Peneda-Gerês National Park is a well-kept natural jewel located northwest of Portugal about an hour a half from Porto sharing a border with Spain.
When I arrived in Porto from Sao Miguel sharing with the locals how beautiful the Azores island was, they’d tell me to visit Peneda-Gerês National Park. The locals would rave about the natural beauty of Mother Nature and how it’s a fantastic place for nature and outdoor enthusiast. What makes it even extra special it is home to numerous granite remote villages are kept in its form.
Naturally, I was determined to check this national treasure out. Since the park covers an area of approximately 80,000 hectares and there is very little in the way of public transport to Peneda-Gerês, it is best to either rent-a-car or sign up for the services of a tour company to get around.
As I prefer to have the peace of mind of having someone who knows where they are going in the mountains, I opted for the latter. The last thing I want to do is to get lost in the wilderness. And chose to book an adventure tour with Oporto Adventures.
*It is possible to rent a car and go on your own but note the roads are windy and narrow inside the national park. If you intend to navigate yourself, I would suggest making sure you have a full tank well before entering the park, check-in with the park staff and getting information. For those who want to stay the night, Soajo is a village that has the most accommodation and eating options.
The day exploring the park with Oporto Adventures begins at 8:30 am in a 4x4 Land Rover equipped with plenty of bottles of water available to hydrate you throughout the day.
- Bring a swimsuit to swim in waterfalls and lagoons or wear it underneath your hiking clothes;
- Bring a plastic bag for your wet suit;
- Bring flipflops;
- Bring sunscreen;
- Bring sunglasses;
- Wear good sneaker or hiking boots;
- Dress in active wear and layers (if you are exploring Gerês in the Fall and Spring when weather is more unpredictable);
Our first stop was a visit to Fafião Village. This is a self- sustainable 200 years-old village and here we learned about the life and customs of the village. Large stones and granite slabs are used to build houses, traps to hunt wolves (Fojo do Lobo de Fafião) in the past and granaries used for food storage.
Next we went off-roading. Prepare for a bumpy and adventurous ride as you marvel at the magnificent sceneries dominated by mountain ranges, lush forests, wild florals.
Alongside mother nature, it’s also not unusual to come across a variety of wild and farm animals roaming around freely inside the park. We came across the Cachena cow and a wild horse. I’ve never seen a cattle with such majestic long horns.
You will also hike and get to chase waterfalls. The one we hiked to was Tahiti waterfalls and you can go for a dip in the pristine water. From time to time if you are lucky, you ‘ll catch a rainbow as you the sunlight catches the waterfall.
Along our hikes, we were introduced to some wild medronhos. This was a fruit that was a cross between a strawberry and raspberry and tastes like sweet strawberry short cake. The Portuguese are known to make a brandy liquor and jams out of it.
Lunch was included where we got to taste traditional Portuguese food in the region that offered a great panoramic view.
In the afternoon, we continued to explore the park and stopped by the Miradoura da Pedra Bela. This is one of the best lookout points where you can see the mountains, river, and the foliage of Peneda Geres National Park. And on a clear day you can also see the historic city Braga.
Then it was another hike in Mata de Albergaria through Geira Romana. This was an ancient Roman road built by the Roman empire. Back in the day it connected two important Roman cities – Braga (now in Portugal) and Astorga (Spain) and was pinnacle to the growth and maintenance of the empire.
The path and the paving slabs and boulders were filled with moss and lichen and gave it a magical Chronicles of Narnia feel to it. Truly colossal and monumental walking path that ended with a view of the Vilarinho das Furnas lake.
There is no doubt the day in Peneda-Gerês National Park just barely scratched the surface and there is so much more to explore. What I love about the park is the uniqueness of how mother nature and the historic relics of civilization is not only well-kept and unspoiled for us to enjoy but also to imagine how people in the past experienced and interacted with this beautiful region.
Next time, I would like to head further north and visit the natural hot springs on the Gerês side and Lobios Caldaria thermal spa in Spain. And if I am feeling daring, I may try canyoning in Gerês.