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Having been brought up as a Army child and used to traveling far and wide, moving to Portugal was quite by chance, my brother along with his cousin took the plunge in the late seventies and scooted down to the Algarve to start various ventures, the Algarve then became 2nd home to my parents whom loved the relaxed way of life and especially the Algarvian warmth, now you may ask what has this to do with the North of Portugal...
Be patient all love stories have a beginning.
After having left college I spent many a year touring Europe doing all sorts of jobs, eventually at the age of 22 my sister enticed me to Portugal, I then dabbled my hand at timesharing as one did in the eighties and got the fortune of going to the Island of Madeira where my luck changed and my journey and the love of the North of Portugal mainland began... it all started on a chilly January evening, I met Carlos sporting what I had grown up with all my life the “army look” Carlos was doing his National Service and had been sent from the North of Portugal to Funchal and mysteriously into my path literally over 34 years ago.
I first visited the village of Fontainho in 1986, and stayed in Carlos ́grandmothers house which we still own to date, the farmhouse was built in 1810 in granite which was widely used and even to this date houses being built in the National Park including our new home Casa da Fontainho have to be built in granite thus maintaining the look and tradition of days gone by.
My first visit to the North was daunting and somewhat educational, having been brought up with everyday comforts, Fontainho was pre-historic to say the least, the houses were all working farms, comfort was nowhere to be seen, however what they lacked in comfort they certainly made up with genuine hospitality, our bedroom had a straw mattress and beneath the floor boards I could hear the cattle and goats, their warmth heating the house , lighting came from oil based lamps and running water was from the nearby well and the privy well there wasn’t one.. family meals were all served on what seemed like old school benches and the table came over the top, meals were loud and boisterous and food sometime unrecognisable, pig trotters and cakes made from intestines amongst many other Northern treats, but it was here I started my love affair with the village and inhabitants of Fontainho and the spectacular beauty of this National Park in North of Portugal.
The Peneda Gerês National Park was originally simply known as Gerês it is the only official National Park in Portugal, the Park was created on the 8th of May 1971 due to its National and International scientific interest with the aim to protect the soil, water, flora and landscape, whilst preserving its value to the existent human habitation and natural recourses.
The park is located in the Minho region in the Vila Real, Braga and Viana do Catelo districts approximately 100 km from Porto in the North West. The park is home to over 100 granite villages which have barely altered since the 12th Century some of the oldest villages are still found high upin the Serra da Peneda where the way of life has hardly changed, the oxen still roam the street and are taken by foot to gaze high up into the mountains for the Spring and Summer months only to be brought down for the winter, the park is home to many species of wildlife, the famous Roe Deer ( Symbol of the park ) Garrano Ponies can with their thick coats offering warmth for the cold and harsh winters and their small bodies keeping them close to the ground, Iberian wolves, Javalis, snakes and many rare species of birds and eagles are a part of this fabulous habitat and have been seen on the odd occasion. The Exuberant vegetation covering the mountains exhibits every shade of greens and greys, the Gerês lilies with its violet blue colours grace the fields below, Oak, Pine and Eucalyptus trees adorn the mountain sides and in the valleys below the vast reservoirs fill with overflowing streams and the cascading waterfalls.
There are many ways to explore the beauty of the National Park, but to get a feel of its grandness and sample its splendour the best way is in foot.
Today the village life in Fontainho still carries on, many of the original inhabitants are now stars in the sky, the remaining few are mainly Aunts and Uncles and many cousins, the ages ranging from 91 to the youngest at 18 months, village life has somewhat changed, tractors plough the fields instead of manpower, but the community spirit is still alive especially at harvest time, tradition maintains and the villagers gather together with each plot, the owner provides the food and drink in exchange for the labour,
My first experience was when I was dragged from my early morning sleep, still dark outdoors and pulled and pushed to a side of a hill, where stood rows of men women and children, a small shovel in hand and a sack on my back, the occasion was Potatoes, we worked in unison collecting the bountiful supply, at 6:30am breakfast was served, bowls of freshly produced red wine, Panados de Porco ( pork steaks in bread crumbs) Pao do Milho ( Grained bread ) Rissois both prawn and mince, Pasteis de Bacalhao (Cod cakes) Smoked ham, goats cheese and this was just breakfast.. the collection finished at 11:30am, backs were sore but spirits high (might have had something to do with the copious amounts of bowls of Vinho verde Tinto)
After freshening up lunch was then served, on this occasion it was a Cabrito Assado (Roasted baby goat ) served with fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes, being a foreigner and new to the village, I was given a place at the main table not a woman in sight, they were serving the men as tradition had done so before them, once the men had had their fill it was the turn of the women and children, I did feel very out of place but nevertheless I enjoyed the experience, today everyone eats at the tables together. Sadly fresh bread is no longer baked in the bread ovens, the bread van calls each morning at 9 to deliver freshly baked rolls and cakes, twice weekly the green grocer and fish monger calls to the village and now most of the inhabitants own a car and go to the larger towns to do their weekly shop, but one thing still remains, potatoes, onions, cabbages & grapes are still harvested each year, Vinho Verde Tinto ( green red wine) is produced and the occasional bottle of Bagaço is to be found often offered as a gift on a special occasion. Nearby in the Village of Cabril, a small working community has emerged, there is now a Old Folks home, a medical centre and restaurants and cafes, the local Junta ( village hall ) provides walking books and can recommend experienced walking guides. On the other side of the Mountain, the famous Spa town of Gerês awaits you, there are many pretty villages and towns surrounding our little corner of the North.
The best way to experience this yourselves – Visit the North of Portugal !
My name is Sarah Pereira, happily married to Carlos and have a daughter Gabriella and we have two dogs - Lexie a 14 year old Brittany Spaniel and Mali a 2 year old daschund.
I live most of the year in the Algarve and work in tourism and spend my free time gardening/walking my dogs and reading and travelling. My post My love of the North comes from my own experiences from owning two beautiful properties in the Peneda Gerês National Park. If after reading this article you feel tempted to visit, click on the link to see Sarah's property Casa da Fontainho. Cabril