We perfectly know that tastes are relative but, here among us, we are certain that it will agree with our evaluation. Sortelha is the most beautiful village in Portugal! It is enough to enter its walled enclosure and wander through its becos and wheels to immediately perceive the same thing.
It is located in the municipality of Sabugal, in the interior center of Portugal. One of the best preserved villages in the country and everything here is practically the same as it was 500 years ago: the streets, the houses, the pelourinho, the castle, the church… Wandering around Sortelha is traveling in time and merging in the history of the raia and its people.
Inside its walls, there is now barely 1 inhabitant, or dono do bar do Forno (some two places still open in the historic center of the village). In the new part of the village, 450 people live, many of the emigrants and who only returned to these places during the summer fairs to kill the health of the local and the family that they left here.
Its inhabitants are known as “lagartixos” (somebody they are proud to wear). The origin of this name will be related to the fact that there will be no trees in the old part of the village and its inhabitants will be forced to walk the stone roads under intense sun, just as alligators do.
But the origin of the name “Sortelha” may be related to the Spanish word “Ring”, which means “ring”. De facto, the wall of the village forms a circle and the arm of the same bears a ring. And I am not surprised that the Spanish influence is strong in this region: in the end, it was here, in the raia, that a large part of the fights for national independence was involved and the territory moved sometimes aside until the definitive fixation of the borders.
As it became a permanent part of Portugal, Sortelha was reinforced with murals and its castle was built and later expanded. It was D. Sancho I who burned or ordered the construction with the intention of defending and repealing the town. O seu net of him, D. Sancho II, concedeu-lhe or foral but ended up losing the statute of concelho in the XX century.
Being a frontier village and subject to constant pressure from Castela, Sortelha had to defend herself as best she could. Its walls are impressive and, not inside, there is a water cistern to use in case the village is surrounded. It stands out still for its imposing portals, which are not 4 in total.
With the chegada of peace, the population began to live in the surroundings of the village instead of the walled enclosure. The reason is simple: outside the walls there were fertile lands and abundant water, which made life a little easier. Likewise, the village grew and formed churches, a hospital, a pelourinho and various houses with their embellishments that still today stand in the historic center.
The best way to discover all the charms of this village is by walking its streets and appreciating every detail. The great charm of Sortelha is its rusticity, something that gains even more dimension thanks to the good state of conservation of its buildings, the castle and the walls.
If you can, climb up to the top of these same walls and appreciate the landscape that surrounds the village. It is a dazzling view that extends to places as long as Serra da Estrela. This entire region was disputed by Portugal and Spain for centuries and was only held in the Portuguese possession thanks to the commitment and sacrifice of the populations of these small villages.
Muitas delas fazem now part of the network of Historical Villages of Portugal. Not total, only 12, and the most beautiful Sortelha is one of them. Well, here are others that also deserve a visit: belmonte, Castel Rodrigo, Castle Mendo, Almeida, Monsanto, new castle… all different but all with a common history that is worth knowing.
Outrora was one of the most important towns in the interior of Portugal. Hoje, Sortelha seems to be summed up as a tourist attraction (perhaps the only way to save time and space). Mas Sortelha é mucho mais do than isso: é história viva and is there to remind us that we are and how much we fight to leave thermos or that we fear and be who we are.
For all this and much more, this is a special village that deserves your visit. And we have absolute certainty that, at the end of his journey, he will agree with me and he will think for himself, with full conviction, that Sortelha is the most beautiful village in Portugal.