Thursday 4 October 2012

Pitoes das Junias

Pitoes is the highest, coldest village in Portugal, on the extreme east side of the National Park. It’s a natural base from which to head west into the mountains.
Pitoes is popular and couldn’t be described as undiscovered. However,  it tends to attract the more serious hikers and walkers in the park, so it doesn’t have the same touristic air as Geres and Campo do Geres.   Also, for many villagers in Pitoes life continues as always with a dependence on subsistence agriculture.

The centre of the village is very beautiful with heart-rending views to the west towards the Serra de Geres.  The outskirts  have been somewhat spoiled by big, ugly, usually empty, houses built by returning emigrants.
To stay in Pitoes there is the Casa do Preto restaurant and guest house. It looks fairly pricey and other houses and rooms may also be available to rent – try asking at the Terra Celta Café where the owners – young emigres from Porto – speak some English. There is no official campsite anywhere within a day’s walk of Pitoes so if you want to camp it will wither have to be in secret or with the permission of a local farmer.

Pitoes has a great bakery, try the barley bread which is made from locally grown and fermented grain.

The key things to see around Pitoes are the waterfall (Cascata) on the Ribeiro de Campesinho and the amazing ruins of the 12th Century Monastery (mosteiro) in the same valley and the chapel of Sao Joao de Fragas high on a peak on the other  side of the valley of the Rio de Beredo.
Chapel of Sao Joao de Fragas

This bright white painted tiny chapel balanced high on a peak is visible for tens of miles. It looks over Pitoes, the several villages around the Paradela Dam and towards the high peak of the Fonte Fria mountain and the frontier with Spain.  The path from Pitoes to the chapel takes about an hour and a half, through the oak valley of the porto de laje. The path’s well trodden and not difficult to follow though perhaps of moderate difficulty – particularly at the final point where you climb up towards the chapel (the path starts if you follow the road out of the village to the South West, following it as it turns into a cobbled path that leads steeply down into the valley.  Every year in June residents of the village – even the oldest - make the trip up the valley to the chapel. (The chapel also has a more sinister history: I was told by residents that, in the Salazar era, police would occupy the chapel at night in order to spot the distant lights of smugglers taking contraband in and out of Spain).

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