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  • Mina

Road trip to Northern Portugal - chasing hidden gems

When last summer we planned our road trip to the Douro Valley, we wanted to include a visit to the Paiva pathway, as well. However, due to the summer forest fires from the past June, part of it burnt and was still closed by the time we went North, so we opted to postpone it for another time. This year, as the weather was quite fresh until mid-June, we decided that it actually had the perfect conditions for the 8+ km hike next to Paiva river's bank.

Leaving Lisbon almost at noon, our first stop were the Mira de Aire caves. Interconnected, their total length is more than 11.5 km, but open for a public visit are only around 600 m. The temperature inside the cave is constant at 17*C which is the reason for the forming of a specific fog around their entrance during the cold, winter months. Thus, the locals noticed that something is different around that area and on July 27th, 1947 four men from the village near by went down a tiny whole on the ground to explore it.

On our way North, in direction to Castelo de Paiva, where we would spend the first two nights of this trip, we decided to make another quick stop to visit the small and super cute village of Casal de São Simão. Being one of the so famous in Portugal "schist villages", this one has only one street and all of its houses (around 20) are beautiful and very well maintained. As soon as we left its only street, we found ourselves at the beginning of a path to the near by river - Ribeira de Alge, which we were able to hear perfectly, surrounded by the silence of the valley. As we had no time, we decided to drive to the beach at the river's bank, where several small waterfalls were making the scenery even more heavenly peaceful.

We arrived to our hotel quite late and getting there was quite a challenge. Apparently Waze doesn't work very well in Northern Portugal, or at least around the town of Castelo de Paiva, so we had to drive around 5 km in the middle of the forest at a narrow and bumpy, dusty road, when there was a great and easy road we could have took instead. Anyway, we checked-in already late at night and, even though we were very warm-welcomed and the suite was beautifully decorated, the most spectacular thing we noticed was the amazing sound of Paiva river somewhere very close. We were so stunned and happy about it, we left the door open all night and slept at the sound of the small waterfall near by.

When we woke up the next morning and went to have a yummy breakfast at the property's terrace, we were finally able to see where we were. The area was so calm and lavishly green (except for the many burnt, dry trees sadly standing up on the hills, since the devastating forest fires from October 2017). After breakfast we went for a short hike, trying to find our way to reach the river's bank, which appeared to not be an easy task because of the vegetation. We went back to the hotel and enjoyed the first in a while, summer-like day in Portugal by the pool, overlooking Paiva river and sipping some local rosé wine 🍷

Our third day we've planned for hiking the Paiva pathway. It has two entrances/exits - one at Areinho village and another the Espiunca village. There are taxis connecting them - 12.5 euros is the one-way ride during weekdays, 15 euros is during the weekends. We left our car at the parking lot at Espiunca, took a taxi to Areinho and started our hike there. The first km is almost entirely on a normal, dusty path by the river. By the end of it however, a steep staircase starts going up the hill but after that, it's almost always going down. Have in mind, that if you start your hike in the opposite direction, you will have to climb a lot more that this, at the end of your 8+ km route. Don't forget to bring a lot of water and some snacks - there's a bar halfway through the hike, but it's open only on weekends. Close to it, there's a small but nice beach by the river - Praia Fluival do Vau - a great spot to take off the sneakers and refresh your feet at the crystal clear water (you may also want to take a bathing suit with you - the temperature of the water was really nice). We did the hike for around 3:30 h, but I had to stop plenty of times to take photos (the scenery was just breathtaking) and we also stopped twice for a short break. The second time we even took a short nap at the warm rocks, enjoying the warmly falling sun.

Paiva pathway tip: make sure you book your tickets online. Not only because it's cheaper, but also because in busy days, if you arrive in the afternoon you might not be able to get in, as the maximum people allowed per day is 3500.

When we left Paiva pathway, all bars around were already closing and the parking lot was almost empty. We picked our car and headed to the property were we would spend the next two nights. This one was a wine experience hotel, with its own vineyards and wine production. They also offer different activities, and not only the typical wine tasting experience. For our full day there, we've booked the "afternoon around the vineyard" activity, which included a tuk-tuk tour around the property, a very rich and delicious picnic, a wine tasting and an unlimited in time bike ride. If I have to be completely honest, I have to admit that loved every single minute we spent there. Well, I sure loved this entire trip, but when there's wine involved, the chance of me getting even happier is quite elevated. This full day we spent close to the town of Amarante, brought so many happy memories from our getaway in Tuscany last year...

Before heading back to Lisbon there was one last village we really wanted to visit during this trip. Drave - the abandoned village in the "Magic Mountain" of Lousã. It is another one from the "schist villages" of Portugal, around the size of Casal de São Simão, however, it has been abandoned since 2000. There are two ways of getting there - an 8 km hike (4 km each way) from the nearest village of Regoufe or, drive the dusty and not very safe road that leads to around 500 m from the village. We chose the second option. Actually, going back up the hill was the worst part of it, as I thought (several times, to be honest) that we would not be able to climb it, or we would even fall at some of the steep, narrow curves... Happily, we managed to leave it behind safe and sane.

The history of the village however, is really interesting. Apparently, the village was first built in the 14th century and by the 18th century the majority of its population was coming from the same family - Martins. In 1946 the first meeting of all Martins from Drave was held there (they were more than 500 people), and even though the village is now empty, they seem to keep the traditional meeting at every two years. Next to the village there are several waterfalls - we had a light lunch/snack at the fresh shadow, right next to them and it felt so good. It was so peaceful and quiet. The only noise we got to hear was the one from the falling water and the birds, flying around. I would definitely love to go back and spend more time in Drave, may be do a proper picnic by the river, but next time will definitely do the hike and not drive there. Lol

When thinking of Portugal most people imagine the big coastal cities, endless sand beaches by the ocean, portwine and yummy food. And this is all valide for the country, but it also has so many hidden gems. Rural tourism is really growing in the small towns and villages in this warm-welcoming country, and the more you explore it, the chance to fall in love with it (if you still haven't) grows tremendously.



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