You’ll be able to breathe the fresh mountain air in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, bathe in the many water courses, and calmly sip a local herbal tea. The human presence is wholly part of nature, preserving customs and century-old traditions.
The park is formed by the Peneda, Amarela, Gerês and Soajo mountains. The latter is close to the Spanish border and is 1,415 metres high. Porta do Mezio is the perfect starting point for exploring Soajo Mountain, in the council of Arcos de Valdevez, and is one of the main entrances to the Park. There are five gateways, one in each of the districts covered by the Park?
Take the Mezio walking trail and discover the funeral architecture of its nine pre-historical burial mounds, along a two-kilometre course. At Porta do Mezio, you can also visit the museum housing the items unearthed in the excavations of the Megalithic site of Mezio, and a traditional model village, with replicas of local houses and granaries (built for storing corn cobs).
Horse and wolf-watching
If what you really want is to see the wild horses, it’s best if you stay away from the main park roads and take a walking trail on the mountain. Besides horses, you’ll probably find the cachena cows (a native breed of cows) and, if you’re lucky, a wolf or two.
Follow the Brandas trail in the parish of Gavieira, more precisely in the small village of Rouças, and along 8 kilometres see the grazing land for goats and cattle, and the fojo do lobo – fenced enclosures for trapping wolves. These grazing lands are called brandas and they are used in the summer, as they are situated at the top of the mountains, where the temperature is cooler. In contrast, the inverneiras are winter shelters located at a lower level, as the cold weather and snow in winter prevent the herds from grazing at the top of the mountain.
Stop to rest at the branda in Seida, where the herds graze and animals and shepherds find shelter overnight. From there, proceed to the source of the River Ramiscal, situated on a plateau covered in heather and broom, and then head to Fojo do Lobo. These fojos are old traps for catching wolves used by the population, but today they are no longer used (the wolf is an endangered species protected by law). Fojo do Lobo is a fenced enclosure with two huge parallel stone walls tapered at one end to trap the wolves.
From here, you can walk to Alto da Pedrada, the summit of the Park. On the way, you’ll likely see cows, goats and, obviously, Garrano horses, roaming freely in the Peneda-Gerês Park. On the way down the mountain, to where you set off, imagine the treats awaiting you: local delicacies, including roasted Barrosã veal.
The granaries of Soajo
Soajo is one of the most typical villages in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, especially because it has a most impressive group of granaries supported on granite slabs from the Peneda Mountain.
The small granite village houses are built around the main square, with its pillory. A short walk through the village shows you the Town Hall building, the Church of São Martinho do Soajo and the ruins of an old mill.
End your visit at the common threshing floor, formed by 24 stone granaries, built between the 18th and 19th centuries. These granaries are still used today to store grain, especially corn. If you get the chance, take a dip in the cool waters of Poço Negro, one of the most famous lagoons on the River Adrão, quite close to the village.
You can also find the typical granaries of the Peneda-Gerês National Park in the village of Lindoso, just ten kilometres from Soajo. There are more than 50, still used today to store grain gathered by the locals. Lindoso castle, close to the border with Spain, was once used to protect the place from the Spanish land invasions, and also deserves a visit.
In Lindoso, find out more about the local handicrafts: miniatures of granaries, wickerwork, embroidered linen and woollen blankets. When you start feeling hungry, the local dishes won’t disappoint you: roast kid, roast Barrosã meat, chicken rice or Portuguese stew are some of the delicacies you’ll like!
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.