In spring 2022 for 6 weeks we lived in Ponte da Barca, a lovely small Portuguese town located at the foot of Peneda-Geres National Park. Every day, from the balcony of our cottage, we could admire stunning views of the park’s mountains looming in the distance. Of course, with living so close we couldn’t miss going there and seeing at least part of it. If you take a look at the map you’ll notice that Peneda-Geres National Park’s shape resembles a butterfly. Due to its vastness, we managed to visit places only in the “upper/left-wing” part. In this post, we’ll show you the best places from that area, perfect for a one-day trip in Peneda-Geres National Park, Portugal. Pack your trekking boots and let’s go!
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About Peneda-Geres National Park, Portugal
Peneda-Gerês National Park (pt. Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês), or just Gerês, was established in May 1971, which makes it the first and only National Park in Portugal. It’s located at the northern end of the country, right on the border with Spain, and covers an area of 695.9 km2. Peneda-Geres National Park stretches between three districts: Viana do Castelo, Braga, and Vila Real. It also consists of four mountain ranges: Peneda, Geres, Soajo, and Amarela. Currently, the area is home to about 9000 people mainly working in farming, livestock breeding, and tourism.
Together with Parque Natural Baixa Limia on the Spanish side they form UNESCO Geres-Xures Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (pt. Reserva de la Biosfera Transfronteriza Gerês-Xurés) – protected territory divided by borders, but united by the characteristics of nature and culture.
Yes, definitely. Gerês is a truly unique place on Portugal’s map. Its area is filled with unspoiled nature, and spectacular landscapes that can be admired from countless viewpoints. There are also traditional remote villages, and many ancient remains like castles, granaries, or megalithic tombs. It can all be visited thanks to the many mountain trails.
Currently, Peneda-Geres National Park is a popular destination among Portuguese and Spaniards. Mostly people from the northern regions like Galicia or Castile and Leon are visiting. For some reason, it’s not yet well known to others despite being easily accessible from bigger cities nearby. Porto, Braga, Viana do Castelo, or Vigo makes it the perfect destination for a one-day trip or a weekend getaway. It’s a great place for outdoor activities lovers, but also for those who just enjoy relaxing time in nature.
Peneda-Geres National Park can be a great choice all year round. The best time depends just on your personal preferences and the activities you want to do. In winter you’ll have an opportunity to see it covered in snow. Spring fills the park with blossom flowers and trees. In summer it’s perfect for swimming and taking cooling baths in lagoons, relaxing on the river banks, or practicing some watersports like canoeing, kayaking, or paddleboarding. In autumn you’ll be able to admire the colors show. Also, summer probably means more crowds. We visited in early May and can confirm that Peneda-Geres looked beautiful with blossom flowers and trees.
On every corner, on every lookout in Peneda-Gerês National Park, you might come across spectacular and breathtaking views. We enjoyed the places near Mezio Swing, Soajo village, and Tibo Lookout the most. When you’ll be driving in the area you discover that most of the places, trails, and roads hide some gems along them.
The best and easiest way to move around Geres is by driving your own vehicle. Roads connect the most important places, viewpoints, and villages. When we were driving there, they were in good condition, and driving them was pretty easy, although sometimes they are winding and narrow. Public transport is very challenging and you won’t reach many points on it. At the end of the post, you’ll read more about getting to Peneda-Geres National Park, as well as parking lots, campings, or accommodations.
Recommended places for one-day trip ideas in Peneda-Geres National Park, Portugal
In a very scenic spot in Peneda-Geres National Park lies a small, remote, and slightly forgotten Lindoso village. It’s located only 4km from the Spanish border, and in quite close proximity to towns like Ponte de Lima, Ponte da Barca, or Braga. For many centuries Lindoso played an important military role in defending Portuguese borders, and the remains of the castle are the remainder of that fact. In the village, you won’t find many places to see, but those that the village can offer will take you on an amazing journey back in time hundreds of years. Besides a well-preserved medieval castle, you’ll find there picturesque granite granaries, a stone old town with quaint houses, and great views over the surroundings.
Soajo just like Lindoso, which is located only 10km further, will take you on a trip back in time. In the village located at an altitude of 1416m a.s.l you’ll find picturesque granaries, a traditional stone old town with winding streets and quaint houses, and wonderful views of the surroundings. All of that creates a very charming picture that cannot fail to impress. Near the village, you can also relax in nature and even take a relaxing dip into the water in Poço Negro. Soajo can’t be missed while in Peneda-Geres National Park.
Mezio Swing & Porta del Sol viewpoint
The next stop in Peneda-Gerês National Park is a spectacular area located at about 900m a.s.l. where besides countless possibilities of spending relaxing time in nature you’ll find two great spots: Mezio Swing (pt. Baloiço do Mezio) and Porta del Sol viewpoint. Mezio Swing, about 7.5m high, is the largest rope swing in Portugal and can be seen from a distance. Don’t hesitate to take a swing during which you will be able to enjoy breathtaking, panoramic views. Porta do Sol viewpoint, featuring lovely blue doors, is located about 300m from the swing. It’s one more place for admiring Peneda-Gerês National Park views.
Chances are high that below the swing and along the road leading to Porta del Sol, you’ll come across Cachena Cows, little scary-looking cows, which are allowed to wander freely around villages. You might also spot some Garrano Horses. Both animals are typical breeds for Northern Portugal. There are tons of lizards, big and small, roaming around on stones and grass, just look around and you’ll find some for sure!
Also, next to the road leading to Mezio Swing you’ll find one of seven Astro Spots located in Gerês. We can only imagine how amazing it must be to watch the night sky from there! Scroll down and you’ll find a map with all places marked.
Tibo Lookout (pt. Miradouro de Tibo) is one more great spot in Peneda-Gerês National Park, located at an altitude of about 800m a.s.l. Some winding, but in good condition, roads leading to it. Viewpoint offers beautiful views over the mountains, valley, river, some villages, and also the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda. From Tibo Lookout, you can also spot one more Astro Spot, located near Tibo village.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda (pt. Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Peneda) is located 10km from Tibo Lookout, at the foot of a big cliff. Sanctuary was built between the 18th and 19th centuries and looks like a smaller version of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga. Here you’ll find a long staircase with statues representing faith, hope, charity, and glory. Every year, in the first week of September, there are Nossa Senhora da Peneda festivities held in the village.
There is also a legend regarding this sanctuary. According to it, in 1220 at the site where the sanctuary is now located, the Holy Virgin appeared to a shepherd girl in the form of a dove and asked for a chapel to be built there. A little girl told her parents what happened, but they didn’t believe her. So the next day, in the same place, the Holy Virgin appeared again, only now in the form that is now well known. She asked a girl to go to the nearby village, Roussas, and bring a lady that was paralyzed for 18 years. As you can expect – when a woman arrived she miraculously regained her health. So the chapel was built, and the place became a popular pilgrimage site.
Castro Laboreiro village
Castro Laboreiro is the last place in Peneda-Gerês National Park that we would like to recommend to you (even though we couldn’t make it due to the quickly changing weather and strong winds). The village is located only 17km north of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda and is considered one of the most interesting ones in the park. It’s located at an altitude of about 1000m a.s.l and is inhabited only by about 500 people.
Castro Laboreiro is most famous for the ruins of Castro Laboreiro Castle, which sits on the top of the hill overlooking the village. To access the castle you’ll need to take a short walk, not a very difficult walk from the village center. From the top, beautiful panoramic views stretch over the village and its surroundings. Besides the castle ruins in the village you’ll also find typical granite houses (similar to ones in Soajo), a church, a pillory, a medieval bridge, and even a museum – Núcleo Museológico de Castro Laboreiro.
Hiking in Peneda-Gerês National Park
If you don’t want to only drive around the area and are up to hit some trails – Gerês is a perfect place for that as well! There are lots of hiking trails to choose from and for sure you’ll find something suitable for your condition. There are a few hours loops as well as trails for a few days. Whatever you choose you’ll be walking among many spectacular places, and probably will discover some hidden gems like waterfalls or river beaches. Check out alltrails.com or wikiloc.com for some inspiration.
How to get to and around Peneda-Gerês National Park?
The best and easiest way to get to and move around Peneda-Gerês National Park is by driving your own vehicle. Most important places, viewpoints, and villages are connected by roads. But have in mind that there aren’t any gas stations inside the park so fill your tank earlier. Public transport is very challenging and unfortunately you won’t be able to reach many places on it. Your other option is to choose an organized trip.
Here we’ll only mention parking lots for places mentioned in this post. All parking lots were free when we were visiting (May 2022). Click the name of the place and you’ll be taken to Google Maps:
- Mezio Swing & Porta del Sol viewpoint
- Tibo Lookout
- Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda
- Castro Laboreiro
Where to stay and eat in Peneda-Gerês National Park?
Inside Geres, for both eating and sleeping, your best and probably only options are in some more popular villages like Soajo, Lindoso, or Castro Laboreiro. You’ll find a better selection in bigger towns nearby, like Ponte da Barca, Ponte de Lima, or Arcos de Valdevez. We lived in Recanto Tia São Magalhães in Ponte da Barca, just a few minutes’ drive to the park, and definitely can recommend this place as a starting base.
Book your accomodation in Peneda-Gerês National Park
One-Day Trip Ideas In Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal – Summing Up
We hope you enjoyed our one day-day trip idea through Peneda-Gerês National Park and that we inspired you to visit it soon. This place is a truly unique and beautiful place on Portugal’s map, filled with breathtaking landscapes and great places to visit. All of the above mentioned places can be seen in one day without too much rushing, but starting early in the morning. One more thing – Geres is a huge place with many things to do and places to see, and you could probably spend a few days and have plenty left to see still. So we encourage you to take a look by yourself for more, especially in its other, “right butterfly wing” part.