Peneda-Gerês National Park is the only Portuguese national park. Established in 1971, it ensures the conservation of the water courses, flora and fauna of its mountains. These mountains are the natural habitat of the Garrano horse, a breed from Minho and Trás-os-Montes used for many years as pack or working animals.
Until recently on the verge of extinction, today the Garrano is a protected breed. And what could be better than riding a Garrano and discovering the mountains and the horses living in the wild? Did you know that the Garrano is usually docile and suitable to be around children?
Do you keep dreaming about a horse riding holiday, but have never ridden a horse, or have little experience? Contact the Equi Campo Equestrian Tourism Centre in the village of Campo do Gerês, where you can take lessons with instructors certified by the Portuguese Equestrian Federation. The centre also offers family programmes that can combine hikes and trail rides, including first-time horse riding for children.
Alternatively, you can choose the Gerês Equi'Desafios company, which offers horse riding lessons on Garrano horses and other breeds that are guaranteed to be very tame and patient. They offer group programmes that include close contact with the horses, particularly during feeding and grooming.
After your riding lesson, you can recharge your batteries by trying the local cuisine. On the mountains, you have to try the Gerês roast kid, roasted barrosã veal, venison and wild boar. These go perfectly with Alvarinho wine from the Vinho Verde region, great because it’s fresh, light and slightly sparkling. If you need to, at the end of the meal try some local herbal infusions, for therapeutic purposes. If you feel like having something sweet, try the fantastic local honey.
For horse lovers
For experienced riders and horse lovers, Gerês is a great place to explore nature and enjoy the verdant scenery, rivers and waterfalls in the park.
Horse riding companies offer trail rides lasting one or more days. Most of these rides use the horses as a means of transportation through the trails used by shepherds, to go into the lush vegetation of the mountains and to observe the fauna and flora closely. Although you might not be able to see the wildlife, you can still hike through the park, even at night, to try and see the deer (the symbol of the park) or listen to the wild wolves howling. It is much easier to see other horses like Garranos, as well as barrosão cattle.
While hiking or riding, make sure you stop by the crystalline streams and natural pools for a refreshing dive, to bathe in thermal waters, or simply to rest while you enjoy a picnic of local delicacies.
How to get there
There are several direct connections to Porto. If you choose low-cost flights, 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, Rome 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 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 summer, you can also fly from Montreal, Brest and Brive.
It’s best to rent a car to get from Porto to Peneda Gerês National Park. Take the A3, leave the motorway at the Braga exit and head to Gerês. It takes a little over one hour to drive the 100 km from Porto to Gerês.