For the third time this month, we returned to the Serra da Freita mountains, also known as the Magic Mountains or Enchanted Mountains. This time, it was to hike along the Mizarela Escarpment, to experience two beautiful and majestic waterfalls. Along the way, we enjoyed our picnic lunch at an incredibly beautiful location, alongside one of the falls.
The starting point for this hike was opposite the Merujal Campsite (Parque Campismo Merujal), where there are ample parking places. It is only a 55-minute drive from Porto, so an easy location for us to reach.
We would be following the PR7 marked hiking trail, supported by a GPS route uploaded to the Wikiloc app, by user Ulisses Silva. Starting at an elevation of 896 metres, the route has a gentle, undulating start, passing through a scenic area that includes several picnic areas.
Spaced along the first section of the route are several pictorial boards, that provide information on some of the flora and fauna that can be found in the surrounding area.
After about 1.5km, we reached the viewing platform for the Mizarela waterfall (Cascata da Frecha Mizarela). With a height of about 75 metres, Mizarela is said to be the highest waterfall in mainland Portugal and one of the highest in Europe. Located next to a paved road, this viewpoint provides the most accessible view of the waterfall. However, it is a fairly distant view. As we progressed along our route, we would get closer, and better views.
From the viewpoint, we began a descent that would take us down more than 300 metres to the Caima River valley below. For a short distance, it was by paved road, but then we turned off onto the narrow hiking trail, providing the first of many further views of the Mizarela falls.
Initially, the trail descended fairly gently, winding its way through a wooded area. But, gradually, the trail became steeper and more rocky, as we made our way down the escarpment, opposite the waterfall.
The view of the waterfall from across the valley gave a real appreciation of its height. The view was enhanced by the sound of it roaring down the cliff face, as can be seen in this video clip.
As we continued down the trail, we gradually left the Mizarela falls behind us, but they continued to be a feature in some of the scenic photos taken along the way. On a much smaller scale, a praying mantis caught our attention, whilst it was sitting alongside the trail eating an insect.
Unfortunately, after we had covered about two-thirds of the descent, Angela tweaked her back and was experiencing pain whilst descending the steep and twisty trail. With the steeper part of the descent still ahead of us, followed by a climb up a 300 metre elevation on the other side, she made the wise decision to call it a day. Paul and Angela re-traced the route uphill, to where it met a paved road, and made their way back to the car that way. They graciously encouraged us to continue the hike, so Bev and I pushed on without them.
The descent got a bit steeper, so care was required whilst navigating the rocky trail. Some sections were quite technical. As we progressed, we began to see the Ribeira da Castanheira waterfall painting a broken white line down the mountainside ahead of us. The silence was broken by a shout from Bev that there was a snake behind me. As the brown creature wriggled across the trail, I was able to snap a quick photo of it. It wasn’t a snake, but appeared to be a Slow Worm – essentially a legless lizard.
As we neared the river at the bottom of the valley, we reached the small, abandoned village of Ribeira. There is one modern concrete house that is in a state of disrepair, as well as several ruins of traditional granite buildings, including a water mill next to the bridge. There is a paved road that provides access to the village, but no signs of life.
The bridge over the river sits at an elevation of about 651 metres. It is located 3.3 km into the hike and we reached it after two hours and 15 minutes. The rate of descent was fairly slow, due to the technical nature of the terrain, along with a couple of missed turns on the trail. Whilst the trail is marked, it is easy to follow an adjoining trail in the wrong direction, as the signs are not always obvious. We had to back-track on a couple of occasions. It pays to keep a keen lookout for any trail markers along the way.
In the vicinity of the abandoned village, and alongside the river, the rocky trail was wet and slippery, so caution is required. Similarly, as we crossed the bridge and began our ascent, that side of the river was in shade, so the sun hadn’t dried off the morning dew. The ground was damp and slippery. As we began the climb, we could see the village on the opposite bank as well as a distant view of the Mizarela waterfall ahead of us, a visible indicator of how far uphill we now had to walk.
Part of our upward trek ran alongside the Ribeira da Castanheira waterfall and we would get very close to the fall in a couple of locations. At the first such location, we were able to stand alongside a section of the waterfall as it cascaded in front of us and then flowed on past us. Such a beautiful spot.
As we continued the steep climb, we could see a bridge that crossed the waterfall, far above us. We could also enjoy views up the river valley, towards the Mizarela viewpoint, which gave a clear perspective of how far we had walked – and how far we still had to go.
This video clip shows the same perspective, as we drew closer to the bridge across the waterfall.
But we weren’t quite there yet. We still had to get up and over a large sloping boulder. Fortunately, there was a chain attached to the rock that we could hold onto for some reassurance.
Then we reached the simple wooden bridge that spanned the gorge, with the waterfall cascading only a few feet away from it. It was such a beautiful location that we decided to stop there for a while to eat our lunch. This has to rate as the most beautiful and stunning location that we have stopped for lunch on any of our hikes. Enchanted mountains indeed!
The safety railings are missing from one-third of the bridge, so extra care should be taken when crossing. Here is a video clip taken whilst standing on the bridge.
Suitably invigorated from our lunch, we resumed our upward climb, tackling some particularly steep and rocky sections along the way, before the incline levelled out around 946 metres elevation. At that point, we had covered about 4.6km and it had taken us four hours to get there.
With the steep incline behind us, the trail became less strenuous, but we still had further to go. We enjoyed the views over the surrounding countryside with its dry-stone walls and an old water mill. In the distance, we could see the meteorological station tower.
Next up was an interesting outcrop of white rocks, near to where the PR7 is joined by another trail. It was mid afternoon, we were up on the plateau and clouds were obscuring the sun. It had suddenly become quite chilly, so we were glad to have our jackets in our backpacks.
We could see the village of Mizarela up ahead. Whilst most of the climbing was done, the trail still had a few ups and downs for us to negotiate, as well as another section with a safety chain attached to the cliff to hold onto. The trail took us over a small stream and through an area that was the site of a previous wildfire. It was there that we came across a couple of cows, grazing on the bracken.
In this video clip, you can see one of the cows, with its bell ringing across the mountainside.
When we reached the paved road near to Mizarela village, we knew that we were on the final stretch. As we walked along the road, we enjoyed some views of the Caima River, as it headed towards the top of the Mizarela waterfall. Then we turned off the road for the final stretch of the trail, to where the car was parked. Paul and Angela were patiently waiting for us, having completed their shortened hike hours before us.
Our hike covered a total distance of 7.55 km and took us 5 hours and 7 minutes to complete (with multiple stops to take photos and a break for lunch). The elevation ranged from 652 – 971 metres. I have given it a rating of ‘difficult’, due to the technical nature of sections of the trail. It is a beautiful route that is well worth the effort. A GPS trail for this hike can be accessed at Wikiloc, using this link.