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Discover Portugal: The Côa Valley

Looking for a day excursion somewhere different, where nature, culture, and gastronomy intersect? Then this itinerary might be for you.

The Foz Côa Valley has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, and is considered the biggest open-air site of paleolithic art in Europe, if not in the world.

We recommend starting your day by visiting the Faia Brava nature reserve, right on the border between the Center and the North of Portugal. It is the first private protected area in the country, and is currently a pilot area of the Rewilding Europe project.

The Faia Brava reserve

Made of 850 hectares in a landscape ideal for cliff-breeding birds, the reserve is home to wild Garrano horses and Maronesa cattle. It is an incredibly peaceful place with a few hiking (or mountain-biking, if that is your preference) trails and stunning views. During the right season, it is also an ideal spot for bird lovers as the following have been spotted: the Black Stork, the Egyptian Vulture, the Griffon vulture, the Golden Eagle, the Bonelli’s Eagle, the Eagle Owl, the Alpine Swift, and even the White-rumped Swift.

Wild Garrano horses at Faia Brava

Once you have built up an appetite by walking around looking for wild horses, birds, or just generally enjoying the fauna and flora, it will be the perfect time to head to the Museu do Coa’s for lunch (first things first!).

The Museu do Côa is a very modern building that stands out due to its brutalist style architecture, with the its particular design reflecting tectonic plates. It boasts a breathtaking view of the Douro Valley right where the Côa River and the Douro merge, vineyards extending as far as the eye can see.

Museu do Coa (“brutalist” architecture)

The restaurant offers a menu of typical Portuguese dishes, many meat or fish based. There are some vegetarian options too (we had the mushroom starter which was delicious). The wine list includes many local Douro wines and a selection of other national options.

Although I did not get a chance to tour the museum, it is apparently very interactive and focuses on the paleolithic rock art that was found around the valley – right as they were going to build a dam, which led to the dam project becoming a Museum construction project, and the valley becoming a World Heritage Site. There are also very worthwhile tours that can be booked ahead of time to visit open air rock art sites around the valley, which you can read about here or organize through this site.

If there is still time left in your day after all that, you could always go wine tasting!


Have you been to any of the places mentioned above? If so, we would love to hear what you thought, and any suggestions you might have to add for someone looking to follow in your footsteps.

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