Peneda-Gerês is the only national park in Portugal. It is known to be a place of incredible beauty and I am so pleased we took a few days out to explore it. The terraced land reminded me a bit of what we saw in Nepal so many years ago.
The park is found in Northern Portugal and it shares many hectares with Spain. It was created in 1971 and has a total of 72 290 hectares to explore. It is situated just 100 km north of Porto, so it is well worth a weekend trip if you are staying in Porto. It is also easily accessible from Braga.
I think one could spend 5 or 7 days exploring, especially if you want to do some stunning hikes. There are over 50 marked hikes. We just had two days. There are some utterly stunning viewpoints of Spanish vistas but they were too far North. The problem is that there are only three entrances to the park and it is a long drive between them.
We stayed at a lovely place in an area called Terras de Bouro. It has four rooms en suite and then a large shared kitchen, lounge, and dining area. We were the only people there so we had all of this space to ourselves.
Terras de Bouro is on the outskirts of the park. Some of the landscape reminded me of the green hills and dales of the Yorkshire Dales.
On our first day of exploring, we set off enthusiastically, even with the rain, keen to see some waterfalls and beautiful vistas. We entered the park near the town of Covide and then drove along the southern section to the beautiful town of San Bentada Porte Aberta. The town is famous for its lovely scenic position and also its Basilica.
The Basilica of São Bento da Porta Aberta (built in 1614) annually receives 2.5 million pilgrims, being the second largest Portuguese sanctuary, after Fátima. It is given the name São Bento da Porta Aberta in that it always has its doors open, serving as a shelter for travellers. The church is very striking.
The photo below shows the inside of the Basilica and is courtesy of sbento.pt
We then drove to Gerês and visited the helpful tourist office. They also recommended a restaurant where I ate the calamari. It had more tentacles than what we are used to but was delicious and tender.
We continued on the main road passing several waterfalls. The planned destination was the stunning Pedra Bela Viewpoint. This is one of the most famous places in Gerês , located at an altitude of 800 meters. It gives an unobstructed view of the mountains, the Canicada reservoir, and the rivers that meander through the mountains. The viewpoint was just beautiful.
We drove back along a dirt road and saw the long-horned famed cows of the area. The views continued to be impressive.
On our second day, we saw some stunning views with mist and the beautiful hilly landscape as we left. We had to backtrack all the way to Ponte de Barca and then we made our way back into the park further North. We visited two small well known towns Soaja and Lindoso.
Soajo has views over the Lima river and famous for its granite granaries, and its dog breed (known as Castro Laboreiro dogs). The granite granaries are called Espigueiros.
The purpose of the granary is to preserve cereals and grain from rodents, floods, and other animals throughout the seasons. The crosses at the top are there to give divine protection to their contents, or to ensure the survival of the community, “our daily bread”.
Lindoso is a small village of farmers and shepherds. This location is well-known as it has a castle (1278) and its 50 granaries from the 17th and 18th centuries. There is also a very well-appointed visitors’ center, full of maps and enthusiastic staff.
I really cannot say enough about the beauty of the park. If we had to choose day one or day two for those who only had one day, I preferred the views of day one. I think it must be even more lovely in better weather, especially in the Spring or early Autumn.