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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Portugal's savage north

Hiking in Peneda-Geres National Park - tropical waterfalls, crystal clear pools, wild valleys and fascinating wildlife
Climbing in a dream setting near Peniche - rugged rocks, rough winds and the savage sea behind you

We've been in Portugal for a few weeks now and are driving further and further north - mostly along the coast. We were so focused on surfing that climbing and hiking came up short. North of Lisbon we now have more opportunities for this. We researched some climbing spots on the cape of Peniche. First, we walk to Cabo Carvoeiro to see the location and routes. There we discover the beautiful, savage Ilhéu da Papôa - a peninsula surrounded by rugged rocks and crashing waves. From there you also have a beautiful view of Peniche and the beaches.

Ilhéu da Papôa Peninsula, Peniche Portugal, Surfing  Algarve beautiful beaches
Peninsula Ilhéu da Papôa, Peniche

The next day we head to our climbing spot of choice, Gruta da Furninha. The routes lead along and over a grotto that is slightly above the sea. An absolutely gorgeous setting. Convince yourself.

Gruta da Furninha, Peniche climbing sportclimbing Portugal Algarve beaches
Gruta da Furninha, Peniche

Climbing there was quite demanding. Although most of the routes are technically not too difficult, the rocks are extremely rugged and sharp-edged. Climbing is a bit painful, falling into the rope is even more so. Then there is the sun, which practically roasts you. The constant wind and the raging sea below are not for the faint of heart. And then there is the pressure to succeed from the outside, when the fishermen are watching you climbing with fascination and excitement :-)

But I don't want to whine - the day was terrific. An absolutely unique experience! And we were even able to capture a lot of it on camera, thanks to Micha's acting as photographer and belaying climbing partner simultaneoulsy.

The days we have left on our trip in Portugal are slowly coming to an end. And we definitely don't want to miss the only national park in Portugal, Peneda-Gerês. It is located in the north-west of Portugal, on the border with Spain. It is a world unto itself, where lush green tones dominate, the landscape is hilly and there are only small villages that have retained their original charm. The cuisine in the region is a bit heartier than on the coast. A lot of meat, often game, is on the menu. What is always the same, however, are the typical delicious desserts and the regional wines, such as the sparkling and light Vinho Verde, my absolute favorite.

Most of the year it rains a lot in Peneda-Gerês National Park, but in summer it can be hot and dry for a few weeks. And that's exactly the time we caught. During the day we have around 30 degrees, we miss the cooling wind that we have know from the last few weeks at the sea. Pretty hot for hiking... Thank god, there are countless springs, waterfalls and rivers in the national park. There is no shortage of options to cool down. And the cooling is tremendous - the water is only around 10 degrees :-)

Here is a brief overview of our highlights in the park:

The Trilho dos Miradouros is a hiking trail near Gerês. It connects several viewpoints, the so-called miradouros, and we get a wonderful panorama of the landscape. Gentle hills line up endlessly, traversed by streams and waterfalls, which often flow into reservoirs. Although the national park is well known and it is the peak tourist season, we only meet a few people on the trek.

There are many, many waterfalls in the national park, and all kinds of variations. The most beautiful ones we have seen are definitely the Cascate de Fecha de Barjas, the so-called Tahiti waterfalls. Look at the pictures and you will understand why they have their nickname.

Cascate de Fecha de Barjas Peneda Geres Nationalpark Portugal Nature wilderness waterfalls
Cascate de Fecha de Barjas, National Park Peneda Gerês

Two other waterfalls are also worth mentioning: The waterfalls of Poço Azul are somewhat hidden in the Valle do Conho. You can only get there by foot walking around 5 km. Thanks to that, the beautiful, quiet place is safed from being overcrowded. The waterfalls of Portela do Homem are at least as beautiful. However, they are only a few meters from the mainroad. Due to the easy access, they are unfortunately usually jam-full and therefore quickly lose their charm for us.

Portela do Homem waterfalls Peneda Geres Nationalpark Portugal hiking Nature landscape
Waterfalls of Portela do Homem, National Park Peneda Gerês

The highlight of the well-known Trilho de 7 Lagoas are the green-blue, crystal-clear pools that have formed in stages along the Rio Cabril. From the starting point in Xertelo it is about an hour until we see the longed-for cooling down. The pools are very easy accessible and each one is a bathing oasis with its own waterfall. An absolute dream. Since the hike is very easy, you usually don't have this place to yourself. Nevertheless, it is an absolute must-see in the national park.

Last but not least, our insider tip - a tour "into the wild" close to Fafião. However, it is definitely not for everyone :-) The hike (which, by the way, has no name) was a real challenge for us, partly because we underestimated the terrain and partly, after weeks of surfing, we were no longer used to hiking. From Fafião the path goes far into the savage valley, along the river of the same name. The trails are more like working paths for the local cattle breeders and beekeepers, later only goat paths. And at some point even these are lost. We are bushwacking in the truest sense of the word. Unfortunately, we are wearing shorts, so that our legs are totally scratched within a very short time. Since it is a circular route, we have to continue. From time to time we see a few cairns that are supposed to mark a path, but often it is not to be found. Somehow we make it through and finally end up on a ridge, the Prado da Amarela. The place is so beautiful. The landscape reminds us a bit of the Romanian Carpathians. In the meantime it is already evening - good for great photography. Not so good for us as we still have about 8 km to go. If the terrain doesn't improve, it will probably become a night hike. Somehow we make it and as a reward we actually discover wild horses in the last light of the evening. We would have never dreamed of this! We already heard that the Garranos, small wild horses that roam free between the mountains, are native to the national park. However, it is incredible luck that we can actually observe them grazing in the wild. All in all, the hike was absolutely worth it. Real wilderness, great landscapes and even such surprising animal sightings. As a reward, we treat ourselves with an (extremely late) dinner in Fafião before falling into the camper, completely whacked.

"into the wild" in Fafião Peneda Geres Nationalpark Portugal hiking Nature
"into the wild" in Fafião, National Park Peneda Gerês

wild horses Fafião Peneda Geres Nationalpark animals Nature hiking Portugal
Wild horses close to Fafião, National Park Peneda Gerês

The Peneda-Gerês National Park absolutely convinced us - an authentic, varied natural highlight. And it was a very nice end to our trip to Portugal. Now we have to make our way back with a heavy heart. But only because new adventures are waiting - the Panamericana. With that in mind - stay tuned :-)

Finally, a few things that fascinated us so much about Portugal:

Relaxed people

The Portuguese are very chilled, friendly people. They have always met us open-minded and in a good mood, with a lot of respect for their fellow human beings and their privacy.

Fantastic infrastructure for campers

The country is very camper-friendly, the campsites are fairly priced and mostly idyllic with plenty of space and shady trees. Apart from that, staying overnight at some beaches is often officially allowed (and even free), at least north of Lisbon.

Delicious food

Since we were almost exclusively on the coast, there was of course a lot of fresh fish on the menu. And there is enough of that in Portugal. In addition, local fruit and vegetables, e.g. papaya, avocados, sweet potatoes, etc. Almost everything grows in Portugal thanks to the balanced climate. Micha was totally fascinated by the Portuguese desserts and sweets - the selection couldn't be bigger. And you can't order anything wrong :-) Last but not least, of course, the wine is not to be missed. Regarding that, Portugal can easily keep up with Italy or France. I particularly liked the typical Vinho Verde, a young wine with less sweetness and alcohol content. Due to its natural carbonic acid, it is a sparkling delight in the summer.

Fair prices

In our opinion, Portugal is not nearly as expensive as its reputation suggests. The campsites are around €20 per night, even in high season, and the groceries are cheaper than in many other southern European countries. Restaurants and bars are also very fairly priced.

Unique, varied landscape

The coast of Portugal is beautiful and very diverse. From gentle coastlines on the Algarve, to rugged, savage bays in the southwest, to endless sandy beaches in the northwest - it's all there. And with a few exceptions, the coast is very natural and pristine - far from mass tourism. The inland offers a completely different landscape. In the north very green and hilly with breathtaking fauna and flora.


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