Located less than 30 minutes from Porto, the Paleozoic Park of Valongo is an excellent choice for a quick getaway from the city. Named due to the presence of geological formations from the paleozoic era, 350 million years ago, it is also home to several mines and rock-cuts created by the Romans between the 1st and 3rd centuries. It is a beautiful slice of nature, with the Rio Ferreira running through it.
Our hike on this occasion was concentrated on the Serra de Santa Justa e Pias, part of the Mountains of Valongo. Justa rises to an elevation of 367 metres, whilst the slightly taller Pias peaks at 385 metres. The mountains are covered in trees, albeit mostly eucalyptus, that is cultivated for the paper industry. We were following part of a longer route that was recorded on the Wikiloc app by Joao Marques Fernandes. We walked the first half of this route back in August (see link), so now we were back to complete the second loop. This second loop does not follow marked hiking trails, so it is necessary to use the app to stay on track.
We made the short drive from Porto, through Valongo and parked on the Ecological Corridor, adjacent to the Rio Ferreira and a short distance north of the village of Couce. From there, we picked up the trail using Wikiloc. Within a few minutes, we found ourselves next to a Roman gold mine, located down below the trail in a crevice in the rocks. It would be easily overlooked, were it not for the sign on the wall.
Initially, the trail follows a boardwalk alongside a small tributary that feeds into the Ferreira. Don’t be fooled by this easy start – the trail gets more difficult.
Once we were off the boardwalk, the route started to climb, following a mixture of narrow rocky trails and logging roads through the eucalyptus trees. Alongside one of those logging roads was a beautifully constructed old dry stone wall. Someone spent a lot of time building this wall – a dying art form.
A little further along the track we found the entrance to another mine, known as Fojo das Pombas. This one had a modern steel door securing the entrance. In the same area is another cave or mine, at the bottom of steep-sided hole in the ground. There were also a number of deep shafts cut into the rock, that appeared to be very old wells. We were cautious not to get too close to the edges of these pits and shafts – it would be impossible to get back out after falling in.
There was an abundance of fungi growing in the leaf litter at the side of the trails. Whilst some of them looked like they may be edible, these with red caps and white spots appear to be hallucinogenic mushrooms – possibly Fly Agaric.
We continued uphill until we reached the highest point of the hike at a claimed 386 metres, where a geodetic marker can be located, with a view over the surrounding urban areas.
Having reached the peak, the rest of the route was primarily downhill. From the geodetic marker, we headed towards the Chapel of Santa Justa, only to find a chain across the entrance with a sign indicating private property and warning of the presence of a dog (which we could hear barking). So we skipped the chapel visit and continued downhill until we reached a flat area at the top of a cliff, overlooking the Rio Ferreira and the surrounding mountains. A perfect place to stop for lunch.
After lunch, we pushed on down the hill, where the route soon got more difficult. The descent was quite steep in places, with a lot of loose rocks and stones underfoot. The steepest and most difficult stretch of the trail was the final segment before reaching the Ecological Corridor, where we had begun. Not for the faint of heart, but we made it intact.
Once on the flat Ecological Corridor, there was one more treat to enjoy, before we reached the parked car. A steep narrow downhill track gives access to a large rock that overlooks the Rio Ferreira, at a point where the small tributary joins it. There is also an old watermill where they join. It’s a lovely spot to enjoy the swift flowing river and would also be a good spot for a picnic.
And here’s a short video clip of this beautiful stretch of river.
Our hike covered a total of 8.24km and took 3 hours 47 minutes to complete (2 hours 24 minutes actual moving time). A gpx file of the route can be located at Wikiloc using this link.