Peneda-Gerês National Park
Peneda-Gerês National Park is the largest natural park and only national park in Portugal.
Located in the districts of Viana do Castelo, Braga and a small portion of Vila Real. Set along the mountains of Peneda, Larouco, Geres, it is one of the most spectacular in the Iberian Peninsula.
Peneda-Gerês National Park is the only National Park in Portugal and it is only an hour away from Porto.
It was the first protected area in Portugal, settled in 1971, which defends the landscape, the Fauna an Flora and the human traditions centuries old on this mountain area.
It's one of the places in Portugal where you can find authentic villages, with traditions that last from several centuries.
There's sports that you can enjoy, with a little more of adrenaline, like Canyoning, and for this you have one of the best spots, Arado River, with it's amazing waterfalls and high jumps. In a series of different manoeuvers like rappel, slide and up sailing, you'll have the perfect match between adrenaline, water, nature and fun.
If you just want to have fun you should try the Tahiti Waterfalls and the amazing Poço Azul - Blue Well - a turquoise blue natural swimming pool at the heart of Gerês. For this it's wise to hire a tour company to take you there - just make a quick search on Google and you'll find a couple doing day tours to the National Park.
Lima an Cávado River are good rivers to do white water caoeing and Minho good for a begginners level rafting.
You can find very different kinds of forest in a one day tour in the mountains, from the high altitude pine forest, cypress in medium range mountains and the local iberian forest, near the water streams, composed with three different kinds of oak, chestnut, firs and willow. The best example for this is Mata de Albergaria, considered the oldest portuguese forest.
Flora and fauna
If you are lucky you can spot an Ibex (mountain wild goat), or a wolf, but it's really very difficult. Butterflies are a must and lizards are spotable everywhere, specially from Spring to Autumn.
Wild flowers bloom everywhere from Spring to Autumn and they are so tiny that you have to pay attention not to step on them. Walking the same trail everyday, you can spot different kinds blooming. There's some bushes all over the National Park, and some are very famous because you can do herbal tea with it. Hipericão and Carqueja are the most famous but you can find more.
In Winter you can get some rainy days, around 20%, snow, around 5 days a year on the highest levels of the mountain and the temperatures range between 32ºF (0ºC) and 50ºF (10ºC).
Spring and Autumnh are mild with some rain with temperatures goind from 46ºF (8ºC) to 73ºC (23ºC) and Summer you have a minimum average temperature of 64ºF (18ºC) and a Maximum of 86ºF (30ºC).
Driving in the mountains it's not easy so it's advised to either take a bus (there's buses coming from Braga and Viana do Castelo) and explore walking all the different trails, or, if you have limited time, hire a tour company from Porto to take you there - you'll have a comprehensive view of the National Park.
Unlike a lot of National Parks around the world, Peneda-Gerês is free of charge except Mata de Albergaria - the oldest forest in Portugal - that has a daily toll of 2€ per car.
There are some restricted areas that you can not access with different levels of permission. In Mata de Albergaria you cant stop your car but you can walk on the road freely.
There are areas that people are not allowed because they have the highest level of protection, but they will signalized.
The National Park is a junction fo different mountain ranges, so you have to be prepared to drive a lot to go from point A to point B and if you are not used to mountain driving in narrow roads, walk.
Walking is always the best option and you'll always find a sheppard now and then to help you and give you directions - in Portuguese.
All the trails are well marked and they have a very clear way of showing you the way.
There's both the natural and the human beauty to see while in the park. A village as, usually 150 inhabitants, and they have goat herds os nearly 500 animals. To herd them they useneed just two men and a couple of dogs to keep the wolves away. They use a rotating shift system called "vezeira" - one week two neighbours tend the herd and on the next week they will give the herd to other two neighbours and so on. During spring and summer shepperds roam the mountains all week sleeping in shelters called "Curral" taking the goats from place to place allowing the mountain pastures to renew. In Autumn and Winter they will return everyday to the village with the goats. Besides goats they have a special brand of cows easily mistaken with bulls due to their long horns. This breed is called "barrosã" and although they look fierce the y are very friendly. You can also find their shorter version called "cachena", that the shepperds say it's half goat, because they can go where the goats go.
There's Some places that you absolutely must go:
Places you must visit
The National Park as excellent conditions for water sports like Kayak, Stand Up Paddle, canoeing, kayaking, canyoning and rafting or just lie down on the sand and get a nice suntan.
Hiking should be your prime focus, because you hace amazing hikes going from easy to difficult - you choose from your experience level.
It's always easy to look for a tour company that operates in the National Park, like the local Gerês4you or if you are in Porto or Braga try Oporto Adventure Tours.
Because you are in nature, the best that you buy is natural stuff. Honey, mountain bread and herbal teas are the best products for you to take home or eat while you go.
There's no tradition of local souvenirs except the postcards and the everlasting and omnipresent pins.
If you are a meat lover you'll feel right at home. The "barrosã" steaks and "cachena" cutlets will show you the gates to meat heaven. Also, in Easter, try the local treat, roasted goatling seasoned with local herbs.
Mountain wine is not so good but you'll be served with the famous Vinho Verde, coming from the valleys surrounding the mountains, a bubbly and fruity white wine, unique in the world.
You have different options from rural houses, apartments, hotels, hostels and camping and you can find them in the following villages - Caldas do Gerês, Fafião, Ermida, Campo do Gerês, Soajo, Peneda and Castro Laboreiro.
Please keep in mind that the mountains are always dangerous and you have to be very careful and respectful.
Because of all the granite which composes the mountain range, rain is one of the prime threats. IF it starts raining and if you are on an area that you'll have to cross a water stream please realize that the water level can increase really fast - even in summer.
If you are hiking please inform your accomodation which trail are you using so that the rescue teams can locate you if you get lost.
Cell phone coverage is limited so keep in mind this.
Always pack water with you although there's a lot of mineral springs with drinkable water around.