~~ Day to day description ~~
The first evening: Arrival in Carapito
The group gathers at the end of the day in the charming village of Carapito at the B&B Terreiro de Santa Cruz, run by Augusta and Fernando who's families have lived in this village for many generations. The B&B is located in the middle of the village and has a home-like feel to it.
Augusta is a great cook that serves home-made jams, local cheeses, traditional Portuguese dishes, vegetarian food AND 'queijadas', a bread with cheese that is baked in a wood fire oven. We'll be enjoying her cooking talents during the first two days as the B&B is home base for the first two nights. It's hard not to stop for the lunch picnic early knowing the tasty food you carry in your backpack!
Day 1: Barranha – Quinta da Ponte, 19 km
Highlights Day 1.
- The source of the Dão river and the mother oak tree next to it.
- Old villages and historic rural landscape on the plateau where the Dão springs.
- Views far into the Dão valley and onto various mountain ranges of the Beira Alta.
- Floodplains near Dornelas.
- A stop at ‘the blue café’ in Dornelas.
- Multiple Dão crossings.
The Caminho do Dão starts at the river's source (of course) on the edge of the tiny village of Barranha. The source of the Dão is found in a field of young ash trees where water starts surfacing from underground and a stream becomes visible. It is a simple and quiet rural place shouldered by a majestic centennial Oak tree (Quercus pyrenaica) that spans at least 25 meters and offers a beautiful space for a contemplative moment before you embark on a long walk.
The Dão springs on a high plateau with crisp air and light, old oak woodlands, a few small villages, centennial chestnut trees and agricultural fields. After meandering 5 km over the plateau the river dives down into the steep beginning tip of the Dão valley. The trail leads to the edge of the plateau elsewhere to a point with great vistas of the Beira Alta region and surrounding mountain ranges. Then it descends into the narrow and remote tip of the Dão valley and follows the (still small) river closely.
After 4 km the valley widens, the valley floor flattens and the first flood plains appear followed by small farms with sheep and goat herds and food plots. For the next 10 km the trail weaves through the valley, crossing the Dão multiple times and passing through the village of Dornelas for a stop at a local café. A few km after Dornelas the valley narrows and the remaining part of the first day’s trail leads through forests till the end point at a little café in Forninhos.
Day 2: Quinta da Ponte – Penalva do Castelo, 18 km
Highlights Day 2.
- The beautifully situated village of Quinta da Ponte including mill complex.
- A still and intimate experience of the valley of just you and nature.
- Bee colonies in dozens of hives.
- Wildlife spotting (bee eaters, otters, kingfisher)
- The small Roman bridge at Ponte Dum.
- Large areas of mixed endemic forests.
- Sparse human presence.
- The days destination: the small town of Penalva do Castelo with a view on the Dão valley and interesting architecture.
The path on day 2 leads through one of the most quiet and undisturbed parts of the Dão valley. A day where you will be alone with wildlife and can have an uninterrupted experience of nature with all your senses. If you are lucky you might spot an Otter or a group of Bee Eaters!
Close to the river you will come across remnants of human activity such as abandoned orchards and water channels leading to old mills. In the second half of the day the path passes by a number of old villages situated on the halfway point between the river and the valley rim. The human presence in the landscape looks like it has been this way for ages and feels quite harmonious.
Day 3: Penalva do Castelo – Moinhos do Dão, 19 km
Highlights Day 3.
- Dense mixed forests with lots of old oak trees.
- Seeing the river grow with the water from tributary streams and rivers.
- The village and farmlands of Darei overlooking the lake.
- Home made lunch at Quinta 'd Arminho ~ regenerative agriculture.
- The dam of Fagilde.
- The 12th and 16th century Monastery of Santa Maria de Maceira Dão.
Day 3 is characterized by the contrast between uninterrupted forests in the first half of the walk and human interventions in the second. From Penalva do Castelo, located on the rim of the valley, the path takes a steep dive back down into the valley and follows the river through relatively narrow and densely wooded part up to where the water reservoir of the dam of Fagilde starts.
On this day the first larger areas of invasive species like Acacias and Eucalyptus start to show up. At the start of the lake the valley widens and the path offers nice views on the lake and hills around it. It follows the edge of the lake until the head of the dam and then, for 1 hr or so, leads up and through an area with villages, some industry, and lots of infrastructure. Until the mouth of the river at the end by Santa Comba Dão this is the area with the highest density of human activity on the Caminho do Dão. From the village of Vila Garcia the path leads down into the valley again, back into the quiet and past the majestic ruins of an old monastery.
Day 4: Rest day at Moinhos do Dão
Moinhos do Dão is an old mill complex on the banks of the Dão river that is now in use as an ‘off-grid’ ecological farm & guesthouse. The terrain of the quinta is a patchwork of different ecosystems including endemic deciduous oak and chestnut forest, a riparian forests and river floodplains. The focus of the quinta is on living in harmony with nature and this plays a key role in the way the quinta is managed and the activities that are developed.
The river beach and various areas on and around the quinta provide a beautiful location for relaxing and exploring. The meals are meat-free and made with seasonal produce from the garden and local markets and guests are invited to help with the preparation and clean-up of the meals.
Day 5: Moinhos do Dão - Sangemil, 23 km
- The roman bridge and village of Alcafache.
- The mills and riverscape at Azenha das Freiras.
- The valley views at the abandoned Quinta da Ufa.
- A landscape recovering from the wildfires of 2017.
- A stop at café O Cucu in the village of Silgueiros.
- The site, comfort and hospitality of Hotel Beira Dão.
Day 5 is characterized by a landscape that changes at every bend in the river. As the human presence on the rims increases halfway the valley the variety and quick alteration between agriculture and forestry also increase. The areas of endemic forest become smaller and those of the planted forests bigger.
Also, after 8km the landscape starts showing the signs of the fires of 2017 that burned half a million hectares including 40% of the Dão valley. Interestingly (and luckily) many of the areas of endemic oak forests survived. The fires just could not make their way through these cool and humid zones. For those who are interested the landscape tells an interesting story about natural regeneration and the consequences of various human activities.
Day 6: Sangemil - Ferreirós do Dão 13 km
- A landscape dominated by granite bedrock formations.
- Green oasis where the fires and land use practices did not eliminate the original vegetation.
- Picnic lunch and time for resting in the spectacularly eroded granite bed of the river.
- Besides the sounds of nature a very silent part of the valley.
- The old villages of Corujeiro, Furadouro and Penedo.
- Roman bridge at Ferreirós do Dão.
On day 6 you will experience the geological reality of the Dão valley in the way erosion has brought the granite bedrock to the surface and shaped the river bed. The path leads through a part of the valley with massive granite rock formations and at times you will see more granite than green. The landscape is spectacular but it also raises questions about the causes of erosion which are, in part, natural-caused by rain, wind, freezing and the flow of the river. Another part is the result of unsustainable forestry and agriculture and of the returning wild fires all causing the erosion of soils.
As mentioned before, the Caminho do Dão is a walk through a 21st century landscape that is shaped by the contemporary economic, social and climate reality. It does not make the hike less interesting and engaging. On this day you will visit one of the most beautiful remote river beaches in a granite gorge with building size boulders that came crashing down into the river bed as a result of natural erosion.
Day 7: Ferreiros do Dão - Santa Comba Dão 18 km
- The view of the Dão valley from the edge of Papizios with the end point of Santa Comba Dão far in the distance.
- A wide and forested Dão valley with the widening river flowing through.
- Dense and humid strips of endemic forests.
- The ‘Eco Pista Dão’ bike and hiking path on the old train track between Santa Comba Dão and Viseu.
- Increasing presence of Cork Oaks as we are getting to lower altitudes and hotter micro climates.
The last day on the Caminho! These last 20 km of the Dão valley are dominated by forests alternating between eucalyptus and pine monocultures on the accessible parts of the slopes and endemic diverse forests in the steep crevices. Here you will also often pass a creek running down to the Dão making these mini valleys very rich with flora and fauna.
Due to the Aguieira dam downstream, the water of the river starts backing up and starts widening at about halfway the hiking day. It is awe inspiring to see the Dão grow during the week, from a small stream surfacing in a field, to a flowing river to a large body of water where it meets the Mondego by the dam. This is where the water of the Dão opens up to the rest of the world and eventually will meet the Atlantic. Here its water will at some point turn into rain again and move over land to feed the rivers of the Iberic Peninsula and continue the life giving and land-scaping cycle that has formed this piece of our planet.