When I was invited to discover in a weekend some of the enchantments of Arcos de Valdevez, in Portugal, I couldn’t imagine what I would find.
To have an idea, my preconception was that Arcos de Valdevez was a simple municipality in the north of Portugal that could be pretty interesting from the point of view of those who, like me, love to venture into nature.
But what I found was extraordinary! I just have to start by saying that Arcos de Valdevez covers a territory of… 450 km! It is one of the largest counties in Portugal.
Therefore, as you can imagine, its richness is extraordinary, not only in terms of nature – after all, it covers three different mountain ranges: Soajo, Peneda, and Amarela -, as at the level of local heritage and culture. Not to mention the food!
This is how I have divided this article. First, showing you that in Arcos de Valdevez, there is always something to do whatever your kind of trip is.
So, put on your sneakers, grab your camera and leave room for dessert. Here are my top activities to do in Arcos de Valdevez:
- ARCOS DE VALDEVEZ FOR THE ADVENTUROUS
- ARCOS DE VALDEVEZ FOR HERITAGE AND CULTURE LOVERS
- ARCOS DE VALDEVEZ FOR THE FOODIES
ARCOS DE VALDEVEZ FOR THE ADVENTUROUS
1. Jeep rides through the Soajo and Peneda Mountains
I’ll start by telling you that the mountains of Soajo and Peneda are part of the National Park Peneda-Gerês, the only national park in Portugal, which stands out for its extension and natural beauty.
Here the mountain ranges stretch as far as the eye can see, alternating between the green of the trees and the brown of the rock, dotted with old villages and often crossed by rivers that I don’t even dare to make the connections between springs and streams.
You can use your car to explore these mountains, but my advice is to do it by jeep and someone who knows the territory well. Although the roads are in excellent condition, specific climbs require more traction from the car, and if you go with someone who knows the area, you may discover details that you would otherwise miss. In my case, I did this tour with Eco4adventure that proved to be very knowledgeable about this area.
Did you know that…
… on the roads of these mountains, you come across cattle of the Cachena breed. These small cows roam free most of the year, so you must be careful with these local passers-by. But that’s not all! Keeping them company is the Garranos. Like the cachenas, these are tiny horses that also roam freely around the area.
So if you drive along the roads of the national park, do so with great care.
2. Do a river trekking in Soajo
This was one of my favorite activities of the weekend I spent in Arcos de Valdevez. In the village of Soajo you can discover the Adrão River, a tributary of the Lima River, in the most extraordinary way: in the water! This river trekking organized by Soajo Nomadis is not suitable for people with reduced mobility but can be done by travelers of all ages.
The route is five kilometers in 4 hours or as long as it takes to enjoy the various pools of fresh, crystal-clear water that we come across along the way.
Get ready to walk along the banks of this river, especially in the water, climbing over various rocks… even lying down. It’s really super fun!!!
3. Biking in Miranda’s “Enchanted Forest”
Have I ever told you that I’m not much of an expert in biking?…well, I’m actually a huge clumsy! But that didn’t stop me from accepting the challenge to do it in a place they call the “Enchanted Forest.” After all, how do you say “no” to an enchanted forest?!
Despite my skills (or lack thereof) on a bike, I was still able to see the potential of Miranda Forest Park and say that this place is fantastic for two-wheeled riders.
4. Ride Arcos de Valdevez’s Ecovia
And while we’re on the subject of bikes, another path to ride through Arcos de Valdevez is the Ecovia. There’s 34 km that connect Jolda São Paio to Sistelo, in an adventure that can take up to 9 hours. But don’t be scared, because you can do small sections of this route.
Keep in mind that the municipality of Arcos de Valdevez is considered a World Biosphere Reserve, so you will undoubtedly come across countless species of fauna and flora. Oh, and you don’t need to do the ecovia by bicycle. You can do it on foot! 😉
7 precautions to take on the Ecovia do Vez:
- Take comfortable shoes
- Take plenty of water to be constantly hydrated
- Don’t leave garbage behind, nor make fire
- Don’t damage the plants or disturb the animals
- Follow the markings, so you don’t get lost
- Respect private property and remember to close the gates
- Don’t forget your camera. You’ll need it!
5. Go for a swim in the Vez
I lacked time for this activity, but it’s totally on the list to do when I return to Arcos de Valdevez. The city is crossed from one end to the other by the Vez River, which attracts with its calm waters and green banks.
It turns into the most fantastic river beach in the summer, and I smile at the possibility of taking a paddleboard and going exploring it.
6. Stargazing at the Porta do Mezio Observation Park
You might be wondering what the hell stargazing has to do with adventure, but, for me, that’s how it felt: on a grand adventure through space!
Porta do Mezio, one of the entry points to the National Park Peneda-Gerês, is one of the seven stargazing sites in Arcos de Valdevez. It was here that I had my first astronomy experience. I learned to identify constellations and to realize that they aren’t in the same position during the night. After all, although we don’t notice it, the Earth moves. Through great professional telescopes, I saw the Moon as never before and had the opportunity to look at Saturn. It was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of this trip.
ARCOS DE VALDEVEZ FOR HERITAGE AND CULTURE LOVERS
7. Visit the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Peneda
I started to see the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Peneda from the Tibo Viewpoint in Gavieira. Given the distance we were at, I could already guess the dimension of this pilgrimage site nestled in the mountains.
In front of the large church placed at the top, under a large boulder and with a waterfall running alongside it on winter days, there’s a long lane with 20 chapels and a staircase called “Escadório das Virtudes.” Whether or not you follow the Christian faith, this place is worth a visit.
8. Get to know the Fortes do Extremo
Located in Portela do Extremo, they look like mounds and earthen ditches covered with vegetation at first glance. Still, in reality, we face military forts built during the Restoration War in the 17th century.
These pieces of history result from years of research and archeology work and can now finally be visited.
9. Visit the Baroque Interpretation Center
In the Jardim do Centenário, in Arcos de Valdevez, you’ll find the Baroque Interpretation Centre. Occupying the Igreja do Espírito Santo, considered “one of the most valuable jewels of Portuguese Baroque,” this exhibition center is the starting point for discovering other temples throughout the county and where you’ll find great expressions of this religious art from the 17th and 18th centuries.
In this church, in particular, pulpits, altarpieces, and even a Pentecostes piece intersect with video mapping, touch-screens, and VR glasses for a virtual tour guided by a tiny angel.
10. Enter into the Paço de Giela
The Paço de Giela is, for many Arcuenses, the jewel in the city’s crown. Located on the left bank of the Vez River, this former noble house, once abandoned, was renovated in record time and today assumes the vital role of presenting the past history of Arcos de Valdevez.
The site was classified as a national monument in 1910, and in the museum center, you can see original pieces discovered over time, from Prehistory to the Modern Period. Here too, digital solutions interactively support what we are seeing. Spend a little time watching the projection of the video that tells one of the most memorable episodes in the history of Portugal: the Recontro de Valdevez.
ARCOS DE VALDEVEZ FOR THE FOODIES
11. Try improbable combinations at “Wines and Flavors”
Located next to Campo do Trasladario, the Arcos de Valdevez Wine Association created this place as an interpretation center for local wines and products.
Every Friday, from 6:30 pm, they carry out tastings of local products in the most varied mixtures that they call “unlikely combinations.”
Be sure to try a red cacharolete! A kind of caipirinha, but made with vinhão, sugar, and lime. A delight, especially if it’s a hot day.
Do you know that…
..Arcos de Valdevez was the first Portuguese municipality to export wine nationally to England (17th-18th century), even before Port Wine.
12. Taste the famous Charutos dos Arcos… and the “Cala-maridos”!
And you have to do it at Doçaria Central! This house has been producing the best pastries in Arcos de Valdevez for almost two centuries. Charutos dos Arcos is the ex-libris, in such a way that they have already won the title of Wonder of Portugal. This sweet of convent origin results from a very fine wafer with a creamy egg yolk and sugar filling. I challenge anyone to eat just one!
Other curiosities of this store managed by D. Clarinha are the Cala-maridos (“shut-up-husbands”)! In reality, they are called Rebuçados dos Arcos, but they gained this popular name due to their size, capable of filling the entire mouth.
13. Taste Portuguese northern flavors at local restaurants
Anyone who has visited the north of Portugal knows that there’s no better region for those who love a full table. Arcos de Valdevez lives up to this!
In all the restaurants I visited this weekend — from O Lagar to O Porte, in the city downtown, to O Videira, in Soajo, or to the restaurant in Porta do Mezio — I filled my belly with local delicacies.
Do you remember the cachenas that are loose in the mountains? The meat of this cow is one of the most appreciated dishes in Arcuense gastronomy. It’s joined by the Cozido à Minhota or the Cabritinho Mamão da Serra. All washed down with local wine, of course, and topped off with Charutos dos Arcos!
Unfortunately, it’s not very good gastronomy for those who opt for vegetarianism, although the vegetables and fruits around here are the freshest and most homegrown ones you can find.
So, I spent a weekend full of unbelievable activities that make me think: “if I managed to do all this in just two days, I can’t even imagine if I had more time!”. But, I left there with my soul full and the desire to go back and discover other wonders of this region.
What about you, what do you say? Do you know Arcos de Valdevez? Did you feel like going there? Then, comment below what you think of this article and, if you liked it, don’t forget to share it with friends or on your social media.
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A note from Marlene
I made this trip to Arcos de Valdevez at the invitation of the Municipality of Arcos de Valdevez, and I must thank all the kindness and hospitality with which I was received. But, as always, the photos and opinions are entirely mine, sincerely reflecting the whole experience.
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