The Parque Natural do Alvão is Portugal’s smallest natural park, an area of 8000 mountainous hectares set between Vila Real and Mondim de Basto to the northwest. A mere handful of settlements (with a total population of fewer than 700) hugs the boulder-strewn terrain, with every centimetre of arable land between heroically terraced and tended, while other slopes are planted with pine whose scent carries in the air. Life, of course, has been hard and many of the villages are depopulated, but traditional agricultural methods (ox and plough, hand-scythed straw) cling on and some crafts (clog-making, weaving) have been revived. Drive-through visitors in a hurry don’t always see the best of Alvão – at first sight, many of the settlements seem moribund or disfigured by ugly recent construction, while there are hardly any facilities within the park, rarely even a place to get a drink. But with just half a day to spare, you can easily do one of the two official waymarked walks, while another half-day gives you time to drive around a circuit of the most interesting villages and visit the one standout natural sight, the Fisgas de Ermelo waterfalls.
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