Peneda Gerês National Park fauna and geology

Exploring Peneda-Gerês National Park

My day in the Peneda-Gerês National Park didn’t go according to plan and I ended up seeing more of its rugged landscapes than I’d expected to. It was still only a taster and I’m keen to return and explore it in more depth.

In a bid to whet your appetite for travelling to Portugal’s only national park, I’ll show you some of the highlights and give you tips for finding the information you need to plan your own adventure.

View from Tibo of Peneda-Gerês National Park
View of Peneda-Gerês National Park from Tibo

Unfortunately for me, the weather was grim. I wasn’t the only one who was reluctant to start hiking in the rain though. My guides, Paulo Lopes and Isabel Sousa from Portugal Green Walks, were also concerned about the weather conditions on the mountain tops. We decided to ditch our planned walk to the top of Peneda in favour of a driving tour of the park with shorter walks and scenic stops.

Short walking trails near Parada

Peneda-Gerês National Park forms a wobbly M shape around Portugal’s border with Spain. Because of its size, there are several entrance points but as we were coming from Ponte da Barca, our first stop was Parada. The village itself is worth a wander; it was once a very important village in the area and you can still see the former jail and council buildings.

It’s also the starting point for a couple of walking trails. We walked part of the Trilho dos Moinhos (Path of the mills) along rock-lined trails and over wooden bridges.

Trilho dos Moinhos, Parada, Peneda-Gerês National Park
Trilho dos Moinhos, Parada, Peneda-Gerês National Park

Isabel and Paulo had lots more they wanted to show me so we stopped at Poço da Gola, one of the many lagoons in the park, and turned back. The complete walk is 6 km (just under 4 miles) and looks like this. The shorter (4 km) Trilho do Penedo Encanto (Charming Boulder Path) takes you to some ancient rock art.

Lovely Lindoso

Lindoso used to be the ‘capital’ of the area and still has the remains of a castle. It’s more famous these days for having the largest collection of stone espigueiros (corn storage houses) around. Most of its 54 espigueiros stand around the communal eira (threshing floor) and some are still used by the villagers.

The round stones at the top of their legs are a cunning way of keeping mice out of the corn store; mice can’t defy gravity! Each espigueiro has a cross on top in order to encourage divine protection.

Stone grain stores and communal drying and thrashing space, Lindoso, Peneda Gerês National Park
Stone grain stores and communal drying and threshing space, Lindoso, Peneda-Gerês National Park

The other reason to stop in Lindoso is because it’s one of the five Park Gates. You should come here (or one of the other gates) to buy maps of walking trails and/or check on their current status if you’ve already downloaded a PDF version. Some park centres sell locally made handicrafts and all have information about the flora, fauna and geological features of the park. They also have toilet facilities.

Alto Lindoso Dam

We left Lindoso behind and took the scenic route to the other side of the valley, stopping briefly to peer over the Alto Lindoso Dam. Recent heavy rains meant that the reservoir was full so the force of the water being purged through the dam into the river below was mighty and impressive.

Alto Lindoso Dam, Peneda-Gerês National Park
Alto Lindoso Dam, Peneda-Gerês National Park

The reservoir supplies the hydroelectric power station and it’s possible to go inside the dam for a tour (in Portuguese) if you reserve in advance.

Senhora da Peneda Sanctuary

After driving through dramatic and constantly changing scenery, and passing several cows grazing at the roadside, we arrived at the sanctuary of Senhora da Peneda. Thankfully, we didn’t have to climb the hundreds of steps leading up to the church. The sanctuary is a hub for pilgrims from the region who follow well-worn walking routes from the mountain villages and larger towns such as Monção and Arcos de Valdevez.

Cachena cow, Peneda-Gerês National Park
Cachena cow, Peneda-Gerês National Park

Soajo

Our next stop was Soajo, a large village that has its own collection of espigueiros perched on large boulders below the castle.

Espigueiros, Soajo, Peneda Gerês National Park
Espigueiros, Soajo, Peneda-Gerês National Park

There are various footpaths from Soajo connecting it with Lindoso, Peneda and surrounding villages. We set off on the Caminhos do Pão e do Fé (Paths of Bread and Faith). Faith because it’s one of the pilgrimage routes to Senhora da Peneda and other religious sites. Bread because it leads to the grain mills at the top of the village. Plural because the routes merge.

Signpost for walking trails, Peneda Gerês National Park
Signpost for walking trails, Peneda-Gerês National Park

The stones have deep grooves worn into them from years of ox-drawn carts transporting corn from the lower fields to the series of water-powered mills and making the return journey with sacks of flour. Away from the main road, the footpath passes traditional stone cottages and walls. Looking back downhill, the views are of terraced, cultivated fields with wild mountains in the distance.

Grooves in the track
Grooves in the track, Caminhos do Pão e do Fé
Caminho do Pão e do Fé, Soajo, Peneda Gerês National Park
Caminho do Pão e do Fé, Soajo, Peneda-Gerês National Park

Walking without a guide

It’s possible to do most of the shorter walks without a guide if you look out for the yellow and red route markers painted onto rocks. Some of the ancient shepherds’ routes are marked with piles of stones known as mariolas (cairns).

If you intend to do any of the more remote trails, you should get hold of a leaflet or a PDA (see below) and always check with the park staff what the current state of the path is. Maintaining such a vast park is a massive job and the weather takes its toll.

PDAs

Some of the trails have been put onto hand-held devices (PDAs) which you can hire from Park Gates. For these PDA and GPS routes, it’s also possible to download a PDF of the route which is better quality than the maps on the leaflets. Look for the link that says ‘Letter from the Route’.

Tiny fields with stone walls, Peneda Gerês National Park
Tiny fields with stone walls, Peneda-Gerês National Park

Why a guide might be a good idea

Walking with someone who knows the terrain and the history of the park has several benefits. Not only do you get the peace of mind of knowing you won’t get lost in the mountains and eaten by wolves (I’m joking but there are still some around), you also learn more about the traditions and culture of these remote villages. If you have a leaflet, you’ll get some information but frankly, the English translation will leave you confused in many cases.

Water powered grain mill, Peneda Gerês National Park

A guide would also be able to tailor routes specifically for your group. If you arrange your walk in advance with a tour company, they can organise picnics and even traditional music or workshops en route. If you’d rather explore Peneda-Gerês by horse, they can take care of that for you, too. They can even sort out your accommodation if you want.

Get help planning your Peneda-Gerês experience

 

Driving tours of Peneda-Gerês National Park

You don’t have to miss out on the natural beauty of the park just because you’re not into walking. You could  do a self-guided driving tour of Peneda-Gerês that includes detailed route descriptions and handpicked accommodation.

Whatever you do, make sure you have a full tank of fuel well before entering the park as there aren’t any petrol stations inside.

Accommodation in Peneda-Gerês National Park

Peneda-Gerês is huge and beautiful and needs as much time as you can spare to fully appreciate it. You can camp, stay in traditional stone cottages in some of the villages, or choose one of the more modern hotels dotted around the park.

Here are some of the accommodation options in and around Soajo.

If you’re staying in Soajo, the village with the most accommodation and eating options, try Saber ao Borralho restaurant for traditional Portuguese food. Make sure you stock up on provisions before leaving Soajo as there’s little else around.

Getting to Peneda-Gerês National Park

Unfortunately, there is very little in the way of public transport to Peneda-Gerês so you’ll either need your own transport or the services of a tour company to get beyond Soajo. You’ll find information about routes, airports and public transport here.

Get help planning your Peneda-Gerês experience

 

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32 Comments

  1. Hello

    I’ve read your article about Peneda-Gêres in Portugal and I really like it. I am planning a citytrip to Porto in april and planning to spend one day in the Peneda-Gêres. I really would love to see some waterfalls (Pincaes, Tahiti, Arado), Ponte De Miserala, Pedra Bela and perhaps Castelo de Castro Laboreiro. Is it possible to visit these places in one day with a car combined with a little hike (found one that combines Arado waterfalls with Pedra Bela)? Are there any other beautiful, not-to-miss-places? I’ve been looking for routes to get to near this places with a car, but can’t really find if there are any parking possibilities in the environment of these places. Do you know something about the possibility to visit these places in one day?

    Regards, Bert

  2. Really great and informative!
    Thanks a lot!

  3. Thanks for all the info Julie, We are staying on the South border on the Penada Genres Park on a reservoir for a week in August 2016 with a 2 and 5 year old. Were would you recommend for us not to miss in the area as a family? We will b following this by a week on the coast just south of Porto on he beach of madelana. Thanks, Catherine T.

  4. Hi Julie My husband and I will be in Portugal in October. We are planning on going to Parque National Peneda-Greres for 3 nights and are trying to plan the trip. Could you help? We want to do some hiking anf touring in the park. Should we pick one place to stay and day trip or stay in multiple places to get to see the most? We will have a car. Also what will the weather be in the first half or October? Thanks Maureen

    1. Author

      Hi Maureen,

      Temperatures should still be warm during the day and not too cold at night but it’s impossible to say at this stage what the chance of rain will be. At that time of year, you could be faced with bright sunny days or torrential rain or anything in between so come prepared for various eventualities and always take advice from the park headquarters or a local before venturing into the wilderness on hikes.

      If you base yourself at one of the more central gates, you should be able to explore the park through day trips: http://adere-pg.pt/portas/

  5. Hi there, sounds really great. Is it also possible to do more-days walk in the park? (I mean not being based in one place, but cross the park from one side to another camping along).
    Thanks! Jana

  6. Thank you, I will try and report back if we ever get there!

  7. Great article and photos. Thinking of staying in Caldas do Geres for a few days at the end of June can you say of there is much local walking as we will have to use public transport from Porto and are just looking for day walks.

    1. Author

      Hi Sue, I’d start by looking at this website: http://adere-pg.pt/trilhos/uk/percursos3.php to find out about trails and park headquarters. Public transport is scarce so you might find yourselves quite limited as to which walks you can do. I think Soajo has the best connections but I’m not sure about that. I’d also ask at your accommodation – they may have info about self-guided walks or be able to put you in touch with a local guide.

  8. Super and informative.Is it possible to do all this in earlyJanuary?

    1. Author

      Hi there. It all depends on the weather. If it’s not too wet and windy, then yes. But there’s no way of knowing this far ahead what the weather will be like. It could be clear and dry, or not, so have a back up plan if that’s the only time of year you can visit. I went in April and we had to abandon the long walk we’d planned in favour of a driving tour with shorter walks. My advice is to check with a local guide or park headquarters and don’t take unnecessary risks – you don’t want the search and rescue team to have to come looking for you 😉

    1. Author

      Try http://www.aktivanatura.com/en/adventure-programs/. I met the owner, Luís, I think his name is, and he seems really nice (and professional). I haven’t been on any of his activities though.

      You could also ask Paulo from Portugal Green Walks (link in the post). If he doesn’t offer it directly, he’ll know someone who does!

  9. I’ve clicked on the Green Walks link, but it all seems to be about pilgrimages. Where do I find information about horse-back riding in the National Park? Thanks!

    1. Author

      Hi there. This is the link to the same company but the website is in Portuguese: http://www.oficinadanatureza.pt/ I suggest you contact Paulo by email or telephone (he speaks English) to discuss Tel: +351 936 077 462 info@oficinadanatureza.pt
      Alternatively, Quinta do Fijó in Arcos de Valdevez do treks into the Gerês http://quintadofijo.eu/ Carlos is the man to contact there. Either way, if you remember to tell them that you heard about them from me, that would be great!

  10. Hello
    Just read your article and sad to see your comment about being “eaten by wolves”. Surely its about time this myth was knocked on the head and not continued although I presume it was tongue in cheek and not meant seriously. Some people, however, need no encouragement to malign these wonderful creatures.
    I have by the way seen wolves in the wild on a number of occasions in Spain.
    Please clarify your comment for the ignorant who read it!
    Loraine

    1. Author

      I never expected anyone to take it seriously, Loraine!

      1. Unfortunately people do and so continues the persecution. We may know better but lots of people dont. Thank you for reply

    1. Author

      You should definitely do this next time you visit Portugal, Nancy. You’d love it.

  11. Ah! What a coincidence! I recently spent a week in Gerês 😀 Of course I’ll be sharing info and tips, just need some time to organize all the papers and photos – a job that never seems to end! I also tried one of the trails this time (9 km) but without a guide. Ooooh… adventurous! 😀

    1. Author

      I know what you mean about the time spent organising. I did this trip back in April but have been working non stop since then. Got loads more posts to write up, too!

      Looking forward to hearing all about your recent adventures.

  12. Those Espigueiros are called Horreos across the border in Galicia.
    Walking with a guide is a good idea – you will not get lost and you get to see a lot more. Hopefully they also know what to do in case you run into a touro bravo with long horns.

    1. Author

      Ha ha! Most of the long-horned cattle we met were cows but I wouldn’t want to make one angry with those twisty long horns! The local farmers let the cows roam free during the day and they all make their own way home when it’s time for bed. Amazing!

    1. Author

      You should definitely add Geres to your list, Jo. It’s wild, remote and fascinatingly different. I’m really glad I had people with me to explain about village life and customs, too. It really adds to the experience, I think. I love walking alone but sometimes expert company is worth having, even if you have to pay for it. ( I’m not on commision, btw) 😉

  13. Beautiful! We just came back a couple weeks ago from visiting LIsbon, Sintra, Evora & Carraterpeira. You make me want to go back and visit the national park!

    1. Author

      I hope you had a wonderful time in Portugal and I’m very pleased to hear you want to come back for more. Peneda Gerês is a lovely part of the country and totally different from the places you’ve just visited. You should start planning your next trip! 😉

      Let me know if you fancy being interviewed about your recent trip… I’ve never been to Carraterpeira so I’d love to know more about it.

  14. Marvellous photos, Julie! One of the very best corners of Portugal, although in my experience it always rains in Lindoso! It looks as though signposting has improved since we were last there – the “Sunflower” Guide for this area tends to abandon you halfway through a walk.

    The other great thing about this area is the food – try the “Arroz de Sarrabulho” – not for the faint-hearted, but just the thing after one of these walks. Oh, and the local squeezebox and cavaquinho playing.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Robert – praise indeed, coming from you 😉 I think there’s been a great deal of improvement with walking trails and markers, although they still have a tendency to disappear on you just when you need them most. I think the short walks around the major villages are probably fine but I’d want to have either a PDA or a real guide for anything longer, I think.

      I haven’t been brave enough to try the Sarrabulho rice yet but given the amount of morcela (black pudding in case anyone’s wondering) I’ve been eating lately, I suppose there’s no excuse for not giving it a go at some point. Am I right in thinking it’s a kind of blood rice?

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.