Arcos de Valdevez is a quiet town in the Alto Minho region and, in my humble opinion, one of the best weekend getaways in Portugal! To begin with, it’s just 70 minutes from the city of Porto – which makes it a very attractive destination for a short break in the north of the country.
Besides, the municipality of Arcos de Valdevez has a large part of its territory included in the Peneda-Gerês National Park, the best natural attraction in Portugal! And of course, if you’re a cultural travel lover like me, get ready to explore picturesque villages, museums of all kinds, and dozens of historic buildings and monuments!
So, do you want to know more about the 10 Best Group Experiences To Discover In Arcos De Valdevez? Keep reading!
P.S.: I was invited by the Arcos de Valdevez City Council to discover these ten group experiences on a paid blog trip. Nevertheless, all opinions mentioned here are mine.
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- 1. Venture out on a water walk on the river Adrão
- 2. Take a jeep tour through the Soajo and Peneda Mountains
- 3. Visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda
- 4. Watch the sunset at the Mezio Swing
- 5. Taste the local cuisine
- 6. Stargazing at the Porta do Mezio Observation Park
- 7. Get to know the Extremo Forts, a legacy of the War of Restoration
- 8. Explore the Manor House of Giela
- 9. Ride an electric bike in the Enchanted Forest of Miranda
- 10. Walk through the historic center of Arcos de Valdevez
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1. Venture out on a water walk on the river Adrão
Do you know what river trekking is? It’s an outdoor adventure activity consisting of walking, swimming, and jumping along the course of a river. And, although this sport is especially popular in East and Southeast Asian countries, river trekking has been attracting more and more fans in Portugal!
If you visit Arcos de Valdevez, you have to venture out on a water walk on the river Adrão with Soajo Nomadis! This tour operator is headquartered in the picturesque town of Soajo and offers activities such as River Trekking (a 5 km trek, which lasts 4 hours and costs €30 per person, for groups over 6 people) – and the River Trekking Crossing (a 13 km trek, lasting 2 days and at €140 per person).
Other experiences proposed by Soajo Nomadis:
- Trekking – Alto da Pedrada (Mountain Routes)
- Trekking – Shepherds’ Trail (Mountain Routes)
- Trekking – Trekking on the banks of the river Adrão (Mountain Routes)
2. Take a jeep tour through the Soajo and Peneda Mountains
Another of the best group experiences to discover in Arcos de Valdevez are the jeep tours through the Serras do Soajo and/or Peneda with ECO4adventure. This tourist and adventure entertainment company is one of the specialists in ecotourism in this region!
For those who don’t know, the Serra do Soajo and the Serra da Peneda form – together with the Serra Amarela and the Serra do Gerês – the Peneda-Gerês National Park, the only national park in Portugal. With more than 70 thousand hectares, this protected area has been part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 2009.
In addition to its stunning natural beauty, the Peneda-Gerês National Park has a very rich variety of fauna and flora! On this jeep trip, we had the opportunity to observe birds of prey, Garrano horses, and Cachena cows, as well as pine, chestnut, and oak trees.
With ECO4adventure, in addition to jeep tours, you can also opt for wine tourism programs, hiking, climbing, bike renting, and canoeing:
- Jeep Tour – Castles
- Jeep Tour – Lagoons
- Jeep Tour – Nature
- Jeep Tour – Sistelo
- Ecovia do Vez – Stage I
- Ecovia do Vez – Stage II
- Ecovia do Vez – Stage III
3. Visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda is located at the northeast end of the municipality of Arcos de Valdevez, in the heart of the Peneda-Gerês National Park. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this Catholic sanctuary was built between the end of the 18th century and the second half of the 19th century, inspired by the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, in the city of Braga!
Just like in the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus, there’s also a Staircase of Virtues in the Sanctuary of Peneda, with stone figures representing Faith, Hope, Charity, and Glory. And here, you’ll also find a hotel (adapted from the old pilgrims’ dormitories) and a stairway boulevard, punctuated by 20 chapels, portraying episodes from the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, it’s believed that there was already a place of worship and pilgrimage in this area of the Serra da Peneda, since the 13th century! Nowadays, the Pilgrimage of Our Lady of Peneda is celebrated by Portuguese and Galician devotees, in the first week of September.
Read my complete guide to the Sanctuary of Peneda, one of the best group experiences to discover in Arcos de Valdevez!
4. Watch the sunset at the Mezio Swing
After a relaxed jeep ride through the Peneda-Gerês National Park, there’s nothing better than watching the sunset at the Mezio Swing, one of the mandatory stops in the Serra do Soajo. Located in Cabanas Maior, Arcos de Valdevez, this attraction offers breathtaking views!
With 7.60 meters high, the Mezio Swing convinces mainly for its location at 900 meters of altitude and, consequently, for its photographic potential. Furthermore, from here you are just a few meters from the Porta do Mezio – one of the five gates of the Peneda-Gerês National Park and another place of interest in Arcos de Valdevez!
5. Taste the local cuisine
In Arcos de Valdevez, I think there are only two impossible things: eating badly and eating little! So, if you love tasting the typical delicacies and dishes of the places you visit, you really need to include the experience “On Fridays at the Trasladário” in your itinerary! This tasting of local cuisine takes place every Friday at the Espaço Vinhos e Sabores, in the historic center of Arcos de Valdevez.
Part of the Portuguese Wine Museums Network, this shop promotes tastings of wine and local products, from which the sausages, goat cheeses, jams, and honey stand out. We tasted several tapas and appetizers (accompanied by the best wines from the AVVEZ – Arcos de Valdevez Wine Association), which Espaço Vinhos & Sabores calls “Unlikely Combinations”:
- Red Cacharolete* + Nuts | Red Vinho Verde** with ice, sugar, lime, and mint
- White Cacharolete* + Nuts | White Vinho Verde with ice, brown sugar, lime, lemon, and mint
- White Vinho Verde “Quinta do Formigueiro” (2019) – Loureiro grape variety + Goat cheese Toast
- White Vinho Verde “Quinta do Formigueiro” (2019) – Loureiro grape variety + Smoked loin Toast
- White Vinho Verde “Casa dos Borralhais” (2020) – Loureiro grape variety + House toast (salpicão sausage, goat cheese, tomato, and basil)
- Rosé Vinho Verde “Cerqueiral” – Vinhão grape variety + Moira (chorizo) with “Charuto de ovos”
- Rosé Vinho Verde “Cerqueiral” – Vinhão grape variety + “Charutos de ovos” with orange compote
*The cacharolete is, basically, a Vinho Verde cocktail (white or red).
**Vinho Verde (which translates to “green wine”) is a Portuguese wine from the historic Minho province, in the north of the country.
But don’t think that in Arcos de Valdevez you will only eat tapas! On the contrary, this municipality of Alto Minho has some of the best culinary dishes in Portugal, served in traditional restaurants with a family atmosphere. These were the restaurants where I had lunch/dinner and that I can highly recommend:
- O Lagar Restaurant (in the historic center of Arcos de Valdevez)
- Videira Restaurant (in the town of Soajo)
- Porta do Mezio Restaurant
- O Pote Restaurant (in the historic center of Arcos de Valdevez)
6. Stargazing at the Porta do Mezio Observation Park
As I mentioned before, the Porta do Mezio is one of the official entrance “gates” to the Peneda-Gerês National Park. Open throughout the year, this 3-hectare property has facilities for all kinds of activities and experiences related to the region:
- Adventure Park, where recreational and adventure activities such as Tree Climbing, Slide, and Climbing take place
- Picnic Park (Leisure Spaces)
- Swimming Pool (Leisure Spaces)
- “Aldeia dos Pequeninos” or Children’s Village (Leisure Spaces)
- Exhibitions at the Ethnographic Museum, the Interpretative Center of the Mezio/Gião Archaeological Area, and the Garrano’s Playful-Pedagogical Workshop (Leisure Spaces)
- Mezio Gastronomic Center, one of the restaurants where I had dinner
- Reception and Information Center
- Children’s Spaces
- Avifauna Observatory
- Biodiversity Park
- Fitness Park
- Stargazing Park
Now, although I wasn’t able to experience many of the Porta do Mezio‘s cultural proposals, I was lucky to participate in a Night Stargazing. And, as you can see from the image I captured of the Moon (through the telescope lens, of course), it was a mind-blowing group experience and one of my favorites in Arcos de Valdevez!
7. Get to know the Extremo Forts, a legacy of the War of Restoration
If you travel to Portela and Extremo – literally, on the edge (in Portuguese, “extremo”) of the municipality of Arcos de Valdevez – you’ll find the Bragandelo Fort and the Pereira Fort. Also called Extremo Forts, these two border fortifications are one of the best examples of medieval architecture from the 17th century, more precisely from the Restoration War between Portugal and Castile (1640-1668).
The Bragandelo Fort is the best preserved of the two and can be visited from August 1st, 2021. With its plan still well defined (especially if viewed from above), it’s possible to detect elements such as the place-of-arms with its four bastions, the moat & the counterscarp, the main door (among other entrances and accesses), the trench, and the proto-hornwork – the latter added at a later stage.
Surprisingly, the trench connected the two Extremo Forts over an extension of about 850 meters! This complimentary defense corridor was composed of a ditch (that reached 150 cm deep) and a pile of embedded stones.
On the other hand, the Pereira Fort got very degraded at the end of the Restoration War and also because its inner square was converted into a football field in the second half of the 20th century. Even so, it is made up of a place-of-arms, with four bastions and a fortified door, in addition to a moat, counterscarp, curtain wall, and a redan.
8. Explore the Manor House of Giela
One of the group experiences I enjoyed doing the most in Arcos de Valdevez was exploring the Manor House of Giela. This old manor house belonged to the Lima family (the first Viscounts of the Kingdom of Portugal) and was built in the 16th century.
However, its origins date back to the Middle Ages, as archaeological remains indicate that a rural castle with a turret and a fence once existed here. In the 14th century, the current tower was built with a single door at the level of the first floor – a typical feature of medieval military architecture.
In the following decades, the tower – which served as both a defensive structure and a noble residence – ceased to please the family who lived here. Therefore, a housing area was added, also changing the main entrance to the side (in the 15th century) and incorporating Manueline elements (in the 16th century).
After that, a chapel, other secondary structures, a moat, and the Caretaker’s House (current reception and auditorium) appeared. The latter dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries when the Manor House of Giela was adapted to agriculture and livestock.
Nowadays, the monument belongs to the Arcos de Valdevez City Council, which inaugurated it in 2015 – one year after having started a project to improve and refurbish it. The Manor House of Giela is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 1 pm and from 2 pm to 6 pm, and the ticket costs €1.
9. Ride an electric bike in the Enchanted Forest of Miranda
Have you ever ridden an electric bike? I had never tried it and I have to confess that it’s much more difficult than it seems, especially if you’re not used to mountain biking! Riding an electric bike was another of the group experiences we did with ECO4adventure, in Arcos de Valdevez.
Only that this time, the destination was the Forest Park of Miranda, a verdant landscape that the locals affectionately call the “Enchanted Forest”. Here, you’ll find dense vegetation where oak trees proliferate, giving it that “mystical aura” from fairy tales. And even if you don’t want to explore the winding paths (by bike or on foot), you can always choose a spot for a picnic!
10. Walk through the historic center of Arcos de Valdevez
During our stay in Arcos de Valdevez, I heard and read dozens of times the expression: “Arcos de Valdevez, Onde Portugal se Fez” (“Arcos de Valdevez, Where Portugal was Made”). Now, this rhyming phrase became a tourist slogan and alludes to a remarkable episode in the History of Portugal: the Battle of Valdevez.
Also nicknamed Tournament of Arcos de Valdevez (or “Recontro de Valdevez” in Portuguese), this historic moment took place in the Vale do Vez, in 1140. And the protagonists? Afonso Henriques (the future first king of Portugal) and Alfonso VII (Emperor of Leon and Castile and his cousin).
According to the story, Afonso Henriques conquered a series of castles in Galicia, which were under the protection of his cousin. In response, Alfonso VII invaded the County of Portugal, starting a peaceful “battle”, which was nothing more than a medieval tournament!
In addition to numerous references to the Battle of Valdevez, the historic center of Arcos de Valdevez is very rich in terms of architectural and cultural heritage. Personally, I recommend a visit to the Baroque Interpretative Center – a museum of sacred art installed in the Church of the Holy Spirit.
Other than that, I leave you a list of some of the best places and monuments to visit in the historic center of Arcos de Valdevez. And, as you may have already noticed, this town has many points of interest and deserves to be visited in two, three, four (or more!) days:
- Arts House / Library
- Centenaries Garden & Children’s Pillory
- Centenary Bridge
- Chapel of Our Lady of Conceição
- Cross of the Miracles
- “Espaço Vinhos e Sabores”
- Himalaya Creativity Workshops
- Misericórdia Church and Cross
- Monument to the Battle of Valdevez
- Parish Church
- Pillory & Town Square
- São Paio Church
- Water Clock
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