Portugal's Peneda-Gerês National Park: The Complete Guide

Peneda-Geres National Park
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Peneda-Gerês National Park

Address
Portugal
Phone +351 253 203 480

Many people think of sunny beaches and bustling cities like Lisbon when they consider a trip to Portugal, but just over an hour north of Porto lies a place that seems a world apart but still distinctly Portuguese. Peneda-Gerês National Park, or simply Gerês, is Portugal’s first and only national park.

The area covers more than 270 square miles up to the northern border and was established in 1971 to ensure the ancient customs of the region were kept intact. The earliest signs of habitation are from 6000 B.C. as evidenced by the Neolithic tombs that dot the landscape. Roman roads, bridges, and milestone markers show visitors the once-prominent Roman influence and from the 12th century onwards. The formerly inhospitable mountainous regions were plowed and cultivated, resulting in a beautiful patchwork effect of fields and pastures.

In Gerês you’ll find remote, granite hamlets where shepherds tend their cattle, goats, and ponies. The forested areas are made up of English and Pyrenean oaks and birch, while the remaining land is covered in gorse and heather. If you’re lucky you could glimpse wild boar and even wolves in the mountainous holly, birch, juniper, and pine forests; there’s even a breed of flower found nowhere else on Earth: the Serra do Gerês iris. 

Things to Do

Gerês can be easily explored by car as many roads connect the remote villages and beautiful viewpoints in the park. However, the best thing to do is to park and get out on a trail, where you'll find beautiful waterfalls and river beaches worth taking a dip in. Keep your eye out for roe deer, the official symbol of Gerês. They come in large numbers to find food and shelter in the more inhabited villages.

If you’re lucky, you could come across a rare sighting of an Iberian wolf, which, after near extinction due to overhunting, is slowly making a comeback. Other animals include the Spanish Ibex—small with curved horns—and several bird species including the European Honey Buzzard, often seen circling its prey in the mountains.

The native Barrosã cattle, distinctive with their long horns often growing over 39 inches (a meter) in length, are tended by the shepherds of the region and can be seen roaming the fields and roads. The dark chestnut Garrano horse is another wild creature you may see wandering the pastures.

Best Hikes & Trails

Gerês has several waterfalls and riverside beaches that can be hiked to and there are many short and long trails between villages that can satisfy all levels with many hidden gems to delight in along the way.

  • Miradouro Velho da Pedra Bela: There’s a 2-mile path from the panoramic viewing point of Pedra Bela, overlooking the Caniçada Reservoir, and this takes you to Arado waterfalls—a popular picnic and swim spot.
  • Trilho da Preguiça Route: This route starts about 2 miles north of Caldes do Gerês and makes its way up through woodland to a viewpoint, then descends into a valley with streams and smaller waterfalls.
  • Poço Azul: This moderate 5.5-mile (9-kilometer) loop passes a crystal clear pond with a small waterfall.
  • Miradouro da Pedra e Cascada de Rajada: This easy 1.8-mile (2.9-kilometer) trail is, dog-friendly, great for a light hike, and features another small waterfall.
Peneda-Geres National Park
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Villages

There are about 22 remote villages within the park, which are worth visiting. Some aren't much more than a group of houses, but others offer accommodation, shopping, and restaurants in addition to nearby natural and historic attractions. Some villages are connected by marked footpaths like the one between Soajo and Lindoso called Caminhos do Pão e do Fé, which is part of the pilgrimage route to the Senhora da Peneda Sanctuary.

  • Braga: Founded in the Iron Age, Braga is Portugal’s most important religious center as well as one of the country's oldest and most fought-over settlements. Sights include the prominent cathedral located opposite the Archbishop’s Palace, and several other religious buildings like the Mosteiro de São Martinho de Tibães—an old Benedictine monastery that offers guided tours. Braga is also the park’s headquarters so you’ll be able to find maps, hiking guides, and other general information.
  • Rio Caldo: This small village sits on a Caniçada Reservoir and is a central area if you're interested in boating or other water sports.
  • Lindoso: Another reservoir town, Lindoso is surrounded by mountains and very close to the Spanish border. Lindoso’s most prominent attraction is the 19th-century granite grain storage silos (espigueiros). There are more than 50, spread out on the slopes of the castle wall, and they lend a spooky feel to the landscape with a stone cross atop each one.
  • Soajo: This town is a much smaller and more traditional village and also has a cluster of espigueiros. It’s the center for rural tourism with goat herders and black-clad widows sitting in the village square.

Where to Camp

Many Portuguese people live within the national park, so there's not a lot of roughing it going in Gerês, but there are a few campgrounds where you can pitch your tent. Campgrounds here are privately run and more like resorts, offering amenities and comfort. Many also offer cabins or hostel-style accommodation if you don't have a tent.

  • Ermida Gerês Camping: Located in the very small village of Ermida, this rural campground is family-run and offers amenities like barbecue grills and bathrooms.
  • Parque Cerdeira: In addition to bungalows, this camping resort offers campsites with access to shared and private bathrooms. There is also an on-site restaurant and a pool.
  • Parque de Campismo do Vidoeiro: In the village of Vidoeiro, this camping resort offers bungalows and tent and trailer sites. It also offers bathrooms with hot showers, a barbecue area, and a snack bar.

Where to Stay Nearby

With so many villages scattered throughout the park, there are many hotels and smaller pousadas, or inns, that can accommodate all budgets and styles. You can base your whole trip out of Gerês or choose to move around and explore smaller villages.

  • Casa do Adro: This Soajo hotel is located in an 18th-century house, where the family still makes their own wine.
  • Caldas do Gerês: Nestled in a wooded valley, this is the park's main spa resort. At the end of the main street, therapeutic waters flow from a rock and it’s not unusual to find people queuing to drink it.
  • Moderna do Gerês: Select rooms in this Gerês village hotel overlook the forests of the national park, but you can also enjoy panoramic views from the restaurant. Excursions like horseback riding, canoeing, and mountain biking can be arranged from the hotel.
  • Selina Gerês: This hotel in Gerês is part hostel and part co-working space, but also offers private rooms, a swimming pool, yoga, and social events.

Accessibility

Much of the park can be seen from the road and there are many hotels in the park with wheelchair-accessible accommodation as well as campsites with accessible bathrooms like the ones at Ermida de Gerês. Thanks to adventure tour operator Tobogã, wheelchair users can get on the trails using one of the company's modified mountain bikes.

How to Get There

Peneda-Gerês National Park is located about 66 miles (107 kilometers) northeast of Porto and 22 miles (36 kilometers) northeast of Braga. The best way to visit is by car—public buses are few and far between inside the park, and there’s no direct bus route from Porto, the nearest city. 

From Porto, you can take a car north via the E1 highway north until you can connect and go west on the IC28 and N203 to reach the Ambos-os-Rios entrance of the park. From Braga, you can travel east along the N103, eventually connecting to drive north on the N304 to the southern entrance of the park near Caldas do Gerês.

Travel Tips

  • The park’s proximity to Porto makes it possible to visit on a day trip but to grasp its sheer size and beauty, stay for a weekend or longer.
  • Summer is the busiest season in the park since many locals come here during the holidays and school break.
  • If you're looking to bring home a unique souvenir, Hipericão and Carqueja herbs, which grow inside the park, are used for making tea and are available for purchase at most shops and restaurants.
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The Complete Guide to Portugal's Peneda-Gerês National Park