Peneda-Gerês & Porto

In April 2015 we went to the northern part of Portugal to hike in the mountains of Gerês.

First day

We arrived in the airport of Porto where we took a bus to Braga. In Braga we had to wait for a bus to Campo Gerês so we bought some nice Portuguese coffee. It really is the best coffee in Europe. Don’t miss it when you visit the country.

When we arrived in Campo Gerês, we took our usual “here we go picture” and had some laughs about our outfits. When we first talked about hiking together we promised each other we would never become as those old couples who wear the same outfit. When we got in the plane we realized it wasn’t going to be such an easy thing to do. (Oh no, look at the shoes and the pants and the sunglasses and the walking sticks…)

In the beginning we crossed some other day trip tourists or locals. It was very hot so we took an early break at “Rio Homem”, a river that feeds the lake. Unfortunately the water was too cold for us to take a dive.

We are hiking in Salomon Speecross 3 trail runners during this trip. In August 2015 we will go hiking in Iceland and we wanted to test some trail runners with that trip in mind: Salomon Speedcross 3. It’s like wearing 3D-printed shoes especially made for your foot. They are not waterproof but they dry very quickly . The only thing we worry about are the soles. They wear out pretty fast.

We continued our trip and as we started to climb (+/- 600 m) the nature became really pretty and desolate.

It was easy to find the way to our first camp because previous walkers had made towers of stone to lead the way. The first camp was very idyllic: a small grassy plain surrounded by mountains and a little river close by.

At eight o’ clock we wanted to go to bed (as we got up at 4 am in the morning to catch our plane we didn’t sleep very much during the previous night). But suddenly smoke came over the hill. During the coach ride earlier this day we saw some bush fires on the hills, so we were a little worried. Jan walked up the hill in the direction of the smoke to see how far it was, but he couldn’t tell. We made an escape plan, put the alarm at 11 pm and went to bed.  At 11 pm the smoke was gone so we went back to bed. Fiew!

Second day

We were very happy we made it through the night without catching fire.

The landscape was very beautiful. There were many flowers and bumblebees. And the views were magnificent.

Soon we truned south in a valley werewe saw our first wild Garrano horses taking a nap.

We took our lunch break at a really nice spot where we would love to live. It was a very calm place on the south side of the hill and with a little river! The only thing missing were some trees to get a wood supply. So we decided not to stay permanently and moved on.

We continued down the valley following “Rio do Camalhão”. At lower grounds the river turns into a very nice little canyon ending ultimately in the very nice “Cascata do Arado”. This waterfall is close to a country road and clearly visited more often by tourists. However, since we were walking totally out of the season on a rainy weekday we only encountered one couple hanging around.

We camped in a little mossy field (very good and soft bed and not likely to catch fire), surrounded by rocks and burned bushes.  The night was very quite.

Third day

We started our third day with a very nice part. First a descent into the beautiful canyon of Rio Fafião by means of a very nice, narrow and steep trail.

Climbing out of the canyon again we had some trouble finding our route and we ended up bushwalking a small part to find a well established dirt road to get back on track. Soon we took another narrow and rocky trail following Rio Fafião upstream on higher grounds overlooking the river. The trail descended slowly meeting the river again at Porto do Laje, we were both delighted by this part, there were even more flowers and happy zooming bumblebees combined with magnificent views. It was just lovely!

We took our lunch at Porto do Laje on a little sandy beach where we smoked ourselves out: we had put up the shelter because of the weather, but the wind was turning non stop while we were cooking blowing the smoke inside.

In the afternoon we continued following Rio Fafião upstream, on a dirt road this time, the road was less beautiful but on the other hand we could cover more distance and still had lovely views.  After a while the winding road left the river banks to climb into the direction Lagao do Marinho. A local drove by down the road (we suppose he went to check on his beehives we passed a bit earlier), when he came back he offered us a lift up the mountain and clearly could not bend his head around our polite refusal. The weather turned and as we searched for a place to camp at Lagoa do Marinho, a fog rose. We took a very cold bath in the lake and enjoyed the quietness of the misty evening. The night was very calm despite the flocks of cows and horses nearby.

Fourth day

The next morning it was all about mist and rain. To complete the fun we had a difficult part ahead of us. Very rough terrain and shady paths (if existent) in combination with the mist and rain made us feel like we were preparing pretty good for our Iceland trip. Thanks to our GPS (with maps and compass as backup) we could find our route, often walking without a trail and if there was a trail we missed it frequently. Nina did anyway. 🙂

Even though the conditions proved to be somewhat challenging they also offered a very beautiful and mysterious environment. The silence and emptiness of the fog in these rocky highlands created a kind of “fairy tale experience” which we also enjoyed very much.

When it came to testing our gear in wet conditions we were very satisfied. Our rain jackets and trousers from Sprayway proved to be very reliable. Our shoes were completely soaked of course but they were still very comfortable to wear. More importantly they were dry again next morning which was the behavior we hoped for.

We put the shelter up for lunch on a walled field. Afterwards we left all our stuff and went for a 2 km walk to a ruinous village. Arriving at the village we saw a group of chamois, in the beginning they were curious but then they decided we weren’t trustworthy  so they ran off. The village was a bit spooky. It didn’t only fell to pieces, it looked like it  was also smashed and we doubted if it was ever inhabited. Some research back at home revealed we were wrong, Minas dos Carris was a mining village, abandoned after World War II.

The village was also the highest point of our walk. And we always take a picture on that place.

Fifth day

Early in the morning I woke up, Jan was still asleep. It was a beautiful morning and the weak morning sun was very welcome. But it wasn’t the sun that had woken me. I heard hooves of a flock on the run. Now, in Gerês there are three types of flock: horses, cows and chamois.

I was hoping for horses and as the flock came closer a smile appeared on my face as I could clearly hear horses snorting. I woke Jan and when we both he looked outside, a herd Garrano’s came running over the hill in front of the tent. There were so many of them and they were gorgeous! They came to graze in the walled fields but we felt it was too early to get up yet, so we fell back asleep, surrounded by horses. 🙂

When we finally got up we packed our stuff, said goodbye to the horses and began our last full day of hiking. We walked down the the valley of Rio Homem. The weather couldn’t be more different compared to the previous day; a blue sky and lots of sun. In combination with the easy and well worn path leading down the valley this day was “a walk in the park” with beautiful long distance views. At noon got to a border post between Portugal and Spain and had a nice meal in a bar.

In the afternoon we followed Rio Homem further downstream and had some nice breaks near the water. We ended up putting our shelter nearby the river for our last night in the field. We even got a sun burn while cooking at 20pm.

Sixth day

The next morning we got up really early, because we were camping in a popular walking area. The tent was still covered with dew.

We walked for about an hour and put up the tent (so it could dry) on a little beach at the lake where we also started our walk. We were making breakfast as a car stopped and some people came our way. It were police officers, real big ones.

They started some kind of interrogation and asked if we’d slept here. But we didn’t… it was a few kilometers away (also forbidden by the way). Their English wasn’t very good, so they started to inspect our shelter. The biggest man (bald with sunglasses 🙂 ) was very interested in the tent, touched it a couple of times as if he couldn’t believe we slept in such a thing. In the end they were very friendly and then went back to their car, leaving us only with a warning.

Before getting the bus back to Braga we had a look at the huge weir creating a reservoir of Rio Homem at Campo de Geres.

In Braga we took the train to Porto, where we hired a little apartment in the city center.

We walked through the hot streets and tasted some port in the Italian restaurant right beneath our apartment.

I also discovered a tick on my right leg. So we went back to the apartment to get it off. In Belgium 1 on 3 ticks is carrier of the Lyme bacteria. Luckily in Portugal that isn’t the case. So I got off pretty good.

Seventh day

We got up and drank a delicious coffee. We wanted to visit the museum of photography in Porto, but it was closed. So we decided to first buy some fresh cloths. After a week in the same outfit, it really helps to get some new stuff. The temperatures were rising, so our walking gear was also too hot to wear. We had dinner in a typical Portuguese restaurant (at granddads I think). The food was good and you should really try the green wine.

This was a lovely trip and we got home totally relaxed.