Passadiços do Mondego, aka the Mondego Boardwalks, in the Serra da Estrela Mountains near Guarda have recently opened to the public so I went to find out what they’re like.
In a word, awesome!
Thanks to the success of the Passadiços do Paiva project, there are an increasing number of boardwalk hiking trails in Portugal. These wooden platforms, built onto the hillsides, allow you to appreciate parts of the countryside that were previously extremely challenging or impossible to walk, especially remote river valleys like the Mondego.
My friends and I went on an icy but gloriously sunny Sunday in January and were impressed, not only with the feats of engineering involved in creating the boardwalks but also with the level of organisation involved.
What I hadn’t anticipated, having done almost zero research, was that not all of the 12 km trail is boardwalk and there are at least three short suspension bridges to cross.
The non-wooden sections of the trail are mostly on wide tracks but these were treacherously slippy because of the ice. This probably won’t be an issue if you’re doing this in warmer months but I would have been much happier with my hiking poles.
We remain unconvinced by the advice that one of our group had picked up online about starting from Videmonte to avoid a long climb at the other end. The so-called shorter climb to Mizarela dam is steep and brutal (but entirely avoidable – I’ll explain later).
Even so, the views and landscape were well worth the effort.
What will you see on the Passadiços do Mondego walk?
Near the Videmonte entrance there’s a lovely waterfall and the ruins of a watermill, one of several along the route.
As you’d expect from a route that’s named after a river, you get to see the Rio Mondego in various states of splendour, surrounded by boulder-covered hillsides.
An odd patch of woodland adds variety, as do the remains of larger mills and wool factories. The largest of these, is the Engenho Grande (Large Mill) Morocco Factory, was built in 1850 by the João Corsino & Irmãos Company. The wool blankets and yarn it produced was sold in London, Belgium as well as throughout Portugal.
There are a couple of weirs, such as the one at Pateiro, and lots of weird and wonderful rock formations.
Near the Caldeirão end, there are some deep, rounded holes in the granite, formed by the continuous wear of small stones and sand carried by the current. They’re known locally as the Giant’s Kettle geosite.
There’s another geosite near the Videmonte end with intriguing metasediment rock formations, created 541 million years ago! Both have explanatory information boards on the walkway if you’re curious to know more.
You also get to see an area that was mined in the 1950s and 1960s for tin and tungsten, near the Alto Mondego viewpoint.
By the time we got to the top of the steps at the Caldeirão dam, we were so exhausted and relieved to see a waiting taxi driver that we didn’t really pay much attention to the structure but it’s impressive. Especially when you consider just how much water it’s holding back – the reservoir has a flood surface of 66 hectares.
We had plenty of opportunities to stop and look back over the valley as we made our way up the steep steps and the views are pretty amazing, even if the fading light means that my photos don’t do them justice.
One thing we didn’t do, which you could, is visit the hamlet of Vila Soeiro, which was locally nicknamed Cape of the World (Cabo do Mundo).
Are there any toilets?
Yes! No need for peeing behind a bush on this trail. There’s a toilet at around the 4 km mark and at the Videmonte car park. There’s more than likely one at Caldeirão but we didn’t stay long enough to check.
What about refreshments?
There are a couple of snack bars along the trail but it’s probably best to bring your own water and something to eat. There’s a café at Ponte Mizarela and a restaurant in the village.
Videmonte has a few cafés, shops and a nice-looking restaurant called Afonso’s Wine House.
Otherwise, your best bet for full meals would be Guarda.
Where are the Mondego Boardwalks?
On the northeastern side of the Serra da Estrela natural park in central Portugal, the start/end points are Mizarela dam and a car park just outside the village of Videmonte.
How long is the Passadiços do Mondego trail?
The full linear route between Caldeirão dam and Videmonte is just under 12 kilometres (about 7.5 miles) but there are a couple of options for shortening this, especially if you don’t fancy or cannot manage the steep steps at either end.
It took us about 4.5 hours to complete the 12 kms – it’s slow going up those steps!
Shorter options are:
- Start at Videmonte, walk to the first suspension bridge and then turn around and go back up the hill. This is around 4 km in total and involves a gradual climb to return to the car park.
- Start at the Pateiro Hydroelectric power station to follow the wheelchair accessible trail as far as the suspension bridge (2 km) then turn around and return to the car park (4 km total). Note that as at the end of January 2023, this pathway was still under construction so double-check the status of this before attempting to use a wheelchair there.
- Start at Videmonte and walk to the café at Ponte da Mizarela (approx 10 km) then call a taxi to pick you up and take you back to the Videmonte car park. You might want to go for a little wander around the hamlet of Vila Soeiro beforehand.
How to get to the Mondego Boardwalks
You’ll need some form of transport to get to any of the starting points – a car is the easiest option.
You probably won’t want to walk 24 kilometres (12 km each way) but luckily there’s no need to, even if you’re driving. There are usually taxis waiting at each end to take you back to your car.
We started at Videmonte and walked to Caldeirão dam, where the parking facilities are limited. I think it might be preferable to park at Videmonte, take a taxi to Caldeirão then walk back to your car, although you may have to call a taxi if you do this in the morning. By the time we got back to Videmonte (around 4 pm), there were lots of taxis waiting.
The local taxi drivers seem to have agreed a set fare of €15, although you may need to pay extra if you call a taxi that has to come from Guarda so always check.
If you are staying in Coimbra area and need a driver for the day, try Espirito da Liberdade.
There is a train station in Guarda so if you can get that far by public transport, you could use taxis to get to and from the start/end points of the trail.
Where to stay
Without your own transport, you’ll probably need to overnight in Guarda so check out accommodation options. The Solar De Alarcao is a 17th century manor house in the centre of the town. Alternatively, see what’s available on Booking.com.
Can I just turn up to the Passadiços do Mondego?
You have to buy tickets online in advance because the number of daily visitors is limited. That said, in quieter months, you can probably buy them on the day or the day before. The price is a nominal €1 per person.
What are the opening times?
Open 9 am to 5 pm every day (1st November to 31st March) and 8 am to 6 pm April to October.
For more information see this website.