Geo and Medieval tour in Northern Portugal – day 1
After my first travel conference ever – TBU (8th and 9th September 2012 in Porto, Portugal), we took 2 days around Porto area to explore it better. Our trip was mostly focused on Geo and Medieval in that area.
It was 6 other amazing bloggers with me: Sofia and Nathan of As We Travel, Michael of Time Turtle Travel, Mike of Fevered Mutterings, Kate of Driving like a Maniac, Cheryl of Cheryl Howard and J of She Gets Around and our tour guide Pedro.
Our first stop was Arouca village and its main square where we sat down for a bit to sip coffee or tea to, le’ts be honest, wake up after a tough last night at TBU. It was almost midday when at the same beautiful square we visited the Chapel of Mercy built there in 1612. Its restored ceiling is painted with biblical scenes from the Passion of the Christ. The nave is so colourful with all the tiles and next to it there is a little sacred art museum. Being a non-religious person, I still enjoy visiting churches and taking photos of them, both from outside and inside.
Feeling a bit more awake (it was just about time!), we walked to St. Peter’s Monastery of Arouca. This national monument dating back to 10th century was first place of the Order of St. Benedict, then since 18th century the Cisternian Order. We stroll around the beautiful Church, a big kitchen that looked like in the Flintstones, the Choir of Nuns with organ and the Neoclassical Cloister.
The guide with a really good English told us the monastery is open for public for 3 Euro with the exception of Mondays. I got shocked when we found out that the nuns used to enter the monastery at the age 17 – 20 and lived in silence since then. Impressing, don’t you think?
I definitely could not do that! And of course I am right, my family wouldn’t be rich enough to ”pay” me the entrance to the monastery, when I saw all the golden statues and exotic Brazilian wood donated by the nuns’ families.
A few paintings and sculptures, together with huge chairs (sit on them and you will never get married) and the beds for dead nuns, but especially luxury nuns’ rooms were among the things that could be part of your memories from the visit.
Each time I visited a monastery before, the rooms where nuns used to live where very small and with just a bed and maybe a table with a chair, nothing else. These rooms there were 4-star rooms! And then they could also relax in three inner patios they had, wow!
Slowly, the bus took us up to the curvy mountains to Espinheiro Casa no Campo Restaurant. Oh yes, lunch time 🙂 I didn’t know it was going to take us around 2 hours to eat lunch as I am usually done after a few minutes as soon as the meals are colder (I can’t stand hot food so always have to wait). Sitting just at the window overlooking the green scenery, both hills and the valley in between them, we were served a few times.
Guys drinking Port wine, me water, tasting traditional Portuguese brown bread, chestnuts, codfish in bread (until then I only saw soups in bread, never fish!), meat, main dish (both fish and meat one) and a delicious cinnamon and apple dessert with puding. It reminded me a bit of žemľovka, a famous dessert of Slovak cuisine containing more bread and also cheese. We even had a pretty funny conversation with guys which I’d rather not mention in here, right Michael? 😀
Before we said goodbye to this nice restaurant, and jumped on the bus again, I took a photo of the traditional corn house and surroundings. What a view!
Geo part of the day
Then was time to visit Arouca Geopark from closer (Geopark = contains a remarkable Geological Heritage within defined boundaries).
Only and hour driving from Porto, the UNESCO World Heritage of Arouca Geopark contains 41 geosites in more than 300 square kilometres where you will go back 550 million years in Earth history.
To be honest, at first I was a bit scared of what ”hiking” was supposed to be with that full stomach and hardly being able to walk, hoping for a siesta instead. Thankfully, we were all in the same situation and only walked part of the trail number 7 (one out of 14 tracks in Arouca Geopark). Overwhelming nature was awaiting us together with tall trees, green landscapes, cows (guys had those for lunch), sheep and then goats, so cute!
Getting to Castanheira, a village of more inhabitants than houses (probably 10 inhabitants and 20 houses!), we spotted Mizarela waterfall in Freita Mountain and took some photos of it from the viewpoint on the right. Mizarela is the biggest waterfall of continental Portugal (the biggest one of all Portugal is in Azores islands). If you are up to any adventure, try rafting or kayaking on Paiva River for which we didn’t have time, unfortunately. Would have been fun again after rafting in Costa Rica back in May.
Not far from Castanheira, just on the right side of the curve, a place where two different rocks get in contact can be found. It ”doesn’t look like anything special” like our expert guide Sandra said, but shows around 500 million year old metamorphical schist on one side of the trail and 300 million year ”young” volcanic granite on the other one. So where we were standing was just 2 metres of 200 million years difference!!!
The bus then took us where we saw Rock Delivering Stones. ‘’Stones that give birth’’ (Pedras Perideiras in Portuguese), probably one just out of the only 2 original places of this phenomenon in the world, are the result of granitization because of different temperatures. Due to erosion pieces of stone detach themselves from the stone-mother, hence the popular name of rock delivering stones 🙂
The saying goes that if you take a rock delivering stone with you that was detached from the stone-mother, you will become pregnant. Just in case, I didn’t want to give it a try … not yet I mean. And I wold have to be superlucky to find a stone like that as it takes years, and years, and more years to detach…
But still …
What a day! With a baby (rock delivering stones from Arouca Geopark) and not married (a huge nun chair from St. Peter’s Monastery??? No, thank you!
To finish our Geopark tour, we also took a short walk where we passed a river beach with young guys swimming in there (no photo documentation as I’m not a good spy, even Mike saw me so I pretended I was taking a photo of this so interesting cow)!
Crossing a river, ”Giant lunchboxes” was another of the geosites we saw strolling around Arouca Geopark. But don’t ask me why they are called like that! We even found some blackberries on the way, yoo hoo, another dessert!
However, we did not get a chance to see the Giant Trilobites of Canelas I was so looking forward to because of the lack of time.
To be honest, I would love to spend more time in Arouca Geopark. I never heard of this place before so I was really pleasantly surprised with its natural beauty!
Being pretty much of a habit in these Southern hot-blooded European countries, we were a bit late too, so tired took our seats on the bus and fell asleep on the way to Hotel Solverde Spa & Wellness situated in Espinho town.
Once checked in, refreshed by a shower and in new clothes, it was time to finish the day visiting Taylor’s Wine Cellars.
Geo and Medieval trip was a press trip. All the thoughts in this article are my own. For more information, please visit Turismo de Portugal – Porto e Norte website and Porto and Northern Portugal Tourism Board. And also here you can find more info about Arouca area in Portuguese.