A DAY TRIP EXPLORING THE WINDMILLS OF PENACOVA
The Wonderful Whimsical Windmills of Penacova are simply magical. Penacova is located in the Coimbra region and the first set of windmills is just a short 40 min drive from our casa. Penacova is known as the village “Where nature lives”, where one “Breathes good air”, a place that awaits you and where the Mondego river will guide you! How lucky are we to live so close to such a perfect paradise and tremendous place bursting with nature. We have stumbled across many watermills on our nature hikes but not as many windmills and I’ve never seen so many mills isolated in a row up close before so when I discovered that these places existed I just had to plan a visit. There is something so pure and majestic about century old abandoned hilltop windmills. Phenomenal isolated pearls scattered in the mountains amongst the purest green landscapes. There are many windmills located in Central Portugal and Penacova just so happens to have an astonishing selection to choose from. I was tempted to view them all but in the end I initially chose 3 different locations. We also embarked on the Roteiro do Arista (Trail) on the same day and I will compile a separate blog post to share the joy. Penacova is only about 20 km from Coimbra and benefits from privileged accessibility, as it is divided by two important roads: the IP3 and the IC6 which provides great access.
Windmills are an important part of Portuguese culture, heritage and history. For many years they represented an important source of wealth and livelihood for the population. Milling consists of the grinding of cereals and grains such as corn, wheat, maze, oats and rye which is transformed into flour. As time went by many fell into disuse and ruin but over the past decades there has been a huge effort to restore these grand ancient structures to their former glory. Some are adapted for rural tourism and offered as Alojamento Local (Local Accommodation) for tourists. We had to cancel our previous windmill tour back in mid Oct due to foggy/misty weather so this time I made sure it was a sunny day with a bright clear sky for perfect horizon and panoramic viewing over the mountain landscapes. Between May and October, it is still possible to observe the miller’s work in Penacova, namely in the Molinological Centers of Gavinhos (Figueira de Lorvão) and Portela de Oliveira (Sazes do Lorvão). In the remaining months of the year, visitors can observe the ancient art of milling flour in the water mills of Ribeira de Lorvão. I can’t wait to return to watch the master miller hard at work and catch a glimpse of authentic rural Portuguese life, I bet he has a story or two to tell and I’m hoping we will get to sample some bread.
Portugal has many wonderful places to visit and although I do love the popular tourist attractions such as the palaces in Sintra, I prefer the hidden gems and best kept secrets that not everyone knows about. Mainly because they are less crowded with tourists but also because they are unique special places often forgotton about but portray a wealth of history, culture and tradition and did I mention they are free! Another luxury of these places are the fact that you just need petrol money and a picnic and everything is free as the wind, literally as it’s very windy so high up in altitude. I have never visited a windmill before. I feel slightly embarrassed to admit this fact but windmills are not a popular occurance in my hometown of Bristol, U.K although my first ever flat that I rented after I left home at the age of 19 was in an area called Windmill Hill.
List of 5 Molinological Complexes:
• Moinhos da Serra da Atalhada
• Moinhos de Gavinhos
• Moinhos da Aveleira e Roxo
• Moinhos de Portela de Oliveira (Also has a Museum: Museu do Moinho Vitorino Nemésio)
• Moinhos de Paradela de Lorvão
Wonderful Whimsical Windmills
Moinhos da Serra da Atalhada (Located in Friúmes)
GPS Coordinates: 40°15’25.2″N 8°13’37.3″W / 40.256999, -8.227033
Our first stop was Moinhos da Serra da Atalhada, a set of 23 spectacular enchanting windmills perched at the top of Serra da Atalhada. We drove right up to the windmills and parked in the car park with no difficulty. The roads are steep but tarmacked so no dirt tracks for our old banger of a car to negotiate. José Miguel (name of our car) now has a brand new clutch so hubby bombed it up the hill faster than Jenson Button on red bull (ha ha). We were the only ones visiting which was surreal and such a treat. There are many windmills at this site and the construction is mostly stone with wooden roofs. A lot of the windmills are in ruins which is a shame but nevertheless they are still very beautiful. We had a great adventure exploring the weather worn half crumbling ruins. Some have caved-in roofs and others don’t have a roof at all. A few have been lovingly restored and are transformed into accommodation for rural tourism. What a place of extraordinary beauty! We found a rustic granary which is a little hut that stores the food crops. They were built off the ground to protect food crops from rats and other rodents. The views are absolutely staggering and mind blowing. There used to be a restaurant/cafe bar on site but it was deserted which is a shame as Helen can always fit in another espresso and a Portuguese sweet pastry (ha ha).
Windy Windmill Selfies
Misty Mountains – Our Previous Abolished Visit
What a difference a day makes! This was our 1st visit just a couple of weeks prior. What an absolute contrast! I know the mist/fog is eerie, mysterious and enthralling but in my opinion it is so much more beneficial to visit on a bright, clear day because the far stretching views are all part of the ambiance and must be seen. It was also quite dangerous in the fog and I was slightly concerned that I might fall off a crumbling ledge or dissapear down a sink hole much to hubby’s delight (ha ha).
Moinhos de Gavinhos (Located in Figueira de Lorvão)
GPS Coordinates: 40°17’23.8″N 8°19’04.3″W / 40.289934, -8.317856
Our next stop was Moinhos de Gavinhos and I spotted the windmills and the incredible monument from quite a distance away and got very excited. Similar to the previous site we were able to drive right up to the windmills via paved roads and no dirt tracks. There are 14 windmills and apparently 3 are working mills which is cool but only 1 is currently used as a working mill today (Moinho do Sr. Lino Branco). The windmills are a different design than the previous site and a mixture of stone, concrete with metal roofs. Some of the metal roofs are in disrepair and one metal panel was flapping in the wind and it looked very precarious indeed. I didn’t get too close to it as knowing my luck a piece would come flying off and take me out for the count (ha ha). This site in my opinion was the best and definitely my favourite. It appears to be the most popular and there was 1 other car in the parking area when we arrived. There are parking spaces right at the beginning by the BBQ and picnic table area but some idiot decided to drive their vehicle right up to the sacred monument and park below it not only disrespecting a holy sacred statue but also blocking a perfectly priceless view and fabulous photo opportunity. He then cracked open his window and sat in his car whilst having a very loud 20 minute phone conversation on his mobile phone! If my Portuguese language was better I would have said something to him as he never got out to view the splendour. I gave him the stink eye as I passed by to seek my revenge (ha ha). I have no issues with disabled people doing this or if one has a mobility difficulty but this was crazy behaviour. Don’t you just hate lazy, rude and ignorant people!
I loved the windmills with the pale blue doors and we even got to venture inside some of them. The stairs were rotten and it was an absolute health and safety risk but what can I say, we live on the edge (ha ha). There is a gigantic statue (monument), dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and in all honesty I was gobsmacked as I did not expect it to be so huge and magnificent. Its towering presence is truly a remarkable sight. We climbed the steps to the top for the best ever views. Wow, it was fabulous, I was transfixed by the raw beauty. Marvellous Mary stands proud in a tall and prominent position overlooking the lands below as if blessing the winds, the village and the work of the mills. We decided to have our picnic lunch here because it is just so very charming and picturesque with gorgeous idyllic sweeping views over the Serra do Buçaco and Serra da Aveleira mountains and countryside. I wanted to stay longer as the sun was strong and I was enjoying my Vitamin D after a fortnight of constant rain but hubby said we needed to make a move which made me sad. I said if he wanted me to leave then he would have to carry me back to the car (ha ha). Fun true fact: In 1968 with the object of raising funds for the monument there was an egg campaign. People donated eggs to the church and the money raised from the sale of these eggs raised enough money and funding to build the Sacred Heart of Mary monument. All I can think is that they must have sold tons of eggs because today half a dozen free range eggs sell for around €1 and this monument is of epic proportions and looks like it cost a bob or two to design, build and erect. I am not sure this blouse was the best clothing option as the fancy frill kept flapping in the wind like my bingo wings (ha ha). I often have a fashion fail so I’m used to it by now, you live and learn my friend. Letter O is for “OUTSTANDING”.
As we incorporated The Roteiro do Arista trail into this day trip we had the opportunity to revisit the Lorvão Monastery gardens so we made a pit stop at the Pastelaria O Mosteiro to buy regional convent cakes. This time we chose Nevadas and Pastéis de Lorvão. Oh my gosh they were so delicious and the funniest part was I decided I wanted to try both so asked hubby to cut them in half. He didn’t have a knife on him because he is not in a gang, so he used an old Activo bank card he found in his wallet. We no longer use this bank ever since our bank fraud drama earlier this year and it made a great cutting device. Most folk cut cocaine with credit cards but my hubby cuts cake (ha ha). Just look at this amazing picnic spot I found on the cliff edge. One direction gives the most awesome view of the mills in the distance and the Letter O and the other direction shares the best ever views over the mountains and wind turbines. I wanted to stay here longer to saviour the cakes and delightful sight. I just adore the fluffy white clouds and bright blue sky.
Moinhos de Portela de Oliveira (Located in Sazes do Lorvão)
GPS Coordinates: 40°18’08.6″N 8°18’22.0″W / 40.302387, -8.306115
Our final trio of delights: Moinhos de Portela de Oliveira which has a Museum “Museu do Vitorino Nemésio”. This site is located on the top of Serra do Buçaco and similar to the others, parking was no issue and we drove right to the car park via paved roads. It has 19 mills and a watch tower. At this site we saw a couple of other visitors so didn’t have the luxury of it all to ourselves but it’s a large site so it appeared really empty. There is a wide selection of windmills here and a mixture of ruins and restored structures. I loved watching the dappled sunlight filtering in through the tall trees and casting shadows all around. I really loved the quirky weird and wonderful additions at this site: T.V, swing and seating area. We had way too much fun here and I was definitely the instigator and ringleader highly fuelled on sugar, caffeine and sunshine (ha ha). The PR2 hiking route of the mills of Buçaco is a circular route and starts from here. We arrived around 16:45 and stayed to watch the sunset. I needed a pee pee but unfortunately the toilets were closed. I stumbled across what looked like a restaurant once upon a time but it was desolate and abandoned which was a shame as I could have benefited from a caffeine fix.
We parked right next to the Miradouro Portela de Oliveira (Scenic Viewpoint) 474 metres in altitude so ended our day gazing out over the majestic mountains. Just in case you are wondering why I have a different top on, it’s because on completion of the Roteiro do Arista (Trail) and once you have visited all 8 locations you return to the tourist information centre to claim your mystery prize. I will now spoil the element of surprise for you (ha ha). The free gift is a T.Shirt. I’m impressed as I had visions of it being a pen, key ring or worse a lanyard to hang my non existent keys around my neck (ha ha). The negative aspect was the fact that they only had extra small sizes left. I am a medium (in size). I can’t read crystal balls or see into the future (ha ha). I wasn’t convinced it would fit but luckily it did. Hubby was sad as there was no way in hell that he was going to fit into an extra small. One size does not fit all. The man felt bad so gifted me 4 T.Shirts so you may very well see me in this shirt a lot in the future (ha ha).
Museu do Moinho Vitorino Nemésio
GPS Coordinates: As above (Same as Windmills)
Museum Opening hours
Summer: 15th March to 15th October 10:00-18:00
Winter: 16th October to 14th March 10:00-17:00
Closed: Easter Sunday, 1st May, 25th December and 1st January
Mill Museum + Mill Vitorino Nemésio €2
Groups 20+ People 25%
Groups 40+ People 50%
Free entry: Children up to 12 years old and First Sunday of every month
Located next to the Moinhos de Portela de Oliveira (Located in Sazes do Lorvão), in the heart of the Serra do Buçaco forest perimeter, the Museu do Moinho Vitorino Nemésio, is housed in the holiday home of Civil Engineer Arantes de Oliveira, Minister of Public Works. In 1980, the Vitorino Nemésio mill was donated by the writer’s heirs to the municipality, which fully restored it. Vitorino Nemésio was President of the Associação Portuguesa dos Amigos dos Moinhos “tireless miller of words” and was the owner of three mills in the municipality of Penacova, whose natural heritage has often inspired him, making him an unavoidable cultural reference in the Municipality. In order to preserve the history of wind, water mills and the memory of its millers, the municipality of Penacova carried out, throughout 2015, remodelling on the Museu do Moinho Vitorino Nemésio. At the opening to the public, held on 25th February 2016, Humberto Oliveira, Mayor of Penacova, underlined that this project arose in order to “recover a building with high historical and cultural relevance for the municipality, consolidating the recovery effort, providing it with areas suitable for the exhibition of all the existing assets, as well as for their conservation.” The building provides an extremely positive impact, as it firmly combines modernity and tradition. Unfortunately we arrived to late in the day to visit as they were closing.
On the way home I made a hubby stop at Bar 21 so I could use the restroom and buy a coffee. Every time we pass by this bar it is heaving with people. I don’t really get the attraction as it looks quite basic but hubby explained that it’s the only restroom and cafe on the long stretch of road so popular with commuters. I was appalled by the hole in the floor for a toilet which I call a “squatty potty”. It really did smell and If I wasn’t desperate and I didn’t have a menopausal bladder the size of a pea I would have crossed my legs and prayed like a nun and waited until I got home. Upon entering the bar we saw 3 burly men dressed in camouflage stood at the bar. When I say camoflague I mean Decathlon clothing range not official army workwear. They were sharing a whole bottle of white wine and sipping from wine glasses which was quite a strange and funny sight. I always find it odd to see blokes drinking alcohol at roadside cafes and petrol stations whilst obviously driving. Hubby bought me a double espresso and a snickers bar to console me from the toilet trauma. I am assuming it’s called Bar 21 as the age 21 is associated with being young, attractive and vibrant. I was a single mum to a 2 year old at the age of 21 and not very sexy more fat and frumpy. There is a clothes store named “Forever 21” and I always feel like a fraud when I shop there. In my head, I am still 21 but my menopausal body is screaming “Nearly 49” (ha ha). I should open a store named “Forever 49” which sells comfy shoes, big knickers and elasticated waistbands so one can consume Portuguese cake and expand with ease. I wonder why you never see any bars named “Bar 49”. I think I should also open this bar offering toilets that aren’t a hole in the floor, noise cancelling headphones, comfy seats and bottomless coffee with free refills on demand. I expect there are a lot of “Bar 69’ers” but I reckon they will have a whole different set of rules (ha ha).
We returned to Penacova a couple of days later to embark on a 13 km hiking adventure which incorporates 2 more windmill sites. I thought I had better invest in my body and undertake some extensive exercise to burn off all the regional convent cakes I’ve been scoffing recently. It was a sensational sunny day living and breathing pure nature. There’s nothing quite like a ramble through forests and idyllic aqua therapy to re-energise my mind, body and soul. Both these windmill sites are located in the quaint village of Aveleira. I find it extremely funny that there are a few tourist signposts just metres from the mills, directing you to their location, when they are clearly in sight unless you have some kind of vision disorder or are stupid. This hike was truly inspiring and such a gorgeous day.
Moinhos da Aveleira Nascente (Located in Aveleira)
GPS Coordinates: 40°15’39.3″N 8°20’04.1″W / 40.260905, -8.334472
After hiking over 5 km we stumbled across the first set of windmills. Both these windmill sites are much smaller than the ones we previously viewed and only have a handful of mills but are still beautiful. A few are made from concrete material with metal roofs but others appear much older and are in ruins. I fell in love with an old rusty red roofed mill with an utterly striking appearance that just oozes character. A lot of the windmills here are overgrown by multiple cobwebs, prickly weeds, ropy vines and vegetation. Foilage native to the area have weaved their magic through window holes and door frames growing rapidly amongst the rubble and dust which I think adds to the character and portrays an authentic atmosphere. We stumbled across a few abandoned birds nests, plenty of animal droppings and then we had to play the game of “Guess what animal this poop came from”.
What made this windmill site special was the fact that it was surrounded by wild saffron. This wild flower is often called “Naked Ladies”, possibly because no leaves adorn it when it blooms. I found an eerie random tarot card on the floor. Hubby did a little research and apparently the card is the Six of swords and symbolises “Transition”. It represents overcoming obstacles and moving forward. The battle has been won and now is the time to relax, unwind, and recharge your batteries. I like the sound of that.
Moinhos da Aveleira Poente (Located in Aveleira)
GPS Coordinates: 40°15’48.8″N 8°20’57.3″W / 40.263562, -8.349255
We continued on our hike (a loop of Aveleira village) and soon were met with the second set of mills. Again we had the whole place to ourselves, we are so lucky. The highlight here was the gorgeous goats, gatekeepers of the mills, how delightful! I don’t like to see goats restricted and tied up on short ropes, I get the urge to set them free then run like the wind (ha ha). I don’t understand why folk can’t just put a fence up and let them roam to their heart’s content. Maybe it’s because goats are great escapees and can jump. There is also a lovely renovated mill “Moinho de Ligeiro” which has a cute wooden door, shutter and name plaque. Outside the mill there is an impressive BBQ area complete with sink. Anyone got any British sausages in their backpack? I’m partial to a sausage or two (ha ha).
National Windmill Day – Open Mills
National Windmill Day is on the 13th May 2023. In previous years Penacova has celebrated by opening it’s doors and offering Sunday tours of the various mills in the county. Visitors have access to the cereal milling process, followed by lunch. They also offer a group walking trail through Portela de Oliveira, to visit the Vitorino Nemésio Museum. In Serra da Atalhada, you can visit a mill still in operation and another recovered for rural tourism, where a tasting of local products will take place. I like the sound of that, it’s a date!
Wow, I loved viewing these 5 Windmill sites of Penacova, we had a blast chasing windmills as we usually chase waterfalls. Each site was a little different to the previous one and each had its own unique charm. They are such majestic peaceful havens to unwind and relax and most were completely deserted so we got to explore in pure solitude. I am not sure if I would like to stay overnight in a windmill. On one hand I think it would be a one off lifetime experience to enjoy a night under the stars but the average price is around €80 per night and they only sleep 2. Just in case you think I am hankering for a threesome I’m not (ha ha). I know there are only 2 of us but I was thinking about my daughter visiting and how incredible it would be to take her back here to explore as I would love to observe the impressive art of milling.
I LOVED everything about both of these day trips. Combining the trio of windmills with the Roteiro do Arista trail was a fabulous idea and the PR4 PCV hike was a glorious nature paradise. What absolutely beautiful tranquil and fascinating wonders surrounded by delightful breathtaking landscapes and panoramic views of the mountains. As always I am feeling totally blessed and grateful for my wonderful new life here in Portugal. I will write a separate blog post about the hike because it was awesome and I had a lot of fun with the mushrooms that resembled titties, you will want to see the photos for sure (ha ha). The windmills were just perfect, a little slice of heaven and very romantic. It was magical to stay and watch the sunset and if I was a morning person (which I’m not due to chronic pain and morning medication that needs to kick in before I can function properly) I think watching a sunrise would be equally as beautiful. If you enjoy hiking as much as I do, tranquillity and adventures then a trip to the Whimsical Windmills of Penacova should definitely be on your bucket list. I think windmill spotting is my new favourite hobby.