Finally, 2 years after the exploration hike, the first group set foot on the Caminho do Dão and traversed the 122km trail through the Dão valley. It was a glorious week in a ‘spring filled’ lush landscape and we were blessed with perfect weather. It is hard to know where to begin to describe the experience…
Let’s start with the awesome hiking group. A good mix of locals, foreigners and Portuguese, which made for an interesting combination of perspectives on the shared experience. On 3 of the 6 hiking days the group was joined by local friends and colleagues, adding more layers to the story of how people relate to the Dão region. The topic of ‘relating to’ is for me personally such an important one and is was through the act of walking the Dão valley that I felt my relation to the region grow with every step. The sense of belonging became stronger and I feel walking facilitates the connection to the land whether it is your native land or you are an immigrant like myself. Sharing that experience with people from the region makes the sense of connection even stronger.
When I close my eyes and imagine myself back on the Caminho I see a beautiful green panorama of landscapes, vistas and natural places unfold. As a hiker I felt completely immersed in the sensory experience. This sense of being embodied and interact with the body of the land so to speak, is nature immersion at its best. The Dão valley is a long stretch of green, an ecological corridor, with sparse human presence and activity. Mostly it was just us and the river and the land. It was very relaxing to be reminded of that quality of the valley. To see again, after 2 years, the ‘big wild areas’ in this green corridor gave me a sense of encouragement and support. As if they were telling me: we are here, we live, confine in us and we will confine in you. A call to action for protecting these areas in the Dão valley.
Mouthwatering, that’s what happens when I want to start describing how food became an important element of our hiking week. With a majority of vegetarians in the group I had contacted some of our hosts to make sure they were able to provide good (protein rich) vegetarian dinners and picnic lunches. Well, turns out they were more than able! Sometimes it was hard not to stop early for lunch because we were thinking of the delicious quiches or cakes we were carrying on our backs! It was great to see how these cooks, who are used to make meals that revolve around meat or fish, turn their sense of taste and creativity into high quality vegetarian food. At Quinta d’Arminho and Moinhos do Dão the food prep was in the experienced hands of Raquel, Hugo and Nuno, who made instant friends with their beautiful food. The gastronomic surprise and quality of the places we spent our nights added a sense of comfort and sometimes even luxury to the Caminho. None of us were necessarily looking for that, making all of us ever more grateful for it.
Now, after the first group had a beautiful week, it has been reinforced: The Caminho do Dão is worthwhile! I am ready for the next one in the fall and for exploring the possibilities of offering half and full day hikes in the valley.