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The Magic Mountains

In August 2022 we set out to discover the Magic Mountains. This is a territory that covers the Serra da Freita, Arada, Arestal and Montemuro, between the Douro and Vouga rivers.

Our destination was Serra da Freita, where we would go camping for a few days with the family, in the Retiro da Fraguinha.


We fell in love with Serra da Freita right on the day of the trip, as we passed several patches of oak forests, streams of crystal clear water, small scattered settlements of stone houses and cows grazing on the granite mountains.


Some herds of goats passing by on the road with the shepherd made us stop the van and wait for the herd to pass. Welcome to the mountain!


Arriving at Retiro da Fraguinha, we were very well received by Mr. Rui Ferreira. Although we already know him from other Quimera adventures, we loved meeting him in person.


Retiro da Fraguinha is a true natural paradise, with many species of trees, such as birches, beeches, oaks, and a clear water course (Ribeiro de Paivô). This mountain campsite is the ideal place for a relaxing holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, where it's easy to lose track of time and very difficult to have mobile phone connectivity.


There are several accommodation options at Retiro da Fraguinha: camping, caravans, chalets and the Casa das Bétulas apartments. Due to its excellent location, this park is the ideal starting point for several nearby walking routes.

  • Bétulas Route - This small route departs from Fraguinha

  • GR60 - The Great Route of the Magic Mountains also passes by the Park

  • Manhouce Route

  • Cárcora Route

  • Drave, the Magic Village

  • Trail of the Incas

Another suggestion is to explore the Water and Stone Route by car, with a total of 114 places to visit, some of which are in Serra da Freita.


At the restaurant of Retiro da Fraguinha you can enjoy a delicious homemade dinner, but it will have to be booked in advance.


Close to the Park, there is the “A Pioneira” dam, a peaceful and bucolic place, with a great diversity of birds and plants characteristic of the bogs. Here in Fraguinha is one of the best preserved peat bogs in the region, where we can find some species such as the bog daffodil. These ecosystems are vital to life on our planet, providing various services such as carbon storage, preventing floods and droughts, and providing habitat for a diverse array of living beings. Peat moss forms cushioned mats that have the ability to retain a large amount of water. But despite their importance, these habitats are being degraded by fire or grazing. In addition, peat bogs are being drained for conversion to agriculture, and peat is mined for fuel. Although they represent only 0.4% of the global terrestrial surface, their destruction will imply a brutal increase in carbon emissions.


On the other hand, Serra da Freita and Arada are also the territory of Iberian wolves, a species in the process of being extended and protected by law. The Association for the Conservation of the Habitat of the Iberian Wolf states that it is a small and very unstable population, of only one pack, which varies between 2 to 4 wolves, and which does not reproduce every year. Efforts to conserve this species include several forestation projects, coordination with wind farms and the reintroduction of wild corsairs in these mountains, after hundreds of years of disappearance, to be prey for wolves - an attempt to reduce attacks on cattle, after the complaints of some inhabitants of the mountain villages.



We set up our tent at Retiro da Fraguinha and slept a peaceful night. Even in August the nights are very cold here, so take a warm sleeping bag.

The next day we went to explore some of the Poços de Manhouce (Wells of Manhouce): Poço Negro, Poço da Silha and Poço da Barreira.


Manhouce has a set of wells or natural pools called “Poços de Manhouce”, located on the Teixeira River, and carved into the rock by the force of water. Many of these wells have paradisiacal waterfalls framing them. This river of clear waters is a tributary of the Vouga River and, despite being only 13 km long, it is the Portuguese river with the largest number of beaches and river pools, or wells, as they are called here. In Manhouce, the river has a succession of spectacular waterfalls that make a beautiful canyoning route.

The first stop was at Poço Negro, near Sernadinha, which owes its name to its deep waters. The access by car is not very good, with a very uneven dirt road, so we did most of the descent on foot. On the rocks that flank the waterfall, there are small ponds with shallow water where we can cool off. In this area there is also a small picnic area.



Poço da Silha, near Manhouce, is easier to access and was a pleasant surprise. With a phenomenal waterfall, where a group of children went canyoning, it also has a wonderful natural pool, framed by oak trees, where we bathed. It was an incredible experience.



The next stop was at Poço da Barreira, on the Vessa stream, which joins the Manhouce stream further on to form the Teixeira river.

To get to Poço da Barreira, we pass by the Roman Bridge of Barreira and the picnic park. Then we follow a trail along the riverside, jumping from stone to stone until we reach a dreamlike setting: a pool of irresistible blue-green water with a beautiful waterfall. The descent to the pool requires some dexterity and climbing techniques.



At the end of the afternoon, we made a tour in the van, as we intended to visit several viewpoints and points of interest.


  • Viewpoint of Frecha da Mizarela



The highest waterfall in mainland Portugal, where the Caima river projects 60m high through the surrounding granite rocks. The origin of this waterfall, also highly appreciated by canyoning practitioners, is related to the existence of two types of rock: the granite from Serra da Freita, more resistant to erosion, and the micaschist which, being softer and more vulnerable to erosion, formed a topographic lowering with a great difference in level. Due to the time of year, and the particularly dry year we had, the waterfall had a very low flow.







  • Viewpoint and Geodesic Vertex São Pedro Velho


With an imposing landscape that reaches infinite distances in 360º, this viewpoint is a mandatory stop, whose immense view reaches the coast from Aveiro to Porto, and the various mountains of northern Portugal.

The 1st order geodesic vertex defines an altitude of 1077 meters, being one of the highest points in Serra da Freita. It is located above a granite rock platform, quite resistant to erosion.

The footpath PR 16 - S. Pedro o Velho crosses this geosite and has a length of 12 km.


  • Panoramic view of Detrelo da Malhada

This viewpoint, located at 1099 meters above sea level, in the town of Moldes, offers a view of the Arda valley, where the town of Arouca was built. It is also possible to observe the Serra de Montemuro and other mountain ranges further north, such as Valongo, reaching Serra do Gerês. With a panoramic view of around 180º from this viewpoint, we can see to the west the Atlantic Ocean and the coastal region between Porto and Espinho, and to the east the Serra da Arada, Serra de São Macário, and Serra do Marão.

This site is part of the Arouca Geopark geosites and allows the observation of Arouca quartzdiorite, a magmatic rock very prone to chemical weathering.



Passing through the Serra da Freita Wind Farm, we descend to the typical village of Candal, located in an area of terraces, carved into the mountain by inhabitants who have practiced subsistence agriculture for several generations. We spoke with some very friendly locals, who pointed us to a source to drink water and informed us about the best roads. After walking through the streets with stone houses and taking some pictures, we continued on our way.



The last stop was at Baloiço da Serra da Arada (swing), with an incredible view, where we took some pictures.



 

On the second day, we had lunch in Arouca, as we had booked a Water Walk on the Paiva River, with the company Natourway.


We meet with the guide at Praia Fluvial do Areinho and put on our neoprene suits, vests and helmets. All safety equipment is included in the activity, as well as the photo reportage.

We walked along the craggy banks of the Paiva River and along the riverbed, swam in the lagoons and did water jumps and rock slides. The guide, Luís, also interpreted the geology, flora and fauna as we discovered the corners of the river. We felt immense tranquility while swimming in the river, seeing small water snakes, kingfishers and other species. This activity provided us with moments of pure adventure, but always in great safety. Our daughter, who was a little scared at first, loved the experience, especially the slides and has already said she wants to do it again! We are happy to provide her this experience.



The next day we dismantled our tent and continued our journey to another campsite. Our stay at Retiro da Fraguinha was short, but we promised to return to better explore the region. In our next blog post, we will talk about the second part of our trip. Stay tuned!


Other points of interest in the region:

  • Paiva walkways

  • Trilobite Museum

  • Parideiras Stones Interpretation Center



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