Amarante to Fisgas de Ermelo - and beyond | Portugal

The hike starts in picturesque Amarante and comprises a total of 30km, with the first 11km following a quiet paved road and the rest going through mostly pine tree forest via unpaved roads. It involves a total of 2,002m ascent and 1,538m descent and ends at a dramatic viewpoint overlooking a waterfall of the Olo River, one of the centerpieces of Alvão Natural Park. Upstream of the waterfall you can find a string of small pools naturally carved in rock and connected by the river. From the pools one can reach the village of Lamas de Olo while going through the equally sleepy hamlets of Varzigueto and Barreiro, within the Natural Park (7km). The hike can be further extended for 15km all the way to Vila Real although public transportation or taxi can be arranged from Lamas de Olo to Vila Real. From here, major cities are within easy reach by bus.

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Amarante to Fisgas de Ermelo - and beyond

A pleasant hike in northern Portugal that takes you from picturesque Amarante to scenic Alvão Natural Park.

General Description

The hike starts at picturesque Amarante (alt. 80m) and comprises a total of 30km, with the first 11km following a quiet paved road and the rest going through mostly pine tree (Pinus pinaster) forest via unpaved roads. The first 5 km are relatively flat along the left bank of the Tâmega River until you cross the stone bridge over the Olo River (the very same you will encounter in 25 km at Fisgas de Ermelo). Then the road starts climbing towards the Fridão village. The unpaved section begins at about 11km from the start, ~2km after Fridão. At this intersection (alt. 370m) take the right exit through the dirt road and continue for a further ~11km to the old forest ranger station of Paradança where you can find plenty of spring water (alt. 400 m; the actual village will be WNW of the track). At that stage, after a total of about ~22km, you will reach a paved road (EN304). Turn left onto EN304; after 60m take the first (sharp) right exit and climb up a path which becomes a forest dirt track after about 250m. This stretch continues for approximately 6km until you get to an old forest ranger station and a paved road (this place is called Fojo, where spring water is easy to find); 40m after the small chapel, turn right following the fairly level road aiming east (not the downward south road) and continue past the old ranger's house. The remaining 800m of this paved stretch take you to a dramatic viewpoint overlooking a waterfall of the Olo River [alt. 560m; check Google Maps Photosphere]. Note that during the dry summer months this may amount to a small stream. Also, if afraid of heights please consider approaching the edge from a respectful distance and sitting at a spot you feel comfortable with; a fall from the edge would be fatal. Other than the great view you can also expect quite a few harmless goats grazing along this hilly terrain with their shepherd - and their droppings - somewhere in the vicinity.

Based on GraphHopper Maps data, up to this point the hike involves a total of 2,002m ascent and 1,538m descent. Interestingly, upstream of the waterfall you can find a string of scenic natural small pools carved in rock and connected by the river that are well worth a visit [see Google Maps Phostosphere and photo]. This location is easily accessible by walking up the dirt road that climbs north from the viewpoint for about 1.5km (alt. ~730m). This Google Maps Phostosphere gives an additional interesting panoramic view of Fisgas de Ermelo from the waterfall towards the viewpoint.

From the pools you can reach the village of Lamas de Olo (alt. 1,000m) by following the Olo River using road M1206 for about 7km through the picturesque hamlets of Varzigueto and Barreiro within Alvão Natural Park. The hike can be further extended for 15km all the way to Vila Real (alt. 450m) mostly through a paved road with limited traffic (check GraphHopper path). From Amarante to Vila Real, it amounts to a total of 55km, including 3,493m ascent and 3,141m descent. However, public transportation or taxi can be arranged from Lamas de Olo to Vila Real. Reaching Lamas de Olo from Amarante in one day is within the reach of hikers in good shape but going all the way to Vila Real could be quite tough for most. You could consider spending a night at Fojo by the ranger station and completing the hike to Vila Real the next day.

Evidently, many variations on this hike can be devised and some shortcuts through forest road networks will be evident by comparing the GraphHopper default path with satellite imagery.

Access and Constraints

Introductory note: I grew up within this geographical area and I am familiar with it. I have hiked through the region's hills quite a bit in my teens and have fond memories of those experiences. I have a soft spot for this "Fisgas de Ermelo" walk and think it is worth doing it if you happen to stop by Amarante (or Vila Real). Having said that I was fortunate to hike elsewhere, including the Himalaya, Andes and New Zealand; this one is not in the same league - at all. Therefore before committing to the hike, check satellite and topographical maps as well as photographs from Alvão Natural Park, which is quite scenic, even for the well-seasoned globe trotter. Please note that this is an improvised walk which my friends and I devised a long time ago; therefore the path is unmarked. Yet, for anyone with basic experience at looking at a topographic map the instructions embedded within this page are plenty. If driving, a prospective traverse of the bucolic Alvão Natural Park by car is recommended.

Transportation: Amarante can be reached by direct bus connection from e.g. Porto, Bragança or Lisbon (check Rodonorte website; in Portuguese). The hike starts downtown via a paved road that follows the left bank of the Tâmega River but bus access to the forest dirt road is available with the company VALPI Bus, at Amarante's main bus stop (coordinates 41.2660599,-8.0722115; as of Mar 2016, please check http://www.bus.valpi.pt/http://www2.valpi.pt/ and select "Amarante Norte 1" to retrieve the PDF file with current schedules for the Amarante - Rebordelo line; takes about 40 min. Note that VALPI Bus' site is in Portuguese and that as of Mar 2016 buses did not run on weekends). Although you can start also from Rebordelo, I would suggest you ask the bus driver to drop you before, at what is informally known as the "Cruzamento para Paradança", (crossroad to Paradança, located between the villages of Fridão and Rebordelo) 11-12 km from downtown Amarante where the easy to follow unpaved forest road starts and for which coordinates are implicit within the map. A taxi could also take you to the trailhead at "Cruzamento para Paradança entre Fridão e Rebordelo" for about €17-20, but set the price first and consider printing a map in case the driver is unfamiliar with the spot.

If you decide to return from the Fisgas de Ermelo area, consider walking NE up to the hamlets of Bilhó or Carvenelhe, or SW down to the village of Ermelo, or ESE up to the hamlet of Fervença (distances are 5.2, 3.4, 5.9 and 5.5km, respectively). From any of these locations within Alvão Natural Park you can catch a bus to Mondim de Basto, the largest (small) town in the region (the Ermelo - Mondim de Basto line passes through Paradança). From Mondim de Basto you could go e.g. directly to Porto or Lisbon (bus websites in Portuguese).

If going all the way to Vila Real, direct buses to as far as Bragança and Lisbon, Porto and also Amarante can be found with e.g. Rodonorte (site in Portuguese). The nearest train station is Régua and it can be reached by bus from Vila Real (25 min trip). From here train connections to the rest of the country - and planet - can be easily arranged.

General concerns: please note that you will be walking through fairly remote rural villages and hamlets with most stretches being covered at considerable distances from any settlements so it is important to plan on being entirely self-sufficient. Stock-up in Amarante before departure (limited amenities are available at e.g Lamas de Olo); the next location to buy all sorts of things would be Vila Real. Plan on purifying water from streams and do consider bringing topographic maps so as to locate likely sources of water - and yourself at any time. If pitching a tent or using a bivouac bag ask around for permission first. In summer, temperatures can easily go above 30-35ºC while in winter snow is not uncommon, mostly in the Lamas de Olo area (temperatures below freezing can be expected everywhere, but not beyond -10ºC). Windy weather is common, specially at higher altitudes. Also, do not expect local people to understand English in the middle of nowhere (you would have to be lucky for that to happen); however, reading from a simple Portuguese phrasebook could help.

Important remark: as you will be walking within a Natural Park please be careful with carrying all your trash with you.