ROTA DAS PONTES HIKING TRAIL (VALE DOS GAIOS, TÁBUA PENACOVA PR3 TBU)
May Day/Labour Day = A well deserved day off work for hubby so we embarked on an awesome nature hike: PR3 TBU 14km circular Rota das Pontes (Route of the bridges) Vale dos Gaios, Tábua. Just a short 25 min drive from our house. Our recent Sunday Funday visit to a local Viewpoint inspired me to research hiking trails in Tábua and I found this sensational hike. I love my local area as it has an incredible variety of landscapes ranging from rolling countryside to wide open spaces with craggy outcrops to boulder laden mountains with dramatic backdrops. It is part of the Rivers and Wetlands which allows you to discover the natural and cultural heritage of the beautiful Beira region. It includes several water courses and the Cavalos river. In all fairness this trail was a little longer than my normal hikes which are usually between 7-10 km. I was mildly concerned as I knew temperatures were going to hit 30 degrees. It was only the 1st of May but we have been experiencing such a hot spell over the past fortnight. I wasn’t too worried as I knew that there were a few opportunities to relish in some aqua therapy and take a wild swim and dip in the refreshing mountainous crystal clear waters due to the river beach and multiple small waterfalls on the journey. It was a roasty toasty hot today so I came prepared for adventure and packed a bikini and towel as well as a hat and extra drinking water. My backpack was fairly heavy due to carrying all the extra supplies and it’s the first time ever on a hike that my bags shoulder straps dug into my shoulders.
When I researched this trail I was amazed at all the pretty different coloured wooden walkways which looked so cute. The walkways were built as a mountain bike track for cyclists to enjoy but we had equal fun by foot. Unfortunately these multi-coloured walkways are no longer here and there is evidence of them in random piles of rotted planks of faded coloured wood along the route. In their place are brand new wooden pathways. It’s a shame as they were very pleasing to the eye and I’m not sure if the new ones are going to be painted anytime in the near future but I’m just glad that the walkways are not destroyed and unsafe and that our trail didn’t have to be cut short due to partially destroyed walkways. I think we got lucky as after we returned home I read an article which highlighted the renovation work which was commissioned last year but was significantly delayed. Some of these wooden pathways were only finished last month so our timing was perfect.
GPS: 40.355653, -7.976393 / 40°21’20.4″N 7°58’35.0″W
Points of Interest:
Centro de BTT de Tábua (MTB Centre of Tábua)
Arco da Moura (Moorish Arch)
Ponte Romana de Sumes (Roman Bridge of Sumes)
Aldeia de Vale de Gaios (Village of Vale de Gaios)
Parque de Merendes (Picnic Park)
We stumbled across a few more points of interest. There is a Baloiço do Lajedo (Scenic Swing) located next to Arco da Moura. There are also other boulders of interest including Força da erosão (Force of erosion). There is also a spectacular river beach named after the village (Praia fluvial de Vale de Gaios. I’m not sure why these tourist attractions are not listed on the leaflet list, website or notice information board, it’s a mystery. This trail starts at the MTB Centre in the village of Várzea de Candosa which is a village you might like to explore too as it has a lot to offer including a cute chapel with impressive bell. As it’s a circular route you can head in either direction but we started with the famous rock formation and ended with the aqua therapy and river beach. The trail is classed as Difficult but we both thought it was Moderate as there are no major challenges, difficult steep climbs or mountain goat climbing on all fours. I’m not sure why it is categorised as Difficult, maybe due to the distance of 14 km, who knows. I really didn’t want a test of physical endurance but a fun unrushed day out in the sunshine enjoying a rare day off work for hubby. The trail is also well marked so be didn’t get lost which was a bonus.
We followed the country roads which led us to the first tourist attraction: Arco da Moura which is also known as Arco da Velha. It is a gigantic arch shaped granite rock which has an opening in the middle so you can walk under it only you can’t because it was so overgrown with vegetation including stinging nettles. It’s surrounded by other granite rocks with the picturesque Baloiço do Lajedo (Scenic Swing) offering gorgeous panoramic views. Ladejo (flagstone) are huge slabs of granite on the floor which were used to dry out grains and cereals. I wanted to climb on top of the famous stone but there was no safe access and hubby wouldn’t let me try. Hubby found a gigantic rabbit hole and I think he was hoping I’d fall down it and disappear into my very own Alice in Wonderland novel (ha ha). I can’t pass by a swing without having a go, it’s my inner child! I just love seeing how high I can soar through the sky. Hubby gave me an over zealous push to get me started and I asked him to push me higher and he accidentally jolted me and gave me a slight whiplash to my neck (ha ha). It was comparable to the time when he enticed me on the largest indoor roller coaster at Las Vegas. That ride very nearly took my head off. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, well I very nearly got decapitated. The ancient Roman bridge of Sumes was very overgrown with foliage so I didn’t take any photos.
There is limited shade on this whole trail but we found a perfect spot for our break deep in the middle of a forest surrounded by trees and next to the flowing river. It was so hot that my dri-fit vest top was drenched in sweat just 2 short hours into our hike. I had to whip it off and hang it on a tree during our Snickers and coke break. I was panicking that our Snickers bar would melt and become more of a drink but luckily I managed to wedge it between my ice cold can of coke and my water bottle. My top was still damp when we continued on our trail so I hiked in my sports bra. Luckily we didn’t see another soul on the whole trail until we reached the river beach. I think we were the only nutters hiking in this heat (ha ha). I am so glad as crowds and natures do not mix. We saw so much local wildlife along the banks of the Cavalos river. I caught a glimpse of rabbits, snakes and many geckos. Every time I heard a rustle in a bush I got excited at the prospect of it being another bunny then a huge snake literally jumped out in front of me and I very nearly shit my pants (ha ha). The area is also known for the fox, wild boar, round-winged eagle and many reptiles such as the crab eating lizard and rat snake. We also saw many blackbirds and great tit, I’m not talking about my saggy excuse for breasts but the majestic birds of course! (ha ha).
Hubby found a shotgun casing, something that I’ve never seen before on a trail. Hunting is very popular in Portugal. It was at this point when I questioned my outfit choice. I was wearing a camouflage vest top as it’s the only branded dri-fit top I have and I thought it would keep me fresh for longer than my cheap Decathlon dri-fit tops which are weird material and not that successful at keeping me dry. Hubby was wearing bright yellow neon, sometimes we accidentally twin and wear matching outfits other times we don’t it’s just pure random. There was one thing for sure, if we both veered off the pathway into the forest for a wild pee in the forest and there’s hunters about, only one person is coming out alive and it isn’t me as I blend in to the background in my camouflage top (ha ha). The last thing I needed was to be mistaken for a wild boar and shot in the ass at close range with Hunting Helder’s shotgun (ha ha). I also saw lots of bag traps amongst the pine trees for the dreaded processionary caterpillar. You also get the opportunity to see beautiful specimens of alder, ash, willow, fern, oak, black poplar, elderberry, white heather, maritime pine, eucalyptus, cork oak, blueberry and strawberry trees. There was so much wild lavender growing between the granite outcrops. The aroma was pure heaven. As it was a long hike we kept ourselves entertained by enjoying each other’s company via storytelling. We spotted different shapes in lots of the boulders. Hubby found one that looked like Donald Trump (ha ha). I found a different one that resembled a camel with 3 humps so we told each other made up stories about Humphrey the Camel which kept us entertained on the long journey. There was a prequel and a sequel, we certainly know how to keep ourselves entertained for free (ha ha).
I was very excited to arrive at the wooden walkways part of the trail and it didn’t disappoint us. Walkways follow the river and there are many waterfalls dotted alongside, some bigger than others. We took a little detour to explore all of the glory and stumbled across old rustic watermills. Just before you reach the river beach there is a new impressive walkway with a fabulous waterfall. We arrived at the river beach just in time for lunch. There were a few people enjoying the beach and we managed to find a picnic table and bench to enjoy our yummy food. I had a little meander around this wonderful place which has a BBQ area. There is a quaint small bridge across the water and I had 2 attempts at crossing and hubby videoed me. The first time I crossed I was very tentative because it looked very old and weathered and I didn’t want it to give way under my bulk. Then I tried again after lunch which was probably a mistake as now I weighed slightly heavier with a belly full of food (ha ha).
The water was low when we arrived, ankle deep and not deep enough to swim in the main area as the dam was in place as it’s not yet officially river beach season until June. We found a perfect little oasis below the walkway and managed to drop our bodies down from the walkway to explore the area. It looked so enticing and I can’t believe that nobody had taken this unbelievable spot. We scaled down like Spiderman and hubby assisted me because it was a tad dangerous due to the irregular shaped wet and mossy covered rocks. Sheer drops and sausage dog short stumpy legs are not a match made in heaven (ha ha). We made it safely down and I whipped off my attire and changed into my bikini. I didn’t need an invitation, I was melting like crazy. I am glad that the mini waterfall was flowing fiercely as you never know with the Portuguese weather which falls will be flowing and which will be dry. I took extra care whilst treading on the slippery rock surfaces because I didn’t pack my water shoes because my bag was full to bursting. Just behind the mini waterfall there was a large pool area deep enough to swim in. There were a few children with little fishing nets which takes me right back to my own childhood. We used to have a lot of fun visiting a park with a huge lake and going fishing for tadpoles. We would catch them and save them in a jam jar and just before we headed home we would toss them back into the lake. Happy precious memories for sure.
By the time we departed the river beach a few children had managed to release the dam mechanism and the pool was filled up with water and a few folk were swimming. One little girl was really upset as she found a bird’s nest with baby birds located under the bridge. The water was slowly rising and there was sheer panic as a few adults tried to rescue the local wildlife. I have no clue how a bunch of 10 year old’s managed to mess around with the dam and fill up the pool, I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m not sure if I’m amazed or horrified as it’s certainly not a task that a child should be able to easily perform, I wouldn’t have a clue of how to do it and it’s a health and safety risk for sure. There were a few feral kids running around and one group left a small boy behind and he was a bit scared because he couldn’t cross the water. He got stranded on a rock and my mother instinct stepped in and I saved him and gave him a helping hand to safety. The rocks are covered in moss and very slippery. All it takes is one slip and a bang to the head to result in a major injury. I have no idea why parents don’t supervise their children properly. I know they need a level of freedom but if you don’t want your 8 year to have a fatal tragic accident then keep a watchful eye, mini rant over.
We didn’t take detours to view the 2 villages: S.Geraldo or Vale de Gaios as we spent too long relaxing at the swing and river beach. If I had ventured into the villages I would have had to bring a tent and pitch up a camping spot for the night (ha ha). I do love the quaint schist villages but we are country folk and live in a schist house in a tiny rural village very similar to many of these villages so it’s not that unique to us anymore. If you come from the city, I highly recommend you make the effort to view the rustic villages, some dating back thousands of years and make you feel like you have stepped back in time. They are adorable and you might just stumble across a cafe for a coffee and a yummy nata (ha ha). We ended at the village we started at: Várzea de Candosa.
Hubby took a few photos on his phone today so I am going to share a mix of both of our delights just in case you’re wondering why the colours may vary slightly. His phone is much more epic so he has a better quality camera. I never ever edit any of my photos or brighten them because I like to share real photos and it’s rarely needed because the skies are mostly always a bright blue colour and the grass couldn’t be any greener. Same goes for us, no filters or photoshopping out double chins or belly rolls, we are both nearly 50 and what you see is what you get, flaws and all (ha ha).
Sunny Swing Selfies
We couldn’t see a thing on our phones as both our screens went to dark mode in the bright Portuguese sun. As usual, one pose hubby, multi pose Helena (ha ha).
Waterfall Bridge Selfies
I made hubby switch sides because no one is perfect and we all have bad sides (ha ha).
Aqua Therapy Selfies
Hubby forgot to put his shades on so it was Take 1 shortly followed by Take 2 (ha ha). I thankfully remembered to bring my Selfie stick because at my ripe old age and wearing no make-up, I look so much better from a distance, the further away the better (ha ha). To be honest by this point we had already walked over 10 km in the heat and we were both one hot sticky mess (ha ha).
Don’t look back unless it’s a good view (ha ha).
Chicken & Caffeine Therapy
I love that this trail was so local so no lengthy car journey was required in the searing heat. It meant we could return home by 6.15pm and after a quick shower we were able to chill out in our garden with our chickens under the shade of our fig tree and enjoy some chicken and caffeine therapy. I rarely photograph all our 4 hens together because they always do their own thing as they all have unique and quirky personalities just like their Chicken Momma (ha ha). 1st photo shows all 4 reunited under the fig tree, my favourite (black hen) Michonne is slightly hiding as she is enjoying a dirt bath.
We set off at 11am and arrived back at our car at around 5.45pm. The trail is estimated to take 4 hrs 30 mins but somehow we spent a whopping 6 hrs and 45 mins (ha ha). In all fairness my Garmin watch registered a walking time of around 3 hours 30 mins and we walked at a snails pace. We must have spent the remainder of the time relaxing, eating, taking photographs and having plenty of FUN. I don’t normally wear my Garmin watch when hiking or walking trails as it’s annoying as it constantly beeps at me and pauses when I stop but I was interested to see how far we would walk and I joined a Garmin weekend warrior walking challenge. We had so much fun on this trail and I am amazed at just how magnificent it was. We have previously driven over 90 minutes to reach hikes that are not as picturesque and breathtaking as this trail. All this glory on our doorstep and a mere 25 mins journey by car, simply mind blowing.
If you enjoy the natural and cultural heritage of the Beira region including jaw dropping views, waterways, schist and granite stone, charming villages and untouched nature then this is the trail for you. What a fantastic adventure over wooden walkways, through magical forests and the serene small waterfalls of Rio Cavalos. We loved the Arco da Moura/Arco da Velha and scenic swing with views that are extensive and memorable but the highlight of the day was climbing down to a natural mini waterfall/rock pool at the gorgeous river beach. I love aqua therapy and the natural little rock pools so much. I think I was a mermaid in my previous life. I am definitely the star sign Pisces which is a water sign and has the symbol of 2 fish. It was another perfect day and yummy picnic amongst rugged nature, my happy place. This trail was the adventure that killed my poor old hiking shoes! They were falling to pieces due to 2 years of excessive wear but this trip was the final step (literally). I wore a hole in my shoe so hubby needs to purchase me a replacement pair so we can continue our forest fun and magical mountain adventures.