If you seek for calm and peace and if you want to enjoy the pleasures of walking in nature there is a stunning small city in Portugal that can offer you that: Arouca!
At the moment, Portugal is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. It is a small country with so much to offer! The main cities of Lisboa and Porto are visited by millions of tourists every year. They walk through the cobblestone streets and stand in line to visit the innumerous historical monuments and museums.
Arouca is exactly the opposite: it is a small and quiet city of approximately 20 000 people, located southeast of Porto, one hour away by car, with elegant 18th century granite buildings. It is surrounded by the high mountains of Freita, Arada and Montemuro that are part of the Arouca Geopark territory.
Where to stay
If you prefer to stay in hotels rather than guest houses I recommend that you spend a weekend at the São Pedro Hotel, a nice and modern 3-star Hotel located only 5 minutes away from the historic centre.
The service is very good, the breakfast is delicious and the staff is extremely friendly, like the rest of the residents of Arouca.
On the contrary, if you fancy rural and modern guest houses there are many options. There is one also very close to the city centre, where I have never stayed, but that has great online reviews: Quintãs Farm Houses.
Where to eat
The tourists that visit Portugal get delighted with the variety and the quality of the Portuguese cuisine.
The region of Arouca is famous for the Arouquesa veal steak that is normally served with fried or baked potatoes. Go to the restaurant Parlamento, located at the city centre and one of the best in Arouca!
The regional sweets are also delicious and many of them were invented by the Convent’s nuns. Do not leave without tasting the Pão de Ló (a sponge cake made of eggs, sugar and flour), Barriga de Freira (a sort of mousse made of bread, eggs and almonds) or Charuto de Amêndoa (a cigar-shaped sweet filled with eggs and almonds) at the Casa dos Doces Conventuais, a great pastry house located on the 25th of April Avenue.
The main attraction of Arouca is definitely the baroque style Convent. It is very easy to find because it is located in the main street, the one that ends in the City Hall.
The original Convent was built in the 10th century. It started to be managed by the Order of Saint Benedict until the 12th century, when it was occupied by the Cistercian nuns.
Throughout the centuries the Convent suffered many changes and the current granite building was built in the 17th and 18th centuries. The highlights are surely the gilded woodcarvings of the church choir and of its pipe organ and the impressive cloister: outstanding!
The ticket costs 3 euros per person and also includes the visit to the Sacred Art Museum. This well-preserved Convent opens daily from 09h30 a.m. to 12 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. It closes on Mondays.
The Arouca Geopark
The Arouca Geopark was recognized by UNESCO as a site of great geological heritage, in 2009. It has a total extension of 328 km² and it is composed by mountains, valleys and rivers.
There are all types of plants and trees from maritime pines, oaks, holm oaks, cork oaks to bushes, narcissus, hollies, wild tulips, royal ferns or heathers.
The diversity of animal species is also remarkable: the Arouca Geopark is the natural habitat of otters, Iberian wolves, rabbits, squirrels, wild boars, eagles, ravens, falcons, frogs or gold-striped salamanders.
If you like hiking this is the perfect place because there are many pedestrian trails through the mountains. Some of them pass by traditional small villages, such as Cabreiros or Janarde, with beautiful typical schist houses.
On the other hand, if you prefer adventure sports there are also some local tour companies that organize exciting activities such as rafting, kayaking, canoeing, mountain climbing or biking.
The Paiva Walkways
The highlight of my weekend in Arouca was certainly the experience at the Paiva Walkways!
These wooden walkways are located 20 minutes away by car from Arouca, on the left bank of the Paiva River, one of the less polluted rivers in Portugal.
The total length is 8700 meters and the level of difficulty is high. You can do it in approximately 3 hours with enough time to stop in many viewpoints to take breathtaking photos to the amazing landscape. In some parts you get very close to the river.
From the beginning to the end of the walking trail you need to climb many times the wooden stairs to go up and down the steep slopes but I assure you that this is an unforgettable experience!
How much it costs
The maintenance of the Paiva Walkways belongs to the Arouca municipality. Between the months of May and September it opens from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and you can spend there the entire day. The ticket costs only 1 euro per person but it is free for children under 10 years old.
I recommend that you book in advance because there is a maximum number of visitors that are allowed to go in per day. You can book and buy the ticket online: check the website www.passadicosdopaiva.pt.
You need to show the ticket (digital or printed) to the assistant at the starting point. In my case, I bought the ticket directly at the Hotel but it was off-season so there were a lot less people at the walkways.
Where to start
The easiest way is to leave your car parked in the Areinho river beach and to end the walk in Espiunca. There are cafés and washrooms at both ends but I advise you to bring, besides comfortable shoes, a bottle (or two!) of mineral water with you.
In the middle of the way there is a leisure area with washrooms near the river beach of Vau. In fact if you do not wish to do the whole 8.7 km walk you can leave the car near this river beach. To do this you will also need to buy the ticket.
The views are stunning! Along the way you pass by several cascades and waterfalls and you are in contact with pure and untouched Nature. You can enjoy the quietness while you admire the freshwater flowing in the Paiva river.
There is network coverage along the way but you will not need it because the main objective is for you to relax and disconnect from the stress and routine of everyday life.
To go back to your car you have two options: 1) you take a taxi for 5 people at Espiunca (which costs approximately 14 euros); 2) you go back walking for another 3 hours and spend no more money! It is up to you! I admit: I took the taxi…
When to go
I went in December and it was not very cold: although sometimes there can be snowfall and ice formation, it was 14º C during the day. At night the temperature dropped to 6º C.
However, it is better to go in springtime, in the month of May, early in the morning. If you prefer to go in summertime be aware that in July and August the temperatures are really high (up to 35º C) but you will be able to refresh yourself in the small river beaches that you will find.
No matter when you decide to go the truth is that it will definitely be a unique, wonderful and memorable experience!
Tour Guide in Portugal