Living like in days gone by, hiking and exploring ancient volcanoes
If you drive north from Lisbon on the winding A8, after about half an hour you will pass through an area full of impressive volcanic cones, which tower out of the flat landscape. This long-peaceful volcanic area stretches from the Serra de Sintra up to Mafra and even further. Between these ancient volcanic cones, in a secluded side valley of the Rio Lisandro on the edge of a plateau, you will find a very pretty gem in central Portugal, the small village of Mata Pequena, which is essentially confined to a village road and practically begs to take you and your children a magical journey back in time to the 19th century and which you should not pass up.
The peacocks jump leisurely and almost ponderously over the sunny roof, lands in front of the old house and the biggest of them proudly shows his huge, extravagant tail. Much later in the darkness, an inconspicuous, light bird settles down on the warm roof and sings a song so polyphonic and melodious that we don’t want to sleep.
As soon as you reach the old village road, on the sides of which you will find pretty whitewashed houses with traditional, colourful decorations, roofs topped with pumpkins or climbing peacocks and old bicycles leaning against the walls, you will turn your back on modern times and enter a village that must have existed countless ages ago, with stables, ovens, granaries and a rustic little restaurant.
The houses are cut and furnished in very different ways; here too, care has been taken to use original pieces of furniture as much as possible, and this desire for authenticity is reflected in the smallest details, such as lamps, switches and the fact that televisions are present but always hidden behind curtains or in cupboards. The houses nevertheless look very cosy, as the interior decor was done with a sense for colours and materials, without a speck of dust, as you might expect from a museum village.
In front of the houses, there are stone-front gardens with great seating for sunny breakfasts, relaxed afternoon games or cozy summer evenings. Since there is no through-road in this village, your children can also play on the village road while you make yourself comfortable on one of the benches and talk to the friendly neighbours.
Ana and Diogo, the very lovable hosts, have reconstructed the houses one by one over the last 20 years and have created a truly idyllic ambience. There are some typical domestic animals (donkeys, pigs, rabbits, peacocks, turkeys, geese, chickens and goats) that your children can feed with Diogo and a beautiful valley that you can walk directly into. Down in the valley, you can wade through a small river, then walk up on the other side to the next village (Mata Grande) and finally take another nice path back to Mata Pequena, passing pretty animal troughs and old washing places.
Another short hike leads to the extinct volcano Penedo do Lexim, which was used as a basalt quarry in the past and where evidence of a Neolithic settlement has been found.
Nearby, you will find the Mafra with its oversized Palácio Nacional, as described by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner for Literature Jose Saramago in his novel The Memorial. Beside the palace, there is a beautiful park with playgrounds, the Jardim do Cerco, and very close by, the national park Tapada Nacional de Mafra, where you can observe an amazing amount of wild animals – although they do not live completely free here.
The park was formerly used for hunting by the Portuguese royal family and nobility and is unfortunately still available for hobby hunters. In view of the many roe deer, deer and wild boars that stand there quite trustfully, you probably don’t need any shooting skills for this hunt – just a cold heart.
On the days when hunting isn’t offered, you can walk in the park or drive through it with a noisy and uncomfortable “train”. There are also many other activities for the whole family.
By the way, Diogos grandfather was the ceramics artist José Franco, who is well known in Portugal and who built an Aldeia Típica in Sobreiro, another village near Mafra, which is a kind of museum and miniature park with a ceramics shop and restaurants. This is well worth a visit with small children, as there is a lot to see.
Another thing that originated from Mafra is very popular sourdough bread baked in a wood oven, which is hung in bags on the doors of the houses of Mata Pequena in the morning when it is still warn and thus creates the basis for a delicious breakfast.
On weekends, special activities are offered from time to time, such as an evening with a traditional storyteller (in Portuguese), guided walks to the sea, or visits to the windmills in the area.
We have already spent many beautiful weekends there with friendly families or traveling parents, or simply alone with our children. Sometimes, we just drop by for a short visit at the weekend to have a delicious meal on the nice terrace of the small Tasquinha do Gil restaurant, because there are few other idyllic village restaurants in the vicinity.
Aldeia Mata Pequena Information and reservations:
From Lisbon, take your own car north on the A8, then at exit 5 take the A21 to Mafra. Take exit 3 to Mafra (Este) and continue via São Miguel de Alcainça and Arrifana to Mata Pequena.
If you drive a little further down the small village road, you will reach a nice parking lot.
Garden and street games. Bicycles, tricycles and scooters are of course particularly suitable to use on the old village street, when they’re used properly. Warm clothes, umbrellas and torches are certainly useful in the cooler seasons.
The small, rustic restaurant Tasquinha do Gil is open from Wednesday to Sunday evening, and on weekends it is usually also open during the day. It’s a good idea to call before you visit and possibly even make a reservation: facebook.com/pg/tasquinhagil/
There are delicious snacks and cakes, and also some vegetarian options.
Excursions in the neighbourhood:
Palacio Nacional de Mafra: palaciomafra.gov.pt
Volcano Penedo do Lexim: 38.892449, -9.311165
Tapada de Mafra: tapadademafra.pt
Aldeia Típica Sobreiro: www.cm-mafra.pt/pages/1088