in the country.
Be here in July for the Viagem Medieval em Terra de Santa Maria, a medieval fair of mind-boggling proportions employing hundreds of volunteers.
3. Parque das Ribeiras do Uíma
The Uíma is a small tributary of the Douro that originates in Santa Maria da Feira and meanders through the countryside down to Vila Nova de Gaia.
Near the centre of Lourosa is a park where the river courses through a small floodplain tessellated with wetlands and farms.
There are some uncommonly pretty scenes, like the water meadows where the greenery is reflected in large sheets of water.
The wetter areas are crossed by a wooden footbridge, and there are information boards detailing the history of the site and its wildlife.
4. Museu do Papel de Paços Brandão
The first museum in Portugal about the history of papermaking, this attraction covers more than 300 years of this industry in the Lourosa area.
The museum is in a complex with three 19th-century paper mills (one of which is in ruins), and has both a primitive manual factory and the machines that took over in the 20th century.
You’ll get to know the raw materials that go into each sheet of paper, and learn how the recipe has changed over time.
There’s a collection of vintage watermarks, as well as equipment and sheets of paper from historic factories around Portugal.
5. Museu de Santa Maria de Lamas
Lourosa is often touted as the City of the Three Cs, “Cidade Capital da Cortiça” (Capital City of Cork). The cork oak is Portugal’s national tree, and its natural profusion in Lourosa has been exploited by the cork industry for hundreds of years.
One man who did very well from this business was the 20th-century cork industrialist Henrique Amorim.
On his estate five minutes from Lourosa he amassed a hoard of religious and secular art, porcelain, antique weapons and furniture.
There are marvellous chapel interiors, reconstructed wholesale in the museum.
But cork is the big story:, and you’ll get the lowdown on this material and the Corticeira Amorim.
Some Portuguese icons like Lisbon’s Belém Tower and a 15th-century caravel boat are also fashioned from cork.
6. Casa da Cultura de Lourosa
On a rainy day in Lourosa you could see what’s happening at the town’s Casa da Cultura.
This amenity is in Lourosa’s historic schoolhouse, an eye-catching whitewashed building with a gable and wooden beams inside.
This space is a venue for talks and workshops, as well as exhibitions of art and photography.
If you’d like to investigate Lourosa’s past there are regular displays of archive photographs, recording life in bygone days and industries like cork-making, which was the livelihood of the entire town at one point.
7. Termas de São Jorge
Hardly five kilometres away is the São Jorge hot spring with sulphurous waters.
These are saidto have therapeutic qualities, especially for skin, musculoskeletal and respiratory issues.
In the past it was normal to book courses of treatment that lasted for weeks on end, and may people still do.
But now it’s more fashionable to show up just for a day or two and be pampered.
On offer during a “Termalbreak” are Vichy-style shower massages, dips in the thermal pool, nutrition advice and workouts in the gym.
8. Convento dos Lóios
The right way to approach this Mannerist monument is from the regal stairway below the west facade.
At street level there’s a Renaissance fountain crowned with an armillary sphere, a symbol of Portugal’s maritime prowess.
And on the platform in front of the church is a stone cross that was sculpted in 1746. Go in to feast your eyes on the gilt-wood altars and the stone images of saints in the alcoves.
The convent’s secular buildings is a museum for the Santa Maria da Feira, showing traditional costume and artefacts from sites round the area, like the Castro de Romariz, which we’ll cover next.
9. Castro de Romariz
You can contact the Convento dos Lóios for a guided visit to this Iron Age village that has been here for almost 2,500 years.
“Castros” are a fixture on the northern Portuguese landscape, usually set at the summit of hills.
As these villages were constructed from stone, the first floors of their huts and meeting halls have left mysterious patterns on the hilltops.
Castro de Romariz was inhabited up to the 1st Century, and has the typical matrix of circular and rectangular walls flanking paved streets.
At the museum in the convent are urns, coins, glassware and epigraphs brought from as far away as Phoenicia in the Middle East.
10. A Day on the Coast
Taking the A41 you can be at the resort of Espinho in 10 minutes flat.
The resort’s beaches like Praia da Baia are for sunbathing, building sand castles and staring in awe at the roaring ocean.
It’s enough just to stroll along the wash, but you could also tame these waves on a surfboard.
Espinho is full of surf camps where spend week-long holidays mastering the art or learning how to stand up on a board for the first time.
There’s a long promenade beside the beaches, lined with seafood restaurants and bars, many of which are open in low season for the surfers.
Also in Espinho is the second oldest golf course on continental Europe, the Oporto Golf Club, an authentic links course that opened for Brits in 1890.
Catch a break with the traffic and you could make the capital of the Norte region in 20 minutes.
And at that distance there’s no excuse not to see this UNESCO World Heritage City at least once.
There are postcard-perfect sights like the Douro River between the two high banks, with the Riberia quarter on the right side and Vila Nova da Gaia’s historic port wine lodges on the left.
If you’re up for some modern art and culture, the magnificent Casa da Música concert hall and the contemporary art museum at Serralves pack a punch.
You can sit in the dugout and museum at Estádio do Dragão, F.C. Porto’s home ground, take a cruise on the Douro in a ravelo boat, climb the Baroque Clérigos church tower and be dazzled by the imposing architecture on Praça da Liberdade.
12. Food and Drink
One delicacy to discover around Lourosa is the fogaça, a sweet pastry shaped like the towers of Santa Maria da Feira’s castle.
It is baked with butter, flour and sugar, with cinnamon, coffee and lemon to add a kick.
Fogaça’s story is rooted in the middle ages, when it was baked to protect the town from the plague.
In January there’s an annual celebration, in which hundreds of young girls from different parishes parade in a column through the streets carrying the pastry above their heads.
On the coast you can indulge in seafood, and Espinho has made a name for its shrimp.
Order caldeirada (classic Portuguese fish stew), arroz de marisco (seafood rice) or the tried and trusted grilled sardines.