The Peneda-Gerês National Park in Portugal

El Peneda-Gerês National Park, located in the northwest of Portugal and bordering Spain, is the only national park in Portugal. Since its creation on May 8, 1971, its main objective has been to preserve and protect the soil, water, flora, fauna, and landscape of this unique region. Covering an area of 702.9 km², it spans various municipalities such as Melgaço, Arcos de Valdevez, Ponte da Barca, Terras de Bouro, and Montalegre.a

The main feature of this park is its mountainous range, which extends as a natural barrier between the coastal plains and the eastern plateaus of Portugal. These mountains not only provide a mighty landscape but also a great variety of ecosystems and microclimates that give rise to rich biodiversity.

History of Peneda-Gerês National Park in Portugal

The history of Peneda-Gerês National Park is marked by human presence since ancient times. Perhaps due to the inhospitable nature of the Gerês mountains, the earliest signs of human activity date back to between 4000 and 3000 BC. Dolmens and other megalithic tombs have been found near places like Castro Laboreiro and Mourela.

Peneda-Gerês National Park in Portugal

Roman influence also left its mark on the region, with the presence of the Roman Geira, a road that crossed the park and connected Bracara Augusta (Braga) with Asturica Augusta (Astorga). Parts of this road are still preserved, along with Roman bridges and milestones along the way.

Moreover, the Germanic tribe of the Buri settled in the area between the Cávado and Homem rivers, in what is now known as Terras de Bouro. This area was inhabited for centuries and still retains traces of their presence.

Until the 20th century, it was common for the mountain inhabitants to spend the winter in one village and the summer in another, a practice known as "branda" and "inverneira." However, this custom has declined over time due to modernization and new means of transportation.

In more recent times, the village of Vilarinho das Furnas was submerged by the Vilarinho das Furnas dam on the Homem River in 1970. During periods of drought, the ruins emerge from the water, attracting tourists seeking to explore this historic site.

Recommended Excursions and Activities

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What to See and Do in Peneda-Gerês National Park

For nature and tourism enthusiasts, Peneda-Gerês National Park offers countless activities and tourist attractions, being excellent options for spending a few days in the country while getting to know its nature in depth.

There are hiking trails that allow you to thoroughly explore the park’s natural beauty, as well as camping sites for those looking to spend a night surrounded by nature. Additionally, the park has numerous tourist destinations worth visiting, such as Mata da Albergaria, famous for its impressive views, waterfalls, the picturesque village of Soajo, the Caniçada Reservoir, the historic village of Lindoso, the charming Castro Laboreiro, the remote Pitões das Júnias, the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Peneda, and the Pedra Bela Viewpoint, which offers dreamy panoramic views.

Mata da Albergaria

Mata da Albergaria (forest)

Mata da Albergaria, composed mainly of a forest of ancient oaks that house characteristic species of the flora and fauna of Gerês, is one of the most notable forests in the national park.

In this place, there is also a section of the Geira, also known as Via Nova or Via XVIII, with the ruins of its bridges and an important collection of epigraphic milestones. This Roman road connected two important cities in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula: Bracara Augusta, the current city of Braga, and Asturica Augusta, nowadays the Spanish city of Astorga.

Arada, Fecha de Barjas, Tahití Waterfall, and Natural Pools

Fecha de Barjas

Peneda-Gerês National Park is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Portugal, which, as they cascade over the rocks, form natural pools. There are numerous waterfalls in the park due to the abundance of water in the region. Some of the most well-known include the Arado Waterfall, the Fecha de Barjas Waterfall, also known as the Tahiti Waterfall, the Portela do Homem Waterfall, and the Pincães Waterfall with its natural pool.

Soajo

Soajo, Portugal

The charming village of Soajo is known for its traditional stone granaries. Enjoy views of the Lima River and the mountains on the horizon, and immerse yourself in the traditions of this typical village in the Minho region.

To discover Soajo and its surroundings, the best way is to explore and follow some of the walking trails in this protected area, such as the Caminhos do Pão and Caminhos da Fé trails.

Caniçada Reservoir

Caniçada Reservoir

The Caniçada Reservoir is the epicenter of water sports in Gerês. Here you can enjoy activities like wakeboarding, kayaking, jet skiing, or boat trips, among many other options.

Additionally, you will find some of the best river beaches in the region, such as Alqueirão, one of the most renowned. It is the only river beach in the national park that has been awarded the gold prize for its quality.

Lindoso Castle

Lindoso Castle

The village of Lindoso is another highlight within the national park. Here is Lindoso Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and is in good condition, along with the 60 granaries that surround it.

Inside this fortress, classified as a national monument since 1910, its keep, which reaches 15 meters in height, and a museum with permanent exhibitions stand out.

Castro Laboreiro Castle

Castro Laboreiro Castle

In a privileged location, at 1,033 meters above sea level and with stunning views around, stands Castro Laboreiro Castle, south of the village, in the municipality of Melgaço. The medieval ruins of this fortification still preserve its walls and gates, the most famous being the Frog Gate.

When visiting the center of Castro Laboreiro, you will find typical granite houses, a church, a pillory, the old bridge, and the museum, where you can learn about the history and customs of its inhabitants.

Pitões das Júnias

Pitões das Júnias Monastery, Portugal

At an altitude of 1,200 meters lies Pitões das Júnias, a village whose origins date back to the Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias, built between the 9th and 11th centuries. The ruins of this temple and the straw-roofed huts, characteristic of the region, are two of the main elements you cannot miss in this corner of Peneda-Gerês National Park.

In addition to the monastery, Pitões das Júnias also boasts a wonderful waterfall and a viewpoint with impressive views.

Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Peneda

Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Peneda

The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Peneda is located in a place of singular beauty in the heart of the National Park, in the municipality of Arcos de Valdevez. This sanctuary was built between the late 18th century and the third quarter of the 19th century, with the church being completed in 1875. In front of the church is the Stairway of Virtues, adorned with statues representing faith, hope, charity, and glory.

The temple integrates perfectly into the mountain, with 20 chapels along the valley that evoke biblical scenes. A huge rock, the Penedo das Meadinhas, rises dominantly in the place with its 300 meters of height, completing the landscape and giving the sanctuary a picturesque and unique charm.

Pedra Bela Viewpoint

The Pedra Bela Viewpoint is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to appreciate the beauty of Peneda-Gerês National Park, especially in the late afternoon when the sun sets over the mountains.

Located 800 meters above sea level, in Terras de Bouro, this viewpoint is one of the most famous destinations in Gerês. From there, you can see the towering mountains, the Caniçada Reservoir, the winding rivers that snake between the hills, and the confluence of the Cávado River with the Caldo River. Pedra Bela has always been shrouded in a mystical aura, with the elders even saying that a divine hand placed it there.

Misarela Bridge

Although the Misarela Bridge is not within the National Park, it is only two kilometers away, and it would be a shame not to detour a bit to admire this marvel.

Also known as the Devil’s Bridge, according to a local legend attributing its construction to the devil himself, this bridge was erected in the Middle Ages and rebuilt in the 19th century after attacks by Napoleonic troops. Situated over the Rabagão River, a tributary of the Cávado River and a natural boundary of the park, the Misarela Bridge is an impressive work.

Portela do Homem to Minas de Carris Route

The route from Portela do Homem to Minas de Carris, which spans 10 km, begins at Portela do Homem and traverses the magnificent Alto Homem Valley until it reaches the ruins of the Minas de Carris, at an altitude of 1440 meters. This trail crosses the Total Protection Zone almost from its start to the entrance to "Corga da Carvoeirinha," at the end of the route. Although Google Maps indicates a duration of 2 hours and 46 minutes to the Mines, it is recommended to allow at least 4 hours for the ascent and another 4 hours for the descent (a total of 8 hours). The trail presents some difficulty due to the presence of gravel, which slows progress. However, the beauty of the landscapes makes this effort worthwhile. You can find more details about the route here.

Before undertaking any of these routes, it is important to know the level of difficulty they involve and decide if you are physically prepared to complete them. There are routes for all tastes and fitness levels, from the easiest to the most demanding. In any case, it is essential to respect the mountain, stay on the marked trails, and check the weather forecast to avoid adverse conditions such as rain, snow, or other inclement weather. Additionally, it is recommended not to hike alone, wear appropriate clothing and footwear, including a raincoat, and not forget to bring sunscreen, water, and food.

Cabril

Cabril is a peaceful parish located at the eastern end of Peneda-Gerês National Park, in Portugal, within the municipality of Montalegre. The houses of this picturesque village are scattered in a vast fertile basin, surrounded by mighty peaks. At the heart of Cabril is the Largo do Cruzeiro, where the ancient pillory stands out, along with the majestic Church of São Lourenço. According to tradition, this church was moved stone by stone to its current location five centuries ago.

Water Sports

Río Caldo

Río Caldo is a charming village located next to the bustling Caniçada Reservoir, where you can enjoy your favorite water sports amidst lush nature. It stands out as the center of water sports in the national park due to its privileged location next to the impressive Caniçada Reservoir.

At the Caniçada Reservoir, you will have the opportunity to rent kayaks, pedal boats, rowboats, and even small motorboats to explore its calm waters. Additionally, you can enjoy exciting activities like wakeboarding, a sport similar to water skiing but with a board, making your water experience unforgettable.

Serra do Gerês for Water Sports

The Serra do Gerês, with its rugged and pristine terrain, attracts a large number of tourists due to its excellent conditions for hiking, as well as water sports like kayaking and rafting.

Flora of Peneda-Gerês

In the valleys, the flora is abundant and varied, featuring species such as oak (Quercus robur, Quercus pyrenaica, and Quercus faginea), laurels, holly, strawberry trees, beech, and birch, as well as conifers like yew, Scots pine, and some solitary specimens of Aleppo pine. Forests like those of Albergaria and Cabril are well preserved.

As we ascend towards the mountain peaks, the vegetation diminishes due to the harsher climate and human intervention since the mid-20th century. Here we can find species like heather, gorse, broom, and juniper.

Additionally, endemic species such as the mountain lily or Gerês lily (Iris Boissierii) stand out. In terms of local agriculture, corn is the most relevant crop.

Fauna of Peneda-Gerês

The fauna in Peneda-Gerês is less visible and abundant than the flora of the protected area, possibly due to the negative influence of human activity. Bears disappeared from the area in the 19th century, and the Portuguese ibex, locally known as cabra brava, was last seen in the 1890s.

Despite this, many species find their last refuge in Gerês, not only in Portugal but throughout the Iberian Peninsula. The Iberian wolf and the golden eagle, considered a threat to livestock, almost became extinct due to hunting, but since the late 20th century, laws have been implemented to protect them.

Other relatively abundant wild species include mammals such as roe deer (Capreolous capreolous), the emblem of the park. Other animals inhabiting the protected area of Peneda-Gerês include wild boar, otter, wildcat, marten, beech marten, and squirrel. Since 1998, there has been a self-reintroduction of the Gredos ibex (Capra pyrenaica victoriae).

Among the birds are the red kite, common buzzard, eagle owl, falcon, and northern wheatear. Reptiles present include the snub-nosed viper and the Cantabrian viper, the grass snake, and the western green lizard. Amphibians include the fire salamander and the Iberian painted frog.

Also noteworthy is the garrano, an indigenous horse breed of considerable antiquity that lives in wild herds throughout the park.

Additionally, two domestic animals deserve attention: the Barrosão cattle breed, once used for agriculture and now endangered due to the loss of its utility, and the Castro Laboreiro dog, a livestock guardian also facing similar risks.

Geography of the Peneda-Gerês Protected Area

Situated in the northwest of Portugal, covering the municipalities of Melgaço, Arcos de Valdevez, Ponte da Barca, Terras de Bouro, and Montalegre, the park spans 702.9 km², of which 52.75 km² are publicly owned, 194.38 km² are privately owned, and the remaining 455.77 km² are communal lands.

The population in the area was 9,099 inhabitants according to the 1991 census, representing a 16% decrease from the 10,849 inhabitants recorded in 1981.

The park is characterized by a mountain range that includes Laboreiro, Peneda, Suazo, Amarela, Gerez, and Pisco, forming a barrier between the coastal plains to the west and the plateaus to the east. The highest peaks are Nevosa (1545 m) and Sobreiro (1538 m), located on the border with Galicia, extending into a region known as Jurés or Xurés.

Hydrography: Rivers and Water Bodies

Water is a constant presence in Peneda-Gerês National Park, with numerous streams, waterfalls, and rivers traversing its territory. These watercourses not only provide beautiful natural scenes but also offer the opportunity for water activities such as canoeing and kayaking, allowing visitors to enjoy the beauty of the surroundings from a unique perspective.

In the park, water flows are produced by several rivers such as the Cávado, Limia, Homem, Rabagão, Laboreiro, and Arado. Most of these rivers have reservoirs, such as Alto Rabagão, Paradela, Caniçada, Vilarinho da Furnas, and Lindoso.

The few villages in the highlands are near terraced farming areas, with traditional granite houses and typical roofs defining the landscape, especially in the more remote villages like Pitões das Júnias or Ermida.

Climate of Peneda-Gerês

The climate in the highlands has an average temperature of around 10 °C, ranging between 4 °C and 14 °C, with precipitation of 2500 mm per year and more than 130 days of rain. Snow is common in winter. In the valleys of the Homem and Cávado rivers, the climate is milder, with temperatures ranging between 8 °C and 20 °C, precipitation of around 900 mm per year, and about 100 days of rain.

Best Time to Visit Peneda-Gerês National Park

The best time to visit Peneda-Gerês National Park is during spring and summer when the weather is milder, and temperatures range between 8 °C and 20 °C in the valleys, offering more pleasant conditions for outdoor activities and exploring the landscapes. However, keep in mind that the park is spectacular year-round, and winter can also be an option for those who enjoy snow and the tranquil atmosphere of the low season.

Access to the National Park

Peneda-Gerês National Park has several entry points, including Lamas de Mouro, Mezio, Lindoso, Campo do Gerês, Paradela, and Montalegre. At these park gates, visitors can find map orientation services assisted by PDA with GPS. These devices facilitate navigation and exploration of the park, helping visitors enjoy their visit safely and oriented.

How to Get to Peneda-Gerês National Park

By Car

To reach Peneda-Gerês National Park by car, there are several options:

  1. Via Mezio, through Arcos de Valdevez, on the EN202.
  2. Via Entre Ambos-os-Rios, through Ponte da Barca, on the EN203.
  3. Via Covide, through Terras de Bouro, on the EN307.
  4. Via Río Caldo, through Amares or Braga, on the EN308.
  5. Via Río Caldo, through Braga or Vieira do Minho, on the EN304.
  6. Via Fafião, through Salamonde, on the EN103.
  7. Via Paradela, through Venda Nova, on the EN308-4.
  8. Via Sezelhe, through Montalegre, on the EN308.

Additionally, from Galicia, the National Park of Peneda-Gerês can also be accessed through the following points: Ameijoeira, Madalena-Lindoso, Portela do Homem, or Tourém.

Walking Routes

Another option to reach the national park is by walking. To do so, follow the routes and trails that are open year-round, always recommending enjoying the journey and following the rules, as it is a protected area. For example, you can hike the Portela do Homem to Minas de Carris Route that traverses the park.

For hiking enthusiasts, there is a network of paths consisting of marked trails and others that require maps or GPS for orientation. However, it is important to note that some trails require prior authorization for groups of more than 10 people in the Partial Protection Area I, or for groups of more than 15 people in the Partial Protection Area II. Additionally, other trails not part of the park network are also subject to usage limitations.

In the Total Protection Area, the use of trails always requires authorization from the park, and the group size cannot exceed 10 people. It is essential to respect these regulations to preserve the beauty and integrity of Peneda-Gerês National Park.

Public Transportation

You can find information about Red Expressos buses on their official website: www.rede-expressos.pt. Here you can check schedules, destinations, prices, and make online reservations. It is a useful tool for planning your bus trip through Portugal.

By Plane

To reach Peneda-Gerês National Park by plane, the most convenient option is to fly to Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (Oporto). From there, you can take a bus, rent a car, or use shared transportation services to reach the park. The airport is approximately 50 km away from the city of Braga, which is one of the entry points to the park. Once in Braga, you can take local buses or taxis to reach the national park and start enjoying its wonderful landscapes and outdoor activities.

We also recommend visiting the Arrábida Natural Park.