How to heat a stone house in Portugal

Although Portugal is hot and dry for many months, the winters are chilly and damp. The typical stone Portuguese house can feel glacial and heating is a must. Wood burning stoves, butane gas heaters are the handiest and most economical methods of heating.

wood burning stove heating home in Portugal
A cast iron wood burning stove is an excellent way to heat a stone house in Portugal.

Portugal has a reputation for being a warm sunny place, but heating is still a must during the damp winter months.

Most homes are made of stone in the Portuguese countryside. Stone does a great job keeping the house cool in summer. But a stone house can feel glacial from November through February.

So, what is the best way to heat this stone house? Seasoned expats will probably agree that the wood burning stove, called a recuperador de lenha or salamandra, in Portugal, is your best bet. Having learned from experience, I recommend getting one made of cast iron rather than steel. Stores like Leroy Merlin, Bricomarche and Agriloja usually carry a selection. 

Cast iron stoves are more expensive than steel they radiate the heat more efficiently and hold the warmth hours longer. The heat rating of these stoves is rated in Kw. You can check the size of stove needed based on the area you need to heat. 

A good iron stove will typically cost 700 to 1,000 Euros. plus the cost of chimney piping.

Ordering Wood

I moved into a newly renovated stone cottage in Central Portugal in July 2019. Come September, my expat neighbors gave me the phone number of their wood supplier. The term for wood used for stoves is lenhas in Portugal. You typically order it by the ton and the supplier delivers a truckload. The first heating you get is the effort to stack it. Goes without saying you need a good, dry, woodshed.

stacked logs for wood burning stove
Oak logs stacked in a wood shed ready for winter. A plastic curtain is good to keep off the rain.

My supplier delivers hard, dry oak which burns well and gives off good heat. But you need a large supply of kindling to get a fire going. I bought a log splitter from my neighbors, and regularly pick up pine cones and dry sticks in the nearby forest during the summer months. I use them as kindling. 

Log splitter used to split wood for stove
Electric powered splitter used to split logs into smaller pieces as shown, to help get fire going.
Other heating methods

A wood burning stove will usually burn out overnight leaving your house cold by dawn. A gas heater that uses bottled butane is the quickest and most cost effective heat source for those chilly mornings. Delba is a common brand sold in Portugal. It is available at the Agriloja stores for around 70 Euros. The first bottle of gas costs around 40 Euros. When you return the empty bottle a refill costs about 25 Euros.

Oil-filled electric radiators and electric space heaters which may or may not use a fan can also be used. But they take a longer time to heat and are only useful for small rooms. They are also expensive to run.

Fun places to see in Coimbra

The elegant Patio das Escolas at the University of Coimbra.

Wander through the narrow streets of Coimbra and you will come upon all kinds of fun places to see and explore. This small city in central Portugal is city rich in history, tradition and natural beauty. Add to that, quaint cafés, restaurants, places to hear the uniquely Portuguese fado music and even a museum for sardines!

But be prepared to do some walking. Coimbra, like Lisbon and Porto, is a city of hills. It will mean lot of climbing and a lot of steps. You might opt to take a ride in one of the city’s small electric buses on the Linha Azul. It’s quite a sight to see how the little buses squeak through the narrowest of streets with just inches to spare on either side. Skilled drivers no less!

University of Coimbra

Coimbra is best known for its ancient university. This famous institution is renowned as one of the oldest continuously operating universities in the world.

Founded in Lisbon in 1290 by King Dinis, the university moved back and forth between Lisbon and Coimbra several times over the next 300 years. In 1537, during the reign of King João (John) III, the university moved into the former Alcora Palace high above Coimbra. A statue of the king – looking remarkably like his contemporary, Henry VIII of England – stands in the Paço das Escolas or University Patio. This immense plaza looks out over the Rio Mondego, the broad river that bisects the city.

The entrance to the Biblioteca Joanina, or Joanine Library.

On one side of the Paço das Escolas stands the  magnificent library, the Biblioteca Joanina or Joanine Library. Founded in 1717, it has more than 40,000 rare books. Also in the square is the São Miguel Chapel whose massive organ has more nearly 2,000 pipes!

This massive organ in the São Miguel chapel has nearly 2,000 pipes.

Tours of the university, including access to the Joanine Library cost 12.50 euros. A tour without the library is available for 7 euros.

Since the university is at the top of the hill dominating Coimbra it’s a good place to start a tour. On the hillside beside the university are the beautiful botanical gardens, the Jardim Botanica da Universidade. 

 Cathedrals, churches and monasteries

Other Coimbra attractions include the “old” and “new” cathedrals

The massive and somewhat foreboding Sé Velha (old cathedral) looks more like a military stronghold than a church. It even has narrow windows and battlements more proper to a fortress. The explanation for its martial appearance stems from its construction date during the late 12th Century. This was a time when Portugal was battling the Moors and when Coimbra was the country’s capital.

The Sé Nova (“new” cathedral) is a much more elegant structure. This beautiful building , with its curvaceous facade, started life as a Jesuit church in 1543 and officially became the cathedral a couple of hundred years later. 

Coimbra is also home to two famous monasteries, the Igreja e Mosteiro da Santa Cruz and the Mosteiro de Santa Clara Velha. 

And while exploring Coimbra’s historic places, don’t forget to visit the Machado de Castro National Museum. This architecturally superb museum houses a wide collection of jewelry, sculpture, paintings and ceramics, mostly from convents and monasteries around the diocese of Coimbra.

Parque Verde do Mondego

Coimbra has a lot of fun places to see. But at some point it’s worth taking a break from the history. That’s when it’s time to take a stroll to the Parque Verde do Mondego by the river. If you’re lucky, and the sun is shining you will see a blaze of rainbow colors in the water feature on the city side of the park. In the middle of the park you might do a double-take when you see a giant green statue of a bear. It looks as if it were made of grass but on close examination you can see it’s astroturf.

Sunlight creates rainbows in the water feature at the Parque Verde do Mondego in Coimbra.

At the end of the park, a path leads to a modern footbridge dedicated to Pedro and Inês. These 14th Century star-crossed lovers are often called the Portuguese Romeo and Juliet. Pedro, an heir to the Portuguese throne, fell in love with a lady-in-waiting, Inês de Castro. It’s a dark and tragic story of political intrigue. In short, Pedro’s enemies captured and killed Inês, leaving Pedro heartbroken.

Sardines and your birthday

Sardines are close to every Portuguese heart. So it’s no wonder there is a virtual shrine to the little fish in Coimbra. On the list of the fun places to see is the Mundo Fantastico Das Conservas Portugues. Here you will find every flavor of sardine imaginable. You can pick a can of sardines from the year of your birth. Or maybe sardines packed in a gold tin. Kind of like a fishy version of gold bricks.

Fun place to see - Sardine museum
Sardines of every flavor and even packed in gold cans.
How to get to Coimbra

By Car: Coimbra is appoximately 200 km from Lisbon. Driving from Lisbon using the A1 toll highway takes about 2 hours. 

Train: from Lisbon Santa Apolonia station to Coimbra takes between 1 hr. 40 mins. to about 2 hours. depending on which service you choose. Tickets are between about 20 euros to 35 euros depending on the service and class of ticket. All train seats are assigned. Travelers aged 65 and over can ride half price with ID. (Information at Comboios de Portugal.)

Bus: from Sete Rios bus station in Lisbon takes about 2 hours to Coimbra. Tickets cost about 13 euros. Information at Rede Expressos.)

Exploring central Portugal: Tomar

The old bridge over the Rio Nabão in Tomar, with the Templar Castle and Convento de Cristo on the hill.

Central Portugal is not as well known to international tourists as the beaches, the Algarve or Lisbon and Porto. But the region has plenty of fascinating spots to explore. Tomar, a city of around 20,000 inhabitants along the Rio Nabão is a gem for history buffs.

Templar Castle

 This charming small city has a rich and colorful past. In fact, it was once the headquarters in Portugal for the Order of the Knights Templar

Walls of the ruined Templar castle and Convento de Cristo on the hill overlooking Tomar.

The Knights Templar was a powerful military religious order during the time of the Crusades. Gualdim Pais, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, founded a castle in Tomar in 1160. The ruins of the castle and the associated Convento de Cristo still dominate the Tomar skyline. In 1983, UNESCO recognized the castle and the Convento de Cristo as a Heritage site.

A statue of city founder Gualdim Pais stands in the Praça da República in Tomar.

In October, Tomar holds a celebration of the Knights Templar. For the celebration, citizens in medieval costume and knights on horse back parade through the streets at night. It’s an awesome sight. The knights wear clothing with the distinctive red cross on a white background that symbolizes the Templar Order. 

Night time parade in Tomar, celebrating the city’s history with the Order of the Knights Templar.
Feat of engineering

Just outside Tomar is the Aqueduct of Pegões which brought water to the Convento. Built between 1593 and 1614, it is 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) long and up to 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) high.

Tomar has several other medieval and Renaissance-era churches such as Santa Maria do Olival, São Jõao Baptista and Santa Iria. Also, the best preserved medieval synagogue in Portugal is in Tomar’s historic district. It houses the small Jewish Museum Abaão Zacuto.

Lots of ways to chill in Tomar

If you want to relax, just wander through the narrow, cobblestone streets of Tomar’s historic district and enjoy a meal or a coffee at one of the numerous restaurants along the river.

Students enjoying graduation celebrations in Tomar.

Tomar is about 90 minutes northeast of Lisbon by car. If you don’t have a car, Trains to Tomar depart almost hourly from Lisbon’s Oriente station. Tomar is also conveniently located to other historic spots in Central Portugal such as Batalha, Coimbra and the Castle of Almoural.