Sistelo, Peneda-Gerês, Portugal

From the “Little Portuguese Tibet” to the Corn Fortresses

"The Little Portuguese Tibet"
The long terraces below the village of Porta Cova that extend to Padrão.
A resident of Alhal's brandy and two of his dogs, on a very foggy morning.
Garrano colt and mare on a slope of Serra do Soajo facing Travanca and Mezio.
Canastros II
A resident of Lindoso uses a wheelbarrow to move cobs from one granary to another.
a great hermitage
The sanctuary of Nª Senhora da Peneda, below a huge rock in the homonymous mountain range.
Cyclist walks along a bridge that follows the flow of the Vez.
Dª Julia
Resident of Alhal branda, a transhumant village above Sistelo.
in the green depths
The village of Padrão, tucked away in a jagged valley in the Serra de Soajo, just off the river Vez.
Soajo granaries
Espigueiros de Soajo, highlighted on an overhanging granite threshing floor.
A granite story
Lindoso castle walls, above the village's huge granary threshing floor.
Here is born the turn
Urzal, around the source of the Vez river, at the top of the Soajo mountains.
Sistelo Spikes
Espigueiros de Sistelo, on the edge of Rua Manuel António Gonçalves Roque, the only Viscount of Sistelo.
bad camouflage
Cachena cow detached from a dense fetal body at the top of Serra de Soajo.
Some of over fifty granaries in Lindoso.
the usual way
A resident of Alhal's brandy and two of his dogs, on a very foggy morning.
green shelter
One of several portelhos on the wet top of the Alhal brand, a summer village above Sistelo.
A panoramic view of Lindoso with its more than fifty granaries and, just above, the village's centuries-old castle.
stairs on the way to stairs
Access staircase to the sanctuary of Nª; Lady of the Peneda.
We leave the cliffs of Srª da Peneda, heading for Arcos de ValdeVez and the villages that an erroneous imaginary dubbed Little Portuguese Tibet. From these terraced villages, we pass by others famous for guarding, as golden and sacred treasures, the ears they harvest. Whimsical, the route reveals the resplendent nature and green fertility of these lands in Peneda-Gerês.

It is as deep as the time that excavated the Minho and Peneda-Gerês valleys, which we have meandered since the enchanted forest of Lamas de Mouro Got behind.

We stopped along the way to examine a colony of crimson carnivorous plants always hungry for unwary insects.

Distracted by the theme and the imposing scenery of the slopes, the towers of Nª Senhora da Pena appear like a mirage above the leafy vegetation.

We went around the temple. We stop in front of its facade of granite and white masonry and the gray cliff that rips through the summer sky.

Sanctuary of Nª Senhora da Peneda, PN Peneda Gerês, Minho, Portugal

The sanctuary of Nª; Senhora da Peneda, below a huge rock in the homonymous mountain range.

In midsummer, the Cascata da Peneda no longer flows there. The firmament remains as blue and immaculate as it would have been in 1220, when it is said that Nª Senhora das Neves appeared to a shepherdess in an atmosphere that was not in keeping with the epithet.

According to legend, the vision took place on the 5th of August. It wouldn't even be fresh.

In recent years, like Fátima, Srª da Peneda won her own fair. Those who visit her do it with faith and with time. Time to ascend the hundreds of steps and take refuge in the high and unobstructed nave, in a kind of Via Verde communicant for God.

Do so with time to peek at shops and stalls full of religious and profane items; to sit in the shade of the trees in the vast forecourt ahead and regain strength.

A group of friends in their fifties returns to the bottom of the Virtudes staircase, recently passed by Faith, Hope, Charity and Glory, the statues that adorn it. They are installed in the immediate trailer.

There, they serve cold beers and sparkling wines, snacks of bread with ham and even churros and snacks that consolidate the generosity of the meal.

sanctuary of Nª; Senhora da Peneda, PN Peneda-Gerês, Minho, Portugal

Access staircase to the sanctuary of Nª; Lady of Peneda

By Paths of Serra do Soajo

We return to the path. We aim south. The valley merges into many others. We stopped at a roadside viewpoint. From there, we can enjoy Srª da Peneda, already tiny. The complex outline of the surrounding hills, the cornered village of Tibo and the Lagoa dos Druidas, in a much rougher eminence of Spain (España).

We continue uphill, in the opposite direction to that familiar foreigner and into Serra do Soajo, soon along a rough dirt road. The villages disappear.

We were left on a plateau lined with living ferns and gorse. In this high desert, the inhabitants are the Cachaña cows, who can get muddy or pass through areas still toasted by last summer's fires.

Here is born the turn

Urzal, around the source of the Vez river, at the top of the Soajo mountain range

We cross the river Vez born a few meters ago and which irrigates an extensive heath there. We catch a glimpse of the first of the two wolf pools in the area, large walls in the shape of a V, with trapped vertices where, until around 1930, a battalion of shepherds cornered the beasts and exterminated them.

Pastoralism and transhumance have long been part of these domains. In such a way that they integrated the landscape.

To the left of the road and in the distance, three or four cachenas seem to contemplate the deep river valley Castro Laboreiro, highlighted against a heavenly wall of cumulus nimbus.

Cachena cow, Serra do Soajo, PN Peneda Gerês, Minho, Portugal

Cachena cow detached from a dense fetal density at the top of Serra de Soajo

Between us and the cows are mariolas, the piles of rocks that shepherds raised to navigate the mist. On the slope below the contemplative cachena lies an enigmatic castro of portelhos, the complementary huts in which they sheltered from the cold and bad weather.

We were counting on finding the Garrans. For some reason we don't know we don't see one. This is until we approach the south-western slope of the mountain, which is more exposed to clouds and humidity.

Garran colt and mare, Serra do Soajo, PN Peneda Gerês, Minho, Portugal

Garrano colt and mare on a slope of Serra do Soajo facing Travanca and Mezio.

Who knows if by refreshing the pasture there, it is from there that the horses concentrate, in territorial herds, some with newborn foals, flown over by flocks of vultures alert to possible misfortunes.

From Porta do Mezio to Arcos de Valdevez

We arrived at the foot of the mountains and Lagoas da Travanca. Luís Fernandes, the host of these stops, installs us in the local campsite and treats us to a snack of bread, ham and marmalade to which we give ourselves gratefully and without ceremony.

We pass by Porta do Mezio – a wide and sophisticated entrance to the Peneda PN.Gerês, from where we got off in time to spend the night in Arcos de Valdevez.

We wake up refreshed. We take a look at the view from the balcony of the Hotel Piemonte, right above the Vez river that flows there under one of the most emblematic historic bridges in the Minho region.

Village of Padrão, Serra do Soajo, PN Peneda Gerês, Minho, Portugal

The village of Padrão, tucked away in a jagged valley in the Serra de Soajo, just off the river Vez.

We return to Serra da Peneda, in search of the thalwegs where Sistelo and the neighboring villages settled. In need of cultivated land in this redoubt tucked between hillsides, the natives cut them into terraces.

They created so many and so followed that, unaware of the fact, they molded the lands in the image of other Asians – of the Vietnam, from China, from Indonesia, Philippines – where rice has been planted that way for millennia.

Terraces of Sistelo, Serra do Soajo, Arcos de Valdevez, Minho, Portugal

The long terraces below the village of Porta Cova that extend to Padrão

By any deviation from the parallel, the place was nicknamed "Tibet Portuguese", when the mystical scenarios of the roof of the world they are earthy and inhospitable, out of step with the verdant Sistelo that we soon have in mind.

At the top of the Foggy and Mysterious Brandas

A morning mist falling from the heights of the mountains. Instead of waiting for the sun to rise and expel it, we went up to Branda de Alhal, one of the many transhumant villages built by the natives to guarantee the best pastures for their cattle during the summer.

The fog is, there, as dense as possible. It only gives us silhouettes of some walls and houses and the sight of a ghostly cache that a resident hastily stuffs into the corral.

We explore the base of the sloping village. Without warning, a mournful figure, leaning on a staff, heralded by a shaggy podengo, descends a steep goat path and greets us.

Cláudia Fernandes – the guide of these places – introduces us in a way that distinguishes us from the crowds of tourists that now flock to the region, to the point of making the residents averse to being photographed and, as has already happened, “then do them mean things on Facebook” .

Resident of Branda de Alhal and Podengo, Serra do Soajo, Arcos de Valdevez, Minho, PortugalA resident of Alhal's brandy and two of his dogs, on a very foggy morning.

More at ease, Dª Júlia is ready for conversation. We ask you the grace of dogs. The answer amuses us. “My husband names them.

This one is Luena. There's a Milú, look… the others aren't even sure anymore.” As we found out, the husband was inspired by the TV soap operas that isolation and the cold and windy nights forced on them for the evening.

We enter a walled path that enters a dismal forest of huge exogenous pine trees. On the other side, we find a nucleus of mossy portelhos, dispersed in the fetal mist-soaked, some more preserved than others.

Portelho, Alhal brand, Arcos de Valdevez, Minho, Portugal

One of several portelhos on the wet top of the Alhal brand, a summer village above Sistelo.

We enjoyed them for a good twenty minutes. When the fog clears, we return to the jeep and go down to a panoramic half height of the mountain range.

Sistelo, Porta Cova and Standard - the "Portuguese Tibet"

Perched on rocks, surrounded by gorse, we enjoy the terraces between the villages of Porta Cova and Padrão. Stunning, the listed panorama keeps us entertained for another half hour.

After which we return to the asphalt and point to the village that got the credit, the now all-too-notorious Sistelo.

Sistelo granaries, Arcos de Valdevez, Minho, Portugal

Espigueiros de Sistelo, on the edge of Rua Manuel António Gonçalves Roque, the only Viscount of Sistelo

The long-declining population of the medieval village in which the Order of Malta he will have held property and influence.

Today, as a result of the triumph in the “Villages” category of the “7 Wonders of Portugal", some residents thrive on visitors. Others complain about the excess of people that invades the village, which robs it of its tranquility and genuineness.

We take a look at the old parish church and the granaries lined up along the main street. It was named in honor of Manuel António Gonçalves Roque (1834 – 1855), the first and only Viscount of Sistelo, who had emigrated from an early age to Brazil where he made the fortune he invested in the motherland – in the case of his Castle – and in Brazilian charities and Portuguese.

With the end of the morning, more tours of foreigners, scout groups, restless outsiders in general flock in. We had a lot to explore so the time seems ideal to return to Arcos de Valdevez.

By land of granaries: Soajo

We say goodbye to Claudia. We travel 20km to the east and come across Soajo. Soajo owns her own core of 24 granaries.

Blessed by crosses, of course, arranged on a wide community threshing floor installed on a granite slab, overlooking the cultivated fields and the road that crosses the village there.

Espigueiros of Soajo, Minho, Portugal

Soajo granaries, highlighted on a granite threshing floor above

The cafe in front is on the pine cone. Liven up customers with cold beer and popular music.

Rosinha and her “package” invite you to dance. Even foreign tourists focused on deciphering the intriguing agricultural monument, built over two centuries ago, but which the parish's peasants continue to fill with precious cobs.

Soajo's granaries would not be the last on our path. We continue to the east, side and side with the river Lima which, once again on the border with Spain, leads us to the Lindoso dam.

We crossed it by the crest of the dam. A few meanders of asphalt later, we glimpse the village's castle tower.

Also for Terras de Espigueiros: Lindoso

From the animation inside, we can infer that some private party is taking place there. We rounded the walls. Sooner than we expected, we came face to face with the local threshing floor and its fifty or so canastros, by far, the largest set of Portugal.

Granaries of Lindoso, PN Peneda Gerês, Minho Portugal

A panoramic view of Lindoso with its more than fifty granaries and, just above, the village's centuries-old castle

A lady repeats back and forth at the command of a wheelbarrow. Sometimes, it's hard for us to contain our curiosity.

We ask you to reveal to us what to do. “Look, I'm moving the cobs from one granary to another. This fate fell on me!" answer us with a shrug.

Any rule or convenience of the threshing floor would have dictated such punishment, in absolute dissonance with the routs that crept around: the one confined to the castle.

Resident among granaries of Lindoso, PN Peneda Gerês, Minho, Portugal

A resident of Lindoso uses a wheelbarrow to move cobs from one granary to another.

At the same time, an emigrants' wedding, with the couples and their families and friends in outfits and dresses that were too glossy for the picturesque rural setting in which Lindoso welcomed them.

A silver crescent takes hold of the sky to the west of the Serra Amarela, while the soundtrack distorted by the granite of the fortress enlivened the late afternoon.

Lindoso Castle, Minho, Portugal

Lindoso castle walls, above the village's huge granary threshing floor.

Despite being built in the distant reign of Alfonso III and being situated in a strategic border position, the village's castle was never the scene of a major battle.

Notwithstanding the apparatus of the celebrations, Lindoso would end the day in the peace of bringing home that Sistelo is so eager to recover.


The authors would like to thank the following entities for their support in carrying out this report:

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