Last September we set off to the Peneda Geres National Park in Minho in the North East of Portugal with the dogs Chica and Polly- the website’s official walk testers!
We drove from the Algarve (don’t do this- fly to Porto), pausing at Lisbon to drop off our car to be fixed at the garage and borrowing an ancient BMW. Running late we decided to stay the first night in Coimbra, an elegant university town with interesting architecture about three quarters of the way up Portugal- which turned out to be very popular so we had a bit of a struggle finding a B&B to take us and the dogs- people kept asking us why we didn’t just leave the dogs outside in the car overnight- our pampered pooches would have a heart attack at the very idea!
In the morning after a saunter around the town we headed up North and soon discovered that past Porto the roads shrink drastically turning into very winding lanes which are very picturesque but have no signposts and weren’t very tummy or BMW friendly so after lots of optimistic choices at mini junctions we were quite relieved to get to Chaves. Here we were fed bacalhau com natas (yummy creamy cod casserole) by a nice man who let the dogs into his cafe then pored over maps with us and tried to convince us to go for a dip in the thermal springs (dogs and lack of swimming costumes apparently not withstanding!). Chaves looked interesting but again we were running late so we drove up, up, up into the Peneda Geres national park.
The Peneda Geres park is very big and full of rolling, wooded moorland and stark granite mountains. Every so often you come across gorgeous hickeldy pickeldy farming villages with tiny streets next to no cars but lots and lots of mini herds of creamy brown cows all wearing big brass bells! At night the cows stayed in barns but during the day they didn’t have fields but were driven from place to place so over the next two days we were surrounded by bird song and jingling cows! At dusk on the first day though we were in for a surprise turning a corner and coming face to face with the first herd. As the lane was very narrow we retreated to the car where the dogs sniffed and snorted loudly in the back and the cows smeared their noses on the windows. For the rest of the holiday it was wimpy Polly’s ambition to stay as far away from them as possible whereas Chica, always eager to rush in where angels fear to dread, was desperate to meet one.
Aside from the cows, the Peneda Geres park is home to wild ponies, deer and birds of prey and it is so quiet that they are relatively easy to spot. There are lots of walks in the mountains- you can get walk and nature guides from tourist information offices in nearby towns.
Some more serious hikers in our hostel were out at dawn and returned late into the evening raving about the views and the landscapes. We’re slightly lazier and preferred to wander along the trails, stopping for leisurely picnics by hidden waterfalls and tree-lined lakes. The landscape is spectacular- the bleak, steep mountains contrasting with the ancient woodland and swathes of flowers- while we were there the sweet-smelling gorse was in blossom covering hillsides in yellow. If you like walking, cycling or horse-riding and want to escape to the rural idyll then this is definitely the place for you. After a couple of days we felt so much more relaxed. Also the dogs loved the trip because they could run and run and between walks they slept like logs while the locals were very amused by their extendable leads!
We stayed with the entrepreneurs of one of the villages in Peneda Geres- while everyone else seemed to survive on their cows and tiny plots of corn on the cob, pumpkins and beans our hosts had the only B&B and restaurant for miles around and a houseful of British hikers and a shiny new tractor to show for it! They also had a smokery so we had lots of absolutely gorgeous, homemade sausages and cured ham. The B&B was run by a lovely grandma, mum and daughter who were very friendly and refused to let us pay for anything until the very last day.
After our days walking and relaxing in the park we headed to Braga, the old religious capital of Portugal (there are old churches everywhere you turn) which is a beautiful city with lots of baroque, romanesque, gothic and renaissance architecture.
The conclusion- Peneda Geres is a really lovely, relatively unknown part of Portugal that is well worth a visit- we can’t wait to go back.
|Peneda Geres Day Trips
Choose between hiking and wild swimming, horse back or donkey trekking and canyoning and come and explore the spectacular Peneda Geres national park. Transfers available from Porto or Braga for some trips.