Swimming, hiking and an excursion through ancient and recent history
Right next to the charming town of Penha Garcia below the small dam, there is a scenic valley with several old water mills and an idyllic artificial swimming pool with a waterfall. The scenery is framed by granite rocks full of well-preserved fossils. Here you can see 600-million-year-old fossils showing traces of the creatures that lived in the ocean at that time. These so-called ichnofossils occur here so frequently and in such good condition that an approximately 3 km-long fossil footpath has been created, which leads past the most impressive fossils.
Peel the bark from a stick. Throw it into the happy bubbling water. See it float downstream. Run quickly over the small bridge. Bend forward alarmingly far and fish it out just in time. Again!
As the small town Penha Garcia is very close to the Spanish border, naturally, there is also an old fortress high above the town, and the enchanting rock village of Monsanto is easy to spot from here. We arrived from Monsanto in one afternoon and took a leisurely walk into the impressive Ponsul valley.
We reached the idyllic pool at the river bank quickly, which is artificially arranged but still fits well into the landscape. If it hadn’t been winter, we all would have jumped without hesitation into the refreshing water to bathe for a few hours. Instead, we walked through the creek bed next to the river bank, jumped from stone to stone, and our daughters found some horse mackerels and played enthusiastically with them in the creek.
Then, we climbed up the slope towards the dam, and an older man showed us the water mills. What was very interesting for us adults took only half a minute to lose our daughters’ attention, and they were both out again to hold their horse mackerels in the small streams, where you can really play wonderfully.
Even the small, but quite impressive fossil museum was only able to moderately distract them from their game. Between several old stone houses, mills and the museum, there are some nice picnic areas that practically invite you to stay. In between, someone has planted succulents and cacti with zeal. It is a beautiful place until it is finally completely immersed in the shadow of the surrounding mountains.
So, we crossed the small river and walked up the slope past some fossils. Lia, our older child, was enthusiastic about the fossils and looked for them on every stone. Finally, we had hiked so high up that we could look over the wall of the dam and see the lake for ourselves. Shortly afterwards, we reached the castle and enjoyed the fantastic view over the whole impressive valley and the beautiful river bank.
Penha Garcia is far away from tourist routes and is only visited a little more frequently by day trippers arriving from Spain. We really liked the little town, but we especially enjoyed the beautiful valley, and if you are in this secluded area, take the opportunity for a relaxing bathing trip with a picnic and for an impressive tour through the ancient and more recent history of Portugal and the world.
Drive your own car on the N239 towards the Spanish border. This national road leads directly past the village before it gets lost after crossing the Rio Erges into the very sparsely populated Spanish countryside.
GPS (Parking area):
If you leave enough time, you can walk from this parking area through the village and down to the valley. There is also a small playground, which younger children will surely love.
GPS (Parking near the river bank):
For a relaxing swim in the rocky swimming pool and brook, protective bathing shoes are highly recommended. For small children who can’t swim, swimming wings are also useful.
Unfortunately, there are no place to stop for refreshments in the immediate vicinity, but there are some very nice picnic areas with shade. Therefore, we recommend that you bring delicious treats with you. There are some good restaurants in the town itself.
Fossils hiking trail:
The highly recommended hiking trail is about 3 km long and leads you not only past numerous fossils, but also past the river bank. Here is a small map and detailed information, but only in Portuguese: Rota dos Fósseis (PDF)