In the hills around central Portugal are around 27 stone-built schist villages, made from the local stone, which gives them their name (or Xisto, in Portuguese).
They are geared up for visitors, whether you drive there or hike or mountain bike around them. Some you can also book to stay in.
The schist villages are scattered all over, and picking up a ‘map’ from the tourist office, I found a trail that circuits four of the ones closest to where I live – Aigra Vehla, Aigra Nova, Pena and Comareira.
I say ‘map’ with a fair amount of sarcasm and a raised eye brow. I haven’t found an IGN or an OS map equivalent since I’ve lived here, so your best bet is to use one of the tourist maps; an A4 folded colour photocopy with barely any actual map detail…
That aside, the trails are fairly well marked, although on this walk there was a fork where it wasn’t particularly clear whether to turn right or head on straight. Normally you just have to have faith, and follow the yellow/red directional markers or yellow and white ones, but there are no labels confirming which route is which when they cross…
OK I am over generalising here, since this only one of only a handful of GR routes that I’ve done so far, but without a real terrain map to guide me, I had to just go “fuck it” and make a decision. So more uphill it was, and luckily for me it was the correct decision and I didn’t end up on the longer 12-13km route.
It was due to reach 32/33 degrees C that afternoon, and I’d already set out an hour later than I anticipated, so there was no time for fannying about getting lost/sunstroke/sunburn (yes I forgot to pack my sun cream)…
Whinging aside, the trail was fun in places, a rocky singletrack between Pena and Comareira with a deep canyon below (which reminded me a little bit of the Alps). There’s also a good view point up there that gives you a birds-eye view for miles (see video above). That was pretty cool.
The trail then dipped off into forested single track (I was dreaming of riding my bike in this part!) and then onto roads, before rejoining double-track and finally a single track following the river, to get back around to my car.
This last part, following the river was a) in much welcomed wooded shade and b) had a little babbling aqueduct running along side it. Towards the end of the route, it was great to douse my neck in ice cold water 🙂
Note to self – speak to the tourist office about paying me to translate their ‘maps’ into English!