Portugal is renowned for its remarkable destinations, and while we delight in exploring popular tourist spots, we also love discovering hidden gems off the beaten path. Escaping the crowds and embracing the essence of slow travel, we recently decided to explore the town of Montemor-o-Velho.
Situated in the Coimbra district and a mere 15-minute drive from Figueira da Foz, Montemor-o-Velho reveals itself along the road leading to the city of Coimbra. The sight of the picturesque and magnificent Montemor-o-Velho Castle had often caught our eye during our journeys, yet we'd never taken the opportunity to explore more. However, our long-awaited visit proved to be an unforgettable experience.
In planning our adventure for the day, we stumbled upon the Europaradise Parque Zoológico, a zoo set in the heart of a Portuguese forest. Since our youngest, Adrian, is currently obsessed with animals, it quickly became the top priority on our itinerary.
Europaradise Parque Zoológico
Our adventure in Montemor-o-Velho began at the Europaradise Parque Zoológico, where we immersed ourselves in the captivating world of animals while enjoying a leisurely stroll through a beautiful zoo set amidst the Portuguese flora and fauna. Unlike bustling city zoos with fancy enclosures and commercial attractions, Europaradise offers a unique experience that feels more like a tranquil park. The large, natural enclosures and winding dirt paths that meander through the forest create an idyllic setting for observing a diverse range of animals and spending quality time with family.
While the grounds of the zoo may not be pristine and the first part of the route is a bit degraded, the beauty of the surroundings and the opportunity to see animals in spacious enclosures outweighed the imperfections. As we ventured along the trail, we were also pleasantly surprised to encounter peacocks roaming freely throughout the park. (Although Elena was completely spooked when they started vocalizing and kept popping up – on top of enclosures, around random bends in the path, and even in the parking lot!)
Blue peacock perched on top of the entrance building
Staff interactions were minimal during our visit. The only staff we actually saw during our visit was the woman at the entrance who processed our payment. There also wasn't a printed site map or guidebook, and there's a lack of comprehensive signage, which posed a slight challenge. However, we utilized our phones and the "Google Lens" feature to translate the limited information available on the signs. We looked up more information about the animals we were particularly curious about when we got home.
An example of the signage posted at the animal enclosures around the zoo
Based on our experience at the zoo, my assumption is that they're understaffed (and underfunded) and devote their limited resources to the animals.
Animals at Europaradise Parque Zoológico
The animals at the zoo appeared healthy, well-fed, and remarkably active. The primates were swinging, playing, and grooming each other. We even witnessed a gibbon's playful attempt to snatch Sérgio's camera!
Overall, we didn't see any animals that looked ill, poorly treated, or undernourished. The animals looked well fed, and we actually saw food, such as cabbages, bell peppers, and potatoes, in a few enclosures. We also saw a few baby animals!
During our visit, we were immediately enchanted by the playful troop of ring-tailed lemurs.
From their acrobatic tree-climbing skills to their joyful interactions within their tight-knit group, observing these lemurs brought us immense joy!
The lemurs inquisitive nature and gentle demeanor made them an absolute highlight of our visit.
White-Handed (Lar) Gibbon
Among the captivating primates we encountered, the white-handed gibbon stood out with its sleek fur and striking white hands.
Although the enclosure housed only one gibbon, its remarkable activity and curiosity left us in awe.
We could have spent hours watching this graceful creature swing effortlessly from branch to branch, showcasing its exceptional agility and acrobatic abilities.
The ostrich, with its majestic presence and unique characteristics, evoked a sense of awe with its impressive size.
As the largest living bird on Earth, its long neck, powerful legs, distinctive plumage, and stunning lashes made it a captivating sight to behold.
Blue Peacocks and White Peacocks
Our adventure was further enhanced by the mesmerizing displays of elegance presented by the blue peacocks and white peacock.
The resplendent blue peacocks, adorned with iridescent blue and green feathers, roamed freely throughout the park, adding a touch of enchantment to our experience.
Additionally, the snowy-white feathers with hints of iridescent hues displayed by the white peacock exuded a sense of grace and purity, leaving us in awe of these captivating creatures.
One animal that truly took us by surprise was the magnificent cassowary. With its striking appearance and distinctive features, this flightless bird demanded our attention and left an indelible impression.
The vibrant plumage and the unmistakable helmet-like casque atop its head showcased its unique beauty. As one of the largest and most formidable avian species on the planet, the cassowary's powerful legs and sharp talons made it an intimidating yet captivating creature to encounter.
Our visit to the park was made even more memorable by the presence of these incredible animals, each with its own distinct charm and allure. From the playful lemurs to the elegant peacocks and the awe-inspiring cassowary, the diversity of wildlife we encountered added a touch of wonder and made our trip truly unforgettable.
Helpful Information for Your Visit
As you plan your visit to Europaradise Parque Zoológico, there are a few essential details to keep in mind. Free parking is available in a convenient dirt lot near the entrance.
Blue peacock on the right side of the dirt road leading to the parking lot
Admission prices are very reasonable, with free entry for children up to 2 years old, €4 for children aged 3-11, and €7.50 for ages 12 and above. It's important to note that the zoo only accepts cash, so remember to bring sufficient funds for your visit.
Facilities within the park are limited, with a single bathroom spot located approximately halfway through the trail. Unfortunately, there are no on-site options for food or drinks, and picnicking within the grounds is not allowed. Therefore, it's advisable to bring your own water and snacks to ensure a comfortable experience. Comfortable shoes are a must, especially as the trail concludes with a steep incline. The entire path consists of dirt, making it ideal for sturdy walking or hiking shoes.
Our experience at Europaradise Parque Zoológico allowed us to embrace the tranquility of nature while observing magnificent animals in a unique setting. As you embark on your own Montemor-o-Velho adventure, may you be enchanted by the town's hidden treasures, create lasting memories with your loved ones, and savor the joy of discovering an off-the-beaten-path gem in the heart of Portugal.