A few days after hiking around the Mizarela and Ribeira da Castanheira waterfalls, I headed out for a solo hike, whose primary feature was another of Europe’s largest waterfalls. The Ermelo waterfall (Fisgas de Ermelo) is located in the Alvão Natural Park (Parque Natural do Alvão). It has a height of 200 metres, but it doesn’t achieve this in one vertical drop. Rather, there are several different drops that comprise the entire waterfall.
The park covers an area of 7,220 hectares (17,841 acres), making it the smallest of Portugal’s designated natural parks. Oak trees are widespread whilst other tree species include chestnut, birch, holly and laurel. It is home to nesting pairs of Golden Eagles and populations of boar, deer, badger, hare and rabbit. The Olo River is home to trout and otters.
Ermelo is one of the traditional villages within the park, and is the starting point for the PR3 MDB hiking trail, up to the Ermelo waterfall. Another trail also commences in the village – the PR7 MDB to Senhora da Graça. I rode my Goldwing to Ermelo and parked it close to the Casa do Povo and the village freguesia (parish council office). I started recording my trail from that location.
Initially, the route utilises the main road in the village, passing the church and several traditional granite houses with slate roofs. An historic feature in the village is the 16th century pillory (pelourinho), erected in celebration of Ermelo’s municipal independence in 1853.
At the point of turning off the road and onto a track, one of the houses is decorated with several pieces of slate that bear written messages concerning the history of the village.
The trail followed a cobblestone lane that soon became a footpath covered in fallen oak leaves, creating a photogenic scene. But, after rain during the previous two days, the wet leaves and the rocks beneath them were slippery. This prompted me to take my walking poles out of my backpack to avoid a slip and fall. This leafy track led down to a bridge across the Olo River.
The bridge over the river marked the first 1.5km of the route and the lowest elevation (326 metres). From there, the route would climb in elevation to a peak of 788 metres. There is a sign warning of a risk of falling and a hand rail is provided for the initial section of the climb. Then the trail becomes steep and rocky. The temperature had been as low as 11C on my ride to Ermelo, so I was anticipating a cold hike. But climbing these trails soon warmed me up and I’d removed both my down jacket and my lightweight hoody within the first 45 minutes of the route. From there onwards, a T-shirt was sufficient.
As the trail continued upwards, I could see the Olo River winding through the terrain down below. Further on, I reached the first viewpoint that gave a distant view of the Ermelo waterfall. A board at the lookout point provided information on the geology of the region and the waterfall itself.
The trail continued to climb across the hillside, including a rocky section with a warning sign that it can be slippery when wet. The higher I went, the better the views became, and the closer I got to the waterfall.
When the trail got closer to the top of the ridge, it levelled out. There was a signposted miradouro (viewpoint) that provided lovely views of the the Fisgas de Ermelo, across the gorge. I scrambled over a few rocks to get the best perspective. My little GorillaPod tripod came in handy for a couple of selfies.
This video clip gives a better appreciation of the beauty (and sound) of this magnificent waterfall.
And a short clip of me enjoying the view.
The trail wound its way up and around the top of mountain, to the point where the river flows over the edge of the waterfall (signposted Piocas de Cima). This vantage point gives a much different perspective of the waterfall, and allows you to get very close to it.
This video clip shows the flow of the river as it goes over the top of the waterfall.
Leaving the waterfall behind, the trail heads upstream, loosely following the course of the Olo River. Along the way, there are some pleasant river views and an old watermill on the bank of the river.
The route follows the river upstream until it reaches the rural farming hamlet of Varzigueto. There, it turns onto a paved road and across a bridge, before heading back downstream on the opposite bank of the river. Upon leaving Varzigueto, an information board shows its position along the PR3 MDB trail.
For those who might be tempted to take a shortcut, to avoid going all the way to Varzigueto, there is an option. I watched a couple of cyclists gently wading barefoot across a shallow part of the river, with their bikes. But I’m sure the mountain water would be very cold on your feet at this time of the year!
Around the 8km mark of the route, the trail begins to go downhill. As it does so, it passes another viewpoint with an information board about Farinha Mount, with an elevation of 941 metres, that can be seen across the valley. With a fortified settlement dating from the Iron Age at the foot of the mount, and the Shrine of Senhora da Graça at the top, it sounds like a good destination for a future hike.
The trail continues downhill and reaches another viewpoint – this time of the Ermelo waterfall from the opposite side. But having experienced the much better viewpoints already, I didn’t spend much time at this one.
A paved road leads up to this viewpoint. Upon leaving, I mistakenly headed down the road and had to double-back to find the actual trail. The dirt trail is marked with a signpost, indicating a further 3.8km to Ermelo. After following the trail for 0.6km, there is another signpost and a nearby chapel, that sits next to the paved road leading to the viewpoint.
A little further down the trail, the Olo River came back into view, down in the valley below, where there was also a small waterfall. Whilst I was admiring the view, a dog led her herd of goats past me on the trail. A memorable moment.
In this clip, you can see the dog leading the way down the track.
With only 2.1km to reach Ermelo, the trail began to move through woodland and became very attractive. The narrow trail squeezed between an abundance of bracken, which added colour to the scenery. One section of the trail was composed of large, well-worn rocks that gave it the appearance of an historic byway. As the trail progressed, fallen oak leaves and emerald green moss growing on walls and trees added to the colour spectrum, creating an enchanted feel to the pathway.
That magical section of the trail took me to another bridge over the Olo River. The descent was complete and I was back down to an elevation of 337 metres. After crossing the bridge, a short uphill section got me back to the village road and back to my bike.
The hike had covered a total distance of 14.71km and I completed it in 4 hours and 29 minutes. Most of the uphill work is in the first 30% of the route. There is nothing challenging after that. It is a beautiful hike, particularly at this time of the year when the foliage adds a variety of colour.
A downloadable GPS track for this route can be accessed via Wikiloc, using this link.