Arouca Geopark, Portugal
It’s just a short drive from the sea to the mountains, first along modern national highways and then bended rural roads through traditional villages. With the water behind us, the ground rises and the salty air is replaced with the crispness of altitude. It doesn’t take long to leave the coastal cities of northern Portugal below.
One of the things I was to learn quickly during my time in Portugal is that it’s hard to categorise this country. Despite the size, variety abounds. Just when you think you understand something, another layer is peeled back and more is revealed.
This is how I found myself in the mountains, confused as to where the beaches and cities had gone. What are all these rocks doing here?
In the middle of the Arouca Geopark it’s easy to forget the rest of the Portugal. This is one of the world’s best geological sites and the authorities have taken great care to protect it and make it accessible to visitors. 14 hiking trails cross the park, taking people past geosites, streams, villages and rest stops.
Sheep. They’re not supposed to be here… well, not to my mind, at least. But a group of them walk past, ushered along by an old woman, bent over to the point where she has to raise her head to keep an eye on her flock.
Not long after, a herd of cows come by. Then it’s a procession of almost a hundred goats, jumping onto rocks and butting into each other as they scramble to find their footing. It seems the geopark is brimming with life – I told you each layer reveals another surprise.
Visiting Arouca, Portugal
There are about 25,000 people who live within the boundaries of the park (which is 330 km2) although most of them are in the region’s largest city. Up here on top of the mountains, the villages sometimes count their residents on less than two hands.
Sometimes it seems like the rocks themselves are alive, though. Take the ‘stones that give birth’, as they’re known after a bit of translation from Portuguese.
They are one of the iconic aspects of the Arouca Geopark because the phenomenon is so rare around the world. Within a section of granite, lumps of dark minerals have formed and over many years, because of erosion and changes in temperature, it appears like the nodules grow out of the stone and then pop off.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, local legend says the site where this occurs has the power to make women pregnant.
There are 41 sites across the park with interesting geological features. They include the longest waterfall in continental Portugal (at 70m high) and fossils of trilobites.
It seems expansive when you’re standing within the park – the views stretching out across hills, falling into valleys, and flowing along streams. There’s a lot of green, which mixes in with the grey of the rocks and the yellow and purple of the flowers.
One minute you’ll be amongst trees bent as though under pressure from a constant wind… the next you’ll be the highest thing on a rocky outcrop, watching the livestock below you.
Like the rest of Portugal, the Arouca Geopark is hard to categorise. Just when you think you understand, there’s something else.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Porto and Northern Portugal Tourism Association but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
27 thoughts on “The stones that give birth”
Interesting stuff…the pic of the waterfall is incredible.
Thanks, it was a really interesting place. Hope you get a chance to get there sometime!
I didn’t have a lot of preconceptions about Portugal before reading this, but I wouldn’t have expected a place like Arouca. Fascinating & beautiful. It’s wonderful to be surprised by places we think we know. What a sight — all those goats!
No, it certainly wasn’t the kind of place I was expecting either. It really was beautiful, though. And the goats were great!! 🙂
Wow, it’s lovely!
Yeah, not what you think of when you think of Portugal, is it? But that’s the north of the country for you!
Cool place and fun trip. And of course, your bad jokes 😀
Ha ha… yes, I’m sorry you had to be there for them! 🙂
Sweet shots. It reminds me of The Burren on the west coast of Ireland although geologically it sounds way different…
I haven’t been to Ireland so I’ll have to take your word for it. It does make me more interested in checking it out sometime, though!
I’ve been wanting to visit Arouça for some time but even more so now I’ve seen your photos. Like you say, Portugal is surprisingly diverse and I’m glad you got to see something of the wilder side during your trip.
I can’t believe you’ve spent so much time in Portugal and have never got up to Arouca before! I hope this is the thing that finally gets you up there!
And, yes, it was nice to see a different side of the country.
After the bleeding stones in Sardinia, I’m ready for every kind of stone-induced wonder 😛 Great place, would love to visit.
Ha ha… what is it with all these creepy stones? Are they actually alive and just waiting to take over the world one day? :p
I was in the area years ago on a bike trip through Port country but had never heard of the place. If my geologist husband had known of its’ existence we would have visited for sure. Fabulous photos.
It sounds like a perfect excuse to go back some time. A geologist would certainly have a field day there. For the rest of us, the scenery is a good enough reason to visit.
Whenever I think of Portugal I do only think of beaches, so its nice to see a totally different aspect to it. Great pictures, the one with the sheep made me laugh!
I guess being such a thin country, there are plenty of beaches. But it doesn’t take much to find a little bit more to enjoy. Such a pity you couldn’t join us this time!
I didn’t realize there were such rustic/rural parts to Portugal. For some reason I always picture the country as full of beautiful old towns. This is beautiful too, of course, but definitely not my preconception of the country!
I was really surprised as well. A whole different part to the country I never expected to see!
Gosh, it’s terrible that I only hear of this now that I am exactly on the opposite side of the world but never throughout my life, while I lived in Portugal!! Thanks for sharing though. It’s beautiful!
Perhaps a good reason to go back some time? 🙂
Congratulations for your post about my home land. Arouca has countless tresures to discover: like the old nazi and british mines in the WW2. The beautiful rivers where you can swim in summer. I hope you liked it (I know you did) and that tourists visit this small portuguese city.
Greetings from Portugal
I loved the place and I’m so jealous that you get to live there!! I would love to go back in summer and explore some more… and definitely swim in those rivers (although they might still be a bit cold for me…)
I stumbled upon your page, looking for some sort o explanation on the rocks “that give birth” to share with my friends. I visited Arouca last year, on one of those sundays my hysband and I just decide to hit the road and find something new. It is such an awsome place up there. And let me tell you, the shepherdess, if that is even a word, is still up there tendind to her flock of sheep! Apparently, they also opened something new this year, they created boardwalks along the river; they bring you up close to the fauna that makes Arouca so precious – maybe you should visit again! Take care
Oh, that’s cool to hear about the boardwalks. Arouca was so pretty and I would love to go back sometime and do a bit more walking through it all. I love that they’re adding new features all the time. Thanks for the message!