What is the National Park of Peneda-Gerês? It’s an area in the North of Portugal which is home to several rare and precious species of fauna and flora. It’s an important area also in historical and cultural terms.
Wikipedia’s page on Gerês is quite detailed.
Please respect the local fauna and flora while you’re visiting!
What’s the weather like? From Spring to early Autumn it may be coldish in the morning but it gets progressively warmer and around lunch time it can be quite hot – even in October. When the sun sets prepare to put on your coats again! Dressing in layers is a good idea.
When is the best time to go there? I’d say from May to mid-October, leaving August out of the equation. Please bear in mind that August is when most Portuguese have their holidays and when those who live and work in other parts of the country or abroad come to visit their family – that means a lot of people!
Where to stay? Like I said previously there’s a hotel that is run by the same company that runs the thermal baths (check out my TripAdvisor review on it. It’s from 2009 but I’ve been there in more recent times and my opinion is the same). Near the thermal baths there are several other hotels, B&Bs and in the Gerês area there are many other lodging possibilities, including camping sites.
How do I get there? Gerês is a fairly big area, so there are multiple entrance points. In any case having a car or motorcycle is essential for getting around.
What can I do in Gerês? Lots of things to do and see in between massage sessions at the spa, particularly if you enjoy nature and history. In front of the thermal baths there is a park which is like a piece of forest within walls. There’s a small river passing through, lots of trees, flowers, mushrooms and, at the end, a swimming pool. There are plenty of maps available on the internet and in the local tourist office (even in some cafés and shops), so I’ll just highlight some of my personal favourites:
- Roman remains;
- São Bento sanctuary;
- Mata da Albergaria (a unique forest in terms of its importance to the local fauna and flora. Please respect this haven when you’re visiting!);
- Portela do Homem (a spot in the Mata da Albergaria where you can have a privileged view of the Homem river);
- bridge of Misarela (according to legend, built by the devil!);
- Serra Amarela (more of an arid, rocky landscape);
- and the ruins of the monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias, in the village of Pitões das Júnias (built in the first half of the 12th century. Now that’s old!).
What’s the good stuff to eat and drink? Mostly meat dishes and some fish. Meat dishes are usually on the heavy side, although it’s easy to get grilled meat, and fish dishes consist mainly of trout, salmon and the good old bacalhau. It’s very common to find places advertising their batatas a murro (literally, punched potatoes. Maybe I’ll make a Portuguese trivia about this great way of eating potatoes…). If you’re going to places that expect more tourists it’s not hard to get your hands on salads, toasted sandwiches and pizzas. Concerning desserts, besides all the common desserts in Portugal, while you’re in the North it’s very easy to find pudim abade de Priscos. This funny sounding pudding includes, traditionally, ham fat. Trust me, it’s good! Sure, it’s thick and sweet but it doesn’t taste like ham or lard or anything like that. If you’re at a fancy place it’s likely to come with some lemon sorbet to contrast with its sweetness. While in Gerês make sure you get some of their famous honey and herbal teas, which are produced locally. All in all, don’t expect ‘healthy’ food to be easily available: this is the kind of food that’ll make you grow hair on your chest! Aaarrrr!
In the area surrounding the thermal baths (known as Caldas do Gerês) there are several shops, restaurants, cafés, a supermarket and in the Caniçada (check the map; it’s one of the red dots near the bottom) there’s a small marina where you can enjoy the views and have a coffee.