Above the Clouds on the Serra do Marão

It felt quite special to be looking down on the clouds below, whilst hiking on continental Portugal’s sixth-highest mountain. I was on a solo hike and it seemed as though I had the whole mountain to myself. But this was not a relaxing walk in nature. It was a workout that was quite tough in some sections.

The start and end point for this trek was Mafómedes, a small village with about 30 inhabitants, nestled between two slopes of the Serra do Marão mountain range, at an elevation of 800 metres. The ride from Porto took about 80 minutes. Along the way, low clouds blanketed some of the roads as I neared my destination. But as I reached the outskirts of the village, the narrow cobbled road rose out of the clouds, revealing a clear blue sky above the mountains. Whilst the morning temperature in Porto had been 14C when I left, the low cloud had caused it to drop to only 8C in Mafómedes. But the tough climb ahead of me would soon warm me up!

The hike started out with a gentle downhill stretch through the village, across a bridge over the Teixeira River and past a couple of old cottages, as I approached the bottom of the mountain slope. It was enough to get my legs warmed up for the onslaught that was about to occur.

The following image shows the first challenge of the hike – climbing the slope of the mountain from the valley at the bottom to the wind turbines at the top.

It was a strenuous climb due to the steepness of the trail and the loose rocks that littered it. This climb should not be taken lightly, as a good level of fitness is required to get to the top. As challenging as this first climb is, when looking backwards it presents wonderful views over Mafómedes and the valley below. And, on this particular day, the clouded valley beyond the village. My glutes were burning, but I pushed on and maintained a good pace.

That first mountain slope peaks at 1,270 metres, where there is a geodetic marker, some wind turbines and an electricity generator building. The geodetic marker also coincides with the first 3.5km of the route. I made it there within 75 minutes from starting out.

The next challenge would be the second peak of the route, but before then I was able to enjoy a descent on a rough gravel road, that dropped from 1,270 to 1,106 metres, over a distance of 2.2 km. Along that stretch, I enjoyed some lovely mountain views, including a distant view of some waterfalls that are the source of the Teixeira River, that flows to join the Douro River.

On my climb up the first slope, it had taken about 24 minutes to cover one km, but it was only taking me 11 minutes per km on the downhill gravel road. But all good things come to an end and, at the 5.8km mark, I left the road and headed uphill again on a rocky trail. This was the beginning of the ascent to the second peak. This climb was as steep as the first, but shorter in distance.

The second peak, known as Fraga da Ermida, occurs at an elevation of 1,393 metres and 7.4km into the hike. This peak is home to a geodetic marker, as well as a small hikers cabin that could be used for overnight stays. It has a small room with a raised sleeping platform and a smaller room with a fireplace that can serve as a kitchen.

Next up was the third peak of the route – and the highest point of the Serra do Marão. Whilst it is the highest peak, the approach from Fraga da Ermida is gentler. The highest point can be easily seen, due to several large red and white communication towers that stand there. There is an initial descent to about 1,335 metres and then a gradual ascent up to 1,416 metres. In addition to the telecommunications centre, the tallest peak is also home to a geodetic marker and the Chapel of Senhora da Serra – the highest pilgrimage site in Portugal.

The highest point was 9.5km into the hike and it took me three hours to get there. From there, it would be mostly downhill, back to Mafómedes, from the opposite side of the valley. After a steep, winding, rocky trail the route followed a gravel road for a while, passing stands of pine trees. Then it returned to the more familiar rocky footpaths. Along the way, it passed some old buildings associated with the Teixo mine. There is also a viewpoint that looks towards the town of Amarante. For the final 1.5km of the route, the rocky trail descends steeply, providing a commanding view of the steep slope across the valley that provided the first challenge of the day.

The final stroll through the village took me back to my starting point, having completed a total distance of 16.83km in 4 hours 57 minutes. The ascents are all in the first 9.5km, making the final 7km comparably easier. I should note that I maintained a strong pace throughout the hike and finished in a faster time than others might achieve. I’m in pretty good shape and walk faster than the average 61-year old. Anyone considering doing this route should allow some extra time, as safety would be compromised coming down off the mountain on those rocky trails after sunset.

Walking poles are highly recommended for the steep sections of the route (uphill and down). There is no shade along this route which wasn’t a problem in November but should be considered (along with the heat) if contemplating this hike during the summer months. I carried two litres of water with me which was sufficient for the time of year.

A downloadable gpx file for this route can be obtained via Wikiloc, using this link. I extend my thanks again to João Marques Fernandes, whose Wikiloc trail I followed on this hike, and who provides so many interesting trails to follow.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Craig, enjoyed your post for this hike. Nothing like an extended uphill pull to get the legs and lungs working! And from your photos it seems the trail was a good test for the ankles too!

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