Little known, Peneda-Geres National Park is located in northern Portugal, part of a system of mountain ranges along the border with Spain. It is a glorious, unspoilt region of mountains, valleys, forests, lakes and rivers speckled with small, traditional farming conununities linked by ancient footpaths, old paved tracks and even the remains of a Roman road. Starting at Caldas do Geres, an old spa village in a lovely, wooded valley, hike over the Serra do Geres, past Campo do Geres and on through woodland over Serra Amarela to the picturesque mountain villages of Brufe and Cutelo.
Arable land is scarce and maize and grain are staples, grown on ancient terraces; the lush mountain pastures are grazed by the rare, long-horned Barrosao ox.
From Ermida, a tiny, remote community not far from the splendid Arado waterfalls, trek through a wonderful valley to Soajo, well accustomed to visitors thanks to its collection of 18th and 19th century espigueiros - stone granaries - set on mushroom-shaped granite legs. Finally, make your way to Arcos de Valdavez, a lovely, welcoming, old market town.
The sense of wilderness is strong - tourism is light, and you will often find yourself alone for hours at a time, despite almost always being within easy reach of a village. The dense woodland includes birch, juniper, holly and several species of oak and silver birch at the rivers' edge. Peneda-Geres is a rare refuge for both golden eagles and wolves, both of which were hunted remorselessly until recently, but there is more chance of seeing roe deer, otters or wild boar. There are birds, too - red kites, falcons and more. Gazing at the magnificent views, with buzzards wheeling in the sky and the ever-present sound of rushing water, the tourist towns and golf courses of the Algarve seem a world away.
WHEN TO GO
The Park is open all year and entry is free; hiking is best from May to October.
TIME IT TAKES
About a week
Ria Calda, a village surrounded by mountains with a large reservoir and water sports centre.
The Ethnographic Museum of Vilarinho da Furna, dedicated to the eponymous village that was 'drowned' to make way for a dam in 1972. If the water levels drop dramatically in summer, the village begins to reappear.
The ruined castle at Lindoso.
Soajo Festival, held each August, it features a 'corrida' or race, run on foot, not horseback, where the competitors carry water on their heads.
Arcos de Valdavez Festival, held during the second week of August.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
There are various hiking trails in the Park as well as themed trails. You will need to carry a map and compass and be prepared for a challenging walk. It can be very hot in the uplands, so be careful not to start an accidental fire.