The Peneda-Gerês National Park (or Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês, or simply Gerês) is the only national park in Portugal (although many natural parks, protected landscapes, and reserves exist across the nation). It’s located in northern Portugal, falling within the jurisdictions of the Viana do Castelo, Braga, and Vila Real districts.
The park was opened in the spring of 1971 in an effort to protect Portuguese land, flora and fauna. Gerês’ geography is largely inspired by several ridges of mountains, the Peneda, Soajo, Amarela, and Gerês. These form a barrier between the sea shore plains to its west and the plateaus to the east; these mountains continue into Spain, where they are known as Xurés.
While the park encourages tourism, visitor traffic is limited in order to protect the park’s resources – in fact, there are only six small camping sites. Hiking trails are clearly marked, and points of interest such as the castros at Castro Laboreiro and Calcedónia and the monastery at Pitões das Júnias are easy to find.
An interesting feature of the park is its small villages. These villages are occupied by families that have lived in them for many, many generations. When the park was built, residents that found themselves suddenly within its bounds were required to allow public access to their lands and towns, and some of the hiking trails travel through these ancient stone hamlets.
Scattered across some of the foothills and mountainsides are beehive-shaped dwellings called abrigos that pre-date Portugal's Roman period. Getting to them is not for the faint of heart, as the roads are steep and only go so far, leading to strenuous hikes. Perhaps easier to find, however, are the ruined village of Vilarinho das Furnas. In 1970, a dam burst, flooding the nearby village. In years of low rainfall, the village's remains are accessible and become a popular tourist attraction.