Hiking the Brandas do Sistelo trail – PR14 Arcos de Valdevez

The Brandas do Sistelo trail is one of the best trails in Portugal and one of the best ways to explore the Sistelo region, one of our favorites in northern Portugal.

Also known as the PR14 Arcos de Valdevez, the Brandas do Sistelo trail is 8.5 km long and can be completed in 4 to 5 hours, depending on your pace. It is a trail with a relevant cumulative gain (more than 500 meters), or we wouldn’t be in Sistelo, an area known for its mountain terraces.

This circular trail begins and ends in the village of Sistelo, one of the most beautiful villages in Portugal, so it is always a good opportunity to visit it.

Despite all its natural beauty, the Brandas do Sistelo trail is often overlooked in place of the much more popular Ecovia do Vez. This is a natural choice since the Sistelo ecovia and walkways are one of the best walking routes in Portugal. However, the Brandas do Sistelo are an excellent alternative for those who have already been to the walkways and want to continue exploring the region.

Brandas do Sistelo trail - PR14 Arcos de Valdevez
Brandas do Sistelo Trail has some steep areas

Brandas do Sistelo Trail, Arcos de Valdevez – general information

  • Name: Brandas do Sistelo Trail
  • Start: Aldeia do Sistelo
  • End: Aldeia do Sistelo
  • Distance: 8.55 km
  • Time required: 4 to 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Max/min altitude: 800/234 meters
  • Altitude gain: 562 meters
  • Type: circular
  • Signage (1-5): 3, it is marked but has many flaws, as we will explain below.
  • Highlights: Brandas do Sistelo, terraces, rural paths, and the Vez River.
  • You can download the pamphlet here.
Brandas do Sistelo trail, Arcos de Valdevez - general information
View of the terraces in Sistelo

Our experience on the Brandas do Sistelo Trail

Starting and ending in Sistelo, this trail takes us to two brandas in the Sistelo region, on the Peneda mountain. We can divide the trail into two completely different parts. First, we climb to the Brandas, and then we descended back to Sistelo.

The starting point of the route is very easy to find since, in the center of Sistelo, we have several information panels about the different trails that start in the village. They all start there. Arcos de Valdevez did an excellent job in creating and promoting several trails.

Starting point of the Brandas do sistelo trail in sistelo village
The starting point of the Brandas do Sistelo trail

Since the trail is circular, it can be done in both directions and is signposted as such all along the way. We decided to do it counterclockwise, which means the initial climb is slightly shorter but also steeper. Despite this, the path is relatively easy to follow, and while it has a lot of rocks, it is not dangerous or slippery.

Going right, you cross the main road and begin the long climb. At this initial stage, the GPS track is not very well drawn as it does not follow the village streets, but it is not difficult to understand the general idea of the direction… We must go up, up, up, and follow the physical signs.

The first few minutes are spent inside the village, but you quickly leave and continue up the hill. As we leave the village and continue climbing, the path presents fabulous views of the famous Sistelo terraces and the village below.

Mountainous landscape arround sistelo where the hike takes places
Landscape of the Brandas dos Sistelo trail

In total, it is around 3.5km, always uphill, with very steep parts and lots of rocks. Fortunately, it is not slippery, and there are no stairs. So, slower or faster, you’ll be ok. Even if you need a few stops for photos and to catch your breath.

It took us around one hour and 30 minutes to get up there. It is pretty easy to identify the end of the climb as we see the Branda do Rio Covo. Here, we suggest you stop for a few minutes, rest a little, eat lunch or snacks, and enjoy the view. After all, we have just climbed from around 280 to 800 meters of altitude, so resting is deserved. Besides, you will probably be the only visitor, so enjoy it.

What are Brandas?

In the Minho region, where Sistelo is located, a “branda” is a seasonal village located at high altitudes. The “brandas” were used in the summer, when communities moved to higher areas for grazing and agriculture. In winter, communities moved to “Inverneiras,” which were located in lower areas and protected from the cold.

Branda do Rio Covo is slightly off the route, but it’s worth going there and exploring a little. After doing so, we must continue the journey, but now we know that the most challenging part is done. From here, it is always flat or going downhill to the Vez River.

The beautiful old brandas do Sistelo
Branda do Rio Covo in Sistelo

The next stop is Branda do Alhal, and getting there is just over 1 km and a slight descent. A good part of this section is in the middle of a dense and beautiful forest. If it’s sunny, it will be a great rest from the heat!

Branda do Alhal is newer and can even be accessed by car (from the other side) despite being very uphill. From this Branda onwards, the descent becomes steeper and the stone path returns to a steep slope, sometimes quite downwards, so some care is needed.

The Brandas do Sistelo trek also crosses several rural cobbled roads like this
Branda do Alhal on the Brandas do Sistelo Trail

This part of the route is around 2 km until you reach the village of Padrão. After Padrão, we follow rural paths in the middle of fields and terraces. It’s a different but equally beautiful landscape. Here, we also have spectacular views of the terraces on the other side of the Vez River.

From Padrão, we continue the long descent until we reach Sistelo. Very close to Sistelo, you can choose to go left or right. On the right, we follow the official trail to Rio Vez; on the left, we cut off and reach Sistelo in another 200 or 300 meters.

If you still have energy, we advise you to follow the official route because the final part is lovely. It takes us to the Vez River, which we have to cross twice, and where we can observe the beauty of its waters. The Vez River is, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful and cleanest in Portugal.

After the second crossing of the Vez River, we only have a few stairs to climb and reach the Sistelo church, which was already inside the village. These last stairs (about 50, maybe) are extremely hard as they are very high, but it is worth it!

Small mountain stream near the village of Sistelo
A small mountain stream near the village of Sistelo

Best time of year to do the PR14 Arcos de Valdevez trail

This trail can be hiked all year round, but we advise avoiding rainy days (for obvious reasons) and the peak of summer.

On rainy days, following this trail can be highly problematic due to the possibility of slipping and, above all, because there are parts that will be filled with water. The trail crosses several water streams with lots of water when it rains.

On the other hand, much of the route has no shadows, so it can be very difficult to walk during summer. The part of the climb to the brandas is especially uncovered and will be challenging.

We only did this route in winter, and it was quite pleasant to feel the warm but weak winter sun typical of northern Portugal. From our experience on other regional trails, in summer, it can be pretty tough to hike.

Therefore, the best is to hike the trail in mid-season or even in winter, as long as it is sunny and it has not rained in the previous days.

trekking in sistelo
Brandas do Sistelo trail – a short section on a cobbled mountain road

Who can hike the Brandas do Sistelo trail?

The Brandas do Sistelo hiking trail is suitable for anyone who enjoys mountain hiking and is used to doing so.

The trail is not particularly long, difficult, or technical. However, it is also not very well marked, and even the official GPS file has parts that are not perfect, so we advise you to pay attention so as not to have to walk back and forth across the mountain.

If you want to get to know the region for the first time and are not used to mountain trails, the Sistelo walkways are perhaps a better option, as they are much easier and impossible to get lost there.

That being said, anyone used to hiking for 3 to 4 hours can do the trail. Children and the elderly will largely depend on the level of exercise they are used to. On the other hand, it is unsuitable for people with mobility difficulties.

What to take to the brandas do sistelo trek
The Brandas do Sistelo trail has some very steep areas

What to take?

Since the trail is not very long or technical, you do not need any special equipment to complete the trail. Don’t forget to take your cell phone; in some parts, the trail is not well marked, or the signs have been lost over time. Therefore, we advise you to take:

  • Lots of water (at least 1l per person);
  • Some snacks, or even lunch, depending on the time you start the route;
  • Comfortable walking shoes – We recommend walking boots, especially if there is humidity or rain;
  • Comfortable clothes;
  • Raincoat and warm clothing in winter. It’s pretty unprotected up there, and it can get cold;
  • Sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen in summer;
  • Camera and cell phone, as there are many opportunities to take beautiful photos. Cell phones are also to be used as GPS. Don’t forget to download the route track.
  • Small backpack to carry all this.

As always, please don’t litter. Bring everything you take with you.

Things to know beforehiking this trail
The path crosses the small village of Padrão, which is close to Sistelo.

How to get to the trail?

Getting to the start of the trail is extremely easy as it is located in the center of Sistelo and is well-marked by information panels.

To get to Sistelo, the easiest way is to go to Arcos de Valdevez via the road IC28 and, from there, follow the signs for Arcos de Valdevez and Sistelo. Despite being relatively close, from Arcos de Valdevez to Sistelo, it still takes around 30 minutes.

Getting to Arcos de Valdevez is quick and easy as access via the A3, and IC28 is very fast from Porto and Braga, Viana do Castelo and even Spain.

How to reach the Brandas do Sistelo trail
Some nice views at the Brandas do Sistelo Trail with terraces and cultivated land.

Where to stay when trekking the Brandas do Sistelo trail?

Access to Sistelo is relatively easy, so you don’t need to spend the night there to hike this trail. It is possible to stay in Porto or Braga, hike the trail, visit Sistelo and the terraces, and return.

On the other hand, staying in the region and enjoying everything it offers is much more pleasant, from the views and natural landscapes to the food and other cultural attractions.

If you want to stay in Sistelo, we recommend Suite das Fraguinhas, a homestay in a renovated traditional house in the center of the village. See photos and reviews here.

If you choose to stay in Arcos de Valdevez, Hotel Luna Arcos is our favorite. In addition to being a very pleasant and comfortable hotel, it also has a SPA and an indoor pool, which, after a day of hiking and exploring, becomes extremely pleasurable. When we want to stay in the region, we usually stay there.

Despite this, it has an enviable quality-price ratio. See prices here and whether it is still available for your dates.

Where to stay when hiking the Brandas do Sistelo trail
Beautiful landscapes on the Brandas do Sistelo trail.

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