What to do

Alvão Natural Park

CC BY-NC-ND - Manuel Carreira

CC BY-NC-ND - Associação Montesinho Vivo

 
 

In the north of Portugal, between Vila Real and Mondim de Basto, there is this little haven called the Alvão natural park. It was established in 1983 and covers just 70 square kilometres, but it is home to endangered bird and animal species. Fisgas do Ermelo, one of Europe’s largest waterfalls, is a huge attraction in Alvão.

    • The natural scenery
    • The outdoors
    • The bird-watching
    • Observe the animals in the park, including the golden-eagle.
    • Take time to see the beauty of the Fisgas do Ermelo waterfalls.
    • Discover the typical architecture of the houses in Lamas de Olo. 
    • Bathing in the water courses running through the park.
    • Having a picnic and eating local foods at the picnic park at Cimeira reservoir.
    • The Alvão natural park of covers an area of 7,365 hectares and you can get there by road from Vila Real and Mondim de Basto.
    • If you’re visiting the park in winter, brace yourself for the cold. Sometimes the highest peaks are completely covered with snow.
    • Porto lies just 115 kilometres from the centre of the park.

Compared to other parks, this one is quite small, but its relief is varied. The park is split into two areas: the higher one, rising up to 1,000 metres or more, includes Alvão Mountain and the Lamas de Olo plateau. The area at lower altitude consists of valleys and the River Olo, where we can find the villages of Ermelo and Fervença.

Such diversity makes the park the perfect habitat for various species. Take one of the walking trails suggested by park officials and set off to look for wolves, wild cats and Pyrenean desmans. Up in the skies you can see Peregrine Falcons and, if you’re lucky, you’ll also catch a glimpse of the Golden Eagles. You will also find trout, Iberian nase and the ray-finned barbell in the rivers.

You can also cover the 35 kilometres from Cimeira do Alvão Reservoir to Fisgas de Ermelo by car and on your way see the villages, flora and fauna that are found in the park, including the Maronês cattle (typical of the Alvão plateau land). Stop at the Lamas de Olo belvedere and take in the view of the mountain village amidst the greenery.

Waterfalls and lagoons

Water abounds in the region and the water courses run down from the top of the mountains and along narrow valleys, or drop abruptly from the mountain, as at the Fisgas de Ermelo waterfall. The River Olo creates this 250m waterfall, making it a huge attraction for people visiting the Alvão natural park.

The Bilhó waterfalls are another must-see place in the park. The River Cabrão forms these natural lakes and small waterfalls of rare beauty. Weather allowing, make sure you swim in the crystal clear waters of the river. To get here, take national road EN312 from Cavernelhe to Bilhó.

Other waterfalls you can visit are Agarez and Galegos da Serra. Go on a walking trail to see the park’s flora, including oaks, chestnut trees, birches and heather. You might even find a carnivorous plant called sundew by the park’s streams. If you’re adventurous, you can also go canyoning or rafting, and enjoy the park’s rivers.

To see large stretches of water, visit the Fundeira and Cimeira reservoirs, where you can see the tops of the Alvão and Marão mountains. Cimeira reservoir is home to dozens of animal species, including otters, which you will be able to see.

The Alvão villages

Days pass slowly the Alvão villages. Although the locals are busy with farming activities, like herding the cattle, toiling in the fields and cooking bread, they’re always ready to welcome visitors. Enjoy their hospitality and try the traditional smoked meats with a slice of bread baked in a wood-fired oven.

While visiting the park, you can’t ignore the schist, granite and thatched houses in the typical villages of Fervença, Ermelo and Lamas de Olo. In the latter, the residents live in thatched houses and the village is surrounded by marshes (wet grassland) and fields used to feed the population.

The village of Ermelo has preserved its granite houses and schist roofs. You can visit the church and pillory. In the village of Barreiro, enjoy the view to the west, and spot the triangular shape of Farinha Mountain in Mondim de Basto. 

How to get there

There are several direct connections to Porto. If you choose to fly low cost, you can fly from London (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseille, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan Bergamo, Roma Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg Lübeck , Munich Memmingen and Dusseldorf Weeze.

In the summer, low cost companies fly from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.

Traditional airlines fly to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, and Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto, and Luanda. In the summer, you can also fly from Montreal, Brest and Brive.

If you’re leaving from Porto, it’s best you drive to the Alvão Natural Park. Take the A4 to Vila Real, and from there drive to the centre of the park, about 20 km away. 

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Where it is

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