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  • Writer's pictureRita Cardoso

Sistelo - Trilho das Brandas PR14

Sistelo, “The Portuguese Tibet”, as you can read in most of the information available about this beautiful village, that saw its cultural landscape decreed National Monument. But as I never visited Tibet, I can’t say if it’s similar or not.

This small Minho village, at Arcos de Valdevez, has about 270 people and apparently only 3 of them had less than 10 years old, so, it’s an old village with older population between the mountains and the Vez River.

By the stone streets, there’s matching houses on both sides, we haven’t seen many people by the time we got there, around 9h30, except some cats, here and there.

We then started the chosen trail, PR14, called Brandas do Sistelo Trail, defined as moderated and 6,5km. But, in the end we verified this information wasn’t true and it was in reality about 9,5km, as we always followed the route and didn’t have any detours. It took us 3 hours and 40 minutes to complete it, a great hike before lunch.

The trail starts at the village center, there’s a small caffe and there was also an old man selling honey, with a big advertisement poster saying all the benefits from each type of honey.

The trail passes initially between Sistelo streets, “espigueiros” and by the church and starts going down by some stone steps in direction to Vez river, the lowest location on the trail. You cross the river twice in two bridges, lots of chestnut trees, and in Autumn time, lots of chestnuts on the floor, and starting from there it’s all the way up till 740m, at Branda do Alhal, followed by 40, 50m more of soft ascent to Branda do Covo. But, going back a little bit, until Padrão village (500m) it is shared trail with Socalcos trail, and that means that you have amazing views over the region’s characteristic terraces. On the way, we also passed other very small villages and close to various “brandas”, that are small stone constructions that were built on the mountain’s highest points where the soils are fertile and where the families used to live on the summer season, so they would be closer to the animals and the agriculture fields. Nowadays, this old habit it’s not happening anymore and they use the small houses just to store some stuff. In one of this “brandas” we found Mr. Manuel on his tractor and his friendly dog that wanted to play and be petted. He explained us that in his “branda” he only keeps some tools to his farming and food for the animals.

At the highest point, the trail goes inside a forest, that really seemed like an enchanted forest from fairytales, with some mist around, to really set that magical mood, and obviously the Fall colors everywhere. During our hike, we’ve heard the cow’s bells and we saw some. These cows, Cachena breed, are usually very pacific and not too big, they are brown and have horns. They live in the mountains all year round, as they are very resistant to tough weather. We also saw two horses on our way, but like the cows, they had absolutely no interest on our presence around, so we could enjoy the beautiful views of the landscape in peace.

As soon as you exit the enchanted forest, the descent starts, but as it’s not very steep, you can go down quite fast and easily, on your way back to Sistelo.

I consider this trail as easy to walk, the only thing is that it is a big and tiring climb, but slowly we get everywhere, part of it has old granite roads, that have been used probably for hundreds of years, and it can be slippery if the weather is wet, but easy to walk. Always well marked, except at Padrão village, where we had some doubts on which street to go. But we just had to ask an old lady and she immediately helped us, and I think she was already expecting it, probably we weren’t the first ones neither the last ones to get confused there.

Getting back to Sistelo, we couldn’t believe our eyes, right in the middle of a pandemic, how many cars there were now, on both sides of the road, where in the morning we parked our car, so lonely. Seeing this, we decided to have lunch there by the car, so we could keep our distance from the other people.

This trail is worth it, and as the first part is shared with Socalcos trail you can have a bit of both, but if you have the time and the energy on your legs, just go all the way up the mountain. If it’s too hot, or raining I don’t recommend on doing it, as it doesn’t have shadows or shelters. The day we hiked it, it was cloudy, but it didn’t rain and the sun even showed in between the clouds for a while, it wasn’t hot or cold, just the ideal weather for me. It was a bit wet, because it rained a lot the day before, but the trail was good and we haven’t had to make many detours due to mud or big puddles. I think the biggest obstacles are the smelly gifts that the cows leave everywhere, and if you get distracted, oops! Ahah

As for the preparation, I think you should always take the basics, a waterproof backpack, water, snack, hiking boots, I prefer them to sneakers, and if it is cold, a jacket will be your friend on the way down, especially if it is windy.

In the afternoon, as we were still full of energy, we did another hike, a smaller one, Passadiços do Sistelo trail, check it here.

In the end, this trail is worth it, Brandas trail, PR14!

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