In this article, we invite you to learn about the most interesing villages in Peneda Gerês National Park.

Portugal has always been a country of immense wealth when it comes to Biodiversity and Nature in general, for some reason we are considered a paradise at the gates of Europe.

We have always been a people who mostly cared for the conservation and maintenance of green spaces, and perhaps the greatest preservation landmark was the creation of the Peneda Gerês National Park.

Its immensity leaves anyone gaping and was created with the intention of not only protecting Nature which is itself circumscribed, but also all its settlements, a rare thing in National Parks that normally do not have them within their areas of influence.

As such, and in order to understand it’s importance a little better, we leave here the most interesting villages in the Gerês National Park:

Fafião

Here you can find the wolves of the National Park.

But do not worry , you have nothing to fear, these wolves are extremely friendly. Cordial when we arrive and always ready to give us the a warm welcome and despite being very proud and protective of the their territory, do not mind sharing it as long as the rules are followed. But what wolves are these? We assume that you are questioning yourself.

The wolves we are talking about, are in fact the people of this fantastic village, who always surprise us and those whom we so often take there, with their simplicity.

The Iberian wolf has always noticed its presence in this part of the country, harassed by hunting for years in other parts of Portugal, it was here that it found a refuge.

Today it is considered protected and of enormous importance for the ecosystem, because represents the top of the food chain. Co-inhabiting with this type of predatory animals is not always easy, but here people have understood how to do it and for many years that happens.

This region, known for its agro-pastoral activities, is a draw for predators who see cattle as a much easier meal than a deer or a wild horse.

That said, for years a “war” was fought between the inhabitants of “Fafião” and the wolves, which led to the creation of one of the most impressive monuments in the region. “Fojo do Lobo”, dating from the 15th century and located on the hill of the valley crossed by the “Fafião” River. In this spot, huge walls of granitic blocks rise in the shape of a triangle, at the tip of the triangle, which is in the descending direction of the hill, there is a hole about 3 to 4 meters deep, the final destination of the wolves that in other times ventured to hunt the village cattle.

It is important to note that wolf hunting was not done for sport, much less for pleasure, as it was of tremendous danger. It was done to guarantee the subsistence of the community which, due to its isolation, depended entirely on what it produced. Hence the name wolves, which despite being a fearsome enemy, deserved the respect of the locals, who in their honor called themselves “wolves”.

But this village is not only made up of wolves, here the true meaning of living in community applies. Each one depends on the other, for the general good of the village.

An example of cooperation between locals, are the so-called “Vezeiras”.

A “Vezeira is the driving of the village’s cattle, by a different person every day, no matter who each head of cattle belongs to. The leader of “Vezeira” has the responsibility to protect and care for the flocks of the remaining inhabitants on his predestined day, allowing the other locals to focus on other activities, such as farming the land, cleaning the corrals or even making goods such as bread, honey and liqueurs.

Fafião is an example of community effort and perseverance. It is these little places in the middle of nowhere that move us to take people there, because we know that it is impossible not to stay in your mind, such a memory!

One of our mandatory stops during the Peneda Geres National Park Tour!

Ermida

Not far from Fafião and crossing the valley, we find the charming village of Ermida. Upon arrival we are presented with a wonderful viewpoint with a view over the slope of the village, where we always stop with whoever we take there in order to have a better perception of what surrounds them. Armed with several agricultural terraces, always green, you can hear bells tinkling, you will quickly notice that the sound comes from the neck of the powerful cows in the region, who feed themselves there all day.

This village, like most villages in the park, has few inhabitants, which is due to the poverty of professional opportunities in the region and the lack of entertainment that the new generations need so much. However, once again the community effort has kept the village alive, and we have somehow internalized this idea as one of our missions, giving the region back the exposure it so badly needs.

When walking through the village, we realize how old it is, some of the houses are uninhabited, but they do not lose their luster. Since the architecture of the region is mostly made from granite, the houses, although small, are robust, with thick walls to protect the interior, due to the cold that is felt in the region in the winter months, they still have a very unique feature, in these houses the animals normally lived in the “Rés do Chão” the down floor, the top floor being for their owners, this is due to the fact that the animals produce large amounts of body heat and since the hot air rises, they heated the upper part of the House. Smart don’t you think?

From here you can also take several trails that will take you to the most diverse surrounding parts of the park, as our experience in the area has taught us. Inside the village you will have access to several trails, with difficulty levels for all tastes, you will only need good shoes, comfortable clothes, water and a bathing suit if the summer comes, as you will not want to miss the crystal clear waters that you can find on the way.

Gerês

Of all the villages in the park this is undoubtedly the best known, due to its name being the same as the park, but not only just for that. We will have to go back many years in history, until the beginning of the 17th century, to understand how it all started.

It was at this time that when the shepherds of the region wandering around with their flocks, they realized that where today the “Vila Termal do Gerês”  is located, strange vapors emerge from the waters of the river that passed there, in an effort to understand what was happening, they diverted the river to the base of the mountain and soon discovered numerous holes of boiling water.

The news spread quickly throughout the region, arriving at a nearby town called “Covide”, where a doctor named “Manuel Ferreira D’Azevedo” lived, who, realizing its medicinal potential, soon started sending his sick clients to bathe there, obtaining quite satisfactory results and with this once again the word spread, reaching in a certain way the whole country.

It was then that a small spa gradually emerged, first of all very rudimentary, made of wooden huts, which only protected the holes and bathers from the adversities of the time. With the increase in the number of patients who came looking for cures, for the most different ailments, the lack of infrastructure became evident and in a community effort as typical of the region, the locals wrote to the King of Portugal at the time, “D. João V”, a solemn request for help.

The king was not hesitant and, realizing the potential of the region, soon predisposed to give a large sum to the cause, building a new access, the River “Cávado” bridge, a Hospital to accommodate the sick and six bathrooms, much more developed than the previous ones, made of granite and with all the necessary conditions.

Nowadays it is the delight of those who go there, with only one street mostly composed of spas, hotels, regional shops and some houses of inhabitants, it is a small paradise in the center of one of the most beautiful valleys in the National Park.

This is the story of a village that was truly born from the waters that flow in it!

Cabril

Next to the beautiful reservoir of “Salamonde”, an important electricity supplier in the region and which we crossed so many times in our adventures, we find on the banks of the river that supplies it, the “Cávado”, the village and the parish of “Cabril”. As the name allows us to understand, it comes from the fact that in these areas agricultural activities abound, namely with goats.

Upon arrival in “Cabril” we are welcomed by the imposing rock massif of the “Serra do Gerês”, like a giant over us, the surrounding green provided by trees such as the typical arbutus, holly and yew trees is irrefutable proof of the richness of these lands, “Cabril”  being a parish cannot be understood only as a village, as they say, is a mosaic of small villages that have gathered there, 15 in all, quite old and of significant historical and cultural importance.

As proof of such antiquity we have some of its attractions, which, although only visible when the reservoir is low, if luck smiles on you, you will be able to contemplate the Roman bridge, which is considered the first link between the different villages

Speaking of “Cabril” as a parish and not just as a village, there are countless wonders you can see, from waterfalls such as “Pincães”, or “Sete Lagoas” (this site being in a partial protection zone, has a limited number of people, about 10), to the very famous “Silhas dos ursos”, very old, that protected the honeycombs of the hungry bears that had been walking these lands for over 800 years ago, an example of which are the “Silha do Cubo de Baixo” and the “Silha da Pala Doce”.

But “Cabril” is not only made up of ancient monuments and breathtaking landscapes, despite its simple people, they also made history, since it was in one of the villages in the parish, “Lapela”, that “João Rodrigues Cabrilho” was born in the 16th century and later on as the captain of 2 Spanish Crown ships, discovered the coast of California, unbelievable, isn’t it?

And as proof of the bravery of these people who live here, we have not far from “Cabril” the famous “Ponte da Mizarela”, where in a heroic act the “Barrosões”, the name given to those who inhabit the region, confronted Napoleon’s troops in 1809, creating them huge problems.

Land of unquestionable beauty, endless history and people of unprecedented courage, here is the town and village of “Cabril”.

Pitões de Junias

The trip to “Pitões” takes us to the highest and coolest areas of the region.

Having a reputation for being warrior people, they were often put to the test, sometimes by the Spaniards who at all costs tried to conquer these lands, or by Portuguese nobles, who nearby had dominions and intended to annex the region. But justice to the truth, never succumbed!

It was this strength to overcome that has always characterized “Pitões de Júnias”, land also known for its quality when it comes to smoked meat, as it is located on a beautiful plateau, called “Mourela”, 1220 meters high, where cattle, abundant in these places walks freely eating the greenest pastures, and that is why they say they have the best smoked products in the region and perhaps the country, delights that you cannot miss, go for us!

In addition to bravery and good food, this region is also characterized by its old age, having always been in almost complete isolation, the ancestral beliefs that were born here, with peoples like the Celts, have never ceased to be tradition, an example of which is the Celtic “Magusto”, where they still announce the end of summer and the beginning of the Celtic New Year.

Walking through the village, in addition to the beautiful granite houses, you can visit the “Corte do Boi do Povo”, nowadays the headquarters of the “Barroso” Ecomuseum, where decisions were once made and rules were drawn up in community for the community. And since bread has always been the livelihood of the people, you will be able to contemplate the old community oven, where even today the village bread is baked as a symbolic act and if you get lost in time, the village sundial will certainly provide you with the necessary information .

To finish the visit to this magnificent place in the middle of the mountains in the right way, you have to walk a little to the limits of the village, where a small stream divides the plateau of “Mourela” and the “Serra do Gerês”, there you will find, even if partially destroyed a beautiful monastery, home of the Cistercian order, named Monastery of “Santa Maria de Júnias”, dating from the 12th century, and is one of the most isolated in the country, where this order of monks, tried to live a humble and penitent life.

Welcome “Pitões de Júnias” where bravery has made the land!

Tourém

Not far from “Junias” and further north, literally bordering Spain, is “Tourém”, closely linked to the history of the region due to its privileged territorial position. It was in the 13th century by the hand of D. Sancho I, second King of Portugal, that “Tourém” was entrusted with the function of border defense, which made the town the forefront in the defense of the border during the various periods of turmoil between Portugal and Spain.

There is no old house here that does not have holes above the exterior doors where the barrel of a gun fits, due to the constant danger once suffered by the people who lived here, as this village is surrounded by Spain in all directions, the southern part being the only one facing Portuguese territory.

Here, as in “Júnias”, there is also a community oven, also used in symbolic moments and a “Casa do Boi do Povo” that nowadays serves as an Ecomuseum, where themes like smuggling, very famous for these lands due to the easy access to the border and even political exiles from Spain during the dictatorship, who, due to their proximity, sought refuge in “Tourém”.

And as religion is always present, the beautiful church of S. Pedro will be another of the mandatory stops, dating from the 13th century, all made in granite, it has in itself a long connection with the monastery of “Santa Maria de Júnias”, which most likely worked together during their most active time.

Here, the green meadows also exist, were it not for the cows, owners and ladies of this place, the silence of the plateau is remarkable and due to its isolation and absence of villages emitting light around it, the night is pitch black and the sky, the most starry you will probably see! To not lose!

Soajo

Going to the western part of the Peneda-Gerês National Park, we meet the “Serra do Soajo” and the very old village of “Soajo”, characterized by its intense slopes and extensive hydrographic network which gives it a high rainfall, resulting in a deep green in all directions.

It is thought to have arisen in the 1st century, when population groups that had begun to establish the lowlands of the valley then began to concentrate more on the highlands of the “Serra”, however it was only in the year 950 that the first written record, referring to the sharing of the “Soajo” lands by the Countess “Mumadona Dias”, its owner, dividing them by her descendants. Throughout its existence, this town was the seat of a municipality, its status having undergone immense changes over time, having only received the charter (charter that aims to establish a municipality and regulate its administration) in the 16th century.

But one thing is certain, something that has never changed were its traditions and culture strongly rooted in the community environment that is felt here, a characteristic common to the vast majority of the villages in the National Park, due to the isolation that has always been experienced here.

However, despite the isolation, the village of “Soajo” has always been noted for its nationalism, since the birth of Portuguese nationality, “Soajo” has always been faithful to the Portuguese crown, while other villages in the region have declared themselves Spanish. For this reason, the village and the area belonging to it have always enjoyed unique privileges, such as that of not accommodating troops in times of war, to which they would only be allowed entry when the king was present or even the prohibition of nobles and knights to dwell inside of its limits, a privilege given by King “D. Dinis” in the 13th century, perks attributed also for its strategic positioning and for its richness in fauna and flora, already denoted at the time and which was thus protected.

The people of this village soon began to call themselves “monteiros”, due to their main activity having been the hunting that abounded in these places with bears, wild goats, wolves and foxes, a fact that did not escape the eyes of the Portuguese court that created there one of the first “Montaria do Reino”, a protected hunting area, which gives to the village visibility and respect from all the nobility, which in a way has always been in favor the will of its inhabitants.

Bearing a simplicity and pleasant calm, the village has to offer visitors a trip to ancient times, with its streets made of granite stone, as well as its houses made of large rock blocks, but there are more, for example the “Anta do Mezio”, which is most commonly characterized by “dolmen”, which in the Neolithic period served as a resting place for the dead, this in 5000 BC Another historical feature and irrefutable proof of the community feeling experienced is the “Eira Comunitária do Soajo” , composed of 24 granaries where the whole village got together to keep the harvests of the year, later being divided equally by all, the oldest being from 1782.

Here you can breathe rurality and history, this is “Soajo”!

Castro Laboreiro

The “Serra do Soajo”, as big as it is, is not just about “Vila do Soajo”, it also has others, with equally old or older population centers. One of the most historic and singular, “Castro Laboreiro”. Located over 1000 meters high on a plateau, the village of “Castro Laboreiro” owes its name to the designation “Castrum”, which derives from the “Castro” people of Celtic origins, known for fortifying their villages, which after thousands of years of nomadism living from hunting and fishing, here they settled and adopted pastoral practices, more prone to the settlement of the people, also adopting practices of defense against other tribes. This factor in itself already indicates the ancestry of this site, with traces of civilization dating from 5000 years ago, which tell us that here two great cultures developed together, “dolménica” and “castreja”, and it is in these lands that the largest historical record of “dolmens” (ancestral graves) is found, in Portugal, making over 120 specimens in across the plateau.

But this village is not only made of ancestry, on the fringe of what happens in the other villages in the park, here nature has not adapted to man, on the contrary it has imposed itself with all its bravery and power, land of extensive plateaus and rugged mountains , bearer of the crystalline waters of the “Laboreiro” River that flows there and feeds the landscape, with its chameleon colors that change with the changing seasons, here men had to make their guts heart and learn how to live with nature.

And the proof of this is the way the village once functioned, dividing itself into 3 types of occupation. In the most protected areas next to the valley are the permanent housing clusters, and depending on the time of the year, 2 more types of seasonal occupation appear, the “Brandas”, population centers located at a higher altitude, used in the summer by the shepherds where they lived, with their animals, until the green meadows disappear with the approach of autumn and as it once snowed in winter and made it impossible for the shepherds to coexist at these altitudes, the ”Inverneiras” were created, hidden in the part of the mountains where the northern winds do not reach and the temperatures remained favorable for the subsistence of the people during the winter.

Another piece of history well denoted in the landscape is the Castle of “Castro Laboreiro”, says the people who were the Moors who built it, but there is a lot of debate around when it emerged, the probable origin being Roman, however over the years its thousands of years took due attention, first by “D. Afonso Henriques”, first King of Portugal who walled it and then “D. Dinis” who rebuilt it to defend the nearby border.

And for animal aficionados, here one of the most famous Portuguese canine breeds emerged, which many call the Dog of “Castro Laboreiro”, but the truth is that in the village previously referred to as “Soajo”, we also have a type of canine with the exact same characteristics, known for their strong protective sense, equipped with an unprecedented courage when facing the wolves that own these landscapes, during pastoral activities, this canine is called the Dog “Sabujo do Soajo”, this rivalry, lasts for many years, but what matters in this story is the animal itself, which, being from one place or another, has always fulfilled its functions with unparalleled dedication.

The existence of our country owes a lot to these small villages, whether for historical or cultural reasons. Land of ancestry, it is a family tree of our country.

Lindoso

We now leave the landscapes of “Serra do Soajo” and go to the sister “Serra Amarela”, so called because in the spring it is covered with the so famous gorse that has a yellow flower like the sun. On its slopes lies “Lindoso”, a small village, but do not be taken by the “small”, because despite its size it is a land of great historical, natural and cultural value.

Like a balcony, “Lindoso” overlooks the “Lima” River and the beautiful “Lindoso” reservoir, where you can see the rich vegetation that grows on its banks, with beautiful accentuated slopes, it is not an easy landscape to inhabit, there were many challenges that these People had to learn to manage, since the harsh winters, the strong winds from the north or even the intense rains that are felt here, in short it is a land of many microclimates and perhaps from there all its wealth in terms of fauna and flora.

With regard to “Lindoso” heritage, there is nothing to be desired, here the imposing and impassable Castle of “Lindoso” was built, the first line of defense of the Kingdom, because on the other side of the River “Lima” is Spain, it is so close that it was not the river to delineate the boundary, we didn’t even notice the difference.

Its construction dates back to the beginning of the 13th century, in the reign of “D. Afonso III”, having been intervened in the following reign, that of “D. Dinis”. Its vital function was the observation and protection of the border, an activity that was central to the wars fought between the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Portugal, considered in the national military panorama as one of the most important military monuments. technological in relation to other castles built at the same time, which dictated the way of construction in the following centuries.

From the castle, the view will be comprehensive and a gift for the eyes, in the vicinity you will notice small structures with a house shape, we are speaking of course, the famous granaries, so abundant throughout the “Minho” region. In “Lindoso” alone, next to the castle, 64 of these structures are located, forming yet another “Eira Comunitária” in the region and giving those who marvel at them a granitic and static panorama, in the middle of a region full of life.

The village of “Lindoso” itself, has a sharp appearance, made of granite stone in its vast majority, just by looking at it we almost have a glimpse of the harsh winters that have lived there for over 1000 years, courageous people who there live!

But don’t go away without tasting some of its delicacies, because the good gastronomy here also reigns, from the famous Cornbread, to the tasty “papas de sarrabulho”, there is a lot to taste, always in the company of the already famous “Vinho Verde do Minho” and the company of the always good hosts, the people of the village of “Lindoso”!