Dark Sky Alqueva - Orion Tree - Campinho
Photo: Miguel Claro - Dark Sky® Alqueva
Photo: Miguel Claro - Dark Sky® Alqueva

Natural areas untouched by humans already draw visitors to Portugal, their appeal extending to the sky that envelops them. These destinations invite you to look up and appreciate the beauty of stars, planets, and other celestial objects visible to the naked eye.

With astrotourism gaining more and more interest, Portugal is a choice destination for the practice. The high number of nature tourist destinations in the country provide excellent conditions from which to see the stars thanks to low - or almost no - light pollution and nearly no human influence on the areas.

The Starlight Tourism Destination Certification quality seal, awarded by the Starlight Foundation with the support of UNESCO, the World Tourism Organisation, and the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics (IAC), aims to acknowledge these areas, which give visitors the chance to take in a clean, untouched sky. What sets certified regions apart and makes them worthy of this distinction is that they combine prime stargazing conditions with tourist attractions, making each one unique.

Cromeleque do Xerez - Via Láctea ©Miguel Claro - Dark Sky® Alqueva

Dark Sky® Alqueva
Portugal was the first country to be awarded this quality seal, specifically the Alqueva area in the Alentejo region. Dark Sky® Alqueva was certified in 2011, the headquarters of which is in the village of Cumeada, near Monsaraz. The Dark Sky® Observatory can be visited here, where, in addition to stargazing with specialised equipment, safe sun observation sessions are also run during the day.

Alqueva is located near the large Alqueva lake and dam, which can be enjoyed during the daytime while you wait for night to fall to see the stars. In warmer weather, you could even go for a swim in the various nearby river beaches, such as Amieira or Monsaraz. If exploring the lake piques your interest, several options of boat and canoeing tours are available.

Dark Sky® Alqueva itself runs activities combining astronomy with what the Alentejo has to offer. This includes sipping on a cocktail or wine tasting while looking at the sky, or taking guided tours of the Alentejo’s landscapes.

Aldeias do Xisto, Pampilhosa da Serra ©Miguel Claro - Dark Sky®

Dark Sky® Aldeias do Xisto
The region of the Schist Villages was certified in 2019, and, due to their excellent preservation, the typical villages themselves are certainly worth a visit. Their distance from built-up areas has turned what could have been a weakness into an advantage for these Villages whose skies are as pristine and clean as their surrounding areas.

The Aldeias do Xisto region extends over 5000 km2 and includes 27 villages spread over 19 municipalities in the districts of Castelo Branco, Coimbra, and Leiria. In the Villages, you can learn more about central Portugal’s traditional knowledge and arts, as well as the region’s delicious regional food and products. More adventurous visitors can explore the many hiking trails available to walkers of all levels.

When night falls, several scenic options are available from which to enjoy the stars, as the region is divided into four morphological areas - Serra da Lousã, Serra do Açor, Zêzere, and Tejo-Ocreza. It is this variety that makes the Aldeias do Xisto a unique area for celestial observation, as the concentration of hill ranges creates a barrier between the villages and the nearest urban centres, blocking any light pollution.

Castelo de Ansiães ©Miguel Claro - Dark Sky® Vale do Tua

Dark Sky® Vale do Tua
The Vale do Tua Regional Natural Park became the first protected area in Portugal, gaining Starlight Tourist Destination certification in 2020. The Park, which is located in northeastern Portugal, spans five municipalities across Porto and the North: Alijó, Carrazeda de Ansiães, Mirandela, Murça and Vila Flor.

The Tua Valley itself is a location of excellence, featuring stunning landscapes and the infrastructure necessary to take part in activities surrounded by nature. Once one of the most beautiful train routes in Portugal, part of the Tua Line is now a stunning walking trail. The cultural heritage and megalithic monuments in the region make up yet further attractions in this Dark Sky® location.

However, other areas also provide excellent stargazing conditions. Whenever you spend the night in a protected area like the Estrela Geopark or the Peneda-Gerês National Park, stop, look up and allow yourself to be astounded by the starry sky!

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