The Parque Natural do Douro Internacional (whttp://www.icn.pt) covers a long, thin 120-kilometre stretch of the Rio Douro as it flows along the border between Portugal and Spain. On the Portuguese side, the park runs from Miranda do Douro in the north, past Mogadouro and Freixo de Espada à Cinta to Barca d’Alva, the latter the point at which the river officially enters Portuguese territory; there’s also a southern section that encompasses a stretch of the Rio Águeda, further south in Beira Alta (near Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo). The park is extremely dramatic in parts, known for its sheer canyon walls and Mediterranean microclimate, and this combination of mild winters and its isolation from large human populations has led to the preservation of a rich variety of animal species, including a few surviving wolves and wild cats, as well as boar, otters, bats and amphibians. It is also home to over 170 bird species, including rare peregrine falcons, golden eagles, black storks and, in summer, Europe’s largest concentration of Egyptian vultures.
The main problem for visitors is getting any sense of the park as a whole, since it’s so elongated and necessarily remote from anywhere you’re likely to be spending much time; you’ll see the periodic brown park signs as you drive between Beira Alta and Bragança, but it’s not immediately clear what there is to see or do. To make some sense of it, it’s best to visit a park office and buy the official map – there are four offices, in the small towns of Mogadouro, Miranda do Douro, Freixo de Espada à Cinta and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, but don’t expect English to be spoken. Armed with the map, you can at least drive to the various spectacular viewing areas, to gaze down from the canyon-like cliffs into the Douro far below – that of Penedo Dourão is between Barca d’Alva and Freixo, while close to Miranda do Douro is the magnificent São João das Arribas. There’s also a brown-signposted “Rota dos Castros” driving route, along minor roads linking a series of ancient fortified border posts.
For a closer look at the park there are a number of waymarked walking circuits, but the route marks are not always properly maintained, and it can be difficult to get hold of the route leaflets, even in the park offices. Undoubtedly the best walk is the circular one from Miranda do Douro, which also has the great advantage of being accessible to anyone without a car, since it starts and finishes right in the town. Perhaps one of the best ways to appreciate the landscape is a boat trip on the Douro itself – there are daily departures from Miranda do Douro through some of the most dramatic canyon scenery in the park.Read More