Getting to the tiny Serra Amarela mountain village of Ermida is an adventure in itself. A single track road twists steeply up the mountainside, affording occasional gut-lurching glimpses of a rocky river bed in the canyon below. I decided to play it safe and pull over into a lay-by to admire the view rather than risk taking my eyes off the narrow ribbon of tarmac and cobbles.
It wasn’t just the vehicles hurtling towards me from the other direction that made for a hair-raising journey. I also found my path blocked by herds of goats and placid but scary-looking long-horned Cachena cattle grazing on the hillsides.
Located inside the boundaries of Peneda Gerês National Park, Ermida is no prettied up touristy village. Residents go about their small-scale farming duties with relatively little interference from tourists and perhaps not quite enough services from the local council judging by the overflowing communal rubbish bin.
The cattle I’d passed en route to the village sleep in barns and under homes in the centre of the village. While wandering through the narrow alleys between cottages, I almost got a shovelful of straw and shit in my face as I edged my way past a growing pile of the stuff cascading from a small window under someone’s living quarters.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all ugly and smelly. Some of the cottages have bright flowers cascading from the upper balcony and there are a few relatively tasteful restorations although functionality and cost seem to be the overriding concerns in this remote community. The pristine village church is the by far the most well-kept looking building in the village with golden granite and clean cement.
Peaceful and picturesque
After wandering aimlessly through the village, dodging manure and playing with a friendly puppy, I ended up on a cobbled road leading towards a wooded area higher on the hill. Unlike most of the fairly bare surrounding slopes, the mountainside just above Ermida sports several varieties of trees, planted many years ago by the locals to support their self-sufficiency.
Passing by a jigsaw of miniature walled fields, a ruined watermill and a long-abandoned Land Rover, I came to a stream in the middle of an ancient vineyard and the moss-covered ruins of some cottages. A perfect spot to sit for a while in the shade of a grove of old oak trees listening to the babble of the water and the chatter of birds.
Walking and other activities
There are several walking trails leading to and from Ermida including one that’s signposted from the oak tree grove I was sitting in. Make sure you’re adequately informed and prepared before hiking though.
There’s also a rocky river ‘beach’ (no facilities or sand) just off a bend in the road shortly before you reach the village. Look for a grassy patch that’s big enough for several cars to park. Even though that’s what I’d gone in search of initially, I spent so long in the village I didn’t have time to check it out in person.
If you use a local guide or activity company from Ponte da Barca or Arcos de Valdevez to help you explore the area, they’ll know all the best spots for crystal clear lagoons with waterfalls for cooling off.
If you want more of an adrenaline rush, you could try canyoning, climbing, river bed trekking or any of the other adventure sports on offer.
More information about Peneda Gerês National Park
This day trip from Porto to the Peneda Gerês National Park goes to Ermida, as well as some gorgeous natural swimming spots.