The Village of Cabeça
A genuine “head” trip.
While planning our Christmas holiday road trip to Viseu and to see the village where my maternal ancestors came from, I ran across information about a mountain village called Cabeça. In Portuguese, cabeça means head. I had read that at Christmas time, the entire village of “Head” comes together to create the most genuine Christmas party. People from all over come to see it – in fact, it’s reported that thousands visit this little spot. The festivities – celebrated now for over a decade – are called Natal Village (Cabeça Aldeia Natal).
Paul and I were curious about how a group of villagers in a somewhat remote mountain setting could create a genuine Christmas party that people would want to visit. But the weather was nice, and we had a free afternoon, so we decided to try to find Cabeça. Turns out, it was worth finding and was most definitely a genuine “head” trip!
This village of about 170 inhabitants sits tucked on a hill in the middle of the Serra da Estrela mountains.
Paul and I almost exclusively use Waze to help us navigate through Portugal, so we plugged directions in our car GPS from the Pousada in Viseu to Cabeça. From Viseu, we drove on the IP3 and exited at Nelas. Then we headed towards Seia, taking the N231. This drive becomes a bit more scenic and rural as you continue through mountain terrain. The roads are exceptionally good, but with twists and turns, so you must pay close attention when driving. Once we passed the sign that said Valezim, we looked for the Cabeça sign. At the sign, we turned onto EM518 towards the village.
This becomes a secondary and somewhat narrow, two-lane road about 3 kilometers long (one lane heading in, one lane heading out) with more twists and turns as you head down the mountain. Heading in, the lane hugs the mountainside but so close to the rocks that you must be careful not to scrape the side of the car. Heading out, there’s nothing but a steep drop – and no guardrails to protect you from going off the road into a steep ravine if you’re not extremely careful.
I trust Paul’s driving (he saved my life once by quickly avoiding a drunk driver coming at us head-on). But even as experienced a driver as he is, we were both a little nervous on this road. Once we entered the village, we collectively breathed a sigh of relief hoping that this trip was going to be worth it.
So worth it!
As we entered the village, we could see charming well-kept shale homes perched almost as if in layers stacked against the hillside. The entire village was decked out in Christmas decorations!
Apparently, a lot of folks had the same idea as Paul and I because finding a place to park even in the early afternoon was a challenge. There were no parking lots – just parking along the narrow main road that goes into and out of the village. It took some effort, but we snagged a spot on the outskirts of the village and hiked up a steep incline to get to the village center.
All the villagers participate in the Natal Village, using all natural materials such as vines, brooms, leaves, and wool (the wool is sourced from the Serra da Estrela border sheep), and other recycled material, to decorate their homes, streets, and common areas of the village.
Thousands of LED lights (Cabeça was the first LED village in Portugal), illuminate the entire village after dark.
Many of the village homes open pop-up shops and sell artisan handcrafts (you won’t find imported souvenirs here), locally made liquors, and food. There are planned festivities throughout the holiday season including music, cooking classes, children’s programs, craft workshops, and a bonfire in the center of the village that is lit on Christmas Eve and stays burning continuously until New Year’s Day. The goal is to create a genuine, sustainable Christmas “party.”
A genuine Christmas.
Santa Claus does not arrive in a helicopter here. Or even at all during the festivities. Cabeça prefers to focus on a genuine Christmas where food, music, Portuguese tradition, friends, family, and folklore prevail.
I admit that I am not a huge fan of the holidays, especially the way Christmas is commercialized in many parts of the world. But visiting Natal Village changed me. It was such a heartwarming experience! Paul and I hope to return to this village next year to feel more of the genuine Christmas spirit from these genuine Portuguese people.
Not just for Christmas.
The village of Cabeça is not just for Christmas. Visiting here any time of the year will be a genuine experience. And not just this village – there is a network of 42 villages offering year-round festivals and events, that promise to provide a visitor with hospitality, Portuguese culture, tradition, and charm. Paul and I want to learn more about these villages and hope to plan a “village discovery” road trip in the future.
If you visit:
More information about Natal Village including scheduled events.
Check out this video of the Cabeça Aldeia Natal 2023:
This village is not suitable for folks with physical challenges. The terrain is hilly, and the side roads are uneven.
There are clean, modern public restrooms in the village, but only accessible by walking down steep and uneven steps.
Even if you are an experienced driver, use extreme caution on the roads, especially after dark.
Muito obrigada (many thanks) to Gillian V. (again!) and Anonymous for supporting Our Portugal Journey through Buy Me a Coffee. Your generosity and interest help to keep this publication free to subscribers.
Until next time…