The schist and granite bedrock shape deep valleys and crystal clear rivers flowing through them providing a perfect habitat for a diverse range of fauna and flora, including otters. Parque Natural de Montesinho hosts extensive forests of Pyrenean oak and other trees such as poplars, alders, willows, chestnut oaks and holm oaks. The elusive Iberian wolf has made a comeback here thanks to conservation efforts and is now a focus for safari tours. Sharing the highlands with the wolves are wild boars, foxes, bucks and deer.
There are over 150 different pieces of birds, in Lama Grande, on the Montesinho Mountain plateau, between the villages of França and Montesinho, birdwatcher flock to catch sight of the Water Pipit found nowhere else in Portugal. In the skies fly Golden Eagles, White-Wagtail, Crag Martine, and occasionally, a Grey Heron or Common Sandpiper. Whereas the traditional pigeon houses (Pombal) that dot the landscape, despite considerable effort, remain empty. Their occupants have become townies, preferring an easier urban existence than eking out a living in the countryside. Pigeons were once prized for their droppings for fertiliser and their meat.
To guarantee sightings of the wealth of wildlife within the Parque Natural de Montesinho head for the Biology Park of Vinhais. The park covers about four hectares and serves as an information centre of fauna, flora, geology and heritage.
The park not only preserves wildlife but also local culture and a traditional way of life. There are numerous villages within the park, such as Montesinho, Rio de Onor, Guadramil and Vinhais that seem to blend into the landscape with buildings made from the local schist and granite. A close-knit life survives here with shared facilities such as communal bread ovens, wash houses, mills and joint-owned farmsteads.
The traditional rural village of Gimonde lies seven kilometres (4.3 miles) east of Bragança at the confluence of the rivers Onor, Sabor and Igrejas. Famed for a Roman stone bridge which six arches spanning the Onor.
A frontier village that lends the park its name is comprised of traditional stone houses with slate roofs and wooden verandas which flank narrow cobbled streets. The general appearance and feel of Montesinho are that it's a village time forgotten. At an altitude of 1020m and flanked by dramatic granite outcrops the village is a draw for walkers who use Montesinho as a base for their walking holiday whilst staying in one of the traditional houses adapted for tourism. In the heart of the village is the old stone Igreja de Santo António made from granite blocks and a schist roof. There's also an ancient chestnut tree here which, so the locals say, is 2000 years old. The Café Montesinho is the hub of village life as well as a great place to sample great mountain produce. Above the village is the Serra Serrada Dam which accessible via a circular hiking route from the village.
This ancient hamlet spans both banks of the river Onor and even crosses the border with Spain. The village takes the name of Riohonor de Castilla on the Spanish side. The extreme remoteness of the two villages has forced the inhabitants to co-exist almost as an independent state for generations, even creating a melded language of their own known as Rionorês. When the roads arrived recently they did little to bring the modern world to Rio de Onor yet sadly enticed the younger generations to the cities. The tourists who visit the area have precipitated regeneration and abandoned houses renovated into accommodation. Buildings are typically made from schist and granite stones, with wooden balconies and line narrow cobbled lanes.
Rio de Onor was recently awarded one of the seven wonder villages of Portugal, winning the Protected Areas category. More than buildings are preserved here, a medieval communal way of life prevails here, and village work and responsibilities are shared amongst villages. Roles are allocated by two stewards who are elected each year. Arable land, livestock, vines, winepresses, mills and bread ovens are shared. All profits from this joint enterprise are shared equally.
The 18th-century village church, the Igreja Paroquial de Rio de Onor, is somewhat mannerist in style with a wide facade. It has a double bell tower with a pediment above that houses a clock face. The old Roman bridge crosses the river close to the communal bar which offers great views of the stone cottages which sit on the river bank opposite. There are a couple of eateries in the village that serve incredible local fare.
The twisting road between Chaves to Bragança has some of the best vistas in North Portugal as it passes through forests, moorland and rocky peaks. The village of Vinhais is situated en route and is famed for its large 18th-century Baroque convent of São Francisco, which once belonged to the Order of Varatojo Franciscan Missionaries. It is the site of the largest church in Vinhais. Inside it has five altars, tilted décor and rare pieces of art. Another religious edifice is located on a road heading south in the town's cemetery. The São Facundo Church dates way back to the 13th century.
There are a few remaining vestiges of the Castle of Vinhais which once played a pivotal role in Portugal's history. There have been military structures on this spot since Roman times yet what remains dates from the medieval period. The earliest parts of the structure were probably built by King Dinis (1279-1325) and were continuously enlarged and improved over successive epochs. At one time the ramparts encircled the whole medieval town and included five or six towers and two entrance gates. What remains of the castle is classified as a Monument of Public Interest and enjoys efforts to conserve it for future prosperity.
A minor road heading North from Vinhais leads to the Vinhais Biological Park, which opened in 2008. Set in beautiful surroundings, over four hectares of this fauna and flora interpretation centre are dedicated to providing information about the wildlife found within the Parque Natural de Montesinho. Here you'll be able to see a range of animals and birds at home in their natural surroundings whilst educational information boards display details about the various species and their habitats. Vinhais Biological Park is a great day out for the whole family. Horse riding, donkey rides and cycle rental are available in the park. Accommodation is available on site in the guise of bungalows and a campsite.
High Season Daily: 09h00 – 18h00, Low Season Daily: 09h00 – 17h00
Adults: €2.50, Concessionary: €1.50, Infants: FREE
Alto da Ciradelha, 13 Rua das Freiras,5320 Vinhais, Bragança, Portugal. | 41° 51' 31.2"N | 06° 59' 17.9"W
+351 273 771 040
PR1 Colado Trail
This trail starts in the village of Quintanilha and for much of the six kilometre route follows the border with Spain and the Rio Maças/Rio Manzanas river. Here you can see an array of water foul and fish.
[ Info & Map ]
PR3 Porto Furado
A circular path to the north of the village of Porto Furado. The route ascends up to the Barragem de Serra Serrada dam through moorland splattered with rocky outcrops and erratic boulders. On the lower portions of the route traverses through forests which are home to illusive mammals such as red foxes, wild boar, roe deer and wolves. [ Info & Map ]
PR5 Ribeira da Ladrões
A 11.5km circular route starting and ending in the village of Rio de Fornos. [ Info & Map ]