A Ride through Peneda-Gerês National Park

Mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, dams, a castle, traditional granite granaries, a national park and a border-crossing into Spain. All part of a day-trip from Porto, that was completed in less than eight hours. This was our motorcycle ride through the Peneda-Gerês National Park.

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Located in the north-east of Portugal, along the border with Spain, the Peneda-Gerês National Park covers 702km². This protected area of natural and cultural heritage includes the mountains of Peneda, Soajo, Amarela and Gerês as well as medieval castles, traditional villages and remnants of Roman occupation. It is also home to wolves and Royal Eagles, as well as other birds and small mammals. It’s a lovely place to visit and is easily accessible from Porto.

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I had visited the park previously, but I wanted to share the experience with my grandson, Ethan, who is visiting for the summer. The park is far too large to see in one day, but I mapped out a route that would allow us to see some different aspects of it in a day-trip. Our route covered a total of 172 miles (276km) and saw elevation changes between 60 feet (18 metres) to 2,733 feet (833 metres). We were riding my BMW F800GS.

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The first part of the trip was a boring stretch of motorway (A3 towards Braga), but it was necessary to quickly cover some distance. We then took the N103 road to reach Peneda-Gerês. As we got closer to the national park, the road snaked downhill, offering brief glimpses of a lake below. Then we emerged from the trees and crossed a bridge over the Albufeira da Caniçada lake. Gorgeous! We’d reached the edge of the park.

 

From the lake, we began our ascent into the park, passing through the village of Gerês, the last option for purchasing anything before moving up the mountain. Gerês has several cafes and restaurants, so is a good place to stop for lunch. But we had brought our lunch with us, so that we could have a picnic at the waterfall further up the road. There are a couple of streams with small cascades on the roadside but the most significant waterfall, visible from the road, is on the Rio Homen, towards the top of the Gerês mountain. It is hard to miss, as the road takes a sharp left turn and then crosses a bridge, with the waterfall on the right-side. Parking is not permitted close to the bridge, so we had to drive a couple of hundred metres further up the mountain to a large parking area. We parked the bike and walked back downhill. We found a lovely spot on the rocks, just above the waterfall, where we sat and enjoyed our sandwiches. Very peaceful and much better than sitting inside a restaurant somewhere!

 

Following our lunch, we resumed our ride. A short distance beyond the parking area, we turned right and passed an old border post into Spain and down the other side of the Gerês mountain. There is a small town with a hot-springs pool on the right side, going down the mountain, but we didn’t stop. We continued on the Spanish OU-312 road, past Fondevila and Lobios and then joined the OU-540 back towards Portugal. There’s a Repsol fuel station just across the bridge, so we filled the tank before heading back up the mountain.

The road up the mountain on the Portuguese side had been through a forest, so there weren’t many views. In contrast, the OU-540 took us alongside the Albufeira do Alto Lindoso, providing nice lake views.

 

After re-entering Portugal, our next stop was the village of Lindoso, to visit the medieval castle. Located over the Lima River and close to the Spanish border, Lindoso Castle was strategically placed to defend Portugal and is now considered one of the country’s most important military monuments.

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There are two museums within the inner walls of the castle. One focuses on the military history of the castle whilst the second is devoted to archaeology and the ancient settlements of the surrounding territory. There is an admission fee of €15 for the inner castle and museums. Instead, we were content to walk on and around the outer walls of the castle. Great fun for an 8-year old and one of his favourite parts of the trip!

 

Adjacent to the castle is a wonderful array of 17th & 18th century granite granaries – one of the best such collections in Portugal. These granite structures, raised on short columns, would have been used to store grain and corn but most are now locked and empty. These interesting old structures are very photogenic and it is worth taking a few minutes to wander through them. Ethan enjoyed exploring them, trying to see what was inside and whether any were unlocked. He found one that was open and another that was locked but contained corn cobs.

 

From Lindoso, we drove west, generally following the Lima River. After passing through Paradamonte on the N203, we took a right-turn (sign-posted for Soajo), and followed the winding road down to a hydro-electrical station beneath a dam. Soajo also has a notable collection of granaries, but we didn’t detour to see them. Instead, we continued west along the northern bank of the river, on the scenic EM530 minor road.

We continued on the EM530 until we passed Vilar de Lobos, where we made a left-turn and descended to cross the river over the top of a dam. We re-joined the N203 and continued west, this time following the south bank of the river. Our intended final stop of the trip was the old bridge at Ponte de Lima but, as we got closer, Ethan told me that he was feeling sleepy. We decided to skip the bridge and made our way directly to the A3 motorway where we picked up speed and headed home.

My TomTom had suggested that the route could be covered in four hours, without stops. With our various stops, the trip took a total of 7.5 hours. I think we could have included a brief stop at Ponte de Lima and still been within 8 hours. A very enjoyable trip with nice scenery and an interesting visit to Lindoso.

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