In the countryside along route 13 of Rota Vicentina, SW Portugal

This is one of the many routes of the Rota Vicentina network in southwest Portugal, and passes through the villages of Santa Clara-a-Velha, Sabóia and Totenique. The area is characterized by a rural landscape, where small farms can be found dispersed in the hills. Details can be found in the following link:

A general map is shown below as a quick reference for this 13.5 km walk.

Trail number 13 of the Rota Vicentina, shown on the western side of the map.

The trail starts in Santa Clara-a-Velha, a small village near the river Mira, following the river valley along the first half of it. You can park your car near the tourism office and perhaps get some supplies from the local café. From here, the path crosses the river in a pleasant wooded area. There has been a drought in the last couple of years, so this part of the river is normally dry, but due to recent rainfalls, the water is running again.

Rural fields in winter, before Santa Clara-a-Velha.
Rural fields in winter, before Santa Clara-a-Velha.
Old farm house and fields.
River Mira in Santa Clara-a-Velha.

The first few kilometres of the trail are easy to walk, crossing hilly terrain before arriving at the Santa Clara and Sabóia train station. From the top of a hill, the scenery is nice, with a succession of green valleys and mountains.

View over the Santa Clara and Sabóia train station.
Train station.

After so many months of drought, the rainfalls in December have changed the landscape completely. The ground is covered with green grass, and there are many patches of flowers. Looks like spring has arrived during the winter, a feeling that is reinforced by the balmy temperatures. Leaving the train station behind, the trail then crosses several farms located in a valley, and I stop here and there to make some photos.

Rural landscape.
Water for cattle.
Along the trail.
Local farm.

Even though it is mid morning, the winter sun is low in the sky, and as I climb the shaded side of a hill, I notice many spider webs in the ground. These are covered with water droplets from the night’s moisture and morning dew. Mushrooms are also conspicuous, and come in different varieties.

Dew in spider web.

It is almost time for a picnic lunch, so I take a well deserved rest near the small group of houses that are known as Totenique. Most of them are abandoned, but the fields are still cultivated and there is some cattle grazing nearby. The name comes from the nearby creek, one of the river Mira subsidiaries. As I cross a small bridge, I notice the pattern of the sunlight’s reflection on the surface of the water, almost like dancing ripples.

After the rain.
Water and ripples.

The last part of the trail traverses the Totenique valley, before a steep climb reaches the top of the mountain. From here there is a nice view over the valley to the west, and it is an appropriate time to take a breather.

View over the Totenique valley.

It is also worth admiring the view towards Santa Clara-a-Velha in the east, before descending into the village, where this circular trail ends.

View over Santa Clara-a-Velha.

When I visit this place, I like to go to the Santa Clara-a-Velha dam, where the water from the river Mira is captured, forming one of the largest lakes in Portugal. With the approach of sunset, the temperature dropped a bit, and a stiff wind started to blow, creating ripples on the surface of the water. I was glad to see that, compared to summertime, the level of the water seems to have risen about 5 or 6 metres, which is great news.

Santa Clara-a-Velha lake and dam.
Santa Clara-a-Velha lake and dam.

Another local attraction worth visiting is the Dona Ana bridge, a medieval structure close to Santa Clara-a-Velha. This is an old stone bridge over the river Mira, but unfortunately only half of the span remains. Depending on the season and amount of water in the river, it may be more or less difficult to walk down to the bank. This time I was lucky, as the river had plenty of water.

Medieval bridge in the river Mira near Santa Clara-a-Velha.

As always, in terms of my photography, I like to keep things simple. For this walk I carried only my wide angle (Fujinon 16mm f/1.4) and standard (Fujinon 33mm f/1.4) lenses in my backpack. This was another happy day in one of the trails of the Rota Vicentina.

From Vila do Bispo to Cordoama beach, SW Portugal

I found myself spending a few days after Christmas in the southwest coast of Portugal. After a couple of weeks of heavy rain, the weather became sunnier, so it was perfect for walking in the many local trails of the Rota Vicentina. One of my favourite routes is number 24, a circular path that starts in the town of Vila do Bispo and heads to the coast. I have done this trail a few times before, but I like it so much that I don’t mind repeating it. In fact, this route takes you into direct contact with the essence of this land: a high coastal plateau characterized by hills and deeply cut ravines, leading to some of the best wild beaches in Europe.

The following map shows the trail, which is around 16 km long.

Map of route 24 of Rota Vicentina.

The morning is sunny, and even though it is winter, the temperature is forecasted to reach 23 Celsius, which feels more like springtime. After the rain the land is covered with green grass and yellow flowers; it does look like spring. The trail is easy to follow, and after a couple of hours, it starts to approach one of its highlights, the descent towards Barriga beach. It is impossible not to stop to admire the view, with the hills transitioning abruptly to the azure of the ocean.

Arriving at Barriga beach.

Take some time to stroll in the beach and enjoy the surroundings. The dark schist cliffs are still covered by the morning mist. When the tide is low, it is possible to walk for several kilometres along the sand.

Low tide at Barriga beach.

Leaving Barriga beach, the trail climbs up the steep hills, until it reaches the second highlight of the day, the viewpoint over Cordoama beach. From here it is possible to admire a good part of the Vicentina coast, starting at Arrifana in the north, and extending into Castelejo and beyond, to the south.

Looking south over Cordoama beach.
Looking north.
Surfing is very popular in Cordoama.

These beaches are a fantastic place to spend the rest of the day, but after a picnic lunch, it is time to return to the trail. It is a steep ascent from the beach to the top of the hill, but the view from is well worth the effort. From here, the rest of the walk is easy, crossing a quiet woodland in a secluded valley, before arriving at Vila do Bispo.

Along the trail in the coastal hills, after leaving Cordoama.
Quiet woodland, where pine trees dominate.
Green fields near Vila do Bispo.

On the way from Vila do Bispo to my house, I stopped at another one of my favourite beaches, Arrifana. I wanted to make some photos at sunset, so I parked the car, and went looking around, trying to find a good viewpoint. There are several places from where to make good photos looking down onto the beach, but I chose one that is not so obvious, near the edge of the cliff. Even though I have been here so many times, I always feel elated every time I return. The tall dark cliffs, with their folded rock layers, are constantly buffeted by the waves.

Long exposure in Arrifana, under golden light.
Coastal cliffs north of Arrifana.

This coastal region is a treasure trove for Nature lovers, and is beautiful all year round. Walking the many available trails is the perfect way to experience it. A final mention about the photo gear I had in my backpack, which included a wide angle lens (Fujinon 16mm f/1.4) and a standard lens (Fujinon 33mm f/1.4).

A quiet dawn

December in Portugal has seen a lot of rain (finally!) across the country. In the beginning of the month I spent a few days in my house in the Alentejo coast, putting some time aside for photography. The weather was overcast for the most part of my stay, but I decided to go out and photograph in Vila Nova de Milfontes just before sunrise. I really like to stroll along the beach, where the river Mira reaches the Atlantic.

What follows is a collection of the photos I made that morning, using just one camera (Fujifilm X-T30) and one lens (Fujinon 16-80mm f/4), plus the tripod. I walked along the sand near the river bank, photographing the village and the scenery as the morning light shone through the clouds. In about one hour, the blue hour transitioned into the golden hour, creating nice conditions to photograph.

By the pier.
First light.
Rising color.
Incoming tide.
Open sky.
Brooding clouds.
The path.
Waking up.

Autumn on the beach.

After visiting the Gerês and São Mamede natural parks, I have returned to my usual forays in the southwest coast of Portugal, namely in the region around the villages of Longueira and Almograve. I enjoy walking along this coastal region all year round, but Autumn is a special season. Day time becomes shorter and the light acquires a special quality, as the sun sits lower in the horizon. Temperatures during the day are still balmy and nice for long walks on the nearby beaches. Therefore, I decided to visit the beaches of Brejo Largo and Almograve on two different afternoons. Conditions were great, with low tide occurring at sunset.

Brejo Largo, a few kilometres north of Almograve, is a beautiful beach, that can be easily reached by foot. On these walks I like to carry only a camera and lens, plus the tripod. This time around I carried my Fujifilm X-T30 camera and 16-80mm f/4 zoom lens. This offers a great flexibility for composing when walking along the coastal cliffs, where the room to maneuver is scarce. Photographic subjects are abundant, from exotic rock formations to tide pools.

Racing in the pool.
Sandy vastness.
Folded half.
Iron-rich water.

I spent a couple of hours making several photos along the beach and in the nearby rocky coves. At sunset, the colours became quite vivid, especially in the clouds. After a few more photos, I walked back home; it had been an excellent afternoon.

Sand, sea and clouds.
At the end of the day.

A couple of days later I went to Almograve and photographed along the coast between the beach and the small fishing inlet of Lapa de Pombas. This part of the coastline is full of rocky coves and small bays, with a large number of folded layers of rock. In the low angle and warm light of the afternoon, they make for interesting subjects. The surrounding sand dunes have been consolidated throughout geological time by iron oxide cement; in places they exhibit some strong yellow and orange colours. This contrast between the colourful rocks and the blue of the ocean is enhanced close to sunset time and can work very well in these coastal photos. Arriving at Lapa de Pombas I found the local group of cats lazing in the sun.

Folded rocks.
Consolidated dunes.
Lapa de Pombas harbour.

Sunset is always a nice time for photography, but the light does not last for long. I made a few photos in Almograve beach, also including the Moon rising over the cliffs.

Into the sea.
Low tide at sunset.
Moonrise over the cliffs.

Even after photographing these places for decades, I always enjoy returning to them; there is always something new to discover.

A trip in the Natural Park of the Serra de São Mamede, Portugal: part 2.

On this second part, I will summarize two days that include visits to the iconic villages of Marvão and Castelo de Vide, plus a few other interesting places.

Marvão is probably my favourite village in the region, as it lies at around 900m of altitude. It has been the site of many fights between Christians and Moors, during the early 12th century, and after that between Portugal and Spain, during border disputes. The medieval town was erected over a previous Arab fortress, which was built by Maruane in the year 884. So, as you can imagine, the cultural heritage is quite significant. The medieval houses are completely encircled by the ramparts, with the main castle to the North. Walking along the ramparts, it is possible to have a small idea of life in those ancient times. It is also possible to admire the eagles and vultures flying above the surrounding landscape. Besides the castle, there are several old churches and a museum that are worth visiting. The surrounding hills are covered with chestnut and hazelnut trees, which represent an important income for the local inhabitants. Finally, if you have the time, take the walk along PR1, a trail that connects Marvão to Passagem via a medieval road.

Medieval road to Marvão.
Along trail path PR1.

As you walk through the narrow streets, you will find surprises at every corner: small statues, old windows, interesting doors, and fountains.

Cross in Marvão.
Fountain square.
Tie your horse here.
Small sculpture in wall depicting the holy Family escaping to Egypt.

From across the valley, the clouds had been piling up in the heat of the afternoon, and soon thunderstorms could be heard. I made a couple of photos and later on decided to convert them to black and white for the added sense of drama.

Thunderstorms in the distance.
Village of Marvão.

The sky was clouded, but I had hope that as the sunset approached, some light would break through the cloud cover. I was lucky and a few minutes later there was a brief moment of sunshine, and the warm light of the late afternoon illuminated the village.

Emerging from the rock outcrops.
One of the churches.

I always enjoy a visit to Marvão, and this time was no exception. Leaving it behind and driving down the mountain, I made a final stop to photograph it from below. From here, Marvão looks like a perfect extension of the massive rock formation over which it was built.

View of Marvão at the top of the mountain.
View of Marvão at the top of the mountain.
Autumn colors.

The following day was dedicated to Castelo de Vide, another medieval town and highlight of the park. Lying at the top of a hill at around 500m altitude, it is almost like a sister to Marvão, as it shares a lot of common history. This history can be seen and felt walking along its narrow streets, which rise up to the large keep. The medieval quarter inside the ramparts is very well preserved, with its numerous medieval doors. Under the protection of the castle, the old Jewish quarter is also preserved, and the synagogue is today a museum. This region played an important role during the 16th century, when the Jews were expelled from the Iberian peninsula, and this heritage is still alive today.

Medieval street in Castelo de Vide.
Roof tops.
Sculpture above door.
Fountain square.
Entrance to the synagogue.
Old inscription in door.

Attesting to the prehistoric occupation of the region, there are two megalithic monuments in the vicinity that are quite interesting. The first is the dolmen of Melriça, which is located 6km away from Castelo de Vide. This funerary monument was first discovered in the late 1800’s, and today it lies in a farm.

Prehistoric dolmen near Castelo de Vide, in Melriça.
Castelo de Vide seen from Melriça.

The other prehistoric site is the menhir of Meada, and is not very far away. It was discovered in 1965, and it it is the tallest in the Iberian peninsula, with 7.52m. It has been dated to the 6th millennium B.C., which makes it the oldest in the world.

The tallest menhir of Iberia is located near Castelo de Vide, in Meada.

After this rich immersion in prehistoric times, why not enjoy a swim in some of the park’s waterfalls? A nice one is the São Julião waterfall, hidden in a narrow valley after the small village of Porto de Espada, south of Marvão. Along the road, you can admire some of the largest chestnut trees of the region. You can park the car at the end of a dirt road, and take a short but steep walk down into the valley. The sound of the water is like a magnet in the hot afternoon. A swim in the refreshing water was a great way to end this day, and the wonderful trip in this natural park.

Chestnut trees near Porto de Espada.
The valley of São Julião.
Waterfall in São Julião.
Waterfall in São Julião.

A final word about the photographic gear used during this trip will be quite brief. I only carried one camera and one lens with me, the Fujifilm X-T30 and the Fujinon 16-80mm f/4 lens. This makes an ideal travel combination, for low weight, reliability, image quality, and flexibility. I only had to use the tripod for dawn and dusk really low light photos.

A trip in the Natural Park of the Serra de São Mamede, Portugal: part 1.

The Natural Park of the Serra de São Mamede (PNSSM) is located in the Province of Alto Alentejo, next to the border with Spain. It is a protected mountain area with around 56,000 ha. This natural park is characterized by some gentle hills in the south, but towards the north it will rise up to more than 1,000 m, with some impressive quartzitic crests. It is home to unique and endangered fauna and flora, with particular relevance to several birds of prey.

Location of the PNSSM (on the left), zooming in on the general route for the trip (on the right).

I first visited this area more than 30 years ago, while doing geological fieldwork. I was immediately captivated by its beauty, and have returned several times since. There are many places of interest to visit, as the region has been settled since prehistoric times; there are important megalithic sites, Roman ruins in Ammaia, and the impressive medieval castles of Marvão and Castelo de Vide. This time I spent 3 days, and have visited the villages of Ouguela, Esperança, Marvão, and Castelo de Vide. I will break this article into two parts, for sake of simplicity.

We can start our journey in the small town of Esperança, in the south of the park. As usual, I took a couple of walks before sunrise and close to sunset, as the landscape is very beautiful, with rural fields where animals graze amongst the typical oak trees of Alentejo. There are several wine houses and vineyards in the region, famous for its wine. Nearby you can also visit the prehistoric site of Lapa dos Gaivões, where 3,000 years ago our ancestors took shelter under a huge quartzitic slab.

Dawn in Esperança.
Church and first light.
Typical chimneys in Esperança.
Prehistoric rock art in Lapa dos Gaivões, near Esperança.
Prehistoric rock art in Lapa dos Gaivões, near Esperança.
Prehistoric rock art in Lapa dos Gaivões, near Esperança.
Cattle in the field.
Plowed field.
Road to sunset.
Moon rising.

Ouguela is one of those places where time seems to have stopped. A small castle sits at the top of a hill, with the ramparts encircling a few houses. It’s history goes back at least to the 13th century, and has endured a lot of border disputes between Portugal and Spain. Today, one enters the village to reach a central square, where silence dominates. A few people still live there, and the surrounding fields are planted with olive trees.

Village square.
In the ramparts.
Field of olive trees.
Near the village.

This was a perfect way of ending this first day of the trip.

The Parque Natural da Peneda-Gerês, Portugal: part 3.

This final instalment will address days 5 and 6 of our trip. The fifth day of the trip turned out to be a very busy one. The plan was to visit some of the iconic villages of the PNPG, such as Soajo, Lindoso, and Castro Laboreiro. With a stop in between at the famous Senhora da Peneda sanctuary. I woke up before sunrise for a walk in Sobredo; I really enjoy grabbing the camera and simply go out into the fresh air and early morning light. Life in the rural countryside starts well before dawn, with the cattle being led to pastures, and the farmers tending to their crops. I walked up to the main road to enjoy the views over the surrounding landscape, with fog in the valleys and the first light illuminating the flanks of the mountains.

Dawn in Sobredo.

After breakfast, it was time to leave and head to Soajo, a small town rich in heritage and culture. Soajo is known for its “espigueiros”, small granite “houses” on top of stacks, where traditionally the corn cobbs were stored, away from the reach of animals. The group of espigueiros lies at the top of a granite slab at the entrance of the village. But Soajo has more interesting things to see, so do walk around for a while in the maze of narrow streets.

Espigueiros in Soajo.

From here it is a short drive to another very interesting town, Lindoso, close to the border. Here, do not miss the castle and the group of espigueiros next to it. There is a rich history of disputes along the border, and for sure this castle played an important role, with its prominent location at the top of the hill.

The castle of Lindoso.
Espigueiros in Lindoso.

Leaving Lindoso, we drove to Castro Laboreiro, located to the north. The shortest road took us through Spain, and close to the ghost village of Aceredo. Due to the scarcity of rain, the water level in Lindoso dam is so low that this town, once under water, is now emerged.

Castro Laboreiro is another place that has its roots in prehistoric times. Located in a high altitude plateau in the serra da Peneda, above 1,100m, the village is well known for its castle (dated from the XII century) at the top of a granite mountain, several waterfalls, and the Castro Laboreiro autochthonous dog race. This is an old race of dogs from this region, specifically bred for the task of herding cattle in the mountains. There are many interesting places to visit, but do not miss the short trail to the castle; at a first glance, the castle is hard to notice, because it can be easily mistaken for another group of granite formations. From its top, the surrounding view is amazing, and the only companions are the wind and the song of the birds.

Statue of the famous Castro Laboreiro dog, with the castle in the distance.
The castle of Castro Laboreiro.
Inside the castle in Castro Laboreiro.
Panoramic view of the mountains near Castro Laboreiro.
The village of Castro Laboreiro, seen from the castle.

There are several nice places for a picnic lunch and a rest, after which we head to the sanctuary of Senhora da Peneda, hidden amongst the flanks of the mountain. As always, the distance is not great, but the road is quite twisty. I remember visiting 30 years ago, when several of these roads were not yet black top. The sanctuary is located below a large granite block and a waterfall.

Scenic road to Senhora da Peneda.
Senhora da Peneda sanctuary.

The day was already long, and we still had to go to Sistelo to spend the next couple of nights. Visiting these iconic places was a wonderful experience. The day ended in Sistelo, a village that became quite popular in the last few years, after winning a national contest of rural villages. Located in the lush green valley of the river Vez, Sistelo can be a center point for some great trekking, which we would try the following day.

Espigueiros in Sistelo.

We wanted to walk along one of the trail paths that connected the village to the high altitude “brandas”, or settlements where people take the cattle during the summer, to avoid the higher temperatures down in the valleys. Sistelo is also well known for the terraces built into the flanks of the mountains, where corn is planted. The trail starts in the main square, and initially follows the river Vez in a shaded forest. After a while, it starts to rise in altitude, with great views over the surrounding landscape.

In the trail near Sistelo.
Terraces near Sistelo.

Once at the top, the path crosses the Branda do Alhal, where some of the houses are still in use today. The day is hot, so we benefit ourselves from the lower temperatures up here.

Branda do Alhal, near Sistelo.
Branda do Alhal, near Sistelo.

A few kilometres more and we enter a completely different world, a forest so dense that the light barely reaches the ground. It feels like a magical place, straight out of a brother’s Grimm story. Even a white dog appears to enhance the feeling. There is a sense of mystery while crossing this wonderland.

Patch of sunshine.
Mushroom in the forest.

After leaving the forest behind, the trail descends the mountain towards Sistelo. Once we are back in the village, we rest during lunchtime, saving energy for the afternoon, where the plan was to visit another iconic area of the PNPG, namely the heart of the serra da Peneda and a few of its waterfalls and lakes.

One of the best things in Gerês is the opportunity to see the “garranos”, or local horses that are still raised in complete freedom. As we were driving in the Gavieira plateau towards the viewpoint of Tibo, we saw a herd of them near the road. I stopped the car and made a few photos. They were grazing side by side with cattle, with some running in the fields.

The wild horses from Gerês, or garranos.

The viewpoint of Tibo is located at the top of the mountain, and affords a panoramic view over the entire serra da Peneda. The Senhora da Peneda sanctuary can be seen in the distance, with the villages of Gavieira, Rouças, and Tibo, a bit closer. The entire landscape is made of impressive granite formations, including the Fraga das Pastorinhas, an impressive granite wall that is also know by rock climbers as the “Portuguese Yosemite”. This is really an incredible view.

View from Tibo viewpoint, with the Senhora da Peneda in the far distance (right-side valley). The glacial nature of the valley is clear, from its U-shape.
Scenery from Tibo viewpoint.

After admiring this view, we drove to Tibo, where we left the car and took the footpath to the valley. We wanted to find one of the (still) hidden lakes of the area, the so-called Druids lake. The trail is not signaled, but follows a few local paths along the woods. The name of the lake is appropriate, as very soon we are crossing some wonderful magical woods, with large chestnut and oak trees. The shaded path is a welcome respite after the days’ heat. Soon we are walking near the Peneda river, that has a few waterfalls here and there. Looking up, we can see the impressive Fraga das Pastorinhas. Even though the valley is already in the shade, and the water is cold, I can not resist to take a swim. What a wonderful place.

Canyon in the Peneda river.
The Fraga das Pastorinhas, a granite escarpment that is known as the “Portuguese Yosemite”.
The Fraga das Pastorinhas.

At the end of the day, we are back in Sistelo. Our trip is coming to an end, as the following day we would be driving home. But again, I like to wake up early to check the light, and when I leave the house the next morning, the valley of Sistelo is covered in fog. I grab the camera and make a few photos with this weather. The fog filters the light and enhances the greens of the foliage.

Foggy dawn in Sistelo.
Foggy dawn in Sistelo, with the first rays of sunshine hitting the village.

I hope you have enjoyed tis 3-part instalment that describes a one week trip in the PNPG, a truly wonderful region. A final word about the photographic equipment that I have used during this trip. As I knew flexibility would be very important, I chose to carry 2 cameras, each with its own zoom lens. As you know, these days I use Fujifilm, so the list was: Fuji XT3 with 70-300mm f/4.5-f/5.6 lens, and Fuji XT30 with 16-80mm f/4 lens. Both lenses feature image stabilization, which is very helpful to avoid using a tripod in many instances. But of course I also carried a small tripod to use when the light levels were low, or when I wanted to make some long exposures.

The Parque Nacional da Peneda Gerês, Portugal: part 2.

In this second instalment, I will describe days 3 and 4 of out trip in this Park. As we move towards the west, we will visit some of the iconic areas around the Gerês valley, right at the heart of the Park. It will be a nice mix of waterfalls and great viewpoints, from which it is possible to admire this unique landscape.

Before leaving the region of Montalegre, you have to go to the Misarela bridge. Built over the Rabagão river, it was built in the Middle Ages, but there is a nearby Roman road, so no one knows for certain. It features a single 13m high arch, and shares the scenery with surrounding waterfalls. Legend has it that this bridge was built by the Devil itself, in exchange for the soul of a man who was running away from the authorities; facing the river and with no way to cross it, the man promised the Devil his soul in exchange for safe passage. The Devil built the bridge and took the man’s soul. During one of the Napoleonic invasions of Portugal in the XIX century, the French troops were held back on this bridge. Today, the place has a certain mystique, but only the quaint goats graze nearby.

Misarela bridge.
A typical mountain goat near Misarela.

Leaving this legend-rich place behind us, we drove to the waterfall at Pincães, where the plan was to have a picnic lunch. Parking the car at the entrance of the village, it is a mere 1km to the waterfall through a nice forest trail. There are a few other people on the trail, after all it is the weekend and the day is hot. This waterfall fits the cliché nicely, with a tall column of water falling into a pool of crystalline water. A great occasion for a refreshing swim.

The waterfall at Pincães.

After relaxing in this wonderful place, it was time to continue our journey, this time to the waterfall at Arado. As you have surmised by now, there are numerous waterfalls in the PNPG, and they are all different. In some of them, it is possible to swim, but always exercise great care not to slip on the wet rocks. Even after a year of severe drought, the waterfalls that we visited had plenty of water. Back on the road, before reaching Arado, it is worth to stop in the small town of Ermida, halfway up the mountain. Here, there is a nice viewpoint over the landscape.

Panoramic view over Ermida.

To reach the Arado waterfall, there is a beautiful forest trail, in the shade of tall trees. This waterfall is located at 900m altitude, and the water falls in a couple of steps from up high. It is one of the most beautiful places in the heart of Gerês, and it is popular for canyoning.

The waterfall at Arado.
The waterfall at Arado is popular for canyoning.

Don’t leave the area without climbing up to the Roças viewpoint, where you can admire the Arado river valley cutting through the mountains.

View of Arado valley from the Roças viewpoint.

Speaking of viewpoints, there is no better way to end the day than admiring the scenery from the Pedra Bela viewpoint. From here, you have a complete view of the Gerês valley to the north, and the Caniçada lake to the south. Mountains, trees, and water. Pay attention, and you will also see the birds of prey flying in the distance.

View of Gerês valley from the Pedra Bela viewpoint.
View of Gerês mountains and Caniçada lake from the Pedra Bela viewpoint.

After a really full day with waterfalls, forest trails, and great viewpoints, it was time to return to Gerês for a well deserved night rest. For day 4, the plan included a visit to one of the iconic places of the PNPG, the Mata (Woods) da Albergaria, located north near the border with Spain. There is a trail of about 4km that takes you through the heart of these famous woods, where you can admire, amongst other things, very old oak trees (Quercus robur and Quercus pyrenaica), plus parts of a Roman road and its associated milestones (or marcos miliários) and bridges. These woods are unique in Portugal, and as such the access can be prohibited if the risk of forest fires is considered high. Walking along this ancient forest is truly a magical experience. And of course there are a few waterfalls too!

Roman road milestones in the Mata da Albergaria.
Roman road milestones in the Mata da Albergaria.
The Portela do Homem waterfall, in the Mata da Albergaria.
Bridge in the Mata da Albergaria.

After visiting Albergaria, why not drive into Spain and enjoy the hot thermal baths in the nearby village of Lobios? You just have to continue to follow the road along the Gerês valley (Xurês in Spanish), where the river Caldo runs its course. And there are nice shaded areas for a picnic.

As we were spending the night in the village of Sobredo, in the western part of the Park, there was some more driving to do. The road crosses some of the most wild and deserted areas of the region, in the Germil plateau. At high altitude, vegetation is short and constantly buffeted by strong winds; granite is everywhere, and seems to cascade down the mountainsides. Here and there, groups of houses form small rural settlements.

Roadside view in the Germil plateau.
Panorama of the Germil plateau.
The village of Germil.

It is difficult to resist the temptation of stopping to admire and photograph the landscape. But we keep going until we reach Sobredo, where we were spending the night. This is a typical rural village, quite small, with houses made of granite. In many of these places, houses have been recovered for the tourism industry, supplementing the income of the owners. The streets are narrow, and the ubiquitous espigueiros are present. I sit down in some stairs and strike a conversation with Dona Ermelinda, an old lady that has many stories to tell. She talks of difficulties of making a living from agriculture, where only the month of August sees some animation brought to these parts by emigrants returning to spend their vacation.

Dona Ermelinda and her cat, in Sobredo.

The Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês, Portugal: part 1.

Given the uniqueness of its geography, geology, fauna, flora, and cultural heritage, the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês (PNPG), located in northern Portugal, was created in 1971. It is the only National Park in the country, and occupies an area of 69,595 ha bordering Spain and extending through the provinces of Minho and Trás-os-Montes. It is a mountainous region, reaching an altitude of 1,600 m, where the landscape is dominated by rugged granite formations, and where the effects of the latest glaciation can be seen. Deeply cut valleys in the mountains of Peneda, Soajo, Amarela and Gerês support a dense hydrographic network, .

The Park has a remarkable botanical diversity – woods, forests, riparian vegetation and peatlands in addition to wet meadows – with rare and endemic species. It is home to some of the most important oak forests in Portugal, a diversity of animal species including endemic (gold-striped salamander) and endangered (Iberian wolf, Iberian wild goat). In the agricultural areas the prairies and “prados de lima” (semi natural humid meadows) are worth mentioning. The region has been inhabited since pre-historic times, so there is a rich historical and cultural heritage. Attesting to this, there are important to megalithic monuments, Roman constructions, medieval castles, and the famous espigueiros (traditional granaries to store corn).

I had been planning to visit this area for a long time, and finally, in the end of September, we organized a 7 day trip. It is not easy to select what to visit in such a vast region, but after a few hours, a draft plan started to emerge. Roughly, we travelled from the east (Montalegre) to the west (Sistelo), as indicated in the map below. We decided to spend the night in different places, as the trip evolved.

The PNPG (in darker green) with the broad travel route taken during the trip.

In this first part I will cover some of the most interesting locations in the regions of Montalegre and Gerês, but of course this is only my view. We visited many waterfalls (some in hard-to-reach places), historical monuments, isolated villages, but mostly, it is the mountainous landscape and the constant presence of green vegetation that impresses travelers.

Montalegre was the start of the journey, with its important castle near the serra do Larouco. It was given a “foral” in 1273 – that is, elevated to village status, with permission to hold its own fair – by King Afonso III. Walking along the ramparts and the medieval part of the town feels like going back in time.

The castle in Montalegre, with the serra do Larouco in the background.
Copy of the “foral” document granting Montalegre the status of village by king Afonso III in the 13th century.
Sunset in the distance over the serra do Gerês.

One can not be in the region without visiting the famous monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias, close to the village of Pitões das Júnias. The monastery is located in a narrow valley, surrounded by lush vegetation and a nearby creek. Its origin dates back to the middle of the XIII century, when a pre-existing occupation was taken over by monks. What impressed me the most was the complete sense of isolation and the tranquility of the place.

Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias.
Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias.
Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias.
Waterfall in Pitões das Júnias.
Pitões das Júnias.
Pitões das Júnias, where the granite dominates.
Prehistoric monument in Pitões das Júnias.

We ended our first day in a nice tourist house in the small village of Gralhas, a few km outside Montalegre. The building itself, an old seminary, was quite interesting.

At the entrance of Casa do Seminário, a tourist accommodation.

For the second day of the trip, the plan was to visit a couple of famous waterfalls, not far from Xertelo, still in Montalegre municipality. While driving around, its better to take your time and not hurry; the roads are often narrow and twisty, so averages of about 30km/hour are not uncommon. The advice is to go slow and admire the majestic landscape. The first waterfall, Sete Lagoas (or seven lakes) lies at the end of a 10km trail that takes you from Xertelo along the flanks of the mountain. The landscape is dominated by large granite boulder formations and at around 1,000m altitude, there are only a few trees and the heather dominates. You hear the water rushing before seeing the lakes, which encourages you to keep going. The day is hot, so the view of the emerald-green water from above is a revelation.

Panorama of showing the Paradela damn, south of Pitões das Júnias. It is clear that the rain has been scarce.
Panorama near Xertelo.
Honey production near Xertelo.
One of the waterfalls in the Sete Lagoas.
Sun bathing.

Don’t forget to visit the unique “fojo do lobo” near Xertelo, a typical and old construction of stones that served to entrap wolves. In the older days, the wolf was considered as a threat, as it could decimate a flock of animals, thus risking the livelihood of a family.

The mountains and the the tip of the “fojo do lobo” near Xertelo.

During the afternoon, we trekked to the Cela Cavalos waterfall, which is very different from the previous one. Again, it lies in a deeply cut valley, and it can be heard before being seen. Amidst a dense patch of vegetation, the water falls with tremendous force from higher up, smoothing the nearby granite blocks. It was a perfect place to relax and have an afternoon snack. The way back up the hill was the price to pay for this visit, but it was well worth it. Once back in the car, we drove to the village of Gerês, where we spend the night. The waterfalls of the PNPG are really wonderful, wild, and refreshing.

In the waterfall of Cela Cavalos.
The waterfall of Cela Cavalos.
The quiet village of Cabril, on the road to Gerês.

An afternoon in Sabóia, Odemira

A few days ago I had the chance to visit a local fair in Sabóia, a village that belongs to the Odemira county. The occasion was the 6th Arbutus Festival, which attracted many people from near and far. This region is best known for its wonderful beaches, but there are also many reasons to spend some time visiting the interior, where small villages with ancestral traditions can be found. This is a rural area, with rolling hills, a few farms, and plenty of tranquility. As part of the effort to preserve ancient traditions, some associations organize regular events, such as fairs where people can show the local products, typical foods and craftmanship.

The arbutus (or medronho, in Portuguese), is a typical fruit from this southern region of the country, and several products are made from it. The most famous is brandy, which has been distilled for hundreds of years. As part of the festival, there was a visit to a local distillery in Vale Doja, to appreciate how this spirited drink is produced. I took the opportunity to make a few photos, but the best part was to be able to spend some time with the nice people. These are honest and hard working folks, who are going through some challenging times due to a severe draught. As part of the visit, we had the chance to try the brandy, of course, accompanied by other typical fare, such as dried figs and cakes. It was a wonderful experience. The arbutus brandy from Vale Doja, under the experienced hand of senhor Joel, was recently awarded first place in a regional competition.

Arbutus orchard, Vale Doja, Sabóia.
Vale Doja, Sabóia.
Senhor Joel in his distillery.
Inside the distillery.
Senhor Joel.
Time for tasting, Vale Doja, Sabóia.

After the visit to the distillery, we returned to Sabóia, where a performance from a group of musicians that plays the Viola Campaniça, a traditional viola from the south of Portugal, was next on the programme. The group is coordinated by Pedro Mestre, a musician who created a school for students who want to learn how to play this instrument. I always like to listen these traditional groups, and it is not the first time I attended one of these performances. I made a few photos, of course, but mostly I wanted to listen to these traditional songs.

Street fair, Sabóia.
Pedro Mestre and his students.
Young player with his viola campaniça.
The artists and the audience.

I am glad that the Covid-19 is now behind us, and these events are again taking place after a couple of years.