Sistelo – Estrica Hike

Sistelo has been nicknamed Portugal’s Little Tibet, due to its terraced hillsides that have evoked comparisons with the terraced rice fields in the Tibetan mountains. This small, scenic village is located in the Serra da Peneda, just outside the western edge of the Peneda-Gerês National Park, in the northern part of Portugal. Its cultural landscape is classified as a site of national interest.

On Sunday, we headed to Sistelo for a short and leisurely hike. As we arrived on the outskirts of the village, we realised that many others had the same idea. There were numerous cars parked on both side of the N304, that passes alongside the village.

There are several hiking trails of varying lengths that start in Sistelo, or pass through it. We had opted for a circular trail of about 5km that would include the overlook from the village of Estrica.

As we set off from the centre of the village, we carefully descended a cobbled footpath which also seemed to serve as a stream, fed by a nearby spring. There were several other groups walking along this section of footpath but, as we took a right fork, the crowds thinned out. We crossed over the River Vez on a stone bridge and then climbed over a stone stile, to get over a wall, and found ourselves in a field with scenic views back to Sistelo. We were about to start the climb to Estrica.

The ascent was mostly shaded, as we walked through stands of oak trees, on our way towards Estrica.

From the village of Estrica, we were able to enjoy views across the surrounding countryside to the nearby mountains, as well as the village of Sistelo and its terraces, stretched out below us. As we walked through the village, we reached a small chapel and the Estrica Miradouro lookout point, next to the church. From there, the views over Sistelo were excellent. It was also close to the highest elevation of the hike, so it was a great place to stop to eat our lunches.

After a restful lunch, we resumed the hike, which would be mostly downhill from Estrica. We initially followed a paved road until we reached a point where we would turn left onto a dirt track. It was there that we encountered a rather brusque woman who was herding her cows. Whilst she and three of her cows were on a hill above the track, one of her cows was on the track that we needed to follow. As Paul and I entered the track and began to walk towards the lone cow, the woman began shouting loudly at us. It is perhaps fortunate that we couldn’t understand what she was saying, as it was probably quite rude. However, it was clear that she did not want us walking on the track when her cow was there. We dutifully backed away from the track until she had herded her cows onto the paved road, continually shouting at us as she did so!

With the cows behind us, we enjoyed a lovely, scenic downhill stretch, as we followed the PR24 trail towards Sistelo.

As we got closer to Sistelo, the trail reached the River Vez, where we explored an old watermill on the bank of the river, before crossing a bridge to the other side.

Whilst the second half of the route had been downhill, there was one little surprise in store as we neared Sistelo. To reach the village, we had to climb a steep set of old stone steps. An abandoned ruin marked the top of the steps and the edge of the village.

A short walk through the village got us to the end of the trail. There are a number of restaurants in the village as well as a shop, for anyone wishing to get food, refreshments or souvenirs. There was also a small stall in the square selling local produce, such as honey and fresh eggs.

Our Sunday afternoon hike had covered a distance of 4.95km, with an elevation gain of 315 metres. It took us 3 hours and 4 minutes to complete. A GPS track for this route can be obtained from the Wikiloc website using this link

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