Peneda-Gêres waterfalls and lagoon

One highly underrated hiking destination in Europe is Portugal’s only National Park, Peneda-Gerês. Boasting minimal crowds plus secret lagoons and waterfalls to discover, this is one experience that you don’t want to miss out on.

In Peneda-Gerês you can experience seemingly untouched nature as well as a healthy dose of Portuguese village life.  Here’s a guide to taking a day trip from Porto to Peneda-Gerês National Park with Oporto Adventure Tours, written by Jade Laurenza and illustrated with her photos.

“I took this day trip with my mother during our annual Europe trip in 2019.  While neither of us are particularly avid hikers, we both appreciate being outdoors in nature, scenic vistas, and a good workout. After doing a bit of research, I decided that this day trip from Porto to Peneda-Gerês National Park would be perfect for us. While visiting Porto, we also took a day trip to the Douro Valley, another great experience!

Mountains and trees in Peneda Geres, Portugal
Mountains and trees in Peneda Geres, Portugal

Not wanting to venture off into the mountains alone, we booked a day with Oporto Adventure Tours. This turned out to be an excellent option, and I’d highly recommend our experience. The day lasts for roughly ten hours and costs $105 from Viator.

About Peneda-Gerês National Park

Peneda-Gerês is the only designated national park in Portugal! Situated in Northern Portugal, the park is quite close to the Spanish border.

The area spans just over 700 sq. km, virtually all of which is inhabited by humans. There are strict regulations in place to conserve the fragile ecosystems that call Peneda-Gerês home.

The area is named for the two largest mountains in the region, Peneda and Gerês.

Read more about the park itself in this post: How To Explore Peneda-Gerês National Park: Villages & Hiking Trails

Getting there

Located just over an hour’s drive from the city, Peneda-Gerês National Park is conveniently located for an easy day trip from Porto.

Oporto Adventure Tours offers hotel pick-up in the beautiful city of Porto. Unless you’re staying too far from the center, there’s literally nothing you have to do. Pick-up is at 8:30 am.

Of course, you have the option to rent a car as well and go on your own. The appeal of going with a tour company was going in a 4×4 with a local guide to take us to the park’s hidden gems and less crowded places. Secret lagoons to take a dip in the hot June sun? Yes, please!

People sitting on top of a 4x4 on a Peneda Geres small group tour
4×4 Peneda Geres small group tour

Hiking Peneda-Gerês

I would say the route we took was considered easy to moderate, though I’m not a seasoned hiker. Our small group of six, pictured above, were all in good health and physically fit.

Our hike through Peneda-Gerês lasted about six or seven hours. We wandered through a spectacular maze of regenerating oak forests and rolling green valleys. The park has peat bogs to explore as well as 300 million-year-old granite mountains!

Note from Julie: If you enjoy hiking vacations, check out this self-guided walking holiday in the Peneda-Gerês National Park.

Hiking in Peneda-Gerês on a day trip from Porto
Hiking in Peneda-Gerês on a day trip from Porto

Not to mention the most beautiful colored swimming holes (of course I didn’t pack a bathing suit). Worth noting: while Peneda-Gerês National Park is accessible year-round, the only time swimming is possible is between the months of March-October.

Swimming in lagoon, Peneda-Gerês Portugal
Swimming in lagoon, Peneda-Gerês Portugal

There are some steep inclines but nothing was too arduous, even for my sixty-something year old mom! Go, Laurie! Oporto Adventure Tours does not recommend this hike for people with knee injuries, back problems, heart problems, or other serious medical conditions. If you’re unsure, reach out and check with them.

Two women hiking down a mountain
Two women hiking down a mountain

The hike was broken up into increments, and in between hikes we’d take the 4×4 to different locations hand-picked by our local guide. We didn’t encounter another group or tourist during the entire day in the mountains, making for perfect photos and quality time.

We stopped along the way to take in the wild landscapes, waterfalls, and secret swimming holes. Our small group was perfect and our guide, Bruno, felt like an old friend showing us around.

Local food in Peneda-Gerês

After a long day of hiking, everyone in the group was famished. Between the climbing, yoga photos, and hot June sun, I think I was bordering on hangry (not unusual for me).

We stopped by a local restaurant to try some vinho verde and traditional Portuguese food, which was out-of-this-world! Among the highlights of the many dishes we sampled was caldo verde, a hearty soup made of kale, potatoes, garlic, and chouriço.

Anyone who knows me knows I love to eat and I love quality food. Exploring the local cuisine of any country I’m visiting is one of my favorite aspects of travel. Portuguese food is alone worth the trip to Portugal!

The wolves of Fafião

After everyone’s bellies were full of wine and caldo verde, we set off on our next stop: the village of Fafião. Located on the eastern side of Peneda-Gerês National Park, Fafião is a unique village with an interesting history.

Wolf trap, Fafião, Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portual
Wolf trap, Fafião, Portual

Known for its agro-pastoral activities, Fafião attracted the Iberian wolves of the region who were looking for an easy dinner. This, obviously, created problems with the villagers who were trying to keep their herds alive which led to the creation of fojos (wolf traps).

The largest and best-preserved on the Iberian peninsula is the Fojo do Lobo de Fafião, which we had the opportunity to visit. It consists of two converging granite walls and a circular pit that would trap the wolves, where villagers would be waiting to kill it. This wasn’t done for sport, but rather, to protect the goats and cattle of the village.

In Fafião, Bruno shared with us the widespread community efforts to protect the livelihood of the village: Vezeiras. A Vezeira was when a different person each week would drive the village cattle to Monte de Baixo. The designated person would be charged with protecting and caring for the herds on his specific week. This allowed other inhabitants of the village to focus on daily responsibilities, such as farming, cleaning, or producing consumables.

The Vezeiras of Fafião is a beautiful example of community effort and perseverance. Among other examples of community cooperation include community watermills, and both olive and wine presses that were for the use of the village.

Sustainable tourism in Peneda-Gerês National Park

By far the number one reason to go with Oporto Adventure Tours for your day trip from Porto to Peneda-Gerês National Park is for the company’s community and sustainability efforts.

Part of the sale from your ticket goes directly back into the community. This allows locals the resources to support themselves and continue to protect the forest. The community helps the local economy by creating jobs and aiding in reforestation efforts in Peneda-Gerês.”

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