A Ride to the Hobbit’s Village

The Branda de Santo António de Vale de Poldros is believed to date back to the Middle Ages. Its collection of small quirky stone buildings has earned it the nickname of aldeia dos Hobbits (Hobbit’s Village). It seemed like a perfect destination for an April motorcycle ride.

Branda de Santo António is located in the parish of Riba de Mouro, in the the municipality of Monção, and sits on the edge of the Peneda-Gerês National Park, in northern Portugal. As such, it takes roughly two hours to drive there from my home, the first hour on the Auto-Expressway and the rest on more enjoyable roads. The round trip covered 189 miles (304km).

The most enjoyable section of the ride is clearly the part that passes through the national park. As the road winds its way up to higher elevations, if offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and the valleys below. I was disappointed to see such a low water level in the reservoir below, as that does not bode well for the summer to come.

As I got close to my destination, I was thrilled to see a group of Garrano horses that was fairly close to the road. Of course, I stopped to take photos and was happy to see that three of the mares had young foals and another was heavily pregnant.

Next up was the Branda de Santo António, accessed by a rough cobbled lane and sitting at an elevation of about 1,000 metres. Brandas were developed in the Middle Ages by the nomadic herders of the region, who were called brandeiros. In the warmer summer months, the herds would be taken up the mountain to graze. During these periods, the herders would live in brandas that they built using granite and schist that were readily available on the mountain.

These rudimentary buildings are called cardenhas. Often, they would comprise two levels, with the lower level used for housing the livestock whilst the herders slept in the upper level. This can be clearly seen in some of my photographs of the cardenhas. Other structures are more basic and only have a ground floor space within.

With the passage of time, the younger generations have mostly moved on from the pastoral practices of the past, so the cardenhas of Branda de Santo António de Vale de Poldros are no longer used for their original purpose. Some have been converted and the village includes a number of more modern houses that are used as summer homes. Fortunately, these remnants of the local history have been preserved for our enjoyment.

It was an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Spring and is recommended for anyone thinking about a day-trip from Porto/Gaia. There are also several marked hiking trails that pass through the village.

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