The Parque Natural do Douro Internacional covers a long, thin 120km 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 Rio Douro 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 offices in Mogadouro, Miranda do Douro, Freixo de Espada à Cinta and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo). Armed with this, 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; there’s another superb vantage-point at Lagoaça, 25km from Mogadouro; 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.