Are you an outdoors kind of person? Do you enjoy being surrounded by Nature, exploring the “unexplored”, having a nice deep breath of the freshest mountain air and simply enjoying the quiet sounds of Nature?
Well, this blog post might be just for you!
Sure, Portugal is mostly known for its beaches and the ever-so cosmopolitan cities of Lisbon and Porto, but did you know that Portugal also has incredible natural parks? In the far northwest of Portugal between Upper Minho and Trás-os-Montes, lies one of the most breathtaking Natural Parks in Europe: the Peneda-Gerês.
The park covers 695.93 km2 and as of May of 1971, it is the oldest protected area and the only national park in Portugal. Both the Natural park and villages nearby have this unearthly feel to which humans and nature are truly harmoniously connected, all the while preserving ancient values and traditions.
Let’s talk about Gerês!
Gerês Park is located right in the uppermost Northern of Portugal making its border with Spain and it connects three Portuguese districts by extends through the municipalities of Melgaço, Arcos de Valdevez and Ponte da Barca (district of Viana do Castelo), Terras de Bouro (district of Braga), and Montalegre (district of Vila Real). The park includes an area of 702.90 km2, of which 52.75 km2 are public lands, 194.38 km2 are private property and the remaining 455.77 km2 are commons.
Because it’s so immensely surrounded by nature, surrounding villages tend to be small and somewhat isolated. It’s also frequent to see old houses and renovated ones dispersed throughout the area, belonging to no village in specific. For this reason, living here can be a bit tricky if you do not have a car, as public transportation in and out of the surrounding villages is not very frequent.
The biggest city closest to Vila do Gerês is Braga, which is around a 1h drive (~43km). Of course, considering the immense mountains, expect a lot of twists and turns when driving!
Gerês truly is a sanctuary for nature and heaven on earth to those who love to bird-watch, explore the botanical wonders of the mountains and have a glimpse of the wildlife. You might even manage to spot a roebuck (the Park’s symbol) or the glorious Iberian wolf.
Among other animals you might see in the protected area are the typically small wild horses (the Garrano ponies) that run free in the mountains, a breed of cattle named the Barrosã, Castro Laboreiro dogs who guard herds of sheep. Small villages still form a special deep rooted and harmonious bond with Nature and some locals today move only the cattle around from valleys and low altitudes in winter, the highest places in summer, according to the availability of pasture.
The oldest signs of human presence
date from 6000 BC to 3000 BC.
The rock carvings of Penedo do Encanto and Chã da Rapada, the megalithic necropolis of Castro Laboreiro and the dolmens of Serra do Soajo are landmarks of the symbolic and ritual importance of Gerês for prehistoric communities.
The Roman Empire had a strong influence in the Peninsula Iberica and it can also be found in the inhospitality of the Gerês Mountains. The “Geira” - the name by which a Roman military road XVIII of the Antonine Itinerary popularized – is one of the most emblematic traces of the Roman presence in the region. It connects the old Bracara Augusta (current Braga) and today’s Astorga in Spain and its purpose was to facilitate the movement of the legions. Long stretches of the road along the Homem River are still preserved, as are several Roman bridges and numerous markers.
There are several other important landmarks across Natural Park and surrounding villages that attest to the ancient history it holds. A few other examples are the the ruins of Calcedónia or the castro da Ermida that show vestiges of the Iron Age; the castles of Lindoso, Montalegre and Castro Laboreiro as well as the ruins of the monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias recall the medieval era in the mountains.
One of the most famous is definitely the granaries of Soajo and Lindoso villages that were strategically placed on top of huge stones and in specific locations to catch the most sun to dry corn and to protect from animals.
In modern times, it’s absolutely worth mentioning the creation of the national park in May of 1971, the only one in Portugal. It establishes a planning and protection of the mountain ranges, in order to conserve the environment, while permitting human and natural resource activities, which would include educational, touristic and scientific projects.
Living somewhere in Gerês means living with the quietude of the mountains. Not a lot happens and to some people that is exactly what they are looking for.
Of course, you’ll have some services and supermarkets in some villages nearby. However, if you’d like to have access to other amenities or services, you most likely will have to travel to the main cities close by like Braga, Vila Real or Viana do Castelo.
Speaking of traveling, it’s important to note that public transportation is not as accessible or frequent in these villages. There are short circuit buses that go daily to other villages nearby, but to in and out of the Gerês area these buses are not as frequent throughout the day. For this reason, it’s recommended that you have a car.
Tourism is one of the biggest sources of income for the area and most smaller businesses in the villages are quite dependent on tourism. During Summer months, it’s when you’ll see a more influx of tourists both foreign and Portuguese, as this is one of the most popular destinations among Portuguese tourists.
Gerês has several waterfalls and river beaches that can be hiked to and there are many short and long trails between villages that can satisfy all levels with many hidden gems to delight in along the way. It’s not usually recommended going to some more inhospitable areas of the park during Winter months as it can be very dangerous, unless you are an experienced hiker.
REAL ESTATE MARKET IN GERÊS
If you want to have a house in the mountains this is definitely the place to go.
One of the most popular areas is around the riverfront and the lagoon front. Prices here tend to be a bit inflated as it’s often a location chosen for many wealthy people as vacation homes, for this reason expect prices to be between 3,000€ to 6,000€ per square meter.
On the side of the reserve itself and one of the characteristics of a reserve is that new construction is not permitted there. However, construction already made in the area before it was a protected area can be recovered and used for habitation purposes, as long as it is pre-existing.
In the more interior area and even inside the reservation, you can expect prices to stand between 2,000€ to 3,000€ per square meter.
In the lower area of Gerês, locations like Vieira do Minho, Montalegre and Terras de Bouro, you are still able to find a lot of property with no restrictions regarding the reservation area and the prices are definitely attractive: between 1,500€ and 2,000€ per square meter.
Moving a bit further down towards Montalegre and Chaves, prices are around 1,000€ per square meter.
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