A Passion for Portugal – Rock Art in the Foz Côa Valley:
We were all tired and despite our expectations of sunshine, the weather was grey and miserable. A flight from London which left at noon, followed by a two and a half hour journey in a rather cramped minibus across Portugal, left me feeling slightly anti-social. Arriving at the hotel, my first thought was to shower, perhaps to enjoy the hot tub and hamman, to relax and have a glass of wine or two. And the schedule DID say optional against the after dinner entertainment – a visit to the Foz Côa Archaeological Park to see ‘engravings’ by night. I hadn’t managed to research before I left, so engravings were simply an item on a list and perhaps one that could be passed over in favour of more hedonistic pleasures.
But, once we’d arrived at Castelo Rodrigo and met Ana, it was almost inevitable that optional was no longer on the agenda. There are people who have so much passion and enthusiasm that their energy is infectious. Casa da Cisterna where some of us were staying and where we all dined is clearly one of Ana’s passions. Each room in the hotel is individual and personal. Each one feels like a home from home.
One has a collection of hats – which started when Ana was at college – on the wall. Another, a swing bed (reports on its effectiveness were mixed!). There’s a room with pretty fairy lights and a cottage like building housing a suite on two levels with a loft bed upstairs and a charming sitting area and breakfast table downstairs. Ana told us that they are extending, building another four rooms further up the hill together with a new swimming pool. Even so Casa da Cisterna will clearly remain intimate and personal, very much a home.
We dined royally on home-made soup, bacalao doughnuts and a kind of cinnamon custard and local wines.
And then set off to Foz Côa. A Unesco Heritage site Foz Côa is a prehistoric rock art site in a river valley, with engravings dating back to 22,000BC which are remarkable both for their age and because they are all outdoors rather than in caves. There are apparently around 5,000 animal figures carved in the rocks and visiting at night meant we could use lights to emphasis the engravings and see the shapes of the animals better.
It was dark. No moon, the only light came from Ana’s torch. We almost squashed a few startled frogs along the way, clearly they were not expecting nocturnal visitors wearing walking boots. And it was peaceful. No sound but that of the river and a few crickets.
Ana is a member of the park so able to open the barrier and take visitors on a guided tour. And her passion for the drawings was very clear. Using a long piece of grass, she pointed out the shapes of various animals overlapping in a maze of lines on the rock face – aurochs, horses, deer, ibex and a solitary fish.
She explained to us how some of the animals appeared to have two or three heads – a primitive way of showing movement. And she mused about the purpose of the engravings – were they some form of primitive signpost for travellers? Or did they have a deeper, quasi-religious meaning.
I for one am happy that the option of missing this trip was never offered – I was tired and might have been tempted to rest instead. And, I would have missed seeing what must be one of the great hidden treasures of the world.
If you would like to see the engravings for yourself it is essential to contact the Visitor Centre in advance. Or better still, stay with Ana at Casa da Cisterna and ask for her help to organise your trip.
- Casa das Penhas Douradas offers double rooms including breakfast from €88
- Herdade da Poupa offers double rooms including breakfast from €110
- Casa dos Poços offers double rooms including breakfast from €88
- TAP Portugal (0845 601 0932, www.flytap.com) flies from London Gatwick to Porto from £126 return including all taxes and charges
- For more information on Centro de Portugal visit: www.visitcentro.com/en/
- For more information on Portugal visit: www.visitportugal.com
I travelled as a guest of Centro de Portugal