The PR3 IDN – Fossil Route is one of the most exciting trails we have already done. In about 3 km, we are presented with fossils of prehistoric animals, a river beach, a waterfall, a medieval castle, one of the most beautiful villages in Portugal, a dam, and Monsanto on the horizon… If you discover another trail with so many points of interest in such a short distance, please let us know. We really want to find it…
In the meantime, let us introduce you to one of the best and most accessible short route trails in Portugal, the fossils route – PR3 Idanha-a-Nova.
With about 3 km, this is a relatively easy circular trail and quite urban. Despite having short street sections, and others on tracks with uneven ground, it is very short and therefore accessible to anyone with minimal resistance and no mobility problems. The climbs are challenging, but they’re so short they shouldn’t cause you any problems.
Fossils route general information
- Name: Fossils route – IDN PR3
- Start – Penha Garcia, by the church
- End – Penha Garcia, by the church
- Distance – 3 km
- Time required – 1:30
- Difficulty – easy
- Max/min altitude: 580/475 meters
- Altitude gain: N/A
- Type – circular
- Signalization (1-5) – 5
- Highlights: Castle, Beach, waterfall, fossils
- You can download the official map here (in Portuguese)
Our experience in the fossils route trail
The Fossil Route is a trail that follows urban and rural paths, making it one of the most accessible we have ever done. As it is circular and crosses numerous points of interest, we can start in several different places: the center of Penha Garcia, the castle, the Penha Garcia dam, and even the access to the river beach of Fonte do Pego.
The trail is well marked, you will easily find the typical signage (yellow and red bars) of small route trails in Portugal in any of these places. Since it is a circular path marked in both directions, you can choose whichever direction you want.
Officially the trail starts at Largo do Chão da Igreja and continues for a few dozen meters to the castle through the streets of Penha Garcia. It is a viable option, it is well signposted, but it is not the most interesting part of the trail.
So, in this article, we will start near the castle, at the top of the village of Penha Garcia, and continue in the rotation against the clock. The castle is an excellent place to start, as it is easily accessible, has plenty of parking spaces, and is, of course, one of the main points of interest on the trail.
Starting the hike by the castle, we are at the highest part of the trail. So, we’ll have a lot to descend, but first, let’s climb to the top of the small Castle of Penha Garcia. You’ll have to climb the stairs, cross the castle, explore its interior and exit the other side. Take advantage of the castle’s dominant position for an exceptional 360° view. On one side, there is the Penha Garcia dam; on the other side, Monsanto is in the background.
Leaving the castle, we begin a long descent through the old houses of Penha Garcia, always along cobbled streets and stairs of the village. This is the most urban part of the trail, but it is also interesting as Penha Garcia is one of the cutest villages in Portugal. Eventually, you will have to turn left into the Ponsul river, but you continue downhill until you get there.
Keep following the signs, and you will quickly reach the river and Pego river beach. This is a beautiful and inviting beach, built with a small barrier and excellently maintained. With ornaments, treated stones, paths, and a schist bridge, this is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful river beaches in the Center of Portugal. And the waterfall that was created there gives it the final charming touch. If you want to go to the beach and go to the water, enjoy it! It is well worth it, but note that the water is usually cold.
After relishing this little paradise, we continue our journey and start the climb back to the top of the village. The signs are clear, we have to follow the rustic paths built of schist. We go up the valley of the Ponsul river and quickly reach the trace fossils of Penha Garcia and the watermills. You can’t miss it, both are well-marked. Note that trace fossils are protected inside schist houses, and you can only visit them if they are open.
The walk continues along the rocky valley of the Ponsul River towards the dam. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some adventurers climbing the vertical walls of the canyon. Once we reach the dam, we have to cross it, then turn left and start the more strenuous climb.
Despite being the most challenging part, the climb is ok, as the path is not technical. Nor is it long. It has some rest points and a fantastic view that makes us want to stop to take a look and take some pictures. Near the end of the climb, we have the Gruta da Lapa, where more fossils prove that this region was submerged by the sea many millions of years ago.
At the end of the climb, we’re back at Penha Garcia castle, and that’s how we end the walk. Or you can even go “chão da Igreja” we mentioned initially. The fossil route is a short but intense trail – at every turn, we have a new point of interest, a new photography opportunity, an incredible new landscape.
Best time to do the fossils route
Given the size and relative ease of the route, it is a suitable trail to be hiked throughout the year. However, if the floor is wet, it could be a bit of a problem in the Penha Garcia ichnofossil area, as the stone (schist) and uneven floor will be pretty slippery.
On the other hand, the best time to take the fossil route will be in summer, as you can take advantage of the natural swimming pool at Penha Garcia, one of the best river beaches in Portugal. The heat and the relative absence of shadows will make walking difficult, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem as it’s a short trail.
Is the trail family-friendly?
This is a curious trail, as it is very short and relatively easy. It doesn’t take a lot of physical preparation to do this. Furthermore, 90% of the trail is on rural and urban paths and easy-to-follow paths. However, the slightly more technical minor parts make it completely impossible for some people to complete the trail.
People with reduced mobility, wheelchairs, and prams can make a good part of the paths as they are urban or smooth, but others are dangerous or completely impossible as they have stairs or uneven ground.
What to take?
As we’ve said several times, the trail is short and quick, so you don’t need to go heavily loaded. We are always in or near Penha Garcia, so it will be easy to get something missing. In any case, we suggest you take:
- Lots of water (about a 1l per person)
- Snacks – note that there aren’t places to eat along the trail.
- comfortable hiking or running shoes;
- comfortable clothes;
- rain jacket if it’s winter;
- sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen if it’s sunny;
- camera and smartphone, there are plenty of photo opportunities here;
- A daypack to take everything with you;
As always, please do not make any trash. Bring back everything you take with you.
How to go to the trail?
Access to the trail is relatively easy, as the village is not very big and we can easily find the castle or official start of the course. Both are marked on google maps, so it’s even easier.
Getting to Penha Garcia is also relatively easy; you have to take the national road 239 towards the Monfortinho spa and the Spanish border. After passing the Monsanto exit, we will take a left exit to Penha Garcia.
The biggest issue here is that Penha Garcia is far from it all. Castelo Branco, the district capital and largest city in the region, is about an hour away, while Lisbon and Porto are about 3 hours away.
Where to stay?
In Penha Garcia, there are some quality local accommodations, such as Casa Vinte & Cinco, an excellent studio for couples, but there are no hotels. See here for more information about this host.
If you are looking for a hotel, the ideal is to stay at Termas de Monfortinho or in Monsanto. In Monsanto, we have the Monsanto GeoHotel Escola, which offers quality rooms at very affordable prices and the advantage of staying in this spectacular historic village. See here for more information.
In Termas de Monfortinho, we suggest the Hotel Boavista, an excellent value for money hotel. The rooms and decor are excellent, and the outdoor pool is wonderful for relaxing after a good walk. See photos and comment here.