After a few days in the Oeste Region of Portugal touring Óbidos and Nazaré and 36 hours in Lisbon, we finally began our Historic Village Hiking Tour in Portugal with Mountain Travel Sobek. We began our six-day hiking tour early on a September morning when Ricardo picked up our group of eight and two guides from our hotel in Lisbon. We drove northeast for approximately three hours until we reached Salvaterra do Extremo.
History of Salvaterra do Extremo
Salvaterra do Extremo is located on the border of Spain and Portugal in Portugal’s central region. The origins of the historic village date all the way back to the Romans and then later to the Moors. It became part of the Portuguese Kingdom in the 12th Century.
Its first fortification was likely built when it received a charter from King Sancho II in 1229. Though after the signing of the Treaty of Alcañices establishing Portuguese-Castilian border in 1297, Salvaterra do Extremo was refortified.
Being located on the border, Salvaterra do Extremo assumed strategic importance. During the Restoration War in the 17th century, the medieval castle and surrounding town were enclosed with new walls and guarded by the citadel. While the walls were mostly demolished after the Peninsular Wars, some remnants remain.
Hike in Salvaterra do Extremo
Today, Salvaterra do Extremo is a small village of less than 200 people. On the edge of town stands a 15th century church, Igreja Matriz de Salvaterra do Extremo that features a lovely, gilded altar and solid bell tower complete with a vulture’s nest.
After a delightful picnic lunch provided by a nearby local named Ana, we strapped on our packs, donned our hiking poles and started our 7-mile hike on PR1-IDN Rota dos Abutres from this church location where there is an information sign.
Portugal Trail System
Before I describe the trail, I’ll take a minute to explain the trail system. PR stands for Pequena Rota or small route which takes less than a day to complete. IDN stands for the name of the municipality. In this case, Idanha-a-Nova. So PR1-IDN Rota dos Abutres is small trail #1 in Idanha-a-Nova.
Small Routes are marked with a yellow and red stripe. If a white stripe is included too, then the small route shares part of a Grande Rota, marked by white and red. Grande Rotas take a few days to complete.
Hiking PR1-IDN Rota dos Abutres
From the church, we strolled the cobblestone streets past white and stone buildings with green shutters and beaded door curtains serving as screens. We turned left, stopping briefly at the Largo da Praça, a square with a 16th century pillory that stood before a historic city hall.
From the square, we continued past an old cistern and soon met up with a Roman road as we exited Salvaterra do Extremo. The road was lined with stone walls, ancient pig pens, cork trees, and agricultural land dotted with plastic bottles on sticks which acted like scarecrows.
I was so intrigued by the cork trees. Apparently, I had never given any thought to where cork comes from or how it is harvested.
Cork oaks thrive in Portugal, specifically the central and southern regions. They make up 28% of Portugal’s forest and support a diverse ecosystem, thus they are heavily protected. The cork tree lives about 150-200 years old, and its bark will be harvested approximately 15 times over its lifecycle.
The cork oak must be 25 to 30 years old before it may be harvested for the first time. Thereafter it is harvested on nine-year cycles between May and August.
A cork harvester, who is paid extremely well, cuts a layer of cork bark away from the tree. The harvesters must be precise and very careful not to cut too deep and damage the tree forever, thus their high fee for their expertise.
After removal of the bark, which is sent to processing centers, the bare trunk is marked with a number 1-9 in white paint. The number indicates the year it was harvested. Looking closely, you can see the different layers of bark that have been harvested over the decades.
Its third harvest produces cork of high enough quality for wine stoppers. Unfortunately, the reduced demand for wine corks and the limited number of skilled harvesters has threatened the cork industry despite cork being used in several products such as flooring, shoes, fishing rod handles and more.
What I find the most fascinating is the cork oak is harvested without being felled! No wonder it is the national tree of Portugal!
It’s funny because Portuguese hikers, accustomed to the harvesting tradition, probably pass by these trees without a second thought. On the other hand, we tourists ask our guides 100 questions about cork! As much as I love hiking alone in nature, sometimes it pays to have a guide who is an expert in the region.
Vultures, Watermills, Spain Portugal Border
When we weren’t busy looking at cork oaks, we were watching vultures circle over Peñafiel Castle, perched on a hill in Spain to the east. There is a colony of Griffon vultures which nest in the area, thus the name of the trail, Rota dos Abutres or Route of the Vultures.
The first half mile of the trail is relatively flat. Upon reaching an old building, whose crumbling façade is engraved with names, the path descends the golden hillside dotted with trees to the Erges River. Despite the dry conditions, hikers may always get water from the fountain about half-way down.
Following the river, we visited a historic watermill, home to a few bats, and soon reached the border of Portugal and Spain in the center of the river. We straddled the two borders on the low-lying road on which cars freely crossed before we veered left toward Currais da Arvéola.
Farmland and Sheep
For the next several miles we gradually ascended through farmland and hunting leases. We encountered a sheep dog with his herd which was much friendlier than I expected. I have found some dogs protecting their sheep on the Colorado Trail to be somewhat aggressive.
Toward the end of our walk, which was roughly shaped like a wide U, we passed by some more pig pens. They look like little stone houses with a living roof.
We did not complete the full 7-mile loop which follows an asphalt road back to Salvaterra do Extremo. Instead, Ricardo picked us up in the van just before the rain arrived. Did I mention sometimes it pays to have a guide?
Where to Stay Near Salvaterra do Extremo
Our group of eight: Jon, Jackie, Christie, Jim, Roger, Terry, LeaAnn, and I, along with our guides Carla and Pedro, settled into the extended Sprinter as we took a short, 15-minute drive to Fonte Santa Hotel, where we would spend two nights.
The four-star Fonte Santa Hotel features an outdoor deck overlooking the pool and magnificent views. It was really spectacular and a slight bummer that it was raining. But the hotel also has a nice indoor lounge and bar.
The spa, which offers a variety of treatments, is located near the pool area. Meals are served in the large, downstairs dining area. We enjoyed a wide-ranging buffet breakfast each morning and a three-course dinner each night.
The rooms are simple, yet spacious and include the standard amenities. Most of them afford the same view as the outdoor deck, though a few look the opposite direction over the parking lot. Be sure to ask for a room with a view!
Overall, we enjoyed an easy hike in Parque Natural do Tejo Internacional and in the surrounding area of Salvaterra do Extremo in central Portugal. And our stay at Fonte Santa Hotel was lovely. ETB