Somehow, I managed to go almost four months without hiking, but I rectified that recently with a pleasant hike in the area of Marão, located between the towns of Amarante and Vila Real.
The route was provided by João Marques Fernandes on the Wikiloc website. Route PR6-AMT is a looped route that begins and ends near to the Junta de Freguesia de Ansiães. We found sufficient roadside parking close to the starting point, but there is also a nice parking area in the village.
According to the official sign in the village, the route covers 14.3km and its elevation ranges from 446 to 895 metres. The estimated time to complete the route is four hours.
The hike starts out at its lowest elevation, with a gentle uphill slope through the village. It follows a small river through pleasant wooded areas, passing the entrance to an old wolfram mine along the way. Wolfram is a rare metal also known as tungsten.
About 3km into the hike, we reached the Posto Aquicola do Torno (Torno Aquaculture Station). This facility was established in 1945 for the production of both common and rainbow trout, which are used to repopulate rivers. It is located on the Torno River (also known as the Ramalhosa Stream), which provides a ready source of fresh, clean water. There are six breeding ponds on the facility, fed by flowing water. From the road above, large adult trout can be clearly seen swimming in the ponds. The facility also has several tanks that are used in the reproduction process, and for growing out the young fish.
As we left the trout farm behind us, the ascent got steeper as we followed the path of a levada (water channel) that feeds water to the facility. It was a very pleasant section of the route, passing through a shady forest, with the ground covered in dead leaves. Along the way, we admired rocks and trees that were covered in in thick coating of moss.
As we reached a higher elevation, we came out of the forest and were treated to some lovely views of the surrounding mountains. We passed by some old concrete buildings that were once the facilities of the mining company Couto Mineiro do Marão, which mined Wolfram and tin in this area. The beauty of this segment is enhanced by stands of wild Foxgloves.
The trail makes its way along the southern side of the gorge, before making a sharp left hairpin turn, to make its way back along the northern side. Before the sharp bend, there is a sign marked ‘Fonte-da Colina Do’ with a drawing of the sun (fountain of the hill of the sun). For those who choose to detour down the steep hill, there is a source of fresh water pouring from a spout, providing the opportunity to top up water bottles. There is also a small pool nearby, fed by the stream.
Continuing around the hairpin bend, we were treated to more beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, as well as the valley that stretched out beyond us. There is also a short tunnel that has been cut into a rock, to allow the dirt road to pass. It is an interesting and photogenic feature. As we reached the tunnel, we saw a couple of swifts flying around and also heard the repeated chirps of birds. After scanning the rocky surface, we spotted three baby swifts. They were calling to their parents, who periodically swooped in to feed the babies. Without landing, the parents were able to fly by and deposit small insects into the waiting mouths of the babies. The babies still had downy feathers and I thought they were not yet able to fly, but a few minutes later, they took off and flew away with their parents. It was a lovely highlight of the hike.
The highest elevation of the hike comes around 8.5km into the hike. We reached it after 2.5 hours of walking and stopped there to eat our lunch. From that point, the trail was mostly downhill. About 500 metres after beginning the descent, the trail makes another sharp left hairpin bend, after which it passes the old Alto de Espinho Forest Guard House (built in 1919). This is a remnant from the times when forest rangers lived in such houses. The dirt trail ends a short distance beyond, close to the former waterworks complex. As we had been walking along this dirt trail, I had been thinking that it would be nice for some off-road motorcycling.That idea was dashed when we reached the paved road and saw a sign warning that motorised vehicles are not permitted on the trail.
Moving on beyond the disused waterworks, the route continues downhill, on a narrow trail alongside a stream, over a small wooden bridge and through a pine forest. Around the 10.5km mark, the trail goes under the A4 auto-expressway, at a point close to the road’s entrance to the Marão Tunnel. The downhill trail continues until about the 13km mark, where it crosses the small rudimentary stone bridge (Ponte Va de Baralha), from where the route levels off. The flatter section passes some old stone buildings and farming plots, before returning to starting point in Ansiães.
Our hike had covered a total distance of 14.54km and took 4 hours 44 minutes to complete. I found it to be a very enjoyable route. I have rated it as ‘moderate’ as some of the descent features loose surfaces that require caution. The use of walking poles is encouraged. The trail had been recently cut back, so there was no overgrowth and no overhanging branches or brambles.
The GPS track for this route can be downloaded from Wikilocs, using this link