After several days of rain, we had a beautiful day for New Years Eve. Taking full advantage of the break in the weather, I headed to the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês (PNPG) for a hike in the mountains. I was rewarded with gorgeous views and a close encounter with some Garrano horses. It was a perfect way to spend the last day of 2021.
The starting point for my hike was the forestry house ‘Casa Florestal da Portela de Leonte‘, located north of the village of Gerês, and about 100km from my home. There is ample parking space around this property, which is used as a starting point for several hiking trails. The trail that I would be following encompasses the Serra do Gerês mountain and was provided by João Marques Fernandes, via the Wikiloc app.
For the first 0.3km, the trail is gentle, as it passes through a wooded area and across a stream. But then it begins its ascent to the highest elevation of the day (1,142 metres). This isn’t a formally designated hiking trail, with the associated trail markings. As an informal trail, the only markings are the occasional traditional piles of rocks, known as mariolado, that indicate the route. To avoid getting lost, it is necessary to use a GPS track, such as those provided by Wikiloc.
The first ascent was the most challenging section of the route, but not because of the steepness of the climb. In several sections, the narrow trail was heavily overgrown by plants and trees, including prickly Holly. Caution was required to make progress through the trail, and to avoid being scratched, which slowed my progress considerably.
At 57 minutes into the hike, I finally moved above the overgrown section and emerged into an open, rocky section that was much easier to navigate. From that point, to the highest point, the trail was unobstructed and provided a pleasurable walk. The mariola rock-piles were easy to see, as they signalled the way to the top.
After 1 hour and 24 minutes of hiking, I reached the highest elevation, alongside the Pé de Cabril, a notable feature of the Serra do Gerês mountain. Upon reaching the top, panoramic views of the surrounding granite peaks opened up. I also got my first glimpse of the Vilarinho das Furnas Reservoir.
As I followed the GPS track, there were more opportunities to view the Vilarinho das Furnas Reservoir, as it stretched out in the valley below. At each viewpoint, the view got better. To reach the final viewpoint, I had to scramble up and over large boulders. I couldn’t see a discernible trail and the GPS track seemed to just go over the boulders. But the view was worth the effort!
Leaving the reservoir views behind, the route continued over rocky surfaces, with some lovely views of the surrounding mountains.
After 3 hours and 15 minutes, I reached the part of the route that begins a steep descent. Once down and off the rocky plateau, the trail again became overgrown with vegetation. But, fortunately, in this section there were no prickly holly bushes, so I was able to push through the shrubbery without getting scratched.
It was on this downhill segment that I had my surprise encounter with a group of four garrano horses. I have been fortunate to come across these semi-wild horses previously, on other hikes. Until now, they have always seemed rather wary of people and have kept a safe distance from me. This experience was very different.
As you can see in this video, I came across the horses on a very narrow trail that passed through trees and bushes. Fully expecting them to run away from me, I approached slowly and cautiously. One of the horses did, in fact, walk off the trail to a safe distance, but the other three refused to move from the trail, despite my encouragement.
In this second video clip, I continue to encourage the horses to move along the trail. Again, they remained steadfast, blocking the trail.
The horses wouldn’t move and the trail was very narrow. I didn’t want to try to squeeze past them, as I was concerned that they might get spooked and kick out. I couldn’t go back, so I decided to slowly push through the bushes, a few feet to the left of the horses, so that I could get past them.
Once I had made my way ahead of the horses on the trail, I got a surprise. The lead horse, a young male, approached me and was quite friendly. As I was taking photos and video, he approached me. He was clearly accustomed to people, as he nudged his head against me and allowed me to pet him. He seemed to be looking for some kind of food treat.
As I moved on downhill, the trail continued to be overgrown and difficult to follow in some places. The following video gives an example of what parts of the trail looked like. There were a couple of places where I lost the trail entirely, despite the app’s GPS telling me that I was on the correct route. I had to bushwhack through trees and undergrowth until I found the trail again.
Further downhill, the overgrown trail gave way to wide trails over fallen oak leaves, as I made my way through the Mata de Albergaria, a lovely oak wood. Emerging out of the oak woods, I found myself at a wooden bridge over the Rio de Maceira. This marked the bottom of the descent and the lowest elevation of the hike (664 metres). It had taken me 4 hours and 44 minutes to reach this point.
Beyond the wooden bridge, the trail passes another forestry house – Casa Florestal de Albergaria – and then follows paved roads all the way back to the starting point. It’s a steady climb, gaining just over 200 metres of elevation over a distance of 3.4km. There is an option to deviate onto a dirt trail that runs alongside the paved road, but it was getting late into the afternoon and I knew that I could maintain a faster pace on the paved surface. Despite being on a paved road, it is still an enjoyable stretch, as the oak woods are on both sides of the road and there is the constant gurgling of the Rio de Maceira, that runs parallel to the road.
I completed the hike in 5 hours and 25 minutes. The route covered a total distance of 12.44km and gained 685 metres in elevation.
I have rated the hike as difficult, mostly due to the fact that I had to scramble over and down rocky boulders and push my way through trees and undergrowth in several places. It isn’t an easy route to follow, even with GPS, but it rewards the effort with some lovely views. Boots and walking poles are highly recommended.
A GPS trail for this route can be obtained via Wikiloc, using this link