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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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” .
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
NATURE4 - Book your activities at PN PENEDA-GERÊS at www.nature4.pt
PORT AND NORTH TOURISM ENTITY - www.portoenorte.pt