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Travel information: Portugal's Seven Natural Wonders

Updated on September 26, 2014

What’s it all about …

As I had mentioned on an earlier hub - Portugal's seven architectural wonders Monuments - there are many wonders in Portugal, some of them gifts of nature… So, in 2010, as had happened before for the architectural wonders (2007), people came together to elect (through a global poll) what they thought were the most magnificent gifts of nature to the country. The choice was between 21 candidates, all with its own merits. In the end seven were chosen.

I would like to tell a bit about the contestants and a bit about the winners… If you are not into monuments and you prefer nature and the outdoors, well then, this hub is for you… In any case how can we not all love the wonderful miracle of what nature has to offer…

Other contestants

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cabo da RocaHills of SintraMira D’Aire CavesGlacial Valley of the Zêzere Carrapateira Promontory
Cabo da Roca
Cabo da Roca | Source
Hills of Sintra
Hills of Sintra | Source
Mira D’Aire Caves
Mira D’Aire Caves | Source
Glacial Valley of the Zêzere
Glacial Valley of the Zêzere | Source
Carrapateira Promontory
Carrapateira Promontory | Source

The contestants

First there were the man made wonders, then there were the natural wonders… Not in this order, really… But having so many amazing places, how to select the 21 in the run?

The categories chosen ranged from protected areas to caves, passing through woods and beachs and mountains. And the nominees were areas of the main land, as well as the islands, places like the amazing landscape of the Coa Valley, Cabo Espichel, and Cabo da Roca or the breathtaking hills of Sintra, the Douro Valley or Madeira’s Laurissilva Forest, Berlengas Natural Reserve, Seven Cities Lake in Azores, Mira D’Aire Caves and so many others.

From each of the seven categories a winner should be chosen. The categories were Forests and Woods; Landscapes; Grottos, Caves and Caverns; Beaches and Cliffs; Maritime Areas; Inland Aquatic Zones; Protected Areas.

On the run were places like Carrapateira Promontory ( Beaches and Cliffs) in the Algarve, which has an coastal belt extremely important from standpoint of ecology importance and is a place of rare beauty; the Douro Valley (Inland Aquatic Zones), with its hill stumbling down to the river in a rare site of vines terraces, perfectly tidy and green and then at the end of the winter the pink-white of the almond trees covering the landscape, as if snow had been falling down on the land, on the trees, a beautiful Nordic princess dream from long, long ago (one day I shall you tell this and other tales – truth or myth? who can tell…); the Lake of Fire in Azores (Protected Areas), a lake in an ancient volcano crater, bordered by white sand beaches, filled with pristine water, surrounded by a beautiful landscape of breathtaking mountains, it was truly a worthy contestant; the Buçaco Woods in the Center of Portugal (Forests and Woods), is a preserved gem, the woods remain in its pure state, left untouched by human hand, the most precious arboretum in the country – personally I love going for a walk in this wood with some friends and good music; the Glacial Valley of the Zêzere (Lanscape), one of the biggest glacial valleys in Europe, with a U-shape, is a perfect example of how a glacial modeled the landscape; the Sulphur Cavern - again in the Azores, most specifically in Island Graciosa – (Grottos, Caves and Caverns) is a cavern of volcanic origins, it is a circular depression with 350 meters (1150 feet) deep and inside you find numerous thermal springs and solfatares; the Berlengas Archipelago (Maritime Areas), this natural reserve is a group of very small island off the coast of Peniche, in the North of Portugal. The actual reserve covers a big extension of the ocean around the island until a depth of 30 meters (110 feet).

But these were not the winners…

Laurissilva Forest in Madeira's Island

And the winners were...


The Laurissilva Forest or Laurel Forest exists in other areas than Madeira, such as Azores, the Canary Islands, etc. This type of forest is a subtropical kind of forest develops in places with high humidity and stable, mild temperatures and it is concentrated in the eastern ocean atlantic area. This type of forest is extremely green, with glossy leaved laurels that can reach 40 meters high and with an immensily rich biodiversity in plans, animals, such as invertebrates, bats and birds.

The reason why this forest in Madeira is so important is because it is biggest extension of this sort of forest that remains in the world and that is why in 1999 UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site. It is thought that 90 % of it is primary and in it you can find a unique set of plants and animals you cannot find anywhere else. Its importance derives also of the part it plays in maintaining the ecological and hydrological balance of Madeira’s Island.

If you want to get in touch with nature, with all our roots and dive back in time, well, this is a place worth visiting.

Arrábida's Little Harbour


This is a one of the most stunning beaches in Portugal. It has nonetheless been more or less protected from crowds because of how difficult it is to get there, though more and more people find their way there each year, by winding mountain roads. It is located in the Arrábida Mountain and Park (in the district of Setubal, just on the outskirts of Lisbon), next to the small fishing village with the same name. Known by its pristine waters, with the mild water temperature in the summer, which makes it a wonderful place for water sports, like fishing and scuba diving. It is a bay of stunning beauty, the white sand beach amidst the Arrábida Mountain landscape, a safe haven for the traveler, to rest and enjoy and to appreciate the richness of the biological diversity that inhabits this preserved area.

Volcanic Landscape of Pico Island


The mountain of Pico is the highest mountain in Portugal with 2.351 meters (7,700 feet), it is of volcanic origins, which is easily noticeable, by its shape – the Triangle. The island is commonly known as the black island, on account of its black volcanic soil. Amazingly such an inhospitable environmental and such a difficult soil for agricultural gave way to what is now classified as World Heritage by UNESCO, which is the Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture. The Vineyard Culture here is the proof that human persistence and will can overcome anything, even the hostile ground of the lava fields and use that to one owns advantage. The mountain, the geological characteristics and the surrounding landscape make for one of the most beautiful volcanics landscape in the world.

Ria Formosa - Algarve


The Ria Formosa Lagoon in the Algarve is a protected natural park. A fellow Hubber, Nelson Soares, has written a more extended Hub on the Ria Formosa, which is quite interesting and I would advise you to take a peek at.

Anyway, the Ria Formosa Lagoon is basically a natural system of barrier islands, with inlets from the ocean. The Ria Formosa, which translated means Lovely River, is not just about beauty, although the view is absolutely amazing, it stretches and stretches as far as the eye can see, low and fabulous, you can almost believe you could walk on water, when you look at it from places like Cacela Velha, but the Ria Formosa is more than that, it is about nature, about biodiversity, about protection, about balance. The Ria protects, the Ria provides and men take, but also protect, otherwise the Ria can not provide and everyone would loose.

Lake of the Seven Cities - Azores


This volcanic complex in the Island of S. Miguel, Azores, is not considered just one lake, but two, twin-lakes, since it consists of two lakes joined together by a narrow passage. The lake is known by the Green Lake and the Blue Lake, because each of its sides reflects the sunlight in a different colour considering the pigments of its bottoms. A legend says the lakes came to be because of a sheppard’s and a princess’s broken hearts after the King dismissed their request to get married as they were very much in love. Torn by the grief the lovers are believed to have cried the two lakes.

The lake is located inside a dormant volcano. The Caldera of the Seven Cities Massif is an ancient volcano built on layers of ash, pyroclasts and trachyte and basaltic lavas. The geomorphological characteristics resulted in a vast array of hydro-chemical properties and allowed for springs and water circulation networks to appear.

If you are looking for sublime and powerful feelings this is a place you must see, the farming fields and the hydrangeas falling into the ocean to one side and that vast and beautiful torn up lake inside an immense volcano crater to the other. You could write a whole novel just contemplating the landscape.

National Park of Peneda Gerês


The National Park of Peneda Gerês stretchesover 72.000 hectares ( 178.000 acres ) of protected area. Once the home of the brown bear and the mountain goat, which have unfortunately disappear, the Park still harbors amazing species such as the royal eagle and the wolf.

The National Park is located in the northwestern of Portugal in a mountainous area. The Park itself consist of an amphitheater shape protected from the ocean by the mountains. This shape and the mountain can explain a bit the climate in the area, which is a mix of the continental, the mediterranean and the atlantic climate, creating several micro-climates within.

It was not a particularly hospitable area, reason why the first human settlements only showed up around 6000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. and also reason why the natural environment is so well preserved here.

The park is considered a place of national and international scientific important given its flora, fauna, landscapes, etc.

While the administration of the park encourages tourism, it also tries to control it, as a big flow of tourists would for sure damage the environment that they are trying to preserve.

If you are into camping this is the right place for you, after all there are six small camping parks and a lot of hiking trails if you to adventure in the wild.

Mira d'Aire Caves


The Mira D’Aire Caves are the biggest in Portugal and were discovered back in 1947 and it took around six years to know that the trail that is now open to the public and that is 600 meters length and goes into the earth 180 meters.

The caves were formed 150 million years ago, back when the dinosaurs were still around, reason why it is still possible to find some traces of the giants.

It is truly an amazing place. I cannot but be dazzled every time I visit: the displays of stalactites and stalagmites, the columns, pillars and sheets of marbled rock lit by concealed light that lend a special shine to what nature created. The rock formations you can see are truly grand and streams flow through the cave, forming little ponds here and there.

Now, if you want to really experience the cave like a true spelunker you can try one of the special tours with no lights on, where you get to visit the cave in the dark, using just a hard hat with a light and having a guide, obviously, to find your way around and experience this place as nature intended it.

Worth a visit!

The end of the tour

Hopefully this tour around the seven natural wonders of Portugal can entice you to visit Portugal, to get to know more about the land and the culture and the people. These were the chosen by the majority of the people, they are wonderful places, sublime and amazing, but let’s not forget about the others as they are fantastic too, there was just not enough room for all of them on the podium.


Did you like this hub? Was it useful, entertaining, interesting… Don’t forget to leave me your comment and vote on the hub.

For more information check out my profile and stop by my other hubs.

Some other hubs by the author:

Portugal's seven architectural wonders Monuments

Algarve is not all about beaches

Magic and wonder - Visiting Sintra

Visiting Amsterdam – The Venice of the North

Couples and holidays rules

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© Copyright Jan 27 2012 / To use part or the whole article you must first get written permission from the author. Feel free, nonetheless, to use an intro of the hub with a link to the article here on hubpages for the rest of the article.

© 2012 Joana e Bruno


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