Created in 1971, Peneda-Gerês National Park has a total area of 72 290 hectares, located in the old provinces of Minho and Trás-os-Montes, in Northern Portugal and just 100 km away from Porto.
In the park you’ll find dozens of granite villages that haven’t changed much since the creation of Portugal in the 12th century.
The oldest villages still maintain the old ways and here you’ll find women dressed in black taking cows by the paved-stone streets and shepherds leaving their livestock grazing in the meadows for several months.
Animals like wolves, boars, badgers, otters, deers and wild horses still live in the most secluded areas of the park.
Apart from wild animals, this is a place for domesticated species, easier to admire, like cows with long horns, goats, native sheep and the rustic Castro Laboreiro, a shepherd dog.
In addition to the villages frozen in time, when you visit Peneda-Gerês National Park you can enjoy the amazing landscapes, thanks to the numerous viewpoints, go for a swim in one of several waterfalls, admire the centuries-old monuments and even relax at a thermal village!
Here are the places to visit in Peneda-Gerês National Park:
1. Castro Laboreiro
Castro Laboreiro is a village (administratively, it’s a town) with around 500 inhabitants and located 1000 metres altitude and it will dazzle you for all its authenticity and beauty, both for the surrounding landscape and for the monuments and way of living of its inhabitants!
Before visiting the centre of Castro Laboreiro, where you’ll find typical granite houses, a church, a pillory, the old bridge (Ponte Velha) and the museological nucleus (worth visiting) where you’ll discover the history and ways and traditions of its inhabitants, I suggest you explore the castle ruins from where you can enjoy one of the most breathtaking views over Peneda-Gerês National Park.
You can also visit Cava da Velha Roman bridge, located 3 km south of Castro Laboreiro, and the beautiful village of Assureira before visiting the other wonderful places of this park. This village is used by shepherds and their animals as shelter when the cold winter comes (snow, below-zero temperature).
Hidden in the bottom of a ravine and close to a huge round rock and a beautiful waterfall, Peneda offers a wonderful scenery.
The main attraction in Peneda is its sanctuary Santuário da Nossa Senhora da Peneda, that was built between the 18th and 19th centuries.
According to local belief, in 1220 a shepherd witnessed the apparition of the Holy Virgin at the site where the sanctuary is now located. After that, a chapel was built in the 13th century and, because of the increasing devotion of the Portuguese and Spanish, a sanctuary was built later on with a 300-metre stairway and 20 small chapels depicting the life of Christ.
In the first week of September, the village shines with Nossa Senhora da Peneda festivities, a time when the locals and visitors gather and take part in the candlelight procession and dance to the sound of Portuguese fok music. This is definitely a time to consider for your visit to Peneda if you want to discover some of the Portuguese traditions!
3. Vale da Peneda viewpoint
After having visited Peneda, and on your way to the town of Soajo, make a stop in Vale da Peneda viewpoint, where you can enjoy some of the most wonderful views over the park!
From here you can admire mountain peaks, villages in the bottom of the valleys, Nossa Senhora da Peneda sanctuary and a stream.
Return to your car and, 200 metres ahead, make a stop to your left to admire a beautiful valley with a river separating Portugal from Spain. This is one of my favourite places in the park – in just 200 metres you’ll go from a rocky landscape to a lush vegetation and full of life landscape.
Soajo is a small and authentic town with views over Lima river and famous for its granite granaries, its wonderful gastronomy, its dog breed (known as Castro Laboreiro dogs) and Ladeira medieval bridge.
Here you can enjoy a wonderful view over the surrounding meadows and hiking is the best way to discover the natural beauty of this protect area.
During your visit, lose yourself in the narrow streets of this town, eat at one of the restaurants (see the end of the article) to taste the wonderful local gastronomy and admire the long-horned cows grazing.
Lindoso is a small village of farmers and shepherds. This location is well-known especially for its castle (1278) and its 50 granaries from the 17th and 18th centuries that resemble mausoleums but with a completely different function. These granite granaries are raised from the ground by pillars and have some openings to let the air in to dry the corn and preserve it.
When you go from Soajo to Lindoso, you’ll pass by Alto-Lindoso dam, the biggest and most important hydro electric power plant in Portugal. Don’t hesitate to stop for a while to admire this majestic construction.
6. Portela do Homem waterfall
Located close to the Spanish border, Portela do Homem waterfall is one of the most famous in the park, surely because of its easy access.
Since this waterfall is located at the forest Mata da Albergaria, a protected area in the park, it is forbidden to park here to admire its beauty.
The solution to explore this place is to park your car in the Spanish border and then walk 800 metres until the point where you can admire the waterfall.
To the right of the waterfall, you’ll find a route that you can take for a few hundred metres and that will lead you close to the river where you can go for a swim away from the crowds. This route will take you to Carris mines, abandoned in the 1970s.
Important: every year, there are people getting lost while doing this 20-km hike. If you decide to go on this adventure, make sure you start early in the morning, on a sunny day and take a GPS device. There are only a few places where you can access mobile network throughout this route.
7. Mata da Albergaria – Roman Road, Geira
When you visit Portela do Homem waterfall, take the opportunity to discover one of the most beautiful places in Peneda-Gerês National Park, the forest Mata da Albergaria and the Roman road (Geira).
This Roman route connected two important cities in Northwestern Iberian Peninsula: “Bracara Augusta“, present-day Portuguese city of Braga, and “Asturica Augusta“, present-day Spanish city of Astorga. This route is CCXV miles long (~318 km).
To visit this forest and part of the Roman route, take the path close to Portela do Homem waterfall until you find a house to the right (distance: 1.5 km).
Go down the dirt road until you find a small wooden bridge. Look to your right to admire one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park!
Instead of taking the road to the Spanish border to return to your car, you can take the Roman road located to the right of the waterfall. You’ll pass by a small wooden bridge and then São Miguel bridge (see photo above).
From this moment onward, you’ll begin to climb until Portela do Homem, where you parked your car.
If you wish to visit the south part of Mata da Albergaria, you can drive through the route accessible to cars on the Roman road.
Located 500 metres away from the house I’ve mentioned before, the dirt road will take you to Campo do Gerês, on a 5-km route. The only inconvenient is that you can’t stop throughout this beautiful route, located close to Homem river.
Information: if you take this route in the summer, know that you’ll have to pay around 2 €, a way to limit the number of cars in this protected area.
8. Termas do Gerês
Also known as vila do Gerês, this small town, apart from having given the name to this national park, has something unique in this region – thermal waters, perfect to treat liver diseases, digestive tract diseases, circulatory system diseases and metabolic and endocrine problems too.
Stroll through the street Rua Dr. Manuel Gomes de Almeida where you’ll find several stores, restaurants (see my suggestions in the end of the article) and thermal waters.
Before leaving town, visit the thermal park (tickets are around 1 € if you want to visit the garden) where you can rent a small boat to enjoy the lake. In the summer, the park has pools, accessible to the public and perfect for relaxing in the warmer days.
9. São Bento da Porta Aberta Sanctuary
In 1615, a chapel was built so that the inhabitants of Seara da Forcadela could attend to the mass without having to go to Rio Caldo village.
The chapel was dedicated to Saint Benedict and, from the 18th century onwards, more and more people came on pilgrimage to this place due to the increasing number of miracles attributed to this saint.
According to popular belief, the name of this place (São Bento da Porta Aberta – literally Saint Benedict of the Open Door) has its origins in the old chapel and its doors that were always open so that it would be a shelter for those passing by.
The construction of this sanctuary began in 1880 and ended in 1895. With over 2.5 million pilgrims every year, the church became too small so, in order to welcome everyone, a crypt was built in 1998, on the left side of the sanctuary.
In 2015, this sanctuary was elevated to the category of basilica by the Pope Francis to celebrate 400 years of existence of this place.
This location has a special meaning for me because, since I was little, I saw my mother going on pilgrimage to this place every year, in August, due to a promise she had made. To tell you the truth, I never dared to ask her (and surely I won’t) why she had made the promise of walking close to 50 km in pilgrimage every year.
When I was a teenager, I wanted to understand the reason for such devotion that would take my mother and other people to this sanctuary. Because of that, I walked along with my mother, during the night, through country roads and dirt roads in the middle of the mountains.
At sunrise and after 12 hours walking, we arrived to the sanctuary through Saint Benedict’s gardens, a pleasant place to relax and have a picnic.
Since that night, I’ve taken on some values that I experienced during the pilgrimage: to help others, even if I don’t know them, and the perseverance to never give up when facing hardships!
Close to the sanctuary, I suggest you visit the marina and Alqueirão river beach, a place where you can have fun with your family.
10. Pedra Bela viewpoint
This viewpoint is one of the most beautiful places to admire Peneda-Gerês National Park, especially at sunset!
Located on the top of Gerês, from here you can enjoy a wonderful view over the mountains, Cávado river (the river where you can find Alqueirão river beach) and the town.
11. Arado waterfall
Arado waterfall is one of the most famous waterfalls in the park due to its beauty but also because of its easy access.
Located 3.5 km away from Pedra Bela viewpoint, you should take the dirt road until the last kilometre to get to Arado waterfall.
You can park close to the dirt road but, in the summer, my suggestion is that you park your car in the park located 300 metres from Arado bridge.
To admire this natural beauty, you’ll have to climb the stairs to the right of the bridge.
When you visit the waterfall you can take the opportunity to admire the landscape from Rocas viewpoint, located on top of the rocks to the right, where the dirt road begins (a place where you can also leave your car if you don’t want to take the dirt road).
12. Tahiti waterfall – Fecha de Barjas – Várzeas
Tahiti waterfall is, definitely, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park but, contrary to other waterfalls in this article, this one is much harder to access.
To get to Tahiti waterfall, located 3 km away from Ermida village, you’ll need to leave your car before the bridge, then follow a small dirt road to the right, located after the bridge, that will take you to the stream.
You’ll have to jump over some rocks in the middle of the stream to get to the place where you can admire this natural beauty. Be very careful, especially if you’re with kids.
Before the bridge there is another path that will take you to the top of the waterfall (be careful not to slip). If you continue through this path, you’ll find a closed gate.
A few years ago, this path was a second option for those who wanted to get to the waterfall but the owner of this property decided to close the access after the national park and the Portuguese authorities denied the possibility for him to charge people that used the wooden walkways that he built.
13. Pincães waterfall
Located at Pincães village, this beautiful waterfall is worth visiting. Of all the ones I’ve seen, this is in my top 3!
After leaving your car in the village, take a dirt road close to a water canal, used to irrigate the fields, and walk 1 km.
The other option is to be guided by the dogs that you’ll find here.
When I last visited this waterfall, I had the privilege of being accompanied by two dogs that showed me the way. Apart from accompanying me, they waited for me while I was enjoying the places and then they accompanied me to my car.
14. Ponte do Diabo – Misarela
Misarela bridge, also known as the Devil’s bridge due to popular believes related to Christian faith, is a place you must admire when you visit Peneda-Gerês National Park.
Built in the Middle Ages and rebuilt in the XIX century, after the Napoleonic invasions, Misarela bridge is located over Rabagão river, a river that flows into Cávado river, natural border of the park.
Even though the bridge is outside the park (for just 2 km), it would be a pity if you didn’t make the detour to admire this wonderful place.
To get to this bridge, you’ll have to leave your car at Sidrós village or on the other side of Rabagão river, in the beginning of the dirt road located before the road bridge that connects the park to Ruivão village.
My suggestion is that you take the dirt road (around 1 km) located at Sidrós – this way you’ll be able to admire the bridge from a higher ground (perfect place if you want to take photos) and its beautiful 13-metre arch.
15. Pitões das Júnias
Pitões das Júnias is a small village located just 4 km away from the Spanish border and mostly known for its Benedictine monastery built during the 9th century.
Aside from the monastery, Pitões das Júnias also has a beautiful waterfall and a viewpoint that offers breathtaking views!
After visiting the centre of the village, explore the surrounding area and discover Santa Maria das Júnias monastery, located 2 km away, in the bottom of the valley.
You can take your car and leave it at the waterfall’s parking lot, located 500 metres below. Take a dirt road, then go through some wooden walkways if you want to admire this natural wonder.
16. Villages surrounding Peneda-Gerês National Park
When you visit Peneda-Gerês, you’ll surely pass by several villages located outside the official area of the park, villages that are worth visiting so that you can discover the authenticity of these places.
If you go to the park through the town of Arcos de Valdevez, then you should visit Sistelo village, famous in Portugal since it was chosen as one of the 7 wonders of the country (villages category).
For hiking lovers, there is a 20-km long walking trail connecting the town of Arcos de Valdevez to Sistelo – the hiking is mostly made on wooden walkways.
The other village I suggest you visit is the village of Brufe, located 5 km outside Peneda-Gerês National Park. During your visit to this village, take the opportunity to have lunch/dinner at one of the best restaurants in this region, O Abocanhado.
When to visit Peneda-Gerês National Park?
You can visit the national park all year round because there are unique landscapes throughout the 4 seasons.
In the winter, you’ll have the opportunity to admire a landscape covered in snow (especially in the higher parts of the park); in the spring, the park transforms itself with flowers and leafs blossoming in the trees; in the summer, you can go for a swim and enjoy the waterfalls in hot days; in the autumn, the park becomes different and offers an amazing show of colours to its visitors!
The photos in this article were taken in the autumn – you can have an idea of what is waiting for you at this time of the year.
Personal opinion: I am lucky to live 50 km away from the only national park in Portugal which allows me to visit this area whenever I want. Of the four seasons of the year, I prefer to visit the park in the spring or autumn – it is when the landscape is more beautiful.
The summer is also a good time (especially if you want to go for a swim and enjoy more hours of daylight), but the problem is that there are more visitors and you’ll have to be careful on warmer days (especially if you love hiking).
- Number of days necessary to visit Peneda-Gerês National Park: 4 days
From/to Peneda-Gerês National Park
Vila do Gerês: The company Hoteleira do Gerês connects Braga (from the bus station) to vila do Gerês every day.
Campo do Gerês: The company Transdev connects Braga (from the bus station) to Campo do Gerês every day.
Soajo and Lindoso: From the town of Arcos de Valdevez, the company Avic has, at least, one round connection per day to Soajo and Lindoso.
For all the other destinations, I suggest you make a simulation of the bus routes at the site Rome2Rio.
Car / Moto / Motorhomes
The car is the means of transportation I use and that I suggest you use when you visit the park since you’ll have more freedom of movements. The national park has lots of national roads that allow you to easily visit places like Vila do Gerês, Portela do Homem, close to the Spanish border, Soajo, Lindoso and Castro Laboreiro. You’ll also find some municipal roads with two lanes and other roads with just one lane where you must drive slowly since cars can come from the opposite direction.
For those travelling in motorhomes, you can easily drive through the national roads, but you should pay more attention on municipal roads and even more on the others that are narrower and steeper.
Whether you drive a car or a motorhome, I suggest you don’t drive in the streets of small villages (example: Ermida, Pitões das Júnias), because you can get into narrow places with little room of manoeuvre. In most cases, you’ll find a parking lot before entering the villages.
Saber ao Borralho is a wonderful place and serves amazing local dishes, like barrosã steak from Minho, but also many codfish dishes and delicious desserts.
Opening hours: Open at lunch and dinner time. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Address: Rua 25 de Abril, 1158, Soajo
Restaurante Videira Apart from the typical decoration from Minho region (old Portuguese province), this restaurant offers amazing dishes with affordable prices.
Opening hours: Open at lunch and dinner time. Closed on Wednesdays.
Address: Rua 25 de Abril, 1734, Soajo
Site: page on Tripadivsor
O Abocanhado Located at the small village of Brufe, right beside Peneda-Gerês National Park, this restaurant is one of the best where you can try some local gastronomy and enjoy an amazing view over the valley and Homem river.
Opening hours: Open at lunch and dinner time. Closed on Mondays.
Address: Lugar de Brufe – Brufe – Terras de Bouro 4840-020 Brufe
Site: O Abocanhado
Vila do Gerês:
Lurdes Capela Located in Vila do Gerês, this family restaurant is full most of the times because of its wonderful cuisine. The menu includes: dishes of potatoes and buttered vegetables, omelettes, meat from this region (deer, cow, boar), codfish, etc.
Opening hours: Open every day at lunch and dinner time.
Address: Av. Manuel Gomes de Almeida, 77, 4845-067 Gerês
Chalé de Soutelinho (affiliate link)
Chalé de Soutelinho is located at a quiet place, right in the heart of Peneda-Gerês National Park and has a garden and an outside pool. This accommodation was recently restored and is close to Vila do Gerês.
Price: ~120 €/night, 3-bedroom apartment (max 6 people)
Amenities: free Wi-Fi, free parking
Check-in: from 17h00
Check-out: until 12h00
Address: Rua Dr. Manuel Gomes de Almeida, 54, 4845-067 Gerês
Peneda Hotel*** (affiliate link )
Peneda Hotel is located right beside Nossa Senhora da Peneda Sanctuary. The airports of Vigo and Francisco Sá Carneiro (Porto) are just 70 and 140 km away respectively. This accommodation has a traditional restaurant that serves typical Portuguese dishes from Minho region.
Price: ~50 €/night, double room
Amenities: free Wi-Fi, free parking
Check-in: 15h00 – 23h30
Check-out: until 12h00
Address: Lugar Da Peneda, 4970-150 Gavieira
Nossa Senhora da Peneda
Every year, from the 1st to the 8th September, takes place a pilgrimage to Nossa Senhora da Peneda. The 5th and 6th September are the most important days of this festivity with the Eucharistic procession and Portuguese folk music.
São Bento da Porta Aberta
20th and 21st March: on these days people celebrate the death of Saint Benedict, in Monte Cassino, Italy. The 21st is the most important and was the day of the festivity some time ago.
10th and 11th July: São Bento festivity.
10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th August: these are the days of the biggest pilgrimage to São Bento da Porta Aberta. On these days, thousands of pilgrims gather in the sanctuary to keep their promises.
Useful tips for your trip to Peneda-Gerês National Park:
1- Pay attention to the weather forecast and avoid doing any activities if it’s going to rain or if a stormy or foggy day is expected.
2- Sudden climatic changes may happen above 800 metres. Be alert.
3- Choose plain and comfortable clothing and footwear. Avoid using the yellow colour and perfume because it will attract bugs.
4- In the summer, pay special attention to sun protection and take water if you’re going on a hike. Even in the winter, never forget to take water, food and a mobile phone.
5- Take binoculars and a camera if you can .
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