Gerês National Park
A short 1h30min from Porto is Gerês, Portugal's only national park. Through a meetup group at Porto I/O, I met my new friend Frannie who invited me along to the co-working space's Friday outing to explore the park.
Our guide was Horacio, a Porto local who grew up exploring the beauty of Gerês. He now works in corporate investing and runs word of mouth private tours in his free time. I'm not typically one for organized tours however this was really fun since it was more like him taking us to his favorite spots he goes to with his friends and driving us around in his iconic Land Rover 4x4.
Originally formed from glaciers over 300 million years ago, Gerês is quite unique with it's large ancient granite rocks, U-shaped valleys, and crystal clear water throughout the park. Along the highway, you'll notice giant stone markers with Via Nova Roma XXI engraved in them as this is the original route the Romans took from Portugal to Spain. In modern times, many hikers continue to follow this path as well to make the same trek.
TERMAS DO GERES
In the middle of the park are natural thermal baths with medicinal properties, which was originally discovered by the Romans. To receive treatment, patients come with a doctor's note prescribing a 1-2 week stay and outlined regiment of foods, medicines, and water dosages for bathing and drinking. This is the only place where the healing water exists so people come with empty bottles to fill up and bring home. For those that have a prescription, they line up here daily to receive their medicine from the nurse and take it with the special water. Hidden behind this shack is also a special little spot known for having healing properties for your eyes and overall health. The water comes out a bit lukewarm and you use your fingers to gently tap it over your eyes. While the drinking water comes from underground, the good omen water instead comes from the mountain tops.
For those without a prescription, they can also visit one of the many spas on the main street to soak in thermal waters and receive spa treatments like mud baths and massages. This one in particular reminded me of Wed Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel.
A trip to Gerês is not complete without hiking and swimming under a waterfall. While the hike was slightly treacherous, it was totally worth it once we got there. It was my first time swimming in a water hole like this but it was pretty unforgettable. I was surprised at just how pure and clean the water was, like a big bath of drinking water. True remnants from the glacier days.
We were quite hungry from the day so Horacio brought us Cerdeira Restaurant for a traditional Portuguese family lunch filled with a variety of meats, veggies, and rice. This was by far one of my favorite things I've eaten since I've been in Portugal. Incredibly flavorful, freshly made, and overall just delicious!
Vilarinho das Furna
An underwater village magically exists in Vilarinho das Furna and is Portugal's version of Atlantis. The government submerged this small city in 1972 to provide massive hydroelectricity to the region. A dam keeps the city underwater for the majority of the year but during the dry season, remnants of the ancient village can be seen still. Seeing both sides of the dam wall was quite eye opening.
After exploring the dam, we hiked to a hidden beach for the rest of the afternoon to swim above the underwater city, enjoy the iconic views, and watched the sunset before heading back to Porto.
Gerês is quite large so you can visit multiple times and discover something new each time. While this was only a sampling of all the park has to offer, I was quite happy to have experienced many firsts between swimming under a waterfall, over a submerged village, and in such clean unsalted water.
Pro Tip: While the official name is Peneda-Gerês National Park, locals reference it simply as "Gerês".
P.S. If you are planning a day trip to Gerês, I highly recommend organizing a tour with Horacio. Feel free to email me and I can put you in touch with him!