Finally we drove into Portugal after already 15 days in Spain (northern). We had allocated 17 days for Portugal and would be travelling north to south and then would cross into Southern Spain before going north again via the east side.
We drove over 280 km from O Pindo to Ponte Romana de Lima then to Granaries of Soajo before ending in Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês where we stayed for two nights. It was a long but enjoyable drive and there were several beautiful sights/destinations where we stop to explore, breaking a monotonous drive
Ponte Romana de Lima
Our first destination in Portugal was Ponte Romana de Lima (Roman bridge) which was about 200 km south of O Pindo. Ponte Romana de Lima was named after River Lima (Limia).
We drove to the west bank of the bridge and found a free carpark near a park. The west bank of the bridge was very quiet, there was no visitors but us. We walked along the bank, passing a quiet cafe, “Margem Café Concerto” which had a good view of the roman bridge. It was too early for our coffee break so we proceeded on to the bridge.
This medieval bridge was built in the 14th century during the Roman times. On the west the bridge extended to a church “St Anthony’s Church of the Old Tower” (Igreja de Santo António da Torre Velha). On the river bank we also saw a statue of a Roman commander on horse attempting to cross the River Lima and wondered what was the story behind it.
Legend had it that during medieval time, River Limia (River Lima) was known also as River Lethes which meant oblivion. All those who crossed the river would lose their memories. So when a contingent of Roman army arrived at the river (at that time there was no bridge) the soldiers refused to enter the water. A Roman commander swam across the river and called out to his soldiers (who were all on the opposite bank), shouting the name of everyone of them to proof that the “memory loss” was a myth!
Unlike the west side of the bridge which was a quiet park, the east side was a vibrant town. It looked so interesting that we decided to drive to the east side. We had to make a loop as the Roman Bridge was not a vehicular bridge.
Driving from one side of the Roman Bridge to the other did not take long. On the East side we found free parking. Near the bridge by the bank was a huge empty land with many cars. Ooo.. there were so many visitors/people on this side of the bank.
The name of the town was Ponte de Lima. The town was name after the bridge! It was a bit of a twist because most bridges were named after the towns they were located in. We could only deduce that the bridge came first before the town came up. Ponte de Lima was the oldest town in Portugal (or at least one of the oldest). It was founded in March 1125. Now we were confused, we read somewhere that the bridge was constructed in the 14th century and the town was founded in 1125 so which came first town or bridge?
Apparently the bridge consisted of two sections. One section was an older bridge constructed by the Romans in the first century and the second section was constructed in the 14th century. One thing for sure, in the present day Ponte de Lima was a lovely town and we could not resist but to find a cafe that faced the bridge and had our daily coffee break.
We had two cups of cafe lattes and the cost was €1.50 per cup. Slightly more expensive than the cafe latte in Spain but still inexpensive when compared to the price we paid at home. It was definitely most memorable to start our Portugal trip with Ponte de Lima the oldest Portugal town as our first destination!
Grandaries of Soajo
From Ponte de Lima we drove for about 40 km to Grandaroes Soajo (Granaries of Soajo). The drive was about 45 minutes, not very long or tiring.
Soajo was a village in Northern Spain. It was a hilly area with farms on the slopes of the hills. Near the village we saw a huge signboard of the village with its main attraction (granary) as the logo. We drove on for another 1.2 km and reached a carpark (free) just before the granaries.
From the carpark we walked for about 100 metres and saw many small stone houses on short stone legs and stone crosses on their roofs. These stone houses were medieval granaries. We had seen similar looking houses usually much larger, usually made of wood and usually one at a time, standing beside traditional houses. We had wondered what were these rough/crude looking houses meant for? First thought that came to our minds were that they were for keeping livestock.
It was amazing to see so many granaries located in the same location. When we first saw a picture of these granaries on the little hill (outcrop), we even thought that this place was a cemetery the stone houses especially with their crosses on top looked like coffins on stilt.
Our guesses were completely wrong, these stone houses were granaries for keeping corns. This rocky outcrop was a communal threshing area and the villagers kept their maize/corn in these communal granaries.
On the outcrop were some twenty-four granaries. The walls of the stone granaries had small long holes which allowed air circulation, we peeked into these holes and found that there were nothing inside. The crosses at the top of each granary was a form of divine protection. Protecting the contents from rodents.
We spent about 30 minutes walking around, taking photos, peeking into granaries, surfing the internet to read about the history and purposes of these stone houses. Beside the granaries this rocky outcrop also had a beautiful view of Soajo valley.
Peneda-Gerês National Park
From Soajo we drove further into the midst of the National Park Peneda-Geres. We had booked a room at a hostel in the scenic part of the park it was about 47 km from Soajo. Interestingly the fastest road to the hostel would involve driving back into Spain and then back into Portugal.
In Spain the petrol prices were about 20% lesser than the pump prices in Portugal so this crossing back into Spain gave us the opportunity to fill up our gas tank at a cheaper rate!
Peneda-Geres National Park was very huge and it was the only national park of Portugal. There were hundreds of traditional villages big and small scattered throughout the mountains and lowlands in the park (Soajo was the largest of these villages). There were also many lovely waterfalls, rivers, lakes and walking trails in the park. As for us, our focus centered around the Cavado Rivers.
From Spain we crossed into Portugal driving south. Soon we were stopped at a “road barricade”/hut and a man in uniform came out to collect €1.50 and issued us a ticket.
Apparently there was a fee to enter Mata de Albergaria, the oldest forest in Portugal. This oldest forest was inside the National Park. We drove on as there was no parking anywhere along the road. After a short while we saw some wild horses roaming about and we drove carefully around them.
Soon we reached the end of the forest and we saw a similar barricade on the opposite of the road and some uniform men collecting entrance fee. We drove on to Miradouro da Preguica (co-ordinates: 41.750950, -8.153098), found a safe place to park our car (by the side of he road) and walked up to the Miradouro (100 meters). At the viewing area that we had a panoramic view of Cavado River far away. It was a pity that the weather was slightly gloomy and sky was not bright and blue.
Our stay for two nights was in Vila da Veiga a village (parish) in the park. We stayed in a hostel that had a lovely view of the surrounding valley and a distance view of Cavado River. It was also in a good location for us to move around to visit the Cavado River areas.
The next day the weather was still very gloomy in morning. The sky was overcast and there was a drizzle. By about 11 am the drizzle lightened and we drove out to explore. We had a few Miradouras (viewpoints in Portugese) marked, but decided to visit those that did not need much trekking from the road. The drizzle had wet the ground and trekking on dirt road might be difficult.
Our first marked miradouro was Miradouro da Fraga Negra ( co-ordinates : 1.726984, -8.168137) which did not look very far off the road on google map and further uphill from this miradoura there was a second miradouro, Miradouro da Boneca (Doll’s view). Sadly when we reached the vicinity of the first miradoura we could not find a visible trek or a direction signboard pointing to the miradoura. So there went two miradouro that we had to skip.
The third miradouro was Mirante Velho Miradoura and we found it easily at co-ordinates :41.714214, -8.17709). There were some steps going up to a viewing deck. Looking down from the viewing deck we saw another viewing deck below via some steps down the hill side, cross a dirt road and more steps down a slope again. The second viewing deck was not too far about 100 metres away.
The views from the upper and lower decks were absolutely stunning especially when the sky brightened up. We went from the upper deck to the lower deck then back up to the upper deck again as our car was parked by the road near to the upper deck.
After Mirante Velho Miradouro we followed the road that led us through a big loop to the intersection of the Cavado Rivers. There were many short cuts to the rivers but they were not proper tar roads and we did not want cause any damages to our car driving on these dirt roads.
The road brought us uphill and we drove through a lovely landscape full of huge rocks and boulders. We saw one gigantic prominent rectangular rock perched on an outcrop. The huge rock looked like strong man with his child (smaller rock) standing solidly on a ledge looking over the valley.
As we came nearer to the rivers we saw a church. It was the Santuário de São Bento da Porta Aberta which was first constructed in 1615 as a small hermitage and underwent reconstruction from 1880 to 1895. Its name ” Santuário de São Bento da Porta Aberta ” actually meant “Santuary of Saint Benedict of the Open Door”. It was named that way because its doors was always open to provided shelter for travelers.
It was said that this chapel received 2.5 million pilgrims annually and was the second largest Portugese sancturary after Fatima. Wow 2.5 millions! This would worked up to about averagely 6,800 pilgrims per day. We must have came on a extremely “low” season because beside us there was nobody around at all, not even a priest!
Santuário de São Bento da Porta Aberta had two main buildings. One was the older looking building with the usual bell tower and cross on top. The other was a very modern glass panelled larger building. The modern chapel was huge, bright and very impressive.
The church/chapel was sited on a very scenic location. From the compound at the back of the chapels we could see the Cavado Rivers. Unlike the views at Mirante Velho Miradouro where we could see the entire water body, we could only see parts of the water body here. The view of the Cavado Rivers was much near and larger.
At about 2.30 pm we reached the Cavado Rivers, we found a cafe “Coffee Garden” sited at the intersection of two huge branches of the rivers. The cafe “hung” practically over the water and we loved the huge glass panels at all sides that gave us an unobstructed view of the water. We had our coffee and ice-cream and the total bill came up to €4.85.
Beside Coffee Garden was a small supermarket which was just nice for us to pick up some cheese and pasta for dinner this evening.
Our stay for two nights was at Hostel Geres. It was a double room with ensuite toilet for €80 for two nights. This hostel had a shared kitchen, free parking onsite and provided daily breakfast. Like in the pictures we saw online at booking.com, the hostel had a large and beautiful outdoor terrace with a lovely view of the valley, unfortunately the weather was not good (raining) during our stay so we did not have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoor area at all.
The hostel had two buildings the larger was the main building that housed on its 1st level a shared kitchen/dining, a shared cosy sitting lounge and on its second level were dormitories and a huge open balcony (sitting directly above the shared kitchen). This open balcony had the best view in this hostel, where one could see the beautiful valley and the Covoda Rivers. Sadly this open balcony was only accessible via the dorms so for guests like us we had no access to the balcony!.
Our double room was on a separate building. This building was built on the side of the hill and was accessed via a stairs located on the outdoor terrace. The circular stairs led us down a level to a corridor with rooms on both sides. Our room was overlooking the hill, it was small tight room and it felt a bit damp when we first entered. But after we opened the window and let the air in, the room felt okay. Sadly the view from our room balcony was not as impressively as that on the open balcony in the main building!
Our ensuite bathroom was pretty decent and clean. Hot water was not a problem.
We would have preferred a room in the main building because they felt brighter and had better view, unfortunately the rooms in the main building were shared dormitories! The hostel had wifi but the signal was only good in the main building and there was no signal at all anywhere in the second build. We spent most of our time outside sleeping hours in the shared kitchen/dining as it was more spacious, brighter and had good wifi signal.
The shared kitchen was a full kitchen. We were able to cook two lovely dinner there. For one dinner we had pizza and for the second dinner we had pasta loaded with lot and lot of mozzarella cheese!
Breakfast was provided by Hostel Geres as part of the stay package. It was a very typical Spanish breakfast with bread, ham, cheese, butter, jam, coffee, tea, milk, fruits. Here cereals were also provided too. Still no eggs!