In Vinhais, the chestnut trees dominate the landscape, but what is surprising on the way to Alto da Ciradelha are the woods of black oak, so dense that even with the strong sun they remain in a penumbra that is difficult to penetrate with your eyes.
At the top, the view stretches over hills and valleys. We are at an altitude of 1020 metres and, although the region is mountainous, the viewpoint covers a vast expanse.
In this article
- Biospots: a route to do slowly
- The Biological Park of Vinhais
- Dine’s Lorga
- Cusco is also made in Vinhais
- A communal village
- Smuggler and Fiscal Guard
- How to get there and where to sleep in Vinhais
- Where to eat and what to do in Vinhais
Getting to Alto da Ciradelha is easy. The Biospots trail takes us along a forest path. This is one of the Nine Steps through the Lands of Trás-os-Montes, a 1.6 kilometre circular trail with a gradient of 150 metres that can easily be overcome. The trail starts at the Biological Park of Vinhais towards the viewpoint and takes us downhill towards the photogenic chouriça swing, to return by another path.
Biospots: a route to do slowly
On the Nove Passos app it is said that the trail lasts about two hours, but if you don’t do it with the sole intention of burning calories, the best thing is to set aside the whole morning or late afternoon to do it, because there will be many times when you will stop or venture beyond the trail.
The main reason for the stops will be the butterflies’ flights. It is not by chance that this trail was given the name Biospots. The best time to do it is springtime, but even in early summer there are many butterflies of many species around the flowers and it is easy to lose track of time looking for them perched on their wings and showing all their beauty.
When we get close to Alto da Ciradelha, we find the remains of the walls that surrounded the fort of what must have been the settlement that later became the Vinhais.
Right at the top of the trail, it is certain and known that we will want to take in all the beauty of the viewpoint. We will sit on the cliffs looking at the various layers. In the valley, near Vinhais, we will find the largest area of walnut trees in the municipality and, beyond the town, we will have the hills that follow each other until the distant Marão mountain range.
We start descending through a narrower trail, which can only be guessed from the terrain and which is well marked, towards the chouriça swing. One more spot on the trail, this one placed there for the photos and selfies of the order.
Then, it’s downhill to the Biological Park of Vinhais.
The Biological Park of Vinhais
A biological park is not a zoo. It is an equipment for the preservation of species that receives found specimens that no longer have a chance of surviving in their habitat. But that doesn’t stop us from going there to see animals.
At the Biological Park of Vinhais, the birds are in spaces that are too small for them to fly. But there is an explanation. Unable to do so (they have all taken wind tunnel tests), the exiguousness of the space is aimed at avoiding stress on the animals.
With the other animals it is exactly the opposite. They all have plenty of space. That’s why, sometimes, it may not be easy to see them. It also depends on the time of day, since they take refuge when the heat gets too much. But, even so, the roe deer, fallow deer and fallow deer delight everyone, as well as the wild boar.
The municipality of Vinhais is large and very scattered, with more than 100 villages. One of those that demands a visit is Dine. Here, we have the Lorga and the lime ovens. The visit can be booked through the Biological Park of Vinhais and we guarantee you won’t regret it.
Not only will you learn about the ancient method of making lime and traces of human occupation of the territory dating back to the Chalcolithic, but you will also meet Judite Lopes.
With a gaunt smile that can be guessed from behind her mask, Judite Lopes is one of those people who make you smile. She is the one who shows us the Lorga de Dine, but on the way she alerts us to this or that plant, she picks it, smells it and explains its properties. Some are medicinal, others of various uses. Judite Lopes never stops, making the walk to the lime ovens a moment of fun and learning.
The lime ovens are structures, some centuries old, where lime was made for mortar and also for painting the houses. In 1965, the last lime-kiln in the village stopped working. It belonged to Judite’s father, who does not mourn those times. Instead she likes to show what makes her village so special.
Further down, halfway down the slope, there is an opening in the rock, padlocked. It is Lorga de Dine. The cave was the subject of an extensive archaeological survey in 1964 and in it were discovered traces of human occupation dating from recent Prehistory and Protohistory. The site was inhabited between the 4th and 1st millennium BC.
Cuscos is also made in Vinhais
A delicacy from Middle Eastern cuisine, couscous has a Trás-os-Montes version. In Vinhais, they make couscous. The tradition was almost forgotten until Lurdes Diegues returned to the town after many years in Lisbon and decided to get her hands dirty.
The “cuscos” are made with barbela flour, water and salt. Nothing more. And they are served like rice, preferably in a naughty way. The process of transforming flour into “cuscos” takes time and requires the skill and patience of the person who does it.
In the village of Padrão, Lurdes Diegues follows the ancestral recipe to the letter. She starts by rolling the flour out on a masseira lined with a linen cloth, and sprinkling it with salty water. Stir it and stir it, and then repeat.
When the couscous has the consistency of a few small balls not much bigger than the couscous we know, it is done.
It is not known how couscous arrived in this municipality in north-eastern Trás-os-Montes. There are those who say it is a vestige of the Arab occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, and those who claim that the tradition was brought by Jews who took refuge in these lands. But the truth is, we don’t know.
What we do know is that they are tasty, when accompanied by traditional chorizo, and that they are cooked like rice, but with more water: for every measure of couscous, two and a half measures of water should be added.
They can be bought online, on the Saber a Vinhais website.
A communal village
In the northwestern extremity of the municipality of Vinhais, right next to the border, lies Moimenta da Raia and the Fraga dos Três Reinos. It is here that the limits of Portugal, Galicia and Castile meet. This was always a crossing point and also a smuggling point.
The inhabitants of Moimenta da Raia still preserve the sense of community they have maintained throughout the ages. Duarte Pires, the president of the Junta, explains that “even today, people work the fields in a community way. One farmer has one machine, another other one… and they work each other’s fields”.
In the old days, it was more visible. Today, the community ovens can be visited (as the village is large, there were three), the community forge and the mills that also belonged to the people.
Each person was given an hour of a day to use the equipment, and in the mills each hour corresponded to a day. The story is told of a farmer who left his millstone overnight to grind flour. When he returned the next day, he found nothing more than a note that said “to this mill I entered, a bag of flour I took. Next year I will return”. It was someone – Duarte Pires explains – who in a moment of need took the flour, but promised to return it the following year”.
And the water that was used to turn the millstones also supplied a generator that supplied electricity to the village. Moimenta da Raia had electricity long before it was supplied by the public grid. The neighbours paid for each lamp they had at home.
Smuggler and Fiscal Guard
In times when the free circulation of people and goods did not exist, the people of Moimenta da Raia were dedicated to smuggling to balance the family budget. They smuggled cattle, depending on whether the price was higher on one side or the other of the border.
But coffee was the main product smuggled into Spain. “The smugglers were the shop owners. They were the ones who made money. Those who took the bales would remedy them. They received 100 pesetas (the old Spanish currency) if the journey was to one of the nearest villages, or 200 pesetas if it was to one of the more distant ones”. The smuggling route could take four hours, always at night, over difficult tracks.
Duarte Pires knows what he is talking about. Between the ages of 16 and 18 he carried bales across the border. After his military service he joined the Fiscal Guard that guarded the borders and after a few years he was stationed in his home village. He closed his eyes to the women who carried half a dozen kilos hidden in their waists, but only to them…
9 steps in Trás-os-Montes
The Biospots route is part of nine routes in as many other municipalities of Trás-os-Montes, Alfândega da Fé, Bragança, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Miranda do Douro, Mirandela, Mogadouro, Vila Flor, Vimioso and Vinhais.
There are 9 routes in 9 different landscapes which have in common their intrinsic natural values.
Doing one route and, at the end, stamping your passport at the tourism offices is an incentive to discover others.
The Intermunicipal Community Terras de Trás-os-Montes invited 18 bloggers from the Association of Portuguese Travel Bloggers (ABVP) to discover the nine steps, two for each of the municipalities.
We were lucky enough to share our experience with Vera and Marcelo from the blog Ir em Viagem.
How to get there and where to sleep in Vinhais
In the extreme north of Trás-os-Montes, the best way to get to Vinhais is on the A4 motorway, from Porto or Vila Real, taking exit 33 (Mirandela Norte) and taking the National 103, for 55 kilometres. The journey is easy, as the A4 does not have much traffic and the road that takes us to Vinhais is in good condition.
If you choose to go by bus, we recommend an Express Bus to Mirandela or Bragança and make the connection from one of these cities.
In the municipality of Vinhais we can find mainly rural tourism and local accommodation. A good solution are the bungalows of the Biological Park of Vinhais, but it is necessary to book well in advance. The park also has a camping option.
Where to eat and what to do in Vinhais
There are not many restaurants in the town of Vinhais, but the meat is well done, as we would be in the north-east of Trás-os-Montes. In all of them, the starters include smoked meat, especially the alheiras (smoked pork sausage) and the smoked ham, which are always good quality.
With a family atmosphere, the Vasco da Gama steakhouse is famous for its grilled lamb
At the O Silva restaurant, you can eat the “posta”, served to the point.
Next to the swimming pools, at the Paulus restaurant, we tried the cuscos, a traditional Vinhais dish made from wheat flour, served wet like rice and, in this case, with chouriça sausage.
Finally, at Delfim we were served suckling pig, crispy-skinned as it should be.
The Biological Park of Vinhais is a must-visit. Here, it is possible to see the conservation work and also go horse or donkey riding, walk or cycle trails, play paintball or try tree climbing. The Wolf Interpretive Centre is very interesting.
Make the most of being here to do the Alto da Ciradelha trail, the Biospots trail which is part of the 9 Steps in the Lands of Trás-os-Montes
In the village, and maybe as a starting point, visit the Interpretation Centre of the Natural Park of Montesinho, to understand the territory.
Very good is the Interpretation Centre of the Pig and Smoked Produts, located in the centre of the village.
Take the opportunity to visit the Solar dos Condes de Vinhais, the cultural centre where you can find out why Vinhais is “a land of the devils”.
In the village of Dine you can visit theDine’s Lorga, a cave whose human occupation dates back to the late Neolithic period, and learn more about the finds at the Interpretation Centre. The visit can be booked through the Biological Park of Vinhais
Still in this village, visit the lime ovens which only stopped being used in 1965.
At the other end, in Moimenta da Raia, the small smuggling museum tells the frontier stories. Wander the streets of the village and contact the parish council for access to the ovens, the forge and the community mills.