Whilst not in the same calibre as the famed Peruvian Inca Trail that leads to Machu Picchu, Portugal has its own mountainside hiking trail that has been nicknamed the Inca Trail. Sections of this route have been built using large flat slabs of rock to form the trail, adding an element of interest or mystique to this scenic hiking path.
Our starting point for the hike was the small village of Póvoa das Leiras, in the Serra da Freita mountain range. It can be reached by car from Porto in about 1 hour 20 minutes. We chose to park in the village itself, but the start of the trail can also be accessed after parking next to the small church at the outskirts of the village, on the road towards Coelheira.
As we approached the village, we saw a woman climbing a slope whilst carrying a load of dried ferns above her head. Only the bottom half of her body was visible beneath the stack of ferns. It was a treat to see one of the villagers going about her rural life. As we walked through the village, we saw more bundles of ferns awaiting transport.
The village still has some traditional homes and buildings made from schist, with local slate used as roofing tile, so it was nice to be able to wander along the narrow road and enjoy them, whilst exchanging greetings with the villagers.
As we were passing through the village, another of the womenfolk came by, herding her goats out to pasture. It just so happened that she was heading out along the same footpath as we were, so we followed and watched her calling out to the goats, keeping them on track. Along the way, she rounded up a few sheep that were already grazing and they too obeyed her calls and dutifully trotted after her. She was quite a character and we somehow managed to communicate briefly, despite my very poor Portuguese. It was a very pleasant way to start the hike.
Here are a couple of video clips of the villager herding her goats and sheep.
As we reached a fork in the trail, the goat herd headed upwards, and we took the lower rocky trail that leads to the Inca Trail. We were already enjoying amazing views over the surrounding mountains.
In this short video clip, you can see how the stone slabs form the footpath on the Inca Trail.
We continued along the Inca Trail, where the trail alternates between a rocky surface and the carefully laid slabs. By the time we had covered 1.1km, the trail had descended into a ravine at an elevation of 766 metres, before we commenced a long climb up the mountain.
After climbing up some narrow and rocky trails, we found ourselves in a more open area, with sweeping views across the mountains. But we were still climbing towards the wind turbines at the peak.
At the 2.5km mark, we had reached the peak with its wind turbines, at an elevation of 1,032 metres. Throughout our ascent, we had been in the lee of the mountain, where we felt no breeze. But as we reached the peak, we were greeted by a brisk and chilly wind. We left the trail and walked along the road for a short distance, to reach the highest elevation of our hike (1,039 metres).
Then the gps track that we were following suddenly went off-piste. Instead of following an established trail, the track was heading across rough ground and downhill. Thinking that the track would soon meet up with an established trail, we followed it down into the valley where a spring was flowing around some rocks with some nearby trees. It had the feel of a small oasis. But once we got there, it was clear that there was no established track. Furthermore, if we were to continue to follow the track on the Wikiloc app, we would have to fight our way through prickly gorse plants. Instead, we re-traced our steps, back up the hill to the road, so that we could find a better way to join up with the track.
Anyone following our gps track should therefore ignore the off-piste ‘detour to nowhere’.
We were able to follow a rough track and a paved road, all downhill until we returned to Povoa das Leira.
It was a very enjoyable hike, combining the interesting features of the Inca Trail and the wonderful mountain views. We covered a total distance of 6.11km (including the off-piste detour). It took a total of 3 hours 28 minutes, including a stop for lunch.
Should anyone wish to follow our route, a downloadable gpx file can be accessed at Wikiloc, using this link