Meet the Geres, Portugal’s vibrant National Park

This article serves a double purpose: to show that luxury holidays needn’t be forbiddingly expensive, and also to introduce a precious destination in Portugal that not many international travelers are aware of. Here, you will learn about the only National Park in Portugal: the Geres.

A bit of geographical context, to begin with; even though it’s commonly (and affectionately) referred to simply as Geres, its actual name is Peneda/Geres National Park – an allusion to the two mountain ranges that define its outer limits – stretching from the Minho Province up North all the way across the Spanish border (a total area of over 270 square miles).

Given its particular location, altitude and climate, this National Park has some rather luxuriant and unique features and landscapes, especially in the Geres mountain range. There’s a significant list of vulnerable and endangered species in the region (both fauna and flora), which account for the strict natural preservation policies: no camping, no plant picking and no cars are allowed in many areas of the park.

If you’d like to experience the best of the Geres, we recommend spending a week or two within the area, for leisurely exploration. There are many opportunities for rural tourism in the eponymous village of Geres, but if you would like to avoid the crowds which tend to gather there in the Summer, we recommend looking for the smaller, quaint village of “Campo do Geres”.

There, you will be strategically located for subsequent explorations, and you’ll find some lovely little houses for rent at almost negligible cost. The locals are quite friendly and easy-going, and most of the holiday rentals here are comfortably interspersed throughout the village, looking out to the glorious mountain sceneries.

From your rural accommodation in the Geres villages, you’ll have several entertainment options to choose from. There are activity centers and camping parks where you can meet other people or go for a drink; there, you can do some canoeing over the local dams or enjoy some horseback rising… but the real wonders of the Geres are reserved for those who enjoy walking around and communing with nature.

For the true explorers among you, there are several trekking routes (which any local will gladly point you towards). Some of these routes amount for an enjoyable stroll through the woods, while others can be rather challenging and take several hours of traversing rugged swirling paths – these of course, are the most satisfying.

One notable example of the latter would be the trails leading to the “Minas de Carris”, once a mining ground for Tungsten. This route will take you across the highest point of the Geres mountain range and back down to the Village of Geres, and it can take anywhere from 5-8 hours to walk through. The path is not always comfortable – some sections are comprised of haphazard bundles of rocks and disturbing steep trails, breath-taking all the way through (and not only figuratively so). A piece of advice: take plenty of water with you; although there are several natural springs along the way (and even a few inviting natural pools), they get fewer and harder to find as you get to the higher grounds that comprise most of this route.

Another mandatory trekking route in the Geres is the one leading to the Caledonia (the remnants of an ancient village). Starting from the “Junceda” plains, this is a much easier route that can be walked in just about two hours. One of the most memorable portions is the big Caledonia rock towards the end, a gigantic rock split in half with a narrow path going through, leading all the way to its top. From up there, you will experience some of the most postcard-like sceneries you have ever imagined possible.

A word of advice: even though the trails of the Geres are usually clearly marked, you should get a map and compass, and tread carefully to avoid getting lost – especially if you’re not much experienced with mountaineering. Ideally, you should travel as a group, since there’s no cell phone coverage in the higher grounds – meaning you’ll be effectively cut off from civilization if something goes wrong. Also, if you come across huge bovines pasturing in the mountain, do not be afraid, they’re really not as menacing as they look.

Despite all of its challenging trails and imposing cattle, the Peneda-Geres National is indeed a luxuriant and soothing place to spend your holidays. It’s also a relatively inexpensive destination, perfect for the entire family. There’s something here to attend the preference of natural explorers, thrill seekers, or even placid cottage-dwellers. They say beauty is in the eye of the explorer; not here; while exploring the Geres, you’ll surely notice how beauty is all over and around you.

Jon Acourt is Managing director at UKHolidayPlaces.

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