Sunday was one of those days when we decided to visit a specific location, but chose a particularly scenic and enjoyable route to get there, resulting in the journey upstaging the destination. The star of the show was the wonderfully panoramic Peneda-Gerês National Park (Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês) and the route was planned by my friend Marco.
Bev and I have enjoyed some lovely rides with Marco and Patricia, during which we visited some interesting locations and sampled some delicious Portuguese food. But since the Covid-19 lockdown, we have been house-bound and have been avoiding socialising with friends. As restrictions were eased, I took several solo bike rides, but we were still minimising social contact. But when Marco and Patricia invited us to join them for a ride, we decided it was time to dip our toes back into the socialising pool.
Bev and I left home about 9.30am, to reach a rendezvous point near Braga. After meeting up with Marco and Patricia, we headed north-east, to enter the Peneda-Gerês National Park near Cova and the Cávado River. Created in 1971, Peneda-Gerês is Portugal’s only national park, although there are several ‘natural parks’, which can be confusing.
In 1997, Peneda-Gerês was included in the Natura 2000 network, and in 1999, designated a Special Protection Area for Wild Birds. Moreover, it also encompasses an important area of natural forest, which forms part of the European Network of Biogenetic Reserves, and is recognised as a national park by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In 2007, it was accepted in the PAN Parks network that certifies the quality protected areas, according to rigorous criteria of nature conservation, cultural services and sustainability (source Wikipedia).
I’ve ridden through Peneda-Gerês previously, but this time we took a different route, so that I could see more of the park. Once we reached the village of Gerês, we turned left and followed the M533, a narrow, winding mountain road. Part way along that road is the Mirante Velho Miradouro, a viewpoint that sits at an altitude of 599 meters and overlooks the Cávado River.
As we rode along, we soaked in the mountain views and occasionally pulled over to take some photos.
We turned off the M533 and onto the N307 to reach our next stop, at a dam named after a sunken village. Construction on the dam started in 1967, at which time the village of Vilarinho da Furna consisted of 80 houses, accommodating 57 families and 300 inhabitants. But the government planned to submerge the village under the new reservoir. Between 1969 – 1971, the villagers gradually moved out of their homes, taking whatever they could with them. They only received meagre compensation from the Portuguese Electricity Company, which was responsible for the construction project and the forced eviction of the villagers. When the dam was completed, it held back the Homem River to create the reservoir, that rose over the village. But in years of drought, when the level of the reservoir recedes, parts of the village re-emerge from the water.
We rode over the dam and, a short distance further along the road, we reached the charming village of Brufe, that dates back to the 16th century. Its old granite houses and granaries were calling out to be photographed, so we pulled over to the side of the road to take a few pics.
Continuing on, we turned right onto the CM1348 that took us back into the national park, and soon we were passing through another old village. Germil is a traditional mountain village with granite houses, granaries, a church and a watermill. But we were approaching lunch time, so we didn’t stop. We pushed on until we reached the Lima River at Entre Ambos-os-Rios, then turned left onto the N203 to reach the Restaurante Lobo, where we had a reservation for lunch. I enjoyed a nice steak with punched potatoes and green beans – the first steak I’d eaten in at least three months!
Satiated from our lunch, we turned back alongside the Lima River and then crossed over to the northern bank. We were heading to our destination for the day, which took us through the village of Soajo, famous for its collection of old granite granaries. We’ve visited the Soajo granaries before, so we rode straight through the village and followed the road as it climbed up the Serra Amarela (yellow mountain). We soon discovered why the mountain got its name, as we pulled over at a narrow parking area. The mountain is covered in plants with yellow flowers that create a marvellous panorama. A couple of children were running through the flowers, reminding me of a scene from the Sound of Music movie – “the hills are alive with the sound of music”. It would have been worth the journey just to admire this beautiful vista.
Our destination was in sight – a small collection of buildings further up the mountain with the tell-tale white frontage of the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Peneda. Before long, we were parking in front of the old church and its staircase. In 1220, a shepherdess reported seeing an apparition of the Virgin at this location. That led to a chapel being constructed that became a significant Catholic pilgrimage site. The current church was completed in 1875. Directly in front of the church is a zig-zag staircase and then, across the car-park, is a longer, straight staircase running down the hill, that incorporates several small chapels.
The sanctuary marked the end of our sightseeing for the day, but we still had to ride home, as well as stop at Marco and Patricia’s home for dinner. It was a very enjoyable day, with good company, good food and amazing scenery. Wonderful!