Some have lost their roofs and wooden flooring, but these traditional schist buildings still cling to the steep hillside in a valley of the Serra da Freita, in Portugal’s Magical Mountains. Viewed from a distance, the small village almost looks like it has been hewn out of the mountain rock. The small whitewashed church stands in stark contrast to the rest of the village, that was constructed from the earthy brown metamorphic rock found in this region.
The last residents abandoned Drave in 2009, likely seeking a more comfortable existence elsewhere. The village had no electricity, sanitation, running water, telephone service or mail service, so the residents were truly ‘living off the grid’ before it was seen as a trendy alternative lifestyle. But the location appealed to the Boy Scouts organisation, which uses the village as a base camp. Several of the buildings are now used for camping – by scouts as well as hikers who are passing through. A toilet facility has even been constructed a short distance from the village and water can be collected from the stream that passes nearby.
Now referred to as Aldeia Mágica (Magic Village), Drave is on the tourist map for hikers. Hiking trail PR14 connects Drave to the village of Regoufe, about 4km away. Several websites, including the Arouca Geopark site, claim that the trail from Regoufe is the only way to reach Drave. One could be forgiven for thinking that they are conspiring to keep non-hikers away from the village, because I discovered that there is, in fact, an easier way to visit Drave. You can drive there!
When I was planning a route to Regoufe, for the hike to Drave, my TomTom map showed a road that went directly to Drave. Past experience has taught me that ‘roads’ on a map can be rough trails that are difficult to ride, but it was worth exploring. I plotted a direct route to Drave, but was prepared to detour to Regoufe, if necessary, and hike in.
The 94km between Porto and Drave can be covered in 1 hour 45 minutes. The first segment of the route uses the A1 and A32 motorways but nicer riding-roads begin after leaving the motorways and joining the N224-1. Before long, I was on narrow mountain roads enjoying gorgeous scenery. I love riding in the Magical Mountains – one of my favourite places to ride.
The narrow road to Drave is off Estrada EN1123, after passing through the village of Coelheira. It is a dirt and gravel road, advertised by white paint markings on an adjacent wall for Drave and Gourim. The track has some steep hills as it begins its descent towards Drave. Part way along the track there is a stone marker at a Y-junction. Left for Gourim and straight on for Drave. The track is only wide enough for one car to pass. As it gets closer to Drave, the descent gets steeper with several hairpin turns. I’d made the right decision to take my BMW adventure bike, as it is much better suited for the terrain than my Honda CBF. But several standard two-wheel drive cars had made the journey along the track and had parked in a couple of places towards the end. Whilst not advertised online, local residents are well aware of this route, and had driven out to enjoy their Sunday afternoon. The dirt road eventually narrows to a single footpath that is steeper and more rugged than the road. It is too narrow for cars and too rugged for most motorcycles. So vehicles are parked and the last 10-15 minutes must be covered on foot.
The village is split into two sections, on different hills with the mountain stream running between them. Whilst the smaller part is mostly derelict, it does have one intact building that is used for camping with an adjacent area that can be used for cooking and socialising. In fact, at the time of my visit, a group of teenagers had set up a temporary camp there. The main section of the village has more buildings, with more that are available for camping. Most of the buildings can be explored – those ready for campers are not locked but have wooden doors that can be closed. The whitewashed church is locked and inaccessible. The shape and size of some of the buildings suggest that they were used to house animals (goats, perhaps) or were for general storage.
The layout of the village was dictated by the landscape, so buildings have different shapes and are loosely assembled at different heights and different angles, with narrow walkways between them. It’s an interesting place to explore and to imagine what life was like for its previous inhabitants. I was particularly impressed by the footpaths through the village, that were constructed using large slabs of rock.
I visited on a Sunday afternoon in August, so there were more local visitors than might be expected on a weekday. Yet, there weren’t many people wandering around the village buildings. Most of the visitors (about 20) were congregated around a beautiful, shaded pool that is fed by a cascading mountain stream. Picnicking, sunbathing and generally enjoying a peaceful afternoon in the mountains. The temperature in Drave was about 28C (82F). Hot, but still a bit cooler than the 36C (96.8F) temperatures down at lower elevations. I relaxed by the pool for a while to eat a snack and have a drink, before continuing to explore the village.
The water in the pool was crystal clear and was home to a small population of fish, as can be seen in this short video clip.
After an hour visiting the village, I headed back up the steep footpath to the parking area, passing the toilet installation along the way. After an enjoyable visit to Drave, I had a pleasant ride home. It won’t be long before I’m back riding through the Magical Mountains again.