What to do

São João da Madeira and industrial tourism

CC BY-NC-ND Associação de Turismo do Porto e Norte, AR

São João da Madeira is the smallest municipality in Portugal and is closely connected with the footwear industry. But you also find here hats, pencils, and hard-working people always greeting you with a smile.

    • The culture
    • The heritage
    • The shopping
    • Visit the Welcome Center for industrial tourism to book your tours to the production and training facilities.
    • Take at least one of the tours of the Industrial Heritage of São João da Madeira.
    • Feel the bustle of workers and the noisy machinery in operation, in companies such as Heliotêxtil.
    • The creative atmosphere at Oliva Creative Factor, right next door to the Welcome Center.
    • Learning about the different stages of footwear production at Helsar, so popular abroad.
    • Trying on the hats for sale at the Hat Museum, and the innovative pencils at the Viarco shop.
    • São João da Madeira is about 40 km from Porto.
    • At the Welcome Center, in Torre da Oliva, you can find out more about the visits to the factory, the Industrial Heritage tours, and make arrangements for an industrial tour guide. Please note that visits to the factory do not take place at the weekend.
    • You need to book visits to the factories in advance.
    • The Hat Museum is at Rua Oliveira Júnior, 50 – São João da Madeira.

To really learn more about São João da Madeira and its industrial heritage, start by going to the Welcome Center (http://www.turismoindustrial.cm-sjm.pt) in Torre da Oliva, built in the old facilities of a metal-working factory. Here you can find out more about the Industrial Heritage tours in the area, book visits to the factories and request a tour guide with knowledge of industrial history, or the multimedia tour guide of the factories and institutions you will visit.

Before you start exploring, check the interactive desk to find what tours are available, and look carefully at the time lines that tell the story of the Oliva factory and Viarco company (located a few steps away, and which you can also visit).

If you’re wondering about the Viarco pencils, nothing better to clear your ideas than visiting the only pencil-making factory still in operation. Established in the city in 1931, the walls of the Viarco factory are a memento board of old poster-sized adverts of the company’s products, and the smell of graphite in the air reminds us of our time back in primary school.

Let’s now visit the looms at Heliotêxtil, where they make washing instruction labels for reputed international brands, car safety belts, and straps for sports bags. Find out more about the manufacturing process of ribbons, labels and trimmings, and see how thousands of metres of yarn can combine to make such complex patterns.

The reputation of Portuguese footwear

Footwear is one of Portugal’s biggest exports and São João da Madeira is the hub where it is manufactured. We suggest you start your tour by learning about the theory, science and training behind the footwear industry.

Many of the future Portuguese shoe designers train at the Footwear Industry Training Centre, which is already known abroad for the many prizes won by its students in several competitions. You will have a one-off opportunity to visit the training facilities, laboratories and production units that simulate the actual factories. Actually, this is the only school where students have all the resources they need to create a shoe, from start to finish. If you’re interested in the theory of the shoe industry, the Centre provides information on shoemaking over the years.

If you need more technical information, visit the Footwear Technological Centre of Portugal, a training facility for footwear professionals. Here, a group of technicians monitors the quality of new products and equipment in a laboratory and tests the strength of materials and the comfort of the final product.

Let’s leave training and research behind and move on! Helsar, one of the most important Portuguese footwear companies, manufactures internationally reputed women’s shoes. If you love shoes, be ready to spend a few hours at the museum hall of the factory showcasing the most representative shoe models of each collection since the factory went into business in 1979. At the warehouse, which you can also visit, you will find hundreds of hides ready to be transformed into shoes for the next collection, after they have gone through the production line where a lot of careful work goes into making them.

Moving on from high heels to men’s hand-made shoes by Evereste. Although Evereste produces some women’s models, it focuses particularly on men’s shoes, with its own brand, or for other brands and designers who commission their collections. In the company’s exhibition room, you can see examples of classical shoes and more modern shoes, ready to be customised to the client’s taste.

Hats: from São João da Madeira to the world

Did you know that the felt used in the hats worn by the British women police officers is made in São João da Madeira? The company Fepsa (http://www.fepsa.pt) has gained a stronghold in the business of raw fur, transforming it into felt to be used in the hatting industry. During the visit, you will see all stages of production and, at the end, visit the warehouse where the finished felt is stored, lined up according to colour.

Most of the raw materials used at Fepsa come from Cortadoria Nacional de Pêlo, a factory that processes animal fur from species not in danger to be sold raw to the clothing industry. Only some parts of this factory are open to visits.

From fur to felt, and from felt to hat: this is how a hat is made. Although this was the largest industry in São João da Madeira in the first half of the 20th century, nowadays no factory produces hats.

The Hat Museum, the only one of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula, preserves the history of this industry and manufactures some custom-made hats. The museum showcases the machinery and equipment used in the Industry and, of course, many hats from various time periods.

How to get there

There are several direct connections to Porto. If you choose to fly low cost, you can fly from London (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseille, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan Bergamo, Roma Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg Lübeck , Munich Memmingen and Dusseldorf Weeze.

In the summer, low cost companies fly from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.

Traditional airlines fly to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, and Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto, and Luanda. In the summer, you can also fly from Montreal, Brest and Brive.

If you’re leaving from Porto, you can get to São João da Madeira either by car or bus, on the A1. 

Where it is

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