Arcos de Valdevez bridge

The view from a glass-fronted riverside café one afternoon in Arcos de Valdevez was enough to convince me that this northern Portuguese village warranted further exploration. That’s partly why I accepted an invitation to follow the Lima Valley Giants Route. Being keen to learn more about the history, countryside and culture of this part of Portugal, the route enabled me to kill more than two birds with one stone.

The Lima Valley Giant from Arcos de Valdevez, Father Himalaya (1868 to 1933), was not only a gifted inventor but also unusually tall for a Portuguese man, especially over a century ago. Everyone called him by the nickname ‘Himalaya’ and he ended up making it his official name.

He was also rather attractive, which no doubt helped him gain sponsorship from wealthy ladies to fund his revolutionary projects such as the Pyrheliophero (Sun Machine) which harnessed the sun’s rays using thousands of mirrors generating temperatures of over 3,200°C. His pioneering work into renewable energies and solar power is still widely respected today. My guide, Luís Fernandes, also teaches renewable energy and is clearly a Himalaya fan.

Father Himalaya’s birth and final resting place

Luís took me to Himalaya’s grave in the cemetery at Igreja de Cendufe, which is covered with plaques dedicated to his memory and achievements. Just down the hill, we stopped at the house where he was born, currently occupied by private owners but visible from the arched entrance to Casa da Costa.

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Monte do Castelo

The countryside between Cendufe and Arcos de Valdevez is truly beautiful with terraced slopes of green farmland, the odd-shaped peak of Castelo da Nóbrega across the valley and undulating outlines of mountains in the distance. After a few kilometers of windy country lanes, we reached the small church of Nossa Senhora do Castelo (Our Lady of the Castle). On the first weekend of May, almost 2000 people join the 7 km procession as her statue is carried from Arcos up the hill to the chapel. The stone picnic tables and benches in the woods behind it would be crammed with people during the open air mass.

The castle the Lady is named after no longer exists; it was made of wood so the only trace of it is a square hole in one of the boulders which used to hold one of the supporting beams. You can reach the site by following the brown signs for Monte do Castelo from the N301. The views across the valley and the Serra Amarela mountains of Peneda-Gerês National Park are well worth the effort.

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A bridge over the River Vez

Once you get past the creeping urban sprawl of Arcos de Valdevez, its still pretty historical centre spreads uphill away from the river. The arched bridge across the River Vez was built while Father Himalaya was a child, totally replacing the previous Romanesque structure. At this point, the river is wide and calm although its flow is interrupted a little further downstream by a line of rocks creating a short waterfall.

Further upstream, the shouts and splashes of a game of kayak polo in progress pierced the serenity of the riverside park. If you continue following the river as it curves upstream, you’ll reach the local river beach which was already attracting sunbathers when I visited in April.

Architecture in Arcos de Valdevez

As for the Lima Valley Giants Route, most of the buildings in the old part of town were around during Father Himalaya’s lifetime, including the Igreja do Espirito Santo located in a lovely square with gardens and trees next to a grand 18th century building which is now the Casa das Artes. The library has stunning ceilings with original paintings and a small exhibition of books and a video about Father Himalaya. Ask at the counter if you want to watch the film (it’s around an hour long) and you’ll be taken to the multimedia centre which is housed in the former kitchen where you can still see the stone sinks and oven.

The unusual stone pillory opposite the peach-coloured town hall was made by João Lopes o Velho (the Old), the renowned stonemason responsible for the 16th century water fountain in Viana do Castelo’s Praca da República.

Between here and Largo da Lapa you’ll find the oldest building in town, the tiny Gothic Capela de Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Chapel of Our Lady of Conception) which was built at the end of the 14th century. Continue along the street to reach the small square, dominated by a curved white 18th century church, Igreja da Lapa, and the circular water clock which definitely wasn’t around when Father Himalaya was alive.

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A living legend in Arcos de Valdevez

Nor was Delfim Pereiras Amorim, owner of Tasca Delfim. Now retired, Delfim was an internationally acclaimed accordion player and his bar is crammed with his vast collection of instruments and keepsakes, every one of them with a story behind it. He obliges me by playing a little tune when I ask if I can take a photo of him with an accordion. When asked to point out his favourite, he reaches behind a chair and pulls out a heavy case to reveal a beautiful shiny red machine.

Local cakes and dishes in Arcos de Valdevez

It is possible, however, that Father Himalaya enjoyed some of the sweet treats from Doçaria Central which has been producing pão de ló (very soft sponge cake), charutos dos Arcos (cigar-shaped rolls of sweetened egg yolk wrapped in soft wafers encrusted with sugar) and rebouçadas dos Arcos (wrapped cylinders of hard boiled sugar guaranteed to keep you quiet for a while) since 1830. Made using antique machinery, the recipes are a closely guarded family secret.

Other local gastronomic specialities include posta de cachena com arroz fe feijão tarrestre (veal steak from the long-horned cows that roam the slopes of Peneda-Gerês served with a bean and rice stew). I tried this at Restaurante O Pote and although very tasty, the meat was unfortunately a little on the chewy side. The bean and rice stew was delicious.

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Horse riding around Arcos de Valdevez

Such a beautiful landscape is a haven for horse riders and nature lovers in general. Although I sadly didn’t have time to go on an extended trek, I did manage to squeeze in a 1 1/2 hour hack through a village and into the forest. Once mounted on my beautiful, patient and well-trained horse, Luna, we plodded past smallholdings with their pointy stacks of corn stalks, cabbage and potato patches, mini vineyards and chicken runs. Even on such a short ride, the scenery varied and at one point, I found myself looking across the valley to Monte Castelo where I’d been only the day before.

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As we rode, Carlos, the owner of  Quinta do Fijó, told me about the 2 and 3-day treks he organizes along the Wolf Trail in Peneda-Gerês National Park and the protected area of Corno do Bico which can be combined to create a week’s horse riding holiday. I’m not a skilled or confident rider but he assures me that the treks are suitable even for beginners. I’m seriously tempted…

Other adventures around Arcos de Valdevez

If you’re looking for a nature fix, Arcos and the Lima valley can deliver it in spades. Whether you just want to sit and admire it or take on its challenges through adventure sports, there are plenty of opportunities to do so including canyoning, climbing, 4-wheel-drive tours and cycling as well as plenty of hikes. Check out Nature 4 or this list of local tour operators (in Portuguese but with contact details) to get expert local help.

Where to stay in Arcos de Valdevez

I spent the night in Quinta das Cortinhas, a charming traditional house on the outskirts of Arcos. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, it’s hosted many renowned writers and politicians over the years. Its 17th century azulejos were brought from the family home in Lisbon and originally decorated the external walls of the house. Sadly, repeated thefts forced the family to move most of the remaining tiles inside where they line the walls of the breakfast room.

Guest rooms vary in size and facilities so if space is an issue for you, check before booking. Some are in the main house, others are in a stone building which used to house the bread oven, pigeon house and stables. The best time to stay here would be the summer months (June to September) when Paula is on site to keep everything in order and it’s warm enough to make use of the outdoor pool.

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If this doesn’t suit you, you could have a look at other hotels and accommodations in and around Arcos de Valdevez.

More information

Arcos de Valdevez on Google Maps

Local council website (in Portuguese but with contact details for useful places and institutions)

Lima Valley Giants Route (my introductory post about the route)

Disclosure: CENTER hosted my stay in the Lima valley while showing me the Lima Valley Giants Route. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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15 Comments

  1. Hello Julie Dawn Fox,
    JC or JC Rodrigues stands for José Carlos Rodrigues.
    Jacinto Rodrigues, Professor in Oporto University and writer of a biography about Father Himalaya, “A Conspiração Solar do Padre Himalaya” in 1999, has participated in a movie about this pioneer of solar energy “A Utopia do Padre Himalaya” in 2003, Lx Filmes, and more recently has organized with me, Rosa Oliveira, a book with many documents concerning Father Himalaya “Padre Himalaya Antologia com Textos Inéditos” edited to Câmara Municipal dos Arcos de Valdevez in 2013. The international portuguese television, RTP Int., have done a documentary about this subject.
    (http://www.rtp.pt/play/p2097/e217330/a-porta-da-historia)

    Fantastic job on the blog,
    Jacinto Rodrigues

  2. Hello Julie, may I recommend a e-reading for those visiting Portugal, especially Arcos de Valdevez, or my home town of Cendufe? I was born in Cendufe, the land of Padre Himalaya you so nicely talk about in your article, but I lived most of my life in Canada. I write with a passion for my homeland, and I have written about Father Manuel Gomes Himalaya in a wonderful historical autobiographical fiction novel, The Niche of Sao Tiago (in English and available on Amazon for 2.99) I am sure it will help any tourist visiting Northern Portugal slow down into the cultural context of the end of the 19th and 20th century and learn about this amazing figure who won the Grand Pix for innovation in 1904 at the Saint Louis Missouri world fair – a real pioneer is solar energy and environment. If your traveling with your kids, may I recommend Volume 1 of my series Little Himalaya – The Celtic Warrior of Sancti Jacobi. This is also available on Amazon for a little fee and a great 40k word fantasy, historical fiction novel that brings out the great migrations of the celts from Austria to northern Portugal, the childhood of Father Himalaya, his first year in school (all on the year when Soccer (futebol) was born)… its a funny, serious, and family novel that I am sure all young spirits (and adults) after the age of 9 will love.
    Best Regards Julie, and thank you so much for writing about the land of the celts, my ancestors, in Northern Portugal.
    Hugs to all members from Northern Canada.
    JC Rodrigue

  3. Dear Julie,

    It’s me again. Sorry to bother you again…. may I ask….is the tap water in Portugal drinkable? Thank you. ^^

    1. Author

      Yes, it is. If in a public space, you see a sign by the taps that says ‘agua não potável’, then it’s not safe to drink but otherwise, it’s ok.

      1. Thank you, Julie. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

  4. Hi Julie,

    I am taking my two kids, 3 and 6, and my mom, 72, to travel in Portugal from end of July to end of August. We are from Taiwan, summer is hot and humid. But my friends in Italy warns me it is extremely hot in the Europe this year. The temp could be up to 40! I can’t believe it as the record hot in Taiwan is only 35 which we already can’t stand.

    May I ask you three quick questions:
    1) as my toddler, I have to use the stroller. But many people told me Portugal is a country with a lot of up-and-down landscape. I am now so worried about it. Any advice, please?
    2) as we are afraid of the heat(especially for kids and my old mama), would you please kindly advise some places for us to visit?
    3) we are also very afraid of the safety issue. Many told us they got pickpocketted in the Europe and said “our group” could be an easy target, old woman, women with two little kids. I just do not know how to waive this panic. Any advice?

    Thank you for your patience and time. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Hi Sara Lee, I can put your mind at ease with regards to the safety issue. Portugal is one of the afest countries I know. You need to keep an eye on your belongings when in crowded spaces, especially the metro and the trams in Lisbon, and to some extent Porto, but generally speaking, as long as you aren’t being silly and leaving your bag open with money or valuables on show, you should have no problem.

      As for strollers, I’l say that other families manage perfectly well, although some pavements may be uneven or not have a dip in the curb but these shouldn’t cause you too much trouble. There are lots of hills though, and the heat in unavoidable at this time of year. You might find coastal areas to be a) flatter and b) a little cooler thank to a sea breeze. I’d avoid inland Alentejo and central Portugal if the heat bothers you that much. The hottest part of the day tends to be mid afternoon so it’s probably best to be in shade on a beach somewhere or even n an air conditioned space at that time of day. Museums and shopping centres will be air conditioned.

      1. Hi Julie

        One quick question… by the time we are in Portugal(25 July to 25 Aug), will it be too hot to stay at non-A/C hotel room as I see many rooms is not even equipped with fans.

        Thank you for your time.

        1. Author

          If you are concerned, I’d make sure you have the option of aircon. Sometimes you can manage without – I don’t have it at home and only switched it on once while in a hotel in Lisbon at the weekend – but I would book somewhere with whenever possible. If it’s an old stone building with thick walls, it may stay cool enough. If in doubt, ask the property.

          1. Thank you so much.

    2. Thank you, Julie. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

  5. Hello Julie,
    It was nice to read your article about the valley of Valdevez and the route of the giants… thank you so much. I have contributed with a novel in 2007 that is parallel story-telling with a Canadian Immigrant and the search for clues on the Himalaya machine and life.
    It is also available on Amazon in English and in Portuguese
    I have also just published one for youth about the same character, Little Himalaya, only available on Amazon.
    Best regards
    jc rodrigue

    1. Author

      Hello Jacinto,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment and to share the link to your novel. It sounds fascinating! father Himalaya certainly was an inspirational and incredible man and, having seen the film in Casa das Artes, I know you have devoted a considerable portion of your time and energies to researching his life and achievements.

  6. another great reporting, Julie
    when I make a trip your blog is one of the first places I consult

    1. Author

      Very pleased to hear that, Jan. Thanks for taking the time to read and to share your thoughts.

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