Arcos de Valdevez is a small city in northern Portugal, 100km from Porto which takes only about 1 hour to do by car. It’s the perfect destination for people looking to go away from the famous spots and learn about rural and rustic Portugal. Despite being quite small Arcos de Valdevez and its surroundings have plenty to offer. The best things to do in Arcos de Valdevez include historic buildings, wonderful traditional villages and maybe the coolest trail in Portugal!
Arcos de Valdevez is also a great starting point to Peneda-Geres National Park, particularly to the west part of the park, Peneda Mountain Range. The town itself is outside the park, but some of its parishes and attractions are within the National Park.
Best things to do in Arcos de Valdevez
#1 Explore Sistelo
Sistelo is possibly the ex libris of Arcos de Valdevez. Despite being a very small village, it’s very popular and the most well-known attraction as it’s considered one of the most beautiful in Portugal.
Sistelo is often dubbed as the little Portuguese Tibet, due to its picturesque terraces. These terraces give Sistelo its singular identity and are a symbol of the relation between man and nature. The terraces were built to retain the land, driving the water through a specific irrigation system and creating vertical access ladders. They represent a clever way of obtaining livestock and agriculture income in a very difficult land.
Besides the terraces, Sistelo also offers a few other landmarks like the small nucleus of granaries, the typical fountain, the mysterious Sistelo Castle House and the Medieval Bridge. Finally, Sistelo is also the start or endpoint of the Ecovia do Vez.
#2 Ecovia do Vez
Ecovia do Vez is a 32km trail that goes all the from Joldra S. Paio to Sistelo and crosses the town of Arcos de Valdevez. It’s divided into 3 sections and you can freely hike or bike the sections you prefer. The trail goes along the right bank of Vez river, which is one of the cleanest we have ever seen. Yes, it’s that clear!
In our opinion, Ecovia do Vez is the most beautiful hikes in northern Portugal. Along the hike, you will see several cascades into the river, rapids, dikes, and mills. You can also stop in one of the many river beaches along the trail.
The 3rd section of the trail is the most beautiful and includes the village of Sistelo, so if you only have a few hours we suggest you do only that section. Also, if you start in Sistelo, you’ll mostly have to descend making it much easier.
If you want to do this hike, have a look at our Ecovia do Vez post which has all the info you’ll need!
#3 Peneda Sanctuary
Peneda Sanctuary and the small village that grew around it is another interesting tourist attraction in Arcos de Valdevez. The village itself isn’t the reason you go here, but it holds two nice attractions. The beautifully remote sanctuary and the waterfall behind it.
Peneda Sanctuary was built between the 18th and 19th centuries, and the church was only finished in 1875. There’s a huge pilgrimage to our lady of Peneda during September which follows the tradition of Marian Pilgrimages of modern times. This strong cult goes back to the 13th century when a small hermitage was built on the same site, which later became the sanctuary.
Peneda waterfall is mainly a winter waterfall. During the rainy season, it’s really impressive and can be seen from afar. However, during summer it almost dries out. One other interesting thing is that after the waterfall the river goes under the sanctuary and square in front of it. When chilling in the square you can actually listen to the water draining under your feet.
If you are planning to visit Peneda Sanctuary you should know that this is a really remote area – one of the most secluded in Portugal. It’s located well inside the National park and you need about one hour to do the 40 km from Arcos de Valdevez. The roads aren’t bad, it’s just very windy mountain roads where you cannot drive fast. On the other hand, this is an absolutely fabulous region, with beautiful lookouts and a pleasure to travel, if you aren’t in a rush.
Soajo is another village a few kilometers from Arcos de Valdevez, although it’s already inside the national park! The village is most famous for the 24 typical granaries that represent the collective roots of the village.
These traditional granaries were built for drying thick corn, a culture introduced in the 17th century. Together with Lindoso, they are one of the biggest and more impressive groups of granaries in Portugal and represent a symbol of the collective spirit of the village as they were used by the entire community.
The village itself is cute and rustic but it isn’t as wonderful and unique as Sistelo. On a short stroll through the village, you can see the Town Hall building, the Church, the ruins of an old mill, the enigmatic 16th-century pillory, and of course the famous granaries.
#5 Paço da Giela (Manor House of Giela)
The Manor House of Giela is located very close to Arcos de Valdevez. If you don’t have a car you can even walk there, it takes about 20 minutes. Though, if you do, it’s much easier to drive there, as there’s a parking and the hike isn’t by any means nice.
This Manor house is a good example of medieval architecture. It has been fully recovered and converted into a very interesting landmark. The complex includes a residential body, a tower, and a chapel. The residential body has Manueline windows and a fortified entrance. The current tower was constructed during the 14th century replacing the 11th century that was in the same place.
You can freely walk inside the house and climb the tower. Inside the tower, there’s a small archeological nucleus and a cool video about the Valdevez tournament. We will explain the importance of this tournament below.
Ticket: 1 Euro and includes the video.
#6 Center of Arcos de Valdevez
Arcos de Valdevez is an old, historic town and its city center reflects this. Arcos de Valdevez is very connected to the river and to the construction of the first bridge over it. Despite this, the center is very small and can quickly be seen in under an hour. Our favorite view of Arcos de Valdevez is actually from the other side of where you get to see the churches high above the River. The other thing you can’t miss is crossing the medieval bridge that links the center of Arcos de Valdevez to the other side.
Although it’s worth to check it out and wander around a bit, we don’t think the center of Arcos de Valdevez is the most interesting part of this region. There are other historic city centers in the northern region that are much more rustic and charming. Viana do Castelo and Ponte de Lima are two good examples, relatively close by.
#7 Go to the beach
One of the most popular activities in Arcos de Valdevez is going to the beach! The river beach, we mean. We said it above and say it again, the Vez is a marvelous river for this kind of thing. It has the most transparent waters we know in Portugal, it’s deep enough to swim and to play around and around Arcos de Valdevez it has nice flat banks with grass that are just perfect to lay down and relax.
#8 Valdevez Tournament (Recontro de Valdevez)
Arcos de Valdevez has a curious motto “Arcos de Valvedez, onde Portugal se fez” (it rhymes in Portuguese and means something like “Arcos de Valdevez where Portugal was made”. This is because of a famous tournament held in Arcos de Valdevez in 1141.
Today you can find a monument to the Tournament of Valdevez by the river, close to the centenary bridge. It’s completely made of Bronze and a beautiful example of XX century art made by the Sculptor José Rodrigues. It depicts two knights on the horse armed with long spears, in an imminent confrontation.
More than its artistic value this sculpture represents um one of the most critical moments in the creation of Portugal. It was the definitive battle that allowed Portugal to become independent of Castille.
#9 Eat some of the local food
Northern Portugal is the best region to eat traditional Portuguese food. The typical food in Portuguese gastronomy is strong, hearty, and full of flavor. In a hindsight, it’s not for the faint-hearted!
Some o the best dishes to try in Arcos de Valdevez include:
- Cachena Meat – Beef of the locally bred caws. It’s very tender and delicious.
- Tarrestre Bean Rice – Rice with “tarrestre” beans. The Tarrestre beans give it a very unique flavor. It usually a side dish for the Cachena Meat.
- Soft Eggs Cigars “Charutos dos Arcos” – a typical conventual sweet from Arcos de de Valdevez
- Rebuçados dos arcos – a local treat made of caramelized sugar candies.
- Vinho Verde – a typical wine of the whole Minho region (northern Portugal)
- Arroz de Sarrabulho – unique and traditional meat and rice stew dish where the rice is cooked with pork’s blood and spiced with cumin.
- Rojões – fried pork meat cubes cooked and spiced in a very traditional way.
In Arcos de Valdevez and the whole region, it’s very easy to find typical restaurants serving copious amounts of delicious food at great prices. In Arcos de Valdevez, our favorite restaurant is “O Pote”, it serves an amazing Cachena meat with Tarrestre Beans rice and a delicious disks cake. Plus, it has a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere and a nice fireplace for the cold nights.
#10 Stay in Arcos Luna Wellness and Spa
For those of you who are convinced to visit this region in Portugal, we have the perfect hotel for you to stay – Luna Wellness and Spa. It’s one of the best value for money hotels that we have ever stayed in. Despite being a wellness and Spa hotel you can book a night here for less than 60 Euros during low seasons, and I have occasionally seen the prices go as low as 50 Euros, including a very nice buffet breakfast. Plus, you can freely use the indoor pool, gym, jacuzzi sauna, and Turkish bath. The only downside is that the Spa area is rather small for the size of the hotel, but for those prices, it’s an unbelievable deal.
How to visit Arcos de Valdevez
Arcos de Valdevez is one of those destinations that you really need a car to explore or a lot of time! Theoretically, you can get a bus to the city, but most of the best attractions are far away from the center. So you would need to take taxis, to those destinations. It would become really expensive and time-consuming.
Best time to visit Arcos de Valdevez
As long as it’s not raining, any time is great to visit Arcos de Valdevez. Though we think that the best time to go is when it’s hot and you can seize the opportunity to bath in the many River beaches in Vez. Or, during a sunny day after the rains, when the river and the many cascades are bursting with water.