Where the Gardunha mountains descend to the plains of Cova da Beira, Fundão is a loveable rural town in astonishing natural scenery. You’ll divide your time between the town and it’s churches, 17th-century mansions, and the countryside of cherry orchards, cool rivers and chestnut-coated mountainsides . Fundão’s cherries are irresistible and early summer might be the time to mark in your diary.
Bring a sense of curiosity with you, as the wider municipality has an overwhelming amount of things to see, from idyllic schist-built villages to medieval castles shaped from granite boulders.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Fundão:
1. Museu Arqueológico José Monteiro
This museum opened in 2007 in the Solar Falcão d´Elvas, a mansion from the 16th century.
The galleries investigate the early history of the town and what is now the Cova de Beira region, from Prehistory up to the end of the Roman era around the 5th century.
There are enough Roman artefacts, from glassware to metallic vessels and pottery, to paint a clear picture of Fundão in that period.
The two show-stopping artefacts are a Bronze Age statue-menhir, essentially a normal menhir given a human-like appearance, and an inscribed Roman altar to the goddess Trebaruna, an Iron Age Portuguese deity adopted by the Romans.
2. A Moagem
As the seat of a large municipality, a lot of people look to Fundão for culture and entertainment.
And A Moagem is an appropriate cultural venue, staging concerts, art exhibitions, plays, seminars, dance performances and regular cinema screenings.
The building is a modern extension of an old rye mill and bakery.
And what’s cool is the way the rye processing machinery has been kept in place as a link to the past and is exhibited over three floors.
The venue’s restaurant is under the bakery’s chimney, while the art galleries are in the cavernous old granary.
3. Historic Centre of Fundão
Take an hour or two to pootle around Fundão and see what you can find.
The centre of the town is charming and has chapels, emblazoned mansions, churches, leafy squares and a roll-call of little stone monuments like fountains and the town pillory.
The tourist office will give you all the info you need, and even this is in a mansion, the Casa dos Maias, from the 1700s boasting two majestic portals.
The town hall is from 1755, built under the orders of the Marquis of Pombal to house Fundão’s Royal Wool Factory, which became defunct in the 1800s.
4. Village of Castelo Novo
Castelo Novo is one of 12 Historic Villages of Portugal, backed by the jagged eastern slopes of the Serra da Gardunha . And at less than 15 minutes from the centre Fundão the town, you’d be remiss not to treat yourself to a tour.
It’s a captivating granite-built village on a warren of alleys.
Go slow as the village brims with chapels, medieval and renaissance houses sporting coats of arms, grand sculpted fountains and little monuments like the 16th-century pillory.
There’s a fragment of a Roman road in the village, while the arcaded old town hall is from the 13th-century reign King Denis I and reworked in the 1500s under Manuel I.
5. Castelo Novo Castle
The village took shape at the foot of the medieval castle, which has ruled from this rocky outcrop since the 13th century.
The castle is a partial ruin, but there’s still a lot to take in: The former keep for instance was given a genteel Manueline update in the 16th century, when it was turned into the village’s clocktower, sporting a dome and pinnacles on its roof.
Raised footbridges help you negotiate the granite boulders and ruins, and the castle’s archaeological centre has medieval coins, pottery and weapons recovered during excavations in the 2000s.
6. Igreja da Misericórdia do Fundão
Fundão town’s main church dates to the 17th century and was established by the “irmandade da Misericórdia”, the Brotherhood of Mercy.
The church had been completed by 1631, and after damage in the 1755 earthquake, was rebuilt over the next century and a half.
The architecture of the building is pretty nondescript, but there’s some striking decoration, like a painted clay image of St John the Baptist as a boy, a silver reliquary and a skilfully carved high altar.
7. Serra da Gardunha
Walkers out for fresh air and unblemished countryside need look no further than the Serra da Gardunha, a chain of peaks north and east of Fundão.
That’s not to say you’ll be trekking through wilderness, as people have shaped this environment for centuries.
In the 1300s King Denis I replaced the range’s vineyards with groves of chestnut trees, and even after disease and forest fire there are still big swathes of this forest.
Cherry groves dominate today, between big expanses of pine and eucalyptus woodland.
Scenic lookouts in the range are blessed with vistas over the plains of Castelo Branco, Cova da Beira, the Marateca Dam and as far as the distant Serra da Estrela range in the northwest.
8. Aldeia da Barroca
West of Fundão, hiding in the Açor and Lousã mountain ranges there’s a network of 27 villages united by the schist stone that they use as a building material.
This rough-hewn gives them an adorably rustic air, and their mountain locations are ripe for walks, bike rides or carefree days at river beaches.
The village of Barroca isn’t far from Fundão and hosts an exhibition about the “Schist Villages” program.
This is in a 18th-century manor house a little way along the River Zêzere from the village.
On the way are water mills and the Poço do Caldeirão, where a footbridge guides you over two rocks engraved with images of horses and goats from up to 22,000 years ago.
9. Janeiro de Cima
The other “Schist Village” inside Fundão’s municipal borders is in olive groves in a cauldron of evergreen hills.
One of the pleasures of the quaint schist villages is the way time-honoured trades persist.
In Janeiro de Cima you can drop by the Casa das Tecedeiras (Weavers’ House), where linen shawls, scarves, bags and rugs are woven to order on old manual looms.
After inspecting every inch of the village you’ll be ready to journey into the pine-covered peaks around, picnicking at a scenic lookout or taking a barge trip on the Zêzere.
10. Parque Fluvial da Lavandeira
This park on the Zêzere in Janeiro de Cima was where the villagers would cross the water on a wooden ferry, shouting “O da Barca” from the banks.
Now it’s somewhere to idle on the grassy bank shaded by trees and with a superb view of the shale valley wall opposite.
The dyke on the river bend creates a large pool of crystalline, slow-moving water to swim in, and there’s a shower, picnic area, barbecues and a cafe open in summer.
Check out the restored waterwheel in the park, an echo of riverside life from the village’s past.
11. Palácio do Picadeiro
The neighbouring village of Alpedrinha is another to mark on your map.
It’s a settlement with ancient origins and little alleys snaking up the hillside between granite walls, churches and 17th-century houses.
The Romans were here 2,000 years ago and dug a tunnel, although nobody knows quite why they did it.
At the top of the village is the 18th-century Palácio do Picadeiro that you’ll reach by climbing a paved Roman street.
This Baroque mansion has a light-hearted, interactive exhibition about the Cova da Beira, as well as sumptuous inlaid wooden furnishings and a memorable view from its balcony.
12. Capela do Espirito Santo
This chapel is one of the older monuments in Fundão, the town, and was constructed in 16th century.
You’ll recognise the building by its peculiar portico, held up by six columns on carved bases.
Things to look out for include the arch in the portal from 1578 and the holy water font, which still bears the faint outline of a fresco and dates to 1574. Also take a glance at the floor mosaic with plant motifs, the chancel’s archway from 1630 and the beams in the ceiling.
13. Parque do Convento
Families can embrace Fundão’s natural wealth at this big recreation centre in eucalyptus forest on the edge of town.
The part kids will love is the tree-top adventure course: They’ll don a harness and safety helmet and attack the ladders, rope bridges and zip-lines.
There’s also an artificial climbing wall if they have any energy left.
You can head to the mountain biking (BTT) centre and pedal through the woodland, or just bring a picnic and take it easy in the park’s foliage.
14. Barragem da Marateca
Head down the A23 and after a few minutes you’ll come to the expansive reservoir created by the Marateca Dam.
The farmland, distant mountains and reflective waters are all stunning, and you’ll share the environment with herds of sheep and goats.
Since the dam was constructed in the 80s and 90s this has become a small paradise for birdlife.
The Fundão tourist board plans regular bird-watching days at the reservoir, so consult their office if this is something that interests you.
Waterfowl flourish here, and depending on when you come you might see snowy egrets, great cormorants, great crested grebes, herons or green sandpipers.
15. Local Delicacies
You won’t help but notice the endless cherry orchards in Fundão’s countryside, particularly at the end of winter when the blossom turns the hills snowy white.
Cherries come in to season during June and they’re delicious: You can buy them in boxes and enjoy them fresh, or taste any number of cherry-infused delicacies.
The town’s cherry pastries are a new but wildly popular invention, but you can also try flaming cherry prawns, cod with a cherry crust, duck with sautéed cherries and rice pudding cooked with cherries!