The Peneda-Geres National Park is a stunningly beautiful wilderness of rugged boulder strewn mountains interspersed with the bright purple and yellow of heathers and gorses. Lower down the mountains are conifer and broadleaved forests including some rarely occurring native broadleaved woodland that contain Pyrenean and English oaks - much like our oak woodlands but which are much rarer in Portugal's drier climate. The National Park covers a massive 70,000 hectares crossing over into Spain where is links into the Baixa Limia-Serra do Xures Natural Park. The mountains reach 700-1500 metres in altitude and are striking with their rounded granite rocks that are littered all over the landscape.
Geres is a main centre for accommodation and restaurants in the southern section of the Park with cafes and restaurants in the compact town centre. The hillsides around the town lead to touring routes and walks with some fabulous views of the lake, Albufeira da Canicada, that greets you as you enter the National Park.
Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres was designated a national park in 1971 to safeguard the wildlife, ancient customs and unique agricultural practices. It's a special place due to its geological formations, wildlife interest and the cultural heritage of the mountain peoples of the area.
The Peneda-Geres National Park is a fantastic wilderness made up of the wilder Serra da Peneda mountain range in the north and the Serra do Geres to the east. This is the only National Park in Portugal although it has many other natural parks. Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres (PNPG) lines the Spanish border in the north west of Portugal in the Minho region and abuts the Tras-os-Montes region to the east. The Portuguese take their protection role very seriously and there are still many parts of the National Park that have not yet been touched by tourism and indeed not touched much by man at all. The protection extended to this area is not just to protect the important and rare wildlife; it aims to protect the traditional lifestyles and culture of the people of the region as well.
There are three sections to the National Park: the northern section from the Spanish border north of Lamas de Mouro down to Cabreiro; the central section from Soajo to Germil and the southern section from Campo de Geres across to Montalegre in the east.
This area of Portugal receives more rain than anywhere else in Portugal which gives rise to a much more diverse range of habitats and species than other parts of the country. The oak woodland is a typical example of this as it's often associated with Northern Europe, but here English oak grows side by side with Pyrenean oak, yew, alder and ash. Upland heathland and maquis cover the rocky mountains and in total contrast there are even wet, peatbog areas where cotton grass and the carnivorous plant round-leaved sundew occurs.
There are rare and endemic species of the mountains including the Geres lily, the Geres fern, the golden-striped salamander, the Iberian wolf, wild boar that still manage to survive in the wilder areas of the park, fifteen species of bat and more common species including lizards, pine marten, badger and the red squirrel.
Being such a vast area the Park can support a wide range of birds and 147 species have been recorded including golden eagle, chough, eagle owl, honey buzzard.
An integral part of the conservation of the PNPG is the agricultural practices of its population who have traditionally been engaged in cattle breeding ad farming. In the valleys the hillsides are terraced to enable farmers to live off the land that they can more easily cultivate in this form. Some of the oldest villages still use traditional methods where livestock is moved to high pasture for up to five months of the year. Farmers live in one roomed houses at this time dotted across the mountainous terrain. They then bring their cattle to more sheltered areas and move out of these houses when the harsh winters come. It is difficult for these traditions to be upheld as the populations of these old villages leave for bigger towns and cities but the Park and European funded initiatives are trying to support these communities. It could well be that tourism becomes an important economic support to the region with traditional buildings being restored.
Several particularly primitive animals found here are the barrosa cattle and the small cows called cachena, bravia goats, garrrano ponies and the powerful Castro Laboreiro sheepdog that was used to ward off wolves.
One of the most striking structures that sums up the cultural heritage of the area are the antas tombs that were constructed from upright stones and topped with roof slabs then covered in soil. At Lindoso you can see the stone grain stores that are like small buildings on legs. Around the national park are all sorts stone circles and rock art of engraved symbols. The local information offices can give you more information on their locations and trails that taken them in (although they are marked roughly on the park s maps).
There are National Park offices at Braga, Terras de Bouro, Arcos de Valdevez and Montalegre: Braga: Avenida Antonio Macedo, Braga 4704-538, Portugal. Tel: 351 253 203480. Fax: 351 253 613169. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Directions on our Braga page - link opposite. Arcos de Valdevez: R Pde Manuel Himalaia, 4970-462 Arcoa de Valdevez. Tel: 351 258 515 338. Fax: 351 258 522 707
Terras de Bouro: Centro de Educacao Ambiental do Vidoeiro, Lugar do Vidoeiro, no 99 4845-081 Geres. Tel: 351 253 390 110. Fax: 351 253 391 496.
Montalegre: R. do Reigoso, 5470-236 Montalegre. Tel: 351 276 518 320/1. Fax: 351 276 518 322.
In addition, there are National Park Gateways which have the full range of maps and leaflet information as well as permanent displays explaining different aspects of the park at: Lamas de Mouro, Concelho de Melgaco - accessed from EN 202 road. Mezio, Concelho de Arcos de Valdevez, - accessed from EN 202 road via Cabana Maior. Cabril, Concelho de Montalegre, - accessed from EN 103-8 road.
Geres is the main town in the south of the park that is a good centre for reasonably priced accommodation. It is easily accessible from the N304 off the main N103 from Braga. Hotels are mainly open from May to October and most accommodation is alongside the main drag through the town.
There is a network of forest tracks across the hillside above the town. These are a good way to drive through the landscape as they often end in viewpoints with stone picnic benches and springs. Some walks are waymarked off these and there are plenty of stopping off points to take in the best views. These can get busy at weekends and during holidays as the Portuguese from surrounding towns descend on the Park.