The Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa contains thousands of engravings on several hundred rocks, a good number of which are clustered around the three major sites. The engravings are of horses, deer, goats and other animals, as well as later, Neolithic images of people. Many of the engravings are quite hard to make out, as unlike cave art they are not painted but were scratched or chipped with stones. Depending on the site, visits take place either in the morning or afternoon, though night visits – which benefit from being out of the sun’s glare so you can see the engravings more easily – are also sometimes possible. If you only have time to visit one site, Penascosa is considered the most interesting.

The Museu do Côa (3km east of town, signposted) is the obvious place to start, since it expands in detail upon the discovery and history of the site, and also acts as a booking centre for the park. Visits to the rock-art sites have to be booked in advance, which can be done in person or by phone or email (279 768 260, [email protected]) – in summer, two or three days in advance is recommended. The entrance fee includes a guide and 4WD transport from the appropriate visitor centre; each trip has a maximum of eight visitors, and children under 3 are not allowed.

Canada do Inferno

From the museum, tours head out to the first site to be identified, that of Canada do Inferno (usually morning visits; tour lasts 1hr 30min), which lies near the abandoned Côa dam. It contains a wide variety of engravings, from bison to horses, some of which are very close to the current waterline and many more that have been underwater since the construction of the Pocinho dam upstream raised the level.

Ribeira de Piscos

Trips to Ribeira de Piscos (usually mornings; 2hr 30min) head out from Muxagata, 1km off the N102 to Guarda, which has a bar beside the visitor centre. The engravings are spread out along the eponymous ribeira down to its confluence with the Côa – a beautiful place, but there’s a lot of walking involved. The highlights are a tender engraving of two horses “kissing”, some fine engravings of auroch bison (now extinct) and an exceptionally rare, paleolithic engraving of a man.

Penascosa

The least strenuous visit is to Penascosa (usually afternoons, 1hr 30min, plus evenings, 3hr), as the jeeps park right next to it. The starting point is the visitor centre in Castelo Melhor, just off the N322 to Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo. Penascosa’s highlights include an engraving of a fish (one of very few such depictions worldwide), and a rock containing over a dozen superimposed animals, the meaning of which archeologists are at a loss to understand. The village itself has a gorgeous ruined castle and a couple of café-restaurants.

Quinta da Ervamoira

There’s also a private site at Quinta da Ervamoira (closed Mon; visits by appointment: t 279 759 229), a secluded vineyard on the west bank of the Côa, accessed from Muxagata. It’s owned by the Ramos Pinto port wine company, whose granite estate house is now a museum housing finds from Roman and medieval times.

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