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Douro International Natural Park

CC BY-NC-ND Europarques.com

CC BY-NC-ND - Associação Grupo de Caretos de Podence

CC BY-NC-ND Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto

 
 
 

In the northeast of Portugal, in the Trás-os-Montes region, the River Douro marks the border with Spain. This river can be seen flowing through the almost 122km long Douro International Natural Park. 

    • The natural landscape
    • The outdoors
    • The bird watching
    • The heritage
    • The gastronomy
    • Enjoy the stunning views over the Douro valley from one of the park’s belvederes.  
    • Go on an environmental cruise through the Douro International Natural Park starting from Miranda do Douro, where you can observe various species of birds.
    • Make arrangements for a birdwatching programme at one of the Douro farms. After observing the birds, you can always learn more about how they make Douro wine.           
    • Visiting the park from February to March and the spectacle of the blossoming almond trees. This season is celebrated with several popular festivals.
    • Enjoying the local gastronomy at one of the picnic sites in the park.
    • The Douro International Natural Park covers an area of 86,500 hectares spread across Miranda do Douro, Mogadouro, Freixo de Espada à Cinta and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo (in the district of Guarda).
    • Although you can visit the park at any time of the year, the best times are from April to June and from September to November, when temperatures are milder. Temperatures in winter fall below zero and in the summer exceed 40ºC.
    • You can start exploring the park from north to south starting from Miranda do Douro, just over 250 kilometres from Porto.

The Douro International Natural Park stretches along an area of about 122 kilometres, and covers the border areas of Miranda do Douro, Mogadouro, Freixo de Espada à Cinta and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, in the district of Guarda.

You will be moved by the breath-taking views in the park. Water has carved the banks of the River Douro for centuries, forming monumental canyons covered with the local flora and populated by the various species of bird that inhabit the park. The combination of geography and Mediterranean climate provide the settings for a rich biodiversity in the entire park.

Junipers, cork-oaks, chestnut trees and holm oaks can be found in the park’s forests, home to the Red Kite, Common Buzzard, also known as Buteo, and a wide variety of birds, such as the Blue Rock Thrush and the Golden Oriole.

Some areas have seen significant human intervention: vineyards have been planted on the steep slopes of the park, producing the grapes used for making Port wine, the best-known Portuguese wine in the world.

Being close to the park means that the crop and livestock farms attract the birds, which nest along the river canyons. This is where the birds, some of which are endangered species in both Portugal and abroad, can easily find food. Many of the wine growing farms in the Douro region offer birdwatching programmes.

The Santa Maria de Aguiar reservoir at the south end of the park is a great place for observing various aquatic birds that choose this location for refuge and nesting.

Cruises on the River Douro

The Douro region offers the best natural conditions for birdwatching in Portugal. Sixty bird species have been confirmed nesting in the park, including rupicolous birds, i.e., birds that nest in rocks, such as the Egyptian vulture or Britango, chosen as the park’s symbol.

From the Douro international cliffs you can also observe other birds of prey, some of them endangered species, such as the Black Stork, the Golden Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, the Peregrine Falcon, the Alpine Swift and the Eagle Owl.

The best way to see these birds is to go on an environmental cruise through the Douro International Natural Park. To do this, you need to drive to the International Biology Station (a joint Portuguese and Spanish project) in Miranda do Douro.

During the cruise, you will not only see an impressive variety of flora and fauna, but also notice the differences between the river banks. On the Portuguese side, which only catches the sun’s rays in the morning, you will find lush vegetation; the Spanish bank is exposed to the scorching sun and the high temperatures in the summer, so there are just rocks everywhere.

For a moment, you will feel tiny against the backdrop of the immense cliffs of the River Douro and the sounds of the birds of prey flying over it. After your cruise, head to the São João das Arribas belvedere for one of the most stunning views over the park and the river.

Discovering the park’s heritage

The biodiversity of the Douro International Natural Park is just one of the attractions in the region. Try exploring the towns and villages that have a wealth of archaeological heritage and age-old traditions, and discover the local cuisine prepared with the best produce the land has to offer.

Miranda do Douro has a unique identity. In addition to Portuguese the locals here also speak Mirandese and ethnographic groups keep the Pauliteiros de Miranda tradition alive, dancing a war-like dance also called stick dance. If you visit the Museum of Terra de Miranda, you will learn more about the traditions and ways of life of Mirandese people.

On the south side of the park there is the town of Freixo de Espada à Cinta, with its Manueline church and pillory, one of the best preserved in the country. Drive to Barca de Alva, a Portuguese town about 2 km from the border with Spain. Surrounded by mountains, this town offers spectacular views over the Douro canyon, with vineyards and olive trees planted along the banks.

You can also visit the typical village of Poiares, where the schist houses line up between the mountains and the river. Here you will find a rock art site, Fraga do Gato, proving that humans once lived in this land thousands of years ago. If you’re interested in this heritage, arrange for a visit to the Archaeological Park in Vila Nova de Foz Côa, where you can see the Palaeolithic engravings. Before you leave the park, make sure you visit one of its most impressive belvederes, in Penedo Durão. You will see how the River Douro meanders through the mountains, and see some eagles flying below the level of the belvedere.

If you feel hungry, try the local cuisine. The Mirandese veal is quite famous, roasted oven a wood fire, seasoned only with salt, and served with baked potatoes. If you enjoy picnics, prepare some traditional sausages, dried fruits, cheese and Douro wines and head to one of the picnic sites in the Douro International Natural Park.  

How to get there

There are several direct connections to Porto. If you choose to fly low cost, you can fly from London (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseille, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan Bergamo, Roma Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg Lübeck , Munich Memmingen and Dusseldorf Weeze.

In the summer, low cost companies fly from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.

Traditional airlines fly to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, and Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto, and Luanda. In the summer, you can also fly from Montreal, Brest and Brive.

If you’re driving from Porto, take the A4 until you reach Vila Real, and then the IP4 to Bragança. From there you can take one of the many national or municipal roads to reach the Douro International Natural Park. An interesting alternative is to follow the course of the River Douro from Porto to the centre of the Douro region. Take national road 108 to Entre-os-Rios, cross the river to the other side and head for Peso da Régua.

You can also catch the train from Porto to the Douro wine region, and then drive to the Douro International Natural Park.

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