Groups accepted with a minimum of 6 pax.
Our tour to the S. Domingos Mine offers us a slice of history, a technicolour setting in a luxury historical hotel and a variety of activities from walking, ghost town photography, and star gazing in a light unpolluted environment. It is specially designed for lovers of good food and wine and amateur geologists.
The beautiful São Domingos Mine is a deserted open-pit mine in the Alentejo once explored by Mason and Barry, a British company, which created in the middle of this deserted land a small village.
Because of the minerals in the soil, the rivers and shallow lakes showcase all the colours of the rainbow, from sandy reds and yellows, to grape and aubergine purples, and sage greens. The dark black water shines with a hint of copper under the vast Alentejan sky.
This site is one of the volcanogenic massive sulphide ore deposits in the Iberian Pyrite Belt, which extends from southern Portugal into Spain.
In 1854 Mason and Barry began to extract copper, sulphur and pyrite and transporting it to England and beyond, until 1966. At times, during the 107 years that the mine at São Domingos was active, it was one of Europe´s biggest in terms of output and numbers employed and, at its peak, 16,000 people were associated with the mine.
In the mining village the company built a church, a school, a theatre, the first electricity station in the province and the first telephone exchange. There is also an English cemetery, where mine managers and their families, many from Cornwall, are buried.
Since closure the mine has attracted tourists. The old mining company headquarters has been converted into a luxury hotel, where we’ll be lodged for this tour.
Mina de São Domingos is 180 kilometres south-east of Lisbon, close to the Spanish frontier, where the vast rolling countryside has a wonderful “Wild West” feel to it.
Situated on the edge of the “Parque Natural do Vale de Guadiana” protected area, and indeed to some extent within it, the countryside keeps on surprising visitors with its wealth of rare species of birds (e.g. kingfishers, hoopoes, kites, eagles and the very elusive great buster).
The lakes teem with fish and are so clean that even turtles take to them. The valley of the Guadiana is an area of natural beauty as yet scarcely frequented at all, comparable with the Moselle in the way it unfolds.
The landscape has a breath-taking grandeur, its horizons seeming always to be infinite and, in spring the abundance of colourful wild flowers dazzle the eyes.
This a tour designed to experience almost a time travel, and to enjoy stunning sights. Focused on areas where geology meets industrial archaeology, the walks are different every day, and designed to showcase the contrasting landscape and wildlife of the region.
Our tour will travel through stunning areas of the Alentejo region, stopping to take in some of the sites, as well as experiencing the wine and food that makes this place even more special.
Day 1 – Arrival at Faro Airport
Transfer to Mina de S. Domingos
Day 2 – Walk Mina de São Domingos
Walk around old mine workings and village with commentary and visits to the museums. Our walking route includes buildings and ruins that represent important aspects of the social dynamics of the mining period.
What’s left of the mine is reminiscent of a moonscape that would not be out of place on any sci fi film set. The skeleton of what used to be one of the most important mineral exploration sites in the Iberian Peninsula, it has been abandoned to the curiosity of random lone travelers and storks. Sinister and enigmatic, the place is also fascinating for being the silent keeper of the stories – often dramatic – of the thousands of men who used to chisel out tons of ore.
Day 3 – Walk Moreanes
A walk through the rolling countryside visiting several villages en route.
Day 4 – Walk Vale Travessos – Tapada Grande
A walk with the Tapada Grande Lake as its centrepiece.
Seven dams were built to provide water for the processing the ores and the Tapada Pequena and Tapada Grande are still there today. The government ordered trees to be planted to mask the massive engine houses and other mine buildings and the company first planted pines. This species did not survive the poisonous atmosphere, and Mason and Barry substituted the eucalyptus which are still greatly in evidence today.
The management staff and their families had exclusive use of one of the islands in the centre of the Tapada Grande. The Câmara has created a lakeside beach on the Tapada Grande and in the summer the shallow, warm water, creamy sand and lakeside bar attract many seeking relief for the inclement sun of Alentejo.
Day 5 – Walk Guadiana – Mertola
Walk along the beautiful Guadiana River into Mertola, an old Islamic town. Free time to explore the town.
Spectacularly set on a rocky spur, high above the peaceful Rio Guadiana, the cobbled streets of medieval Mértola are a delightful place to roam. A small but imposing castle stands high, overlooking the jumble of dazzlingly white houses and a picturesque church that was once a mosque. Many traces of Islamic occupation are still intact, so much so that Mértola is considered a vila museu (open-air museum).
Day 6 – Walk to Pomarão
A walk along the disused railway line from the mine workings to the old port of Pomarão, specially constructed on the River Guadiana, which here forms the border with Spain, to serve the mine.
In 1862 an 11-mile (18 km) railway, of three foot-six inch gauge, was opened connecting the mine to Pomarão from where ore was exported, mostly to England, by ship. Pomarão was destroyed in a disastrous flood on 6–8 December 1876, and subsequently rebuilt.
Day 7 – Walk Montes Altos
A walk in the rolling hills to the east of the village towards Chanza river, appreciating the serene beauty of the Alentejo landscape, and the diversity of flora and fauna.
Day 8 – Departure
At convenient time transfer to the Airport.
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