Cycling in Peneda-Gerês National Park

Often shortened to simply Gerês, the Peneda-Gerês National Park is in fact Portugal’s only national park. But, when they’re as beautiful as Gerês, one might argue who needs more? The park is situated in the far northwest of Portugal just above Porto, in the historic Minho and Trás-os-Montes regions close to the border with Spain. Here, you’ll find glorious rural scenery and some of the oldest towns and villages in the country, including Sistelo, Soajo, Ermelo and Ponte de Lima, where the kingdom of Portugal had its origins.

The landscapes of Gerês are just staggeringly lovely and yes, I speak as someone that has holidayed there several times in the past and loved every minute of it, so I’m not exactly unbiased, but the scenery here is honestly a jawdropper. Roe deer, Minho horse and Iberian wolves roam the lush and green hillsides that are dotted with gushing waterfalls, while golden eagles soar above. As a cycling destination you could hardly ask for better.

It tends to be a lot cooler and rainier here than elsewhere in Portugal, hence the bold colours of the vegetation. If you normally associate Portugal with the sunshine and heat of the Algarve, Gerês is something entirely different. All around there are ancient communities, with cottages built of granite and where thinning populations carry on much as they have done for centuries. While cycling slowly around them you may encounter shepherds guiding their flocks through alleyways, and old ladies dressed in black, laden with packs of sticks or herding a couple of cows.

Highlights of cycling in
Peneda-Gerês National Park

Cycling is arguably the best way to explore Gerês, giving you the ability to see a great deal of the park in just a few days, with the freedom to stop off whenever you want. Perhaps the greatest pleasure comes from freewheeling through natural landscapes and traditional villages, over wooden bridges, along quiet roads, riverbanks and beaches, and pausing at tavernas to sample the local cuisine: javali (wild boar), vinho verde, and the ubiquitous caldo verde soup. But there are several locations where stopping to take in the atmosphere is practically mandatory.

Ponte de Lima

One of Portugal’s oldest and most charming towns, Ponte de Lima is most famous for its Roman bridge, built in 1AD. Small enough to see in a few hours, pretty enough to want to stay much longer, the riverside town is lined with historic architecture, including plazas and religious buildings, and is brightened up in the summer months by the International Garden Festival.

Sistelo

Known as the ‘Little Tibet’ for its terraced slopes, built to enable agriculture on the rugged hillsides, the medieval village of Sistelo was named one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal for its architectural and cultural authenticity. If you’ve built up an appetite it’s also a great place to try the regional Cachena steak, from the local cattle bred to cope with mountain life.

Porto

Some cycling holidays in Peneda-Gerês National Park culminate with a day in Porto; you transfer by minibus. This is Portugal’s second city, known for its slightly offbeat culture and home to the famous port wine. The colourful riverside architecture, old merchants’ houses and wine cellars are lovely to explore by bike.

Our top Portugal cycling Holiday

Porto to Lisbon cycling holiday, self guided

Porto to Lisbon cycling holiday, self guided

Flat terrain tour along the coast

From €939 to €1390 8 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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Practicalities

Peneda-Gerês cycling holidays are tailormade, ranging from five to eight days, and self-guided, although you can if you prefer hire a guide for a supplement. You’ll be provided with a suitable, well-maintained mountain bike, but you will need to bring along your own helmet. For those opting for the self-guided trip, comprehensive maps and information packs are of course provided, and you can expect to cover around 40-50km each day. Minibus transfers to the starting point of each day’s ride are also included.

These are centre-based trips, during which you’ll be accommodated in a lovely country house built of wood, with several excellent cycling trails in the close vicinity including one along the River Vez. Itineraries follow peaceful roads and bike paths, although even busy roads in Gerês are quiet! Given the park’s proximity to the border, you may also cycle into Spain at times. This is a hilly region, so there will be a few strenuous climbs involved, as well as some fun descents, but for the most part a reasonable level of fitness and experience will see you get on fine. And of course as it’s a tailormade tour routes can be adapted to suit you if necessary with advance notice.
“We both loved discovering this region that was new to us and having a brilliant host who assisted us in many ways, guided us to lovely places and provided so so much information on the history, geography and culture of this part of Northern Portugal. It is necessary to be reasonably fit for the cycling and walking. Bring cycling shorts! Ensure that all maps provided are carefully studied and understood as it is possible to go off track. Be sure that you enjoy quietness and tranquility.” – Anne Fegan on a family cycling holiday in Portugal
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Quinta Lamosa] [Intro: Quinta Lamosa] [Ponte de Lima: Feliciano Guimarães] [Porto: Derrick Brutel] [Practicalities: Quinta Lamosa]
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