After a few days of exploring Porto, my cousin left to go back home to the States. I still had one day in Porto, and then I was off to Ireland. Since we had explored most of Porto the previous days, I wanted to take a day trip somewhere. I researched a bit online and picked the first city that sounded interesting. Guimaraes it was. The next day I hopped on the train and rode about an hour to this small city. Once there, I had no idea what to expect, so I found a map of the city and got straight to exploring. I was able to see most of this small town in a few hours. There were some very pretty sights, and I discovered a little cafe that sold special pastries made by the nuns at Santa Clara de Guimaraes, a local convent. However, I did not find the city to be very memorable, and to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. I was ready to hop on the next train home when I saw something in the corner of the map. There was a teleferico, a gondola that brought me up to the top of the mountain, and I decided that I might as well give it a try.
I hiked over to the base of the mountain and rode up to the top. When I got off the gondola, I was met by a forest, huge boulders, a lovely walking path, and these curious yellow and red markings painted every few feet. Given that I love nature and exploring, and our planned trip to walk the Camino was cancelled, I was delighted to be able to follow some kind of hiking trail. I meandered around for a while through the forest and found myself in a cement plaza facing a beautiful church that overlooked the whole city. I was creeping around the church unsure if I was allowed inside when a woman approached me and asked if I needed help. I told her that I had no idea where I was or what I was looking at and she kindly took me to the visitors center and handed me all the information I needed. After reading through the visitor’s guide, I learned that I was on Montanha da Penha (Penha Mountain), and a religious hermit had once made this area his home. Through his work, many monuments were made in the area honoring various religious figures in the Catholic faith, and the trail was made to guide people through the forests to all of his various works. Now I knew what those markings were for, and I set out to finish the trail.
The trail itself was not very long or strenuous, but the findings I discovered around every corner made it seem like I had been there for days. The path led me to beautiful monuments and viewpoints, narrow passageways in between boulders, little caves carved from rocks, and through the beautiful forest. I believe that there are a few campsites available, and I desperately want to go back and spend the night there. There was a sense of calm all throughout the area, and it was a wonderful way to end my day in Guimaraes. It was starting to get dark, and I still had a long walk back, so I took the gondola down and caught the next train back to Porto. This mountain adventure turned out to be one of my favorite parts of all of my time in Europe simply because I was not expecting it, and it was a bit of consolation for our cancelled Camino trip. The next day, I left Portugal, one of my favorite countries in Europe, for the last time.