Schist Villages – What are They?
The Schist Villages region is made up of four zones in Portugal’s interior: the Serra da Lousã, Zêzere, the Serra do Açor and the Tejo-Ocreza.
The Schist Villages area is a region of Portugal’s interior that has successfully been promoted to tourists. The brand is managed by the ADXTUR association, the Agency for the Touristic Development of the Schist Villages, and brings together 21 Municipalities of the central region of Portugal, and more than 100 private local operations, which all share the common strategy of promoting and revitalising an area where schist stone dominates the landscape.
Today, it’s undeniable that the Schist Village brand has become a synonym for quality and discovery. The Schist Villages region receives thousands of visitors on a yearly basis, both Portuguese and foreign.
Schist Vilages Area
The Schist Villages area is made up of four zones in the country’s interior, Serra da Lousã – with 12 villages, Zêzere – with 6 villages, the Serra do Açor - with 5 villages, and the Tejo-Ocreza – with 4. These 27 villages are located in 16 of the 21 Municipalities of Central Portugal which are part of ADXTUR.
There are different types of villages. Some have half a dozen inhabitants, and others have hundreds. They are not all made of schist, and the villages where schist is most predominant are those in the Serra da Lousã and the Serra do Açor.
List of Shale Villages
Group of the Serra da Lousã: Aigra Nova, Aigra Velha, Candal, Casal de São Simão, Casal Novo, Cerdeira, Chiqueiro, Comareira, Ferraria de São João, Gondromaz, Pena, Talasnal.
Group of the Açor: Aldeia das Dez, Benfeita, Fajão, Sobral de São Miguel, Vila Cova do Alva.
Group of the Zêzere: Álvaro, Barroca, Janeiro de Baixo, Janeiro de Cima, Mosteiro, Pedrógão Pequeno.
Group of the Tejo-Ocreza: Água Formosa, Figueira, Martim Branco, Sarzedas.
ADXTUR, the Driving Force
ADXTUR – The Agency for the Tourist Development of the Schist Villages, is the association that manages this network of villages. It managed to attract 21 municipalities to its cause, along with more than 100 local entities such as hotels, rural guest houses, restaurants, tourist entertainment companies, artists, artisans, farmers, etc.
It’s easy to see that the success of this project is intimately linked to that of other projects taking place in the area. This is the motivation for people to contribute to the building of a sustainable area.
The Network of Schist Villages has managed to create a series of smaller, specific networks, such as the network of Shops of the Schist Villages, which sell regional produce.
There is also a network of dozens of river beaches, many of which have infrastructure which has been restored. We have the biggest concentration of river beaches in Portugal.
The Schist Villages area has 600km of signed walking trails. There are also three mountain biking centres which have trails gauged at different ability levels.
The Grand Tour of Zezere will soon be launched and is Portugal’s first multi-discipline route. 370km of the river can be followed on foot, by bike or by canoe, on a continuous path, in part or as a whole.
The Schist Villages have certified dozens of tourist accommodation spots, ready to receive visitors.
History of the Schist Villages
The Schist Villages program came began in 2000, through a program for the development of the centre region of Portugal.
Between 2000 and 2002 the program was planned in collaboration with the municipalities, aiming to create a brand in the region, based on the strong identity of a group of settlements, using innovative methods.
Whether each village would receive the support of the program depended on the presentation and approval of a document characterising the village and laying out an action plan, known as a Village Plan. In mid-2002 the first generation of Village Plans was approved, eight in total, turning the network from something theoretical into something tangible.
The second generation of villages was approved at the end of the same year, with more than 15 villages joining. The network overcame the problems of the scale of the area. The commitment of owners and inhabitants, committed to making quality improvements that followed the techniques specified by the local councils, meant that new villages soon requested to join.
In mid-2005, four new Village Plans were approved. The network was reinforced and became more cohesive.
Craft in the Schist Villages
In recent years, crafts have become one of the distinguishing features of the Schist Villages brand, attracting various projects which have managed to mix modern art with various elements of the area’s traditional culture.
It all began in 2006, when Cerdeira came up with an innovative exhibition concept, inviting a dozen artists from various backgrounds to fill the village, still practically in ruins, with their creations, exhibiting and sharing experiences and knowledge, amongst themselves and with visitors.
This is how the event “Elementos à Solta – Art meets nature” was born in Cerdeira, and it started to take place on a yearly basis. More than six dozen Portuguese and foreign modern artists have taken part, as well as dozens of musicians and lots of other people related to the arts.
From the very beginning, the event has been supported by the council of Lousã and by ADXTUR, who shared our vision for the potential of the event and have made it possible for eleven consecutive years.
This initiative really took off and ended up becoming part of the local identity, allowing the Schist Villages to take a gamble on contemporary crafts.
June 2013 was the first time that the Schist Villages represented Portugal at EUNIQUE, with the exhibition "Água Musa - Craft + Design + Nature". EUNIQUE - International Fair for Applied Arts & Design, takes place annually in the German city of Karlsruhe. It is Germany’s most prestigious craft and design event and is supported by Craft Council Europe.
We also participated in 2014, with the exhibition "L4Craft – Local for Craft", a project that joined together and evoked the identity of four places within the Schist Villages area, one being Cerdeira.
The highpoint of our participation in EUNIQUE was in 2015, when Portugal was the special guest at the event, represented by the Schist Villages with the project "Lusophone Agriculture".
In the same year, the Schist Villages became Portugal’s representative to the World Craft Council.
Cerdeira — Schist Village
Cerdeira is one of many examples.
Joining the Schist Villages network was a decisive factor in Cerdeira’s development. At the beginning of the century, Cerdeira had no electricity, running water, drains or paving. Only a handful of houses had been restored. Access to the village was via 1.5km of windy dirt road.
Today, the village has all the necessary infrastructure. Access is via a tarmacked road, and more than two dozen houses have ben restored. There is both agricultural activity and artistic production.
An innovative cultural and touristic project has been built. A group of houses restored to meet high standards welcome visitors from all over the world. Cafe, gallery and library.
The magnificent building which is the Casa das Artes was reconstructed using traditional techniques, guided by the Eco-Arq project, supported by the Schist Villages Network. Accommodation and studios for artists. A wood-fired ceramic kiln which works at high temperatures without producing smoke, unique in Portugal.
Today the village has a new lease of life, with permanent residents, artists that pass long periods of time, and people from all five continents that come for the artistic residencies.
The focus on tourism and culture is based on sustainable development, looking to the future, and various jobs have been created.
All this was only possible thanks to the local vision, initiative, effort and commitment, but would not have been possible without the consistent support of the Schist Villages Network, and the town council of Lousã.