Vilar Maior, the wild heart of Portugal in the Greater Côa Valley

April 16, 2021

The village of Vilar Maior, in the municipality of Sabugal, is gaining and giving new life to its historical and natural heritage. Right in the center of one of the new areas of rewilding in our country, it is a place with a lot to know, explore and visit, always with respect for nature.

Vale Carapito rewilding area, Vilar Maior, Greater Côa Valley. Credits: Rewilding Portugal


Vilar Maior, historic village

The village of Vilar Maior, belonging to the network of the 5 Medieval Villages of Sabugal, located in the municipality of Sabugal, has a huge historical heritage and has been attracting some visitors, especially those who travel the Grand Route of Côa Valley. Currently the Union of Parishes of Aldeia da Ribeira, Vilar Maior and Badamalos, is, however, still an unknown destination, with many potentials to explore.

Founded in the 12th century, it still has a lot of symbols and elements of Spanish control, and you can see and walk through everything on a short walk, making it a great place to visit on a summer afternoon, or on a spring weekend, to escape the daily and urban routine. With a castle still well preserved, elevated and where you can see the whole village, there is a very special magic in Vilar Maior, mostly because there is a breath of fresh air that is so rare today to feel, but not only. In addition to the castle, there is still a tower, as well as part of the wall, a cistern, some arches and a staircase to reach its top. Since 2016, there has also been a new museum in the village, which makes its history known, with various elements of archeology, sacred art, old books etc., which make up a very interesting and worth visiting collection. At the base of the museum is a rock engraving that, although abstract, has a historical and ancient weight that supports it and makes it very special. Another mandatory stop is the Igreja Matriz, inspired by São Pedro and built in the 13th century.

In Vilar Maior passes the Cesarão River, an affluent of the Côa River and where you can be in contact with nature in its purest and most untouchable state. Currently, only about 100 residents live in the village. Friendly people, people of the land who greet us when we pass by, even if they don’t know us. People who are proud to see that there are people from outside coming to know Vilar Maior. Their Vilar Maior.


Castle of Vilar Maior. Public Domain Photo


Heritage boosted by a dynamic association

It appeared two years ago, as a result of the desire to make the village more dynamic and to attract more visitors, the Associação Muralhas de Vilar Maior, chaired by Joaquim Simões. This new association aims to promote intergenerational contacts in the village, developing activities for all age groups; preserve and disseminate the cultural, material and immaterial heritage of the village; enter into partnerships with entities that help promote Vilar Maior and develop new activities in the village; and also, to disseminate Vilar Maior and its heritage abroad. It is exactly in these last two points that the partnership with Rewilding Portugal fits, which will bring to the territory several activities to promote Vilar Maior and its very rich cultural and natural heritage, namely through visits and photographic marathons, as well as promotional actions in the social media and dissemination through digital influencers.

For Bárbara Cardoso, vice-president of the association, the partnership with Rewilding Portugal is extremely important for the fulfillment of its objectives and for the development of a more complete activity plan. “We consider the partnership established to be strategic, consistent with our mission and objectives, fundamental in boosting activities and promoting the natural and cultural heritage of Vilar Maior, even across borders. We have strong expectations in the activities we already plan to carry out within the scope of the partnership, whose dynamics that will result will be a strong contribution to the valorization of our village and also an added value for the increase of the local economy ”, refers about this new connection that now appears.

The first activity to be developed jointly by the two entities takes place on May 22, with a very special photographic marathon that will take participants to discover the wildest side of this region.


Credits: Associação Muralhas de Vilar Maior


Vale Carapito, new rewilding area

Vale Carapito, a property acquired by Rewilding Portugal to carry out conservation actions that reinforce the ecological corridor of the Greater Côa Valley, is the new area of ​​practical application of rewilding in Portugal. Located near Vilar Maior, it promises to be the new showcase of the benefits that rewilding has for nature and what results it can achieve when increased at larger scales. In addition to the rewilding of the landscape and ecosystems, it will also have an important function of sustainable and nature-based tourism, with the aim of being a true showcase for the application of rewilding and its effects.

With a heterogeneous landscape, good diversity of habitats and associated species, the land of this property has very favorable conditions for its rewilding, which is already being carried out. Vale Carapito is part of the Natural 2000 Network and is part of the Serra da Malcata SIC and also benefits from its proximity to the village of Vilar Maior and its amenities and services, as well as the historical and cultural heritage present in the region (Grand Routes of Côa Valley and of the Historical Villages, small routes, etc.)

Credits: Rewilding Portugal

Another very positive point to highlight has been the adhesion of the local community, namely the official entities of the village, which have supported Rewilding Portugal and their partners in all the actions of their projects when necessary, showing a willingness to help in this mission of making this region of Portugal in a wilder and more natural place, and to attract quality and sustainable nature-based tourism, making the region stand out for the best reasons to become a regular choice of visitors. Through actions to promote the territory and its added value, in a context that respects the nature conservation to be carried out in this place, developed by Rewilding Portugal, there are very interesting possibilities for Vale Carapito to actively contribute to enhance this territory, supporting the local economic and social fabric.

Several conservation actions have already taken place in recent months, namely the monitoring of flora and fauna, to study the plant and animal biodiversity of the property, as well as the landscape and soil, some of them with the support of Terra Prima. The purpose of these monitoring actions is to know the territory in which we are working and to be able to compare current levels with the levels after applying rewilding measures (passive or active management in specific cases). Actions to promote natural grazing are also planned, through the use of herbivores in a semi-wild state; actions to remove obsolete structures, which act as barriers to the region’s wildlife; control actions for invasive species; active fuel management actions and territory surveillance actions.

Flora monitoring works on Vale Carapito. Credits: Rewilding Portugal

According to Pedro Prata, Team Leader at Rewilding Portugal, “This work in Vilar Maior is the first concrete step in the field of a connectivity strategy for the ecological corridor of the Greater Côa Valley. Our work here will allow us to refine the strategy of rewilding at the level of the landscape.”

The commitment to carry out nature-based tourism through Vale Carapito will generate new economic opportunities for the community, since it is possible to develop a new business model to bring nature back to areas marked by economic decline, loss of population and agricultural abandonment. . Helping nature to recover, restore functional ecosystems, with a great abundance and diversity of wildlife can bring benefits to local populations. For this same reason, tourist packages have already been created through partnerships with Impact Trip e European Safari Company, as tourist offers with more individual experiences with the operators of the Wild Côa Network, which include activities in Vale Carapito in order to discover nature in a conscious and responsible way.

Fernando Romão (WildLife Portugal) in Vilar Maior


Sleeping in the confort of Casa Villar Mayor

Casa Villar Mayor, rural tourism unit, is the well knowned accommodation in Vilar Maior. A country house with a relevant historical character, known for its tranquility, harmony, hospitality and respect for nature with which its customers offer. This space follows principles of sustainability and responsible tourism and, for this reason, it is aligned with nature-based tourism promoted by Rewilding Portugal, which is why this space joined the Wild Côa Network, a new tourist offer network designed to promote the wildest side of Portugal that can be found in the Greater Côa Valley.

Tourism based on an idea of ​​family atmosphere, proximity, with authenticity and sharing of experiences, knowledge and traditional flavors of the region and the ideal place to rest and stay if you are passing through or visiting the region and its new rewilding area, in this official partner of Rewilding Portugal.

Maria Cândida Cardoso, manager of Casa Villar Mayor, has no doubts about the importance of this partnership and the added value it represents for their space, classifying it as a “strategic partnership, aligned with our mission and absolutely essential for the dynamization of our land and consequently our home”. About the new tourism network, refers that the integration in it is “fundamental to create, in the Greater Côa Valley, a sustainable nature-based tourism destiny, promoting synergies and collaborations between the different key players in the region, making networking more dynamic, thereby increasing the likelihood of success for individual initiatives ”.


Casa Villar Mayor, Vilar Maior, Sabugal
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