North Portugal walk: Peneda-Gerês National Park, Guimarães, Alto Douro

For years my Mom has gushed about Peter and Ben, Ana and Esperanza, the core group of Duende Travel.  Duende Travel specializes in walking tours of Western Europe, emphasizing beautiful locations, historical context, excellent local food and wine.  When my parents asked Ferda and me if we’d like to join them for a Duende walking tour of northern Portugal, well, we didn’t hesitate to say yes.  This tour was the reason that we ended up cycling in Portugal.  Our original plans had been to cycle in Morocco and Andalucia.

Portugal’s equivalent of Spain’s paradores are pousadas, essentially luxury hotels in historic buildings.  We spent the first two nights of our walking tour at Pousada Mosteiro de Amares, an old monastery in Santa Maria do Bouro near the Spanish border and the Peneda-Gerês National Park where we walked the first day of the tour.

After sleeping in the tent for most of the days of our bicycle tour, Ferda and I felt spoiled at the end of our tour in Lisbon to have a private room with a shared kitchen, bathroom, and washing machine.  Haha, here’s the Pousada Mosteiro de Amares:

IMG_20190510_072603 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190510_074151 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190510_175619 by bryandkeith on flickr

and the walking in Peneda-Gerês National Park:

IMG_20190510_125444 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190510_160146 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190510_164941 by bryandkeith on flickr

I was impressed with how varied the daily walks were.  Even though we often started (or ended) at the same place two days in a row and didn’t walk very far, the walks never felt repetitious.  On the second day we walked from Covide and ended at the church at Abadia where a wedding was just finishing when we arrived.

IMG_20190511_120936 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190511_161113 by bryandkeith on flickr

The Pousada de Santa Marinha in Guimarães, another pousada in an old monastery, did not disappoint either.

IMG_20190512_085156 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190512_131324 by bryandkeith on flickr

Just like the planning I did for the bicycle tour, Duende Travel doesn’t skip the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The city of Guimarães, the “birthplace of Portugal”, was the first UNESCO site they took us to.  I had read a little about Vimara Peres, who supposedly founded Portugal in Guimarães after the city was taken from the Moors in 868.  Apparently even the name “Guimarães” comes from “Vimara Peres”.  However, maybe he’s not so important?  Our guide in Guimarães never even mentioned him.  Instead she was all about Guimarães-born Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal some two and half centuries later.

Here’s the castle where Afonso Henriques was born:

IMG_20190512_110006_9_fused by bryandkeith on flickr

Nearby was a Bragança Ducal Palace.  Astute readers will remember that Ferda and I also saw a Bragança Ducal Palace in Vila Viçosa but failed to get inside.  The Vila Viçosa Palace was built after the Braganças abandoned Guimarães.  We did manage to get inside this one, but it wasn’t terribly interesting.

IMG_20190512_115118 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190512_113529 by bryandkeith on flickr

So Guimarães is important to Portugal’s early history as a nation state.  The reason for the UNESCO listing is mostly because of the well-preserved center of the city.  It was unlike any other historic center we saw in Portugal, reminding me more of northern Europe than anything I’ve seen in the Iberian Peninsula.  It’s a popular area for locals to come and eat and drink according to our guide.

IMG_20190512_122915 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190512_123056 by bryandkeith on flickr

Looked fun, the kind of place Ferda and I would have sat down and had a beer if we’d been on our own.  However, the group was in a hurry to get our lunch, certainly something not to miss.  We had some pretty great lunch spots on our trip, but this one, back at the Pousada de Santa Marinha, was my favorite.  Azulejos on the walls, arches with columns on three sides, a fountain in the middle, an adjacent garden, good wine and food — I wish lunch could last forever.

IMG_20190512_131827 by bryandkeith on flickr

I thought this was the best lunch place of the trip -- an incredible courtyard by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190512_143830 by bryandkeith on flickr

It didn’t, of course.  We had to push on to our next UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Alto Douro wine growing region.  We based ourselves for three nights in Pinhão at the fantastic Vintage House Hotel, something like you might find recommended in a fancy wine travel magazine.

IMG_20190512_170548 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190512_173712 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190513_091629 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190513_185042 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190513_092248 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190513_185035 by bryandkeith on flickr

At first sight I didn’t care much for the scenery.  It’s completely man-made, hill after hill of often steep terraces, sometimes so narrow that a terrace might only have one or two rows of vines.  Because of the wide spacing required for the grapes, the brown soil, and the ever present brown schist, the landscape is more brown than green.

IMG_20190513_094312 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190513_113739 by bryandkeith on flickr

I never fell in love with the landscape, but after four days of seeing it (two on the bus and two walking), I really began to appreciate the incredible amount of work that went and goes into these vineyards.  Historically this is the world’s port region, but as people drink less port, more and more table wine is coming out of the Alto Douro.  Port’s still important, and did you know they make pink port?  That’s what we were first treated to when we came into lunch at a winery after spending the morning walking through the vineyards.  It was tasty on this hot day.

IMG_20190513_120819 by bryandkeith on flickr

Carolyn and Joanne by bryandkeith on flickr

Our second walk in the Alto Douro started in the village of Sabrosa.  Our guide, Peter, led us away from the center of town down a side street, explaining he wanted to get away from the (pretty minimal) traffic.  After his explanation of our plan for the day, he pointed to the house behind him and said, “by the way this is where Ferdinand Magellan was born.”

The house where ‎Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan) was born by bryandkeith on flickr

Magellan (almost) made it around the world in 1519 so they’re busy celebrating the 500th anniversary this year in places inclined to celebrate such a thing.

We continued walking through vineyards.  Check out all the poles to hold up the vines:

IMG_20190514_133400 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190514_133635 by bryandkeith on flickr

They’re made from schist:

This poles made from the local schist were used to suppoer the grape vines. by bryandkeith on flickr

and the walls holding up the terraces:

IMG_20190514_160905 by bryandkeith on flickr

also schist.  And the houses:

IMG_20190514_145838 by bryandkeith on flickr

Schist, too, of course.  It’s pretty incredible.  In the end I think Pinhão was my favorite of the places we stayed on our walking tour.  One dinner — at Restaurante Doc with chef Rui Paula — was probably the best meal I’ve ever had.

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3 Responses to North Portugal walk: Peneda-Gerês National Park, Guimarães, Alto Douro

  1. Doug says:

    Bryan, — continue to love your photographs. You could really put together one of those $500 coffee table books with all your photos, and the history you provide about yours and Ferda’s travels. It is a mini education.

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Thanks Doug, there’s so much to learn — research and reading before going, then dealing with the photos and putting together the blogs afterwards really helps the learning and understanding process. Great to hear you notice it’s a mini education! 🙂

  2. ron and mary ann cohan says:

    Hi, Bryan.

    Loved reading your informative report (enhanced as usual with photos of so many beautiful and interesting venues) on the adventures you and Ferda shared last month with your parents in Portugal. Agree with Doug – your extensive travel logs should one day find their way onto the coffee tables in many homes around the world. Keep up the great work! Best wishes, Ron and Mary Ann

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