Another enjoyable hike to enjoy the beauty of Portugal. The trails on this route pass through some gorgeous areas, offering up views of the beautiful surrounding countryside along the way. Parts of the trail also meander through old villages with their traditional granite buildings and centuries-old chapels. A lovely mix of nature and history.
The route is part of Portugal’s extensive network of hiking routes and is officially known as PR4 Rota dos Caminhos com Alma – roughly translated as Route of the Ways with Soul. It starts and ends at the village of Covelo de Arca, in the municipality of Oliveira de Frades. This is south-east of Porto – a drive of 104km, taking 1 hour and 10 minutes. A sign outside the village indicates that the route covers 10km, with some level of difficulty, and estimates it will take three hours to complete.
The first section of the route climbs in elevation, along a variety of trails, some of which are paved with stones and others that are rough dirt. Almost all of the trails are well shaded by a variety of trees.
The first point of interest is the Church of the Holy Spirit (Igreja do Divino Espírito Santo) in the village of Paranho de Arca. The church dates back to the 18th century. An adjacent viewpoint provides a nice view of the surrounding mountains.
After leaving the church, the route winds through the outskirts of Paranho de Arca to the Chapel of Senhora da Paz. This tiny chapel has an open space next to it that serves as a viewing area, providing sweeping views over the village and the surrounding countryside.
The trail drops down, beside the chapel, and meanders through Paranho. First, passing traditional old granite buildings and then on a narrow track alongside cultivated fields, to an old watermill, before returning to the paved road through the village. In addition to crops in the fields, there were goats, sheep and chickens adding to the rural atmosphere of the village.
With the village behind us, the trail took us through a cedar grove to the Botanical Reserve of Carvalhedo da Gândara, reported to be Portugal’s largest oak forest. It was here that we enjoyed a tranquil picnic lunch, surrounded by majestic oaks. We had the whole forest to ourselves, with not another person in sight. By this point, we had covered 7.5km of the hike.
Next up was the most historical aspect of the route. The Anta de Arca (Tapir of the Ark) is a megalithic dolmen that is believed to date from the late Chalcolithic period (Copper Age – approx 3300-1200 BC). It was classified as a National Monument in 1910. The dolmen would have originally had five or seven pillars forming its polygonal chamber, but parts of some pillars are missing, leaving it with only three intact. Almost all other dolmens have a corridor entrance. It is thought that this dolmen also had such a corridor, but that the stones were subsequently lost or reused in other structures. A somewhat phallic structure stands nearby, with a water fountain incorporated into it.
The route wound its way back through the village of Paranho, and a grouping of old granite buildings on the outskirts of the village, before dropping down onto a narrow forest track titled Caminho de Sacramento (Way of the Sacrament). This was the most beautiful segment of the route. The narrow trail shadowed a small stream (Ribeira de Covelo), with a canopy of trees above and an abundance of ferns on the ground. Along one stretch of the trail, the already verdant valley is enriched by the rampant kelly-green moss that is flourishing on the trees and stone walls. It’s a magical scene.
The route next took us through a stand of cork oaks, to reach the village of Covelo, where we found the Capela São Mamede. Based on the inscription above the door, this small chapel may date back to 1656. The interior features azulejo tiles along the two side walls and an intricate azulejo design that fills the entire wall behind the altar. The lane into the village was lined on both sides with grape vines, that were loaded with bunches of purple grapes, ready for harvest. As we passed through the village, we enjoyed looking at more traditional granite buildings, as the route neared completion.
Covelo is also home to the Arpuro Restaurante and Bar, open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 1230 – 2400hrs. As it is located close to the end of the hike, it would be a great place to stop for refreshments before heading home.
As we had only recently finished our picnic lunch, we passed on the opportunity this time. We headed back to the bike for the ride home, satisfied after a very pleasant afternoon.
According to my Wikiloc app, our hike covered a distance of 10.81km. It started at an altitude of 444m and reached a maximum elevation of 686m. In total, the hike took us 4 hours and 7 minutes, with a moving time of 2 hours 37 minutes.
A downloadable GPS track of this route can be located at Wikiloc, using this link