Portugal has been hitting the news worldwide following the opening of the largest suspended pedestrian bridge in the world, in Arouca.
But the country has long been subject to the charms of this UNESCO Geopark, known for its vast green mountain landscapes, shaped by the tides of the Paiva river, and dotted with traditional schist constructions here and there, as well as beautiful hidden waterfalls.
A must for nature lovers, Arouca can be visited on the way from Aveiro to Porto and, should you have an extra day in Porto, it can be an excellent plan to enjoy different sights and embrace nature at its finest.
Top 7 things to do in Arouca
1. 516 Arouca
It takes nerve and courage to at 175 metres high, cross the 516 Arouca, the largest suspended pedestrian bridge in the world. As you can tell by the name, the bridge extends for 516 metres and is a promising thrilling and unique way to experience the surrounding landscape from above. The mountains and valleys beyond sight and the river flowing below are the stars of this attraction, but it is also an architectural wonder to admire. If you are brave enough to enter this endeavor, be sure to go to the bridge first, as the tickets to cross it will also allow you to go along the 8kms of the Paiva walkways.
2. Paiva Walkways
The wooden platforms of the walkway’s serpent along on a route of 8kms accompanying the left bank of the Paiva river. The river flows with pristine clear waters, surrounding the exuberant green landscape, a peaceful and harmonious image. On the way you will pass through the Paiva gorge, a narrower part where the water streams in full strength, the Gola do Salto, a gap offering a panoramic view and very popular for rafting or kayak sports, and even the Aguieiras waterfall. You will also pass by three river beaches where you can stop, relax and enjoy the surroundings.
3. Relax at the river beaches
At the one of the tips of the walkways, the Areinho river beach invites you for a swim as the waters are as transparent as they are pleasant. The Vau beach marks the middle of the walkways and is known for its unique geologic formations and quiet waters. These are great places to relax after your walks and hikes exploring the area.
4. Visit Arouca Monastery
Founded in the 10th century, the town of Arouca and the surrounding historic villages grew from the shadow of this monastery, which, today holds one of the best collections of sacred art in the country, as well as painting, sculpture and furniture from the 16th until the 18th centuries. The convent, only inhabited by nuns, grew largely in the 13th century, after receiving the princess Mafalda, daughter of King Sancho I. It also has a rare collection of music books from the 13th to the 19th centuries.
5. Explore the historic villages
There are several quaint historic stone villages surrounding the river that are the soul of the region and also worth a visit. The contrast between its schist constructions and the green landscape of terraces descending towards the river is simply impressive. The village of Canelas produced the majority of the schist, Janarde, with its labyrinthic architecture, stretches impressively over the green terrace beds. Both Meitriz and Paradinha sit quietly on the riverside and are beautiful settings as well as starting point to impressive pedestrian trails.
6. Taste Pinguça
If going through a 175-metre-high suspended bridge fails to leave your legs even slightly shaking, well done! But, should you find yourself in the need of a liquid courage either before or after going on this bridge, you should know that Arouca is also home to a distillery. The drink, Pinguça, named as the Portuguese expression for “the one who drinks too much”, is already one of the visiting cards of this Geopark and, by visiting the distillery, you will learn how this spirit drink is made. The Pinguça is the mix of this spirit with different flavors, making delicious, fresh and sweet liqueurs. From cinnamon, coco, wild berries or passion fruit, find your favorite and bring one with you. Visits must be booked in advance.
7. Head to Senhora da Mó
At 711 metres high, at Senhora da Mó mountain you will be able to have a clear and clean 360º view of the Arouca Geopark landscape, the village of Arouca and, it is said that, on a clear day, it is possible to see as far as Porto. The viewpoint is signed by a cross and it has a small 16th century chapel nearby which, in the beginning of September, has its own pilgrimage and festivity.