Arouca is a small town and municipality located less than 40 miles from Porto. The surrounding area forms the Arouca Geopark, a UNESCO protected region that promotes the conservation of geological heritage, and makes for a nice short trip. There are plenty of hiking routes, that can be downloaded from the park website. I would recommend your own car to move freely, as there is no much public transport available. Being part of an organised group is a choice, although you may miss some freedom to wander around.
Arouca itself would do for an ideal accommodation point, as there are many facilities and restaurants, and the tourist information point (with limited opening times, especially on the weekends), and it is the place we chose for our 2 nights stay. Among the most popular sights in the Geopark are the “Pasadiços do Paiva”. Under this name there is an 8.7km route following the river Paiva, using a recently built wood walkway, that got some renovation works because of the summer 2017 fires. You can decide to start the route in Espiunca or Areinho, or go for the full round trip. It is an easy to follow linear route, that can become demanding in hot weather conditions. Getting your entrance ticket in advance directly in their webpage will cost you 1€ (or 2€ if buying onsite).
We decided to get an early start, being at 9am in the Areinho parking lot, almost empty at this hour, as the forecast predicts temperatures over 30°C by midday. This is the most demanding part of the route, and the recommended starting point, to get the most difficult part done while the energy levels are full. Advisable also to carry your own food and water, as there is only a small canteen in the middle of the hike, besides the ones at either side. Besides don´t forget a hat and solar protection. The route offers beautiful landscapes, waterfalls and water rapids, as you follow the riverside crossing some fluvial beaches (unfortunately unappropriated for bathing on those days). The views are nice, and doing the hike at an enjoyable pace, it takes over 3h to get to Espiunca. After a light lunch in the tree covered resting area, and having the choice of going back walking or getting a taxi to Areinho, the latest seems as the best choice. A 14€ ride gets us to the parked car and a whole evening to visit some other places in the Serra da Freita.
We decide to go for one of the printed routes, although unfortunately we get lost. The map is not detailed enough, and we miss the check points. Nevertheless, there is time to do a visit to the “Pedras Parideiras” (translatable as “giving birth stones”) and its nearby small museum, the characteristic “Pedras Broas” and the Frecha da Mirazela waterfall.
With enough walking done it is time to go back to Arouca and enjoy one of the traditional dishes from the area: beef of Arouquesa cow, a typical breed only located here that enjoy its life roaming in the green pastures.
Next day is time to do an early visit to the Arouca Museum of Sacred Art, in the big monastery of Santa Mafalda Queen. Only available as a guided tour it offers an interesting view of the traditional life in its grounds, hosting an extensive art collection. Finally, only time to do some shopping, and buy one of the traditional sweets, the wet Pao de Lo, available in every pastry shop in town, before heading back home.